After a promising opening weekend that saw the league post a perfect 8-0 record and beat two teams from BCS automatic qualifying conferences, the Big East took it on the chin in week two. Big East teams went 0-3 in games against teams from AQ conferences (all on the road) and Louisville lose a nationally televised game against Sun Belt Conference champion FIU. Meanwhile, even those games that looked like gimmes for Pittsburgh and Syracuse were far more difficult than expected. West Virginia struggled to move the ball in the first half but found its rhythm against Norfolk State. The only Big East team that played well for the entire game was South Florida, which easily dispatched of Ball State 37-7. Here's a quick look at how the Big East matchups against AQ teams fared and what that might mean for the rest of the season.
Rutgers at North Carolina
This game was a tall order for a Rutgers team that is in its second week of Frank Cignetti's offense, and is suspect along the offensive line. Matching that offensive line up against a North Carolina front seven that is loaded with future NFL prospects was a complete mismatch and it showed from the opening snap. The Scarlet Knights finished the game with just one yard rushing. Even with the lost yardage from quarterback sacks removed, Rutgers was still only able to run the ball 20 times for 18 yards. Give the Scarlet Knights credit for forcing turnovers and for being in a game where they were dominated in terms of yardage. Rutgers picked off UNC quarterback Bryn Renner 3 times and recovered two other fumbles but weren't able to mount a final drive to take the lead and fell 24-22. Considering many thought this would be a blowout, give Rutgers credits for its fight.
Cincinnati at Tennessee
Like many other, I was convinced that Cincinnati would win this game on the strength of its offense and early on it looked like I was right. Isaiah Pead ripped off a 65 yard touchdown to open the scoring. Tennessee answered with a touchdown pass and then pulled off an onside kick that gave the Vols the momentum for the rest of the game. Cincinnati was never able to pressure Tyler Bray and he made the Bearcats' secondary pay for it, finishing 34 of 41 for 405 yards and 4 touchdowns. The story of this game was the short yardage struggles of the Cincinnati offense. The Bearcats failed on two critical fourth down conversion attempts and were just 5 of 12 on 3rd down as well. While the offensive line did look better in this game and they did avoid turning the ball over, Cincinnati has to figure out a more effective way of picking up 3rd or 4th and short yardage situations.
Connecticut at Vanderbilt
It's difficult to explain just how a team can go from winning the Big East in 2010 to losing on the road at Vanderbilt in 2011. The Huskies clearly have their issues on the offensive side of the ball, but, one would expect those issues to come to the forefront against better competition than Vanderbilt. The Huskies stayed with Johnny McEntee at quarterback and occasionally used Scott McCummings and gained just 193 yards of total offense against a Vanderbilt defense that gave up 323 yards to tiny Elon College last week. McEntee threw three critical interceptions, the last of which was returned for a game tying touchdown. It was a shame that the offense's struggles wasted such a good defensive effort. That, unfortunately, might become the theme for the entire 2011 season as the competition is bound to improve and there just doesn't appear to be any weapons on that Connecticut offense. Is it too early to say that Pasqualoni should bite the bullet and let freshman Michael Nebrich take his lumps at quarterback?
What does this all mean for the coming weeks? It's probably going to be a long season for UConn, and considering Iowa State just beat Iowa on Saturday, that game surely looks more like a loss than a win for them. If the Huskies open the season 1-2, with Big East play yet to come, it's hard to imagine a bowl game in their future. Cincinnati will have opportunities to rebound, most importantly at home against NC State. If the Bearcats drop that one, it could be another tough year for Butch Jones. Rutgers will have a chance to win some games against the middle and bottom tier of the Big East and its toughest non-conference opponents left are Navy and Army. If the defense continues to be opportunistic, Schiano has a very good shot at taking his team back to the postseason.