A look around the Big East
Take a team-by-team look at the Big East.
How did Paul Peterson celebrate former Eagles QB Doug Flutie's 42nd birthday? Will Randy Edsall have a happy homecoming? And is Rasheed Marshall the best rushing QB in Big East history? Our Big East notebook addresses these questions and more.
Can anybody stop the WVU running game? It certainly doesn't appear that way. The Mountaineers (6-1, 2-0) have churned out 603 rushing yards the past two games, including 279 in a 27-6 home win against Syracuse last Thursday night in Morgantown. Sophomore tailback Jason Colson, who grew up near Syracuse in Rochester, had an extra jump in his step because the Orange coaching staff told him his future was on the defensive side of the ball during his senior year of high school. Using that as motivation, Colson surpassed the 100-yard mark for the second consecutive week, with a career-high 113 yards. "They didn't think I had what it takes ... I guess I showed them," Colson said. Colson, who's become the Mountaineers' go-to guy while Kay-Jay Harris nurses his way to full health, has 519 yards on just 97 carries. He and Harris have combined for 1,135 yards and a nifty average of 5.8 yards per rush. Little wonder the Mountaineers rank fifth nationally in rushing offense and appear to be hitting their stride on offense. Up next is a Rutgers team (4-3, 1-2) that's lost its past three to WVU by a combined score of 154-26. The Scarlet Knights get the Mountaineers at home, but it shouldn't matter. Can you say, blowout?
With the Red Sox in the World Series and the Patriots winning at a record pace, there's not much room for Boston College in the Beantown sports culture these days. Nonetheless, the Eagles (5-2, 1-1) overcame a 20-7 halftime deficit and raced to a pulsating 24-23 win at Notre Dame last Saturday. Not even the presence of Regis Philbin, who delivered a fiery keynote speech at Friday night's pep rally at the Joyce Center ("I'm sick and tired of Boston College ... It's time they got the beating they deserve!"), could change Notre Dame's luck against the Eagles. Now, the Irish will have to wait until the series between the nation's only two Catholic Division I-A football teams resumes in South Bend, Ind., in 2007. BC's seniors, meanwhile, will depart the program having gone 4-0 against Notre Dame. The Eagles, who stubbed their toes in a 20-17 overtime loss to Pittsburgh a week earlier, are idle this weekend before playing host to Rutgers on Nov. 6. The Notre Dame win could catapult them to a solid bowl berth, if not the Big East title and BCS bid.
Although his team is making its first-ever trek to Syracuse, Huskies coach Randy Edsall is right at Dome in upstate New York. He played there from 1976-79. He coached there from 1980-90. He even met his wife, Eileen, there. But don't think for a minute that Edsall will get emotional when his Huskies (5-2, 2-2) face the Orange (3-4, 1-1) at 1:30 p.m. Saturday for a chance to gain bowl eligibility. "It's another game -- there's nothing sentimental to me about it," said Edsall, whose team is coming off a 45-31 victory over Temple. "I have a job to do and I have to get my team ready." Edsall's name has surfaced as a potential replacement for Orange coach Paul Pasqualoni, who's been on the hot seat in recent years. Edsall was asked if he aspired to be the head coach at Syracuse during his playing and coaching days there. "I always wanted to be a head coach and I tried to build a career that way," said Edsall, who left for an assistant's job at Boston College the year Pasqualoni took over. "The opportunity came here at the University of Connecticut and I'm happy to have the opportunity. I never look back. I never look ahead. I stay focused on what I've got to do today to make myself and my team better." A victory by his Huskies at the Carrier Dome could stoke the Edsall-to-Syracuse rumors -- though Edsall signed a 6-year, $5.3 million contract earlier this season.
All of a sudden, coach Walt Harris' team has the most victories in Big East play and is riding a three-game winning streak. The Panthers (5-2, 3-1) were left for dead a couple weeks back, but now are in position to win the Big East title after a 41-17 demolition of Rutgers. They're off this weekend before a huge game at Syracuse on Nov. 6. Should the Panthers defeat the Orange, they'll play West Virginia at Heinz Field on Thanksgiving night for the conference crown. "I don't think a lot of people in this room thought we'd be in this position," Harris said after the Rutgers win. "And, I couldn't be more proud of the players who got us here." A legion of Pitt followers did everything but chase Harris out of town following a 2-2 start and a near-loss to Division I-AA Furman. It got so bad that Harris wouldn't take phone calls on his weekly radio show. But things have cooled down in recent weeks and Harris is taking calls again. Harris, who is getting stellar play out of sophomore quarterback Tyler Palko (318 yards vs. Rutgers), has silenced his critics ... at least temporarily.
One step forward, two steps back. That's been the disheartening theme for a Rutgers program that can't get over the proverbial hump in its quest for respectability in the Big East and around the country. The latest setback occurred Saturday in a 41-17 loss at Pittsburgh that featured five turnovers and wasn't nearly as close as the score indicated. The Scarlet Knights (4-3, 1-2) went into halftime facing a 38-3 deficit before the Panthers went into cruise control. Now, comes a home game against West Virginia (6-1, 2-0), followed by a trip to Boston College. Their final two games feature a visit to Navy and a home meeting with Connecticut. Those teams have a combined record of 22-6, which means there's a good chance the Scarlet Knights won't win again this season -- and their dreams of a bowl game will be shattered. Coach Greg Schiano did his best to put a positive spin on the situation, but the reality is, his program could be home for the holidays for the 26th consecutive year. "I don't think the Pitt game is a blow-up or something like that," Schiano said. "It's certainly a little bit of a setback because we had an opportunity to be 5-2." Truth be told, the Knights might not win another game until 2005.
Things don't look good at Syracuse, considering the Orange is staring at a sub-.500 record (3-4, 1-1) heading into the home stretch. But let's be fair: Coach Paul Pasqualoni's team has played, by far, the most difficult schedule in the Big East. All four of the losses have come against top-15 teams, including a 27-6 setback vs. West Virginia in Morgantown last Thursday night. While other league members were padding their win-loss records with Division I-AA foes and Mid-American Conference bottom-feeders, Syracuse was playing Purdue, Virginia and Florida State. If the Orange had played Pittsburgh's non-conference schedule, for example, it likely would have two more victories. As it is, Pasqualoni must find a way to keep moving forward. He quoted former Notre Dame coach Ara Parseghian, who has dealt with personal tragedy. "You can stay down, or get off the ground and keep fighting," Pasqualoni said. "Our mode here is to keep fighting." Syracuse, which plays host to UConn (5-2, 2-2) on Saturday, could gain bowl eligibility by winning three of its final four. The Orange play at home the next two weeks (UConn and Pittsburgh) before closing out on the road at Temple and Boston College.
The Owls (1-7, 0-3) continue to plummet to the depths of the Big East, while a program like Rutgers continues to improve. Coach Bobby Wallace, who could be staring at his second consecutive one-win season, thinks he knows why. "It's a big difference when you get voted out of the Big East three years ago," said Wallace, whose program is gone after this season. "We were pretty even at that time. That's an excuse, I guess, but it's also a fact. It's been difficult. ... It's tough to recruit when you're in this situation." On the positive side, the Owls are guaranteed not to lose this weekend. Why? Because they don't play.
Joe Bendel covers the Big East for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
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