A pair of Big East matchups complete the pre-Saturday action for Week 7, beginning with #8 Cincinnati (5-0, 1-0) travelling to Tampa to take on #21 USF (5-0, 1-0) tonight (7:30 PM on ESPN). The Bearcats have gotten the job done thus far thanks to an explosive offense and a defense that's been better than advertised but now the goal of defending their conference title is front and center. QB Tony Pike has played well enough to have his name mentioned in the Heisman race, and receivers Mardy Gilyard and D.J. Woods are just two of the many weapons at his disposal.
But the Bulls will pose more of a threat defensively thanks to the presence of defensive ends George Selvie and Jason Pierre-Paul. Selvie has seen increased attention since his banner 2007 campaign, but that could change due to how effective Pierre-Paul has been at rushing the quarterback. If Pike is allowed to stand in the backfield and sling the football all over the field the Bearcats usually have little trouble moving the ball down the field...quickly. Cincinnati ranks dead last nationally in time of possession yet lead the Big East in scoring offense.
Are they scoring too quickly? That's actually been a point of concern due to some second-half fatigue issues with their defense, and that unit will have a bit more to contend with in B.J. Daniels and the USF offense. Daniels leads the team in rushing and Mo Plancher will also get carries but the Bulls thrive off of the number of options they have when either running or passing the football. In the secondary the Bearcats must keep tabs on WR Carlton Mitchell, who has proven to be one of the biggest deep threats in the Big East.
Expect a wild atmosphere in Tampa but if this game comes down to a kick the Bearcats have a decided advantage in Jacob Rogers. Losing Maikon Bonani before the season began has been a blow to the USF special teams but they haven't paid the price for it to this point in the season. Look for this area, along with Cincinnati's quick-hit passing game, to make the difference in a close Bearcat victory.
Friday: Pittsburgh (5-1, 2-0) @ Rutgers (4-1, 0-1) 8 PM on ESPN
The Panthers have failed to beat the Scarlet Knights in each of the previous four seasons, meaning that the seniors have one last shot at getting this monkey off of their collective backs. QB Bill Stull was knocked out of last year's meeting, a 54-34 Rutgers win at Heinz Field, and the Panther defense watched RU march up and down the field at will. Will things be different in Piscataway/New Brunswick? If Greg Romeus and company have anything to do with that they could be.
Pitt leads the conference in sacks (tied with Cincinnati) and with a quarterback recently removed from a concussion in Tom Savage that could be a bad combination for Rutgers. But how do the Scarlet Knights deal with an offense that's been more potent and balanced than the 2008 version, which saw a change or the worse in the weeks following their loss to Rutgers. RB Dion Lewis ranks second in the conference in rushing and Stull leads the Big East in pass efficiency, and receivers Jonathan Baldwin and Dorin Dickerson are both dangerous threats in the passing game.
Does Rutgers have enough to beat Pittsburgh? Unlikely, unless they get this game to the point where the Panthers begin to question whether or not they can beat the Scarlet Knights. But a lot was gained in the way of confidence in their comeback win over Connecticut last week, and it's hard to get a read on how much Rutgers has improved when comparing the quality of the teams they've beaten with Pittsburgh. Panthers win by ten.