A look around the Big East
Take a team-by-team look at the Big East.
Which Big East star had the game he'll always remember on the field last Saturday, and a moment he'll always regret immediately afterward? Who provided the silver lining in Syracuse's upset loss to Temple? And which kicker prepared for facing a hostile crowd by recalling his days as a heckler? Our Big East notebook addresses these questions and more.
The Eagles (7-2, 3-1) control their own destiny after a convincing, 36-17, victory at WVU. But coach Tom O'Brien isn't celebrating ... yet.
"I guess it gets you in the Insight Bowl or the Continental Tire Bowl, that's all we've done right now," O'Brien said of BC's first victory in Morgantown, W.Va., since 1990. "So we've got a long way to go."
That said, if the Eagles win their final two games at Temple (on Saturday) and at home against Syracuse (on Nov. 27), they'll exit the Big East with the league's coveted BCS berth and a multi-million dollar payout.
BC climbed to No. 19 in both polls, its highest ranking since '94, and catapulted ahead of WVU in the BCS standings. The Eagles are 21st and WVU is 23rd.
"It doesn't mean anything," O'Brien said.
BC surely cannot overlook a Temple team (yes, we know it's Temple) that upset Syracuse last Saturday and has beaten the Eagles in Philadelphia in 1997 and 1999. BC must find a way to stop the Owls' version of Superman QB Walter Washington.
- BC's win at WVU was special. Literally.
The special teams were the difference in helping the Eagles amass their highest point total of the season. DeJuan Tribble and Will Blackmon scored on punt returns of 41 and 71 yards, respectively, to help BC rack up 230 yards in returns, which was 13 yards less than what BC's offense had for the day.
Meantime, freshman kicker Ryan Ohliger, whose brother Jon was a former WVU kicker, converted field goals of 44, 47 and 36 yards, with the 47-yarder ranking as his career long.
“ If you swallow it, it will kill you. If we overlook Temple, we're in trouble. ” — BC coach Tom O'Brien, wary of his team believing the hype about it before securing the Big East title
Freshman punter Johnny Ayers uncorked the third-longest punt in BC history with his career-long 76-yarder that pinned the Mountaineers at their own 9.
And, for good measure, freshman linebacker Brian Toal highlighted the day with a 43-yard kickoff return in the fourth quarter. Toal, a former standout fullback at Don Bosco Prep in Ramsey, N.J., showed he still had the aptitude for running the ball with some shifty open-field moves.
"I was disappointed I didn't take it to the house," said a dejected Toal. "But then again, I'm just a linebacker." Said O'Brien: "We outworked them on special teams."
- Ohliger, whom the BC coaching staff was unsure of entering the season, looked like a seasoned veteran in the familiar surroundings of Mountaineer Field. After all, it wasn't so long ago that he would stake his claim there and support his older brother, Jon, by heckling the opposition.
"I knew right where we were going to warm up was where the students were,"' Ohliger said. "So I was looking forward to getting screamed at a little bit, because I was in their place three years ago. It was just a great experience to come back here.''
After missing three field goals (all chip shots) in a 17-14 loss at Wake Forest, Ohliger more than redeemed himself Saturday.
What made it all the more special was that Ohliger's performance came with his brothers Jon, now a kicker in the Arena League, and Jesse, a former Murray State kicker, in attendance among the crowd of 58,113.
"It's a big chip off my shoulder, because I felt this was such a U-turn from Wake Forest,'' Ohliger said. "I wanted to beat West Virginia because it's such a hard place to play."
The one blemish to his day was a missed extra point on BC's final touchdown.
"I'm an idiot,"' Ohliger said. "Extra points, you gotta make those no matter what. You should be able to wake up at 12 at night and kick 10 of them. I just got to make those."
If the Huskies (5-4, 2-3) were using their game against Georgia Tech as a measuring stick, they clearly have a long way to go.
They were dominated from start to finish in every phase and appeared to take a step back. Their only touchdown in the 30-10 loss came after time had expired a defensive penalty forced a final play and it was against the Tech reserves.
Senior quarterback Dan Orlovsky looked pedestrian, tailback Cornell Brockington barely got going and the punt unit yielded two blocks that led to 10 points.
The Huskies are on their first two-game losing streak of the season and have lost three of four, but help is on the way.
Enter Division I-A punching bag Buffalo (2-8). UConn should have no problem winning that one at home, where it is 5-1, and gaining bowl eligibility.
Despite the meltdown against Tech, the Huskies have a good chance to win seven regular-season games (they close the season on Thanksgiving morning at Rutgers) and play in their first bowl game as a Division I-A member. Not bad for a building program in its first season as a Big East member.Orlovsky, once touted as a Heisman Trophy candidate, suddenly looks mortal.
- Orlovsky gets defensive when the notion of his NFL future is brought up, and, now, maybe we know why.
He put up eye-popping numbers against a non-Big East schedule the previous three years, but he's been up-and-down this season.
Against Division I-A opponents, he's thrown 12 TDs and 10 interceptions, hit the 300-yard mark just once and been held without a touchdown three times.
He's been better than solid he's 221 of 348 for 2,568 yards with 17 TDs but rumors of his Heisman Trophy abilities were greatly exaggerated. The 6-foot-5 senior has an NFL future, but his stock has stagnated.
- Look for sophomore tailback Brockington, the Big East's leading rusher with 937 yards, to have a big day against Buffalo. Brockington managed just 43 yards on 18 carries last week, and you can bet he'll be raring to go against a Buffalo team that yielded 234 yards and four TDs to UConn's Terry Caulley last season. Brockington will have 1,000 yards for the season by halftime.
The Knights (4-5) have no wiggle room, no margin for error.
They must find a way to upset a good Navy team (7-2) on the road or their hopes for a winning season will shatter into disappointing pieces. It wasn't so long ago that some were predicting a 6-0 start for Rutgers after a season-opening upset of Michigan State, but a Week 2 loss to Division I-AA New Hampshire has haunted the Knights ever since.
Coach Greg Schiano, who led the fourth-biggest turnaround in college football last season when the Knights finished 5-7, could see his program take a step back if it doesn't win Saturday, or in the finale at home vs. Connecticut on Thanksgiving morning.
In no way is Schiano on the hot seat, but the natives might start to get restless if the Knights, who were off last weekend, lose their final two games and end the year on a five-game losing streak.
Schiano said he doesn't want his players to put too much pressure on themselves, but the reality is, the Knights should feel the heat. Schiano all but promised a winning season, and many believed his squad was on its way to a bowl game for just the second time in school history. Now, it's put-up or shut-up time.
"You don't want guys pressing, and I don't think that's going to be an issue," Schiano said.
It should be. Four- and five-victory seasons should no longer be acceptable at Rutgers, particularly in a watered-down Big East and a non-conference schedule that featured a Division I-AA opponent, a MAC school and a SEC bottom-feeder. That New Hampshire loss will sting for a long time.
- Rutgers, which averages nearly 300 passing yards per game, might have to run the ball to beat the Midshipmen, who allow only 182.0 passing yards per game. The formula worked to perfection last season when the Knights ran for 249 against Navy en route to a 48-27 victory.
The question is: Can they repeat such an effort? Rutgers is among the nation's worst in running the football (88.5 yards per game) and has been held below 100 rushing yards seven times.
If they put the game into quarterback Ryan Hart's hands, look out. He's turned the ball over 14 times the past four games, three of which led to losses.
What happened to the Orange (5-5, 3-2)? A 34-24 loss to Temple?
Last time we checked, the Owls hadn't won a Big East game in two years. Sorry, but coach Paul Pasqualoni has to take some serious heat for this one. It's back on the hot seat for the 14-year veteran.
The Orange had a chance to control their destiny and share a piece of the Big East title with a simple victory over the Owls. The planets were aligned and Pasqualoni was feeling good after a double-overtime victory against Pittsburgh. But the Orange blew it, flat out.
No matter what happens in the season finale at Boston College in two weeks, this loss should be seen as an embarrassment, particularly when there was so much at stake. Temple? Unacceptable.
Here's why Pasqualoni cannot get off of the hot seat: Syracuse has lost two of three to the flightless Owls after posting an 11-0 mark in the series before 2002.
Surprisingly, though, Pasqualoni's team can still share the Big East title if Pittsburgh upsets West Virginia on Thanksgiving and the Orange upset BC at Alumni Stadium.
Moreover, the Orange will gain bowl eligibility. Will that be enough to salvage Pasqualoni's job? Stay tuned.
- If there was a silver lining in the loss to Temple and it was hard to find one, considering the number of special teams blunders and crucial turnovers it was the play of tailback Damien Rhodes, who did not skip a beat in filling in for injured starter Walter Reyes.
Rhodes picked up where he left off in the Pittsburgh game, during which he scored the game-winning TD in overtime, by running for 200 yards and three TDs on 29 carries. He has 303 yards the past two games and 749 for the season. He and Reyes have combined for 1,549 yards and a rushing average of 5.6 yards per rush.
Kudos to coach Bobby Wallace, whose team not only upset Syracuse, but did so in convincing fashion. The Owls (2-8, 1-4) produced a 34-24 home victory that seriously hampered the Orange's hopes for a Big East title.
"We've been close so many times," said Wallace, whose team jumped to a 21-3 halftime lead, then staved off an Orange comeback attempt. "Finally, we found a way to win one."
For the first time this season, the Owls played a near-flawless game, as they did not commit a turnover, went 4-for-4 in the red zone and held the ball for 35:29. All of a sudden, the Owls have that winning feeling again they hadn't beaten a I-AA opponent in two years and Boston College awaits.
The Eagles can ill-afford a letdown at Lincoln Financial Field on Saturday or their BCS dreams will disappear faster than Syracuse's morale.
- Imagine this: Temple, playing in its final game as a Big East member, pulls off a monumental upset and foils BC's bid to steal the league's BCS berth before taking off for the ACC. You can bet that the current league membership is pulling for such a feat, as BC has not been well received in its final season in the conference.
BC Coach Tom O'Brien, whose team controls its own fate, said being in the catbird's seat is sort of like holding poison in one's hands.
"If you swallow it, it will kill you," he said. "If we overlook Temple, we're in trouble." Stranger things have happened. Temple upset BC in Philadelphia in 1997 and 1999.
- The Big East is loaded with good quarterbacks, but Temple's Walter Washington is in a league of his own.
He's the prime reason the Owls don't get massacred every week and his numbers are getting outrageous. Check out what he did against the Orange: He rushed for 185 yards and three touchdowns, in addition to throwing for 140 yards and another score.
He has 816 rushing yards and easily smashed Rasheed Marshall's single-season mark for a QB of 666, set in 2002.
He is the leading scorer among Division I-A quarterbacks and is responsible for the Owls' last 14 touchdowns. Washington ranks 11th in nationally in scoring (9.2 ppg.), 14th in point responsibility (14.0 ppg.), and 15th in total offense (274.0).
It's a shame the Owls will be in limbo next season they'll play as an independent because Washington deserves better.
The Panthers (6-3, 3-2) were part of an instant classic in a 41-38 upset of Notre Dame and sophomore quarterback Tyler Palko was the featured attraction.
He became the first QB in history to throw five touchdowns against the Irish and finished 26-of-42 for 334 yards, while completing passes to 10 different receivers at Notre Dame Stadium. Former Pitt coach Foge Fazio, who coached Dan Marino, said it was one of the best individual efforts he'd seen.
Coach Walt Harris simply said, "Incredible."
Because of Palko's exploits, the Panthers are back in the running for the Big East title, provided they beat WVU on Thanksgiving night at Heinz Field and Boston College loses one of its final two games.
Pitt also has an outside shot at the league's BCS berth, but, once again, it would need help. Should the Panthers miraculously gain the BCS bid, Pitt administrators must think long and hard about the future of Harris, who is said to be on his way out.Tyler Palko will need to avoid making mistakes against a talented Utah defense.
- Although Palko was near-perfect on the field vs. the Irish, he had a slip-up in the postmortem. In a national television interview immediately after the game, he said "I'm so proud of my (bleeping) teammates."
The network apologized profusely for the expletive, as did Palko minutes later.
Eventually, shock jock Howard Stern even got into the act, chastising the network for saying Palko's words "marred" his great effort. It should be noted that Palko, who led two late-game scoring drives for the victory, is a stand-up player and the mouthpiece for the Pitt program.
He made a mistake and he accepted full responsibility. Mature beyond his years, Palko said, "That's not me. That was kind of me losing my composure a little bit after a big win, I guess. ... By all means, I wish I could take it back, but I just want to issue an apology - and I mean that."
- On college football's most hallowed ground, kicker Josh Cummings stepped onto the field with a chance to give his team a victory, just one week after missing a potential game-winner vs. Syracuse.
This time, he did not "flinch," as Harris said of the Syracuse miss.
Cummings drove a 32-yarder through the uprights and later said it was the "kick of my life."
Cummings, a junior-college transfer from Newhall, Calif., made all seven of his attempts on the day, including five extra points and two second-half field goals at Notre Dame Stadium.
"I said before the kick, that it really couldn't get much worse than what happened to me the last week except for the fact that we hadn't won (at Notre Dame) in 18 years and it was the final second of the game," said Cummings, tongue in cheek.
"It felt good to put those last points on the board."
Cummings is 14 of 19 on field goals this season and upgraded a position that was an Achilles' heel in 2003.
Because of his long blonde hair and California style, he's referred to as "Sunshine," "Hollywood," and "Spiccoli" at Pitt.
"I don't mind," Cummings said. "The only thing I worry about is getting too cold in this part of the country."
Everything was in place for the Mountaineers (8-2, 4-1). Home field advantage. A lively crowd. The chance to sew up the Big East championship and a BCS berth. So, what happened?
WVU blew the opportunity due to poor special teams play in a numbing, 36-17 loss to BC in Morgantown, a place where the Eagles hadn't won since 1990.
The season is far from over, but the WVU Nation will be sick for a long, long time if BC steals the conference's BCS berth before it jumps to the Atlantic Coast Conference.
All WVU can do now is hope to win its Backyard Brawl on Thanksgiving night at Pittsburgh and pray BC loses one of its final two games (at Temple and at home against Syracuse). Past that, a once-glorious season will be rendered disappointing.
After the BC loss, questions were raised as to whether WVU was overrated entering the season.
The debate can go on for hours, but this much is certain: The Mountaineers own just one victory against a Division I-A team with a winning record, that being 5-4 Connecticut.
WVU was not dominant in defeating lowlights Rutgers and Temple earlier this season and needed overtime at home to defeat a Maryland team that we're finding out is not very good.
To the Mountaineers' credit, they never came out and said they were world-beaters. It was the preseason prognosticators who laid such heavy expectations on them.
"I knew that whatever the papers said, the magazines or whatever, that nothing was being handed to us," senior quarterback Rasheed Marshall said.
"I knew every game we'd have to play. It never came out of my mouth we were going to go 11-0 or 12-0. It never came out of my mouth we were going to go undefeated in the Big East because I knew there was a possibility to lose if we didn't go out there and play well every week."
That said, everything seemed to be there for the taking no Miami on the schedule and just one opponent in the preseason rankings. Fact is, West Virginia is a solid team, but an easy schedule covered many of its warts, some of which were exposed on Saturday.
- The WVU special teams yielded two punt returns for touchdowns (71 and 41 yards) and also allowed a punt to carom all the way to the WVU 9, completing a 76-yard kick.
Just about everything went wrong for the Mountaineers, though the offense got a strong effort out of wide receiver Chris Henry (eight catches for 118 yards with his 12th TD of the season), tailback Kay-Jay Harris (112 yards on 19 carries) and Marshall (334 total yards).
If coach Rich Rodriguez had his druthers, he'd prefer playing right away instead of taking a bye this weekend.
"It will be a long 11 days to get the taste out of our mouths," he said.
Rodriguez's team dropped 10 spots in the latest BCS poll to No. 23 and is two behind BC. WVU's fate is no longer in its hands, which is a devastating feeling for a team many expected to carry the Big East flag proudly into a BCS game.
"We just have to get better and be ready for the next one," he said. "We still have a lot to play for."
Joe Bendel covers the Big East for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
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