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Midseason Report - Big East
Posted Oct 11, 2006

The best Big East players, coaches, surprises of the midseason and more.

Offensive Player of the Midseason
Ray Rice, RB Rutgers

Defensive Player of the Midseason
Jameel McClain, DE Syracuse

Ten best Big East players in the first half of the season
1. Ray Rice, RB Rutgers
2. Steve Slaton, RB West Virginia
3. Jameel McClain, DE Syracuse
4. Tyler Palko, QB Pittsburgh
5. H.B. Blades, LB Pittsburgh
6. Kelvin Smith, LB Syracuse
7. Derek Kinder, WR Pittsburgh
8. Dan Mozes, C West Virginia
9. Trae Williams, CB South Florida
10. Darelle Revis, CB Pittsburgh

Biggest Surprise – Rutgers
The Scarlet Knights were supposed to contend for a minor bowl game in 2006, but a 5-0 start and the school’s first appearance in the Top 25 in three decades have taken everyone by surprise. The play of the sixth-ranked defense and the emergence of sophomore RB Ray Rice have been the catalysts for Rutgers’ best start since 1976.

Biggest Disappointment – Connecticut 
In a league that’s collectively had a superb first half, UConn is the one program that’s missed its mark.  Save for the opener with I-AA Rhode Island, the offense has been feeble, while the usually stout defense was shredded for more than 600 yards by Navy two weekends ago.  While Syracuse, Rutgers and Pittsburgh are improving, the Huskies are staring at a second straight bowl-less December.

The Big East Champion will be ... Louisville
Next month’s crucial match up with West Virginia will be played at Papa John’s Stadium, where Louisville has won 14 consecutive games.  The expected return of QB Brian Brohm from a thumb injury gives the Cardinals an edge in offensive balance, while the unheralded defense has been outstanding, allowing just 13 points and an average of 211 yards over the last three games.

Best Game of the First Half 
Syracuse 40 ... Wyoming 34 2OT ... Sept. 16
Delone Carter ran for a 15-yard score in the second overtime after the Syracuse defense held on Wyoming's possession. Carter ran for a 16-yard score in the first overtime, but the Cowboys answered with a 14-yard Wynel Seldon scoring run. Carter scored four times in the see-saw game with neither team ever getting up by more than one score. Carter appeared to put the game away late in the fourth quarter on a 13-yard scoring run, but Wyoming was able to go on a 92-yard, 14-play drive culminating in a 15-yard touchdown pass to Hoost Marsh with five seconds to play.

Second Best GameSept. 9 - Iowa 20 ... Syracuse 13 2OT
Third Best Game Sept. 16 - South Florida 24 ... UCF 17

Worst Game of the First Half 
Louisville 62 ... Temple 0 ... Sept. 9
Louisville showed no ill effects from a short week or the loss of Michael Bush rolling up 674 yards of total offense in the easy win. George Stripling ran for two touchdowns and Mario Urrutia took a short pass 57 yards for a touchdown on the way to a 42-0 halftime lead that saw 443 yards of total Cardinal offense. Temple managed 215 yards of total offense and blew its only scoring shot late in the third quarter losing a fumble on the UL two.

Coach of the Midseason – Bobby Petrino, Louisville
No coach in America has been dealt a tougher hand than Petrino, who has lost Heisman contenders Michael Bush and Brian Brohm to injuries, yet still has the Cards thinking Big East and national titles.  Louisville’s 31-7 defrocking of Miami on Sept. 16 was one of the best performances by a team in the first half of the year.

Player who'll step up in the second half – Brian Leonard, FB Rutgers
Remember Leonard?  He’s been quiet this year, becoming more of a decoy and a blocker, but he’s about to make a commotion.  At some point real soon, opposing defenses are going to overcommit to stopping Ray Rice, which will force the versatile Leonard to tap back into his inner playmaker.  As QB Mike Teel develops slowly, he’s going to lean heavily on his fullback to be a low-risk receiver out of the backfield.

Best performance so far – Individually, it’s Rutgers RB Ray Rice’s 202 yards and two touchdowns on 35 carries against a very tough South Florida defense two weeks ago.  An honorable mention goes to freshman Delone Carter of Syracuse, who capped a 129-yard, four-touchdown day on the ground with the game-winning scamper in double-overtime to beat Wyoming.  From a team perspective, Louisville’s 31-7 defeat of Miami on a day when QB Brian Brohm was lost to an injury is already recognized as one of the great victories in Cardinal history.

Top Freshman – South Florida QB Matt Grothe
It’s taken a few years, but South Florida has finally found a successor to Marquel Blackwell behind center.  Grothe leads the Bulls in rushing and the nation’s freshmen quarterbacks in total yards, displaying the composure of a fifth-year senior in come-from-behind wins over McNeese State, Florida International and UCF.

Coach who needs to have a big second half – Pittsburgh head coach Dave Wannstedt
After last year’s first-half debacle, Wannstedt stockpiled some much-needed coaching equity with a 5-1 start.  However, he can lose it just as fast in October and November.  With trips to South Florida and UCF and visits from Louisville, Rutgers and West Virginia, the Panthers might slump back to mediocrity or become the third straight improbable Big East representative in a BCS bowl game.

Player who needs to have a big second half – West Virginia QB Pat White
White was a little dinged up in September and didn’t have to be great for the ‘eers to open 5-0.  Down the stretch against Louisville, Pittsburgh and Rutgers, however, West Virginia is going to need more production from the quarterback position in order to keep defenses from ganging up on Steve Slaton.  When East Carolina stacked the box two weeks ago, Slaton was held to 80 yards and no scores, while White was picked off three times.

Best remaining conference game – West Virginia at Louisville, Nov. 2
Forget just the second-half of this season—this mega-tilt of likely Top 10 teams has a chance to be the most important regular season game in Big East history.  The winner moves into the conference driver seat, while staying very much alive for a spot in the national championship game.  It’ll be next to impossible topping last year’s 46-44 thriller in Morgantown, but this ESPN Thursday night showcase between the Mountaineers and Cardinals will be special.

Team Mid-Season MVPs & Predictions
Cincinnati – DE Trevor Anderson
predicted wins: None
predicted losses: at Louisville, Syracuse, South Florida, at West Virginia, Rutgers, at UConn 
predicted record: 3-9

Connecticut – RB Terry Caulley
predicted wins: Army, Cincinnati
predicted losses: West Virginia, at Rutgers, Pittsburgh, at Syracuse, at Louisville 
predicted record: 4-8

Louisville – LB Nate Harris
predicted wins: Cincinnati, at Syracuse, West Virginia, at Rutgers, South Florida, at Pittsburgh, UConn
predicted losses: none 
predicted record: 12-0

Pitt – QB Tyler Palko
predicted wins: at UCF, Rutgers, at UConn
predicted losses: at South Florida, West Virginia, Louisville 
predicted record: 8-4

Rutgers - RB Ray Rice
predicted wins: at Navy, at Cincinnati, UConn, Syracuse 
predicted losses: at Pittsburgh, Louisville, at West Virginia 
predicted record: 9-3

South Florida – QB Matt Grothe
predicted wins: at Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Syracuse
predicted losses: at North Carolina, at Louisville, at West Virginia 
predicted record: 7-5

Syracuse – DE Jameel McClain
predicted wins: UConn, at Syracuse
predicted losses: at West Virginia, Louisville, at South Florida, at Rutgers 
predicted record: 5-7

West Virginia – RB Steve Slaton
predicted wins: Syracuse, at UConn, Cincinnati, at Pittsburgh, South Florida, Rutgers
predicted losses: at Louisville
predicted record: 11-1