2009 Big East Fearless Predictions
Week 11 ... Nov. 14 Games
Big East Fearless Predictions
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Game of the Week
West Virginia (7-2) at Cincinnati (9-0),8:00 EST, ESPN2, Friday, November 13
Why to watch: The three-team race in the Big East will finally begin to thin out as West Virginia and Cincinnati meet in a primetime showcase of ranked teams. While the Bearcats got a scare from Connecticut on Saturday night, nearly squandering a big fourth quarter lead, they held on to remain one of just six undefeated teams left in the country. A win on Friday night would keep Cincy in the national title hunt and knock down one more hurdle to back-to-back conference championships. Although West Virginia rebounded from its loss to South Florida by slipping past Louisville, this is a team that hasn’t truly looked sharp in a long time. Even in October wins over Connecticut and Marshall, the Mountaineers struggled and lacked consistency, particularly on offense. If they have any hope of staying alive in the Big East race, mediocrity will no longer cut it over the final three games.
Why West Virginia might win: Did the Huskies uncover a flaw in the Cincinnati defense last weekend? Few have broken through on the Bearcats this fall, but Connecticut was able to roll up 462 yards and 45 points, with most of the damage coming from RB Jordan Todman. Looking to reprise the role of Todman will be Mountaineer RB Noel Devine, provided his ankle is okay, who’s second in the league in rushing and always one good block away from quieting the road crowd. The key for West Virginia QB Jarrett Brown, who must give the defense reason to reconsider stacking the box. The ‘eer defense has been stout all year, piling up sacks behind speedy DE Julian Miller and clamping down on opposing running games.
Why Cincinnati might win: Mother Nature might be the only entity capable of slowing down the Bearcat offense these days. Cincy is on a roll, ranking in the top 10 in passing, scoring, and total offense after ambushing a pretty good Connecticut defense for 711 yards. When it needs a score or a first down, it’s going to get it. Period. QB Zach Collaros has become a budding star in his four games, deftly moving the ball around to receivers Mardy Gilyard, Armon Binns, and D.J. Woods. Heck, even the ground game has gotten into the action, producing big plays from Isaiah Pead and Jacob Ramsey. The last time West Virginia faced a dual-threat behind center, South Florida’s B.J. Daniels burned it for 336 total yards and three touchdowns. Collaros is a much crisper version of Daniels.
Who to watch: What does Brian Kelly do if QB Tony Pike gets the green light to play on Friday night? Yes, two quality quarterbacks is a luxury, but this has the potential to become a distraction for Cincinnati. Pike was doing just fine before hurting his arm, tossing 15 touchdown passes and attracting a slew of NFL scouts to Nippert Stadium. Collaros, however, has been an unexpected revelation, accounting for 14 touchdowns and more than 1,400 yards, while throwing just one pick. It’s a decision Kelly never thought he’d have to make when Pike went down on Oct. 15.
What will happen: There does not appear to be any stopping Cincinnati at this stage of the season. The offense, regardless of who’s taking snaps, is a juggernaut and the defense should get back on track against a West Virginia team that’s been living a lie over the last month. The Bearcats can sell out to stop Devine, knowing that Brown hasn’t been sharp since East Carolina two months ago. They’ll build a big lead, but this time, won’t have to sweat in the waning moments.
CFN Prediction: Cincinnati 37 … West Virginia 23 ... Line: Cincinnati -8.5
Must See Rating: (The Legend of Jimmy the Greek 5 … 2012 1) … 4
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South Florida (6-2) at Rutgers (6-2),7:30 EST, ESPN, Thursday, November 12
Why to watch: While most of the attention in the Big East centers on Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and West Virginia, South Florida and Rutgers are also looking to improve their bowl destination. And with a 10-win season still within reach, finish the year ranked in the Top 25. The Bulls have regrouped from those damaging back-to-back losses last month, beating up the Mountaineers before the break. However, inconsistency is an issue that continues to follow the program, especially when playing in the Northeast and in the second half of seasons. The Scarlet Knights may have turned the corner in their last game, a stunning defeat of Connecticut in the final seconds. Seemingly headed to a tough loss, they delivered an 81-yard sucker punch down the middle of the field for their first quality win of the year. If that play winds up being a launching point, the program could take off in November. This will be the first of what might be four head-to-head battles between talented freshmen quarterbacks, Rutgers’ Tom Savage and South Florida’s B.J. Daniels.
Why South Florida might win: Rutgers has had problems with offensive consistency all season, averaging 24 points versus FBS opponents and ranking 87th in the nation in total yards. The line has allowed too many sacks and while Savage has a great future, he’s still just a rookie. A visit from a veteran, athletic Bull defense allowing 17 points a game won’t make things better in Piscataway. South Florida will pressure the pocket with a combination of George Selvie and Jason Pierre-Paul on the outside and Terrell McClain on the inside. If Savage is forced to throw under duress, he’ll make the kinds of mistakes that’ll turn Bull S Nate Allen and LB Kion Wilson into offensive players. Daniels is coming off the best game of his brief career, burning a quality West Virginia D for three touchdown passes and 104 yards rushing.
Why Rutgers might win: While it doesn’t get nearly as much credit, the Scarlet Knight defense has been every bit as good as the Bulls this fall. Fueled in the front seven by ends George Johnson, Alex Silvestro and Jonathan Freeny, and LB Ryan D’Imperio, Rutgers has the nation’s No.23 run defense and leads the country in turnover margin. With a Big East-best 25 takeaways, it’ll cause problems for an inexperienced Daniels, whose only start in cold weather was a disaster. The Knights may have trouble out running the Bulls, but it won’t have problems out muscling them on the ground. Look for 235-pound RB Joe Martinek to run right at the South Florida interior for at least 20 carries and 100 yards.
Who to watch: Rutgers WR Tim Brown hails from South Florida and plays in New Jersey. South Florida CB Jerome Murphy hails from New Jersey and plays in Tampa. The transplants, and two of the fastest players on the field, will go stride-for-stride all night long. Both players have NFL potential, which won’t be lost on the handful of scouts in attendance. Brown was the recipient of the 81-yard game-winner in East Hartford two weeks ago, and is averaging more than 20 yards a catch.
What will happen: Follow the field goal kickers. They’ll play a key factor in a close defensive struggle. Advantage Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights will also hold a significant home-field edge. While they’re built for crisp, blustery weather, South Florida is not. The Knights will force Daniels into costly mistakes and methodically pound away on offense with Martinek, holding on for a second straight significant Big East win.
CFN Prediction: Rutgers 23 … South Florida 17 ... Line: South Florida -1.5
Must See Rating: (The Legend of Jimmy the Greek 5 … 2012 1) … 3
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Syracuse (3-6) at Louisville (3-6),12:00 EST, ESPN Gameplan, Saturday, November 14
Why to watch: Is Syracuse or Louisville the worst team in the Big East? We’ll get a chance to find out definitively on Saturday afternoon. The league’s bottom-feeders hook up in Kentucky, looking for their first conference win of the season. The Orange, after showing some life early on, appear to have run out of gas, losing four of the last five by no less than two touchdowns. Even worse, its top player, WR Mike Williams, quit school a week ago, a defection the offense could not afford. The Cardinals haven’t been any more inspirational this fall, failing to register that one much-needed breakthrough win and collapsing under the weight of its own injuries. With another losing season on the horizon, the locals appear more interested in what’ll happen with head coach Steve Kragthorpe than what’s happening on the field.
Why Syracuse might win: Throughout the campaign, the Orange defense has been the closest thing to a constant in Upstate New York. It’s scratched and clawed, with the help of NT Arthur Jones and LB Derrell Smith in the middle, to keep the team in some games and lead the Big East in run defense. Considering Louisville’s problems on offense, this is a match up that could favor Syracuse. The Cards are averaging a league-low 19 points a game and have been forced to drill down to third-string rookie QB Will Stein because of injuries.
Why Louisville might win: Not unlike this week’s opponent, the Cardinals have continued to fight hard on defense, limiting Arkansas State and West Virginia to just 30 points over the last two weekends. It all begins at linebacker, where Chris Campa and Jon Dempsey will have their targets fixed on stopping the Orange’s top rusher, Delone Carter. Syracuse is last in the Big East in passing, and in the first game since Williams departed, Greg Paulus and Ryan Nassib combined to go 17-of-34 for 141 yards, no touchdowns, and three interceptions.
Who to watch: Even though Victor Anderson has been sidelined with an injury, Louisville has been able to move the ball on the ground thanks to the emergence of redshirt freshman Darius Ashley. Over the last three weeks, he’s gone for 308 yards and two scores on 59 carries, erupting for more than half of that total in West Virginia on Saturday. He’ll get a stiff test this week, however, against that underrated Syracuse front seven.
What will happen: At this time of the year, motivation is as important as execution. Getting either of these 3-6 teams up for this one will not be easy for Kragthorpe or Doug Marrone. In Ashley, Louisville appears to have found a young sparkplug, who’ll keep things from getting too stale in November. He’ll have enough success on the ground to help the Cardinals avoid the Big East cellar.
CFN Prediction: Louisville 23 … Syracuse 17 ... Line: Louisville -7
Must See Rating: (The Legend of Jimmy the Greek 5 … 2012 1) … 2
-Free Expert Football Predictions
Notre Dame (6-3) at Pittsburgh (8-1),8:00 EST, ABC, Saturday, November 14
Why to watch: Notre Dame and Pittsburgh have met 64 times throughout history, but this one in Western Pennsylvania could be the biggest in modern times—at least from the Panthers’ perspective. Pitt has won five straight games to climb into the top 10 this late in the season for the first time in 27 years. Although this game will have no impact on the Panthers’ quest for a Big East championship, it could either be a catalyst or a stumbling block heading into season-ending showdowns with West Virginia and Cincinnati. The Irish, too, was alive for BCS bowl contention until getting torpedoed by Navy in South Bend last weekend, 23-21. Now 6-3 and out of the Top 25, Notre Dame will need to regroup during a tough stretch run just to qualify for a spot in the Gator Bowl.
Why Notre Dame might win: Quality passers can beat the Pittsburgh secondary. Irish junior Jimmy Clausen certainly qualifies. Notre Dame ranks No. 5 nationally in passing efficiency, despite the fact that Clausen has played more than half the season with an injured toe. Even more troubling for the Panthers is that WR Michael Floyd has returned from a collarbone injury, joining Golden Tate and TE Kyle Rudolph to give the offense one of the best sets of pass-catchers in the country. In his first game since Sept. 19, Floyd caught 10 balls for 141 yards and a touchdown, showing no rust from the long layoff. With this passing attack, there’s no deficit the Irish cannot overcome.
Why Pittsburgh might win: When Notre Dame has had problems throughout the season, it’s usually because of the defense. The Irish ranks 88th nationally against the pass and will succumb to physical running games. The Panthers have the balance to exploit both shortcomings, with help from freshman phenom RB Dion Lewis and QB Bill Stull, the nation’s fifth-rated passer. While not the sexiest attack around, Pitt has efficiently churned out 34 points a game, keeping defenses from loading up on the run or the pass. In WR Jonathan Baldwin and TE Dorin Dickerson, the Panthers have a pair of productive targets, who’ll have success against a defense that’s average in the secondary and doesn’t get a lot of help from the pass rush.
Who to watch: For all the talk about Lewis, Stull, and Baldwin, Pittsburgh is 8-1 because of the play of both lines. The offensive line has been terrific, paving the way for the country’s 26th-ranked ground game and yielding only nine sacks. The defensive front is responsible for the nation’s top-rated sack unit, getting inside pressure from Mick Williams and Myles Caragein, and an outside burst from Greg Romeus and Jabaal Sheard. An inconsistent Notre Dame interior will have its hands full containing this deep and athletic rotation of defensive linemen.
What will happen: It’s been a long time since Pittsburgh has looked as complete and competent as it has this fall. Notre Dame doesn’t appear to be in a position to change that trend on Saturday night. Oh, the Irish will land some body blows in the passing game and make things interesting late, but it’ll eventually succumb to the Panthers’ superior play in the trenches. Pitt will knock Clausen down a bunch of times and spring Lewis for a pair of scores and his fifth straight 100-yard game.
CFN Prediction: Pittsburgh 31 … Notre Dame 24 ... Line: Pitt -7
Must See Rating: (The Legend of Jimmy the Greek 5 … 2012 1) … 3.5
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