On the air on ESPN 680 for the Louisville-Murray State pregame show, I said that observers learn more about their teams when the teams have all had a chance to play two games instead of just one. After one game, it's often difficult to determine what is true of your team and what was more a result of who your team played in the opener. Every Big East team has played two games except Cincinnati, and after this week's action, we've learned a lot about our teams. Not all of it bad, but certainly not all of it is good, either.
Cincinnati 34 Pittsburgh 10 - Cincinnati got the game off to a great start when George Winn took his first carry right up the middle 58 yards for a touchdown. Three minutes later, Munchie Legaux threw a touchdown pass to one of the Big East's future stars: Ralph David Abernathy IV to make it 14-0 and the rout was on. Pittsburgh's defense once again struggled and Tino Sunseri's mental mistakes cost the Panthers on two trips inside the red zone. One, an end zone interception, the other taking too long to get rid of the ball and allowing the first half to run out before throwing it away to give the Panthers a shot at a field goal.
What We Learned: So much has been said about Pittsburgh after this game, but, the bigger story in this game is Cincinnati. The Bearcats showed they're a bona fide football program rather than a lucky one, two, or three year collection of players. A decade ago, it would be impossible to imagine Cincinnati losing players of the caliber of Zach Collaros, Isaiah Pead, Armon Binns, DJ Woods, JK Schaffer, and Derek Wolfe over a two year period and be able to reload the way that they have. Thursday night, the Bearcats rolled out its next edition of stars with players like Legaux, Abernathy, Winn, Anthony McClung, and Walter Stewart on the defense. The Bearcats have, so far at least, fielded quality teams over the past eight seasons under three different head coaches. They weren't a flash in the pan.
Louisville 35 Missouri State 7 -Louisville faced a Missouri State team that played toe-to-toe with Kansas State for three quarters last week. The Cardinals got out to an early lead after scoring (and going for two) on the first possession of the game. Teddy Bridgewater was outstanding again, completing 30 of 39 passes for 344 yards and two touchdowns. Missouri State proved to be tougher against the run than rival Kentucky was, and Louisville was forced to go to the air more often than perhaps it would have liked. Still, the game was never in doubt and the Cardinals escaped the game with no significant injuries as they prepared to face North Carolina next week.
What We Learned It might look like a fairly boring box score, but there were tangible signs of improvement for Louisville in Saturday's win over Missouri State. In 2010, Louisville barely defeated Eastern Kentucky a week after losing at home to Kentucky in the opener. Strong's teams at Louisville have had a penchant for playing well in big games only to relax at home and inexplicably be overconfident against lesser foes the following week. Neither were the case on Saturday and that's a very good sign for the mental maturity of the team.
USC 42 Syracuse 29 - Matt Barkley threw six touchdown passes and the Trojans pulled away late. The score doesn't completely tell the story of how close the game was as Syracuse actually outgained the USC 455-445. Ryan Nassib again had a huge day throwing the ball, completing 30 of 46 for 322 yards and 2 touchdowns. The game was close, 21-16) late in the third quarter before USC extended its lead again and put the game away.
What We Learned Ryan Nassib is the second best quarterback in the Big East and is probably closer to Teddy Bridgewater than people gave him credit for coming into the season. He's going to catch the eyes of NFL scouts who will like the fact that he's being coached and coached well by a former NFL coordinator. Given the way the bottom to middle of the Big East has played in the first two weeks of the season, there's no reason Syracuse can't rebound and be a bowl team in 2012, even with the 0-2 start. Also, Syracuse has issues in the secondary after both Northwestern and USC were able to pass the ball at will.
South Florida 32 Nevada 31 - South Florida allowed Nevada to score on its first three possessions and looked lost early on. But, the defense rebounded, forced a pair of red zone turnovers BJ Daniels hit Andre Davis for a 56 yard touchdown passes with under 40 seconds left to play to give the Bulls a 32-31 win at Nevada. Daniels finished the game with 363 yards and three touchdown passes of 51, 52, and 56 yards.
What We Learned The Bulls showed resilience in coming back to win what has turned out to be a very difficult place for teams to play over the years. Going all the way to Reno to face an offense you almost never see that is coached by the true master of it, is no easy task. Add to it, this was a confident Nevada team that won against Cal the week before, and you have to be happy that Skip Holtz's team found a way to leave with a win. Let's face it, this is the kind of game that South Florida typically has lost. BJ Daniels' production through the air is another welcome sign that, perhaps, 2012 will be different for the Bulls.
N.C. State 10 Connecticut 7 - Neither team could get a thing going offensively as both defenses really did what they wanted to in what turned out to be an ugly, ugly offensive game. UConn rushed for just 35 yards while NC State rushed for just 54. The Huskies will look back on this game and wonder if perhaps it would've turned out differently if they'd avoided three critical interceptions.
What We Learned UConn really hasn't changed in 2012. The defense is outstanding, again, but the offense still cannot move the ball consistently enough to beat good teams. Chandler Whitmer was supposed to help give the quarterback position some stability. His production has been better than Johnny McEntee's was at any point in 2011, but now the Huskies face the opposite dilemma: the offense live can't move people and for the first time in years, UConn can't run the ball. If that doesn't improve, the Huskies won't be able to compete with what looks to be an improved passing attack from a number of Big East teams.
Maryland 36 Temple 27 - After blowing out the Terrapins in 2011, Temple was dominated at home by them this year before a late rally made the score more respectable than the game was for most of the game. Perry Hills threw three touchdown passes and Temple turned the ball over three times in the loss. The Owls were held to just 53 yards rushing, their lowest total in the Steve Addazio tenure at Temple.
What We Learned Temple has issues on offense, especially if it can't line up and pound opponents like it did last year. No Steve Addazio team is going to win games when it rushes for just 53 yards. The Owls and quarterback Chris Coyer simply aren't to the point where they can carry a team throwing the ball as much as they were forced to after falling behind to Maryland early in the game. There's only one formula for Temple to win right now: control the ball, pass when necessary, shorten the game, and avoid crucial mistakes. They weren't able to do any of that against Maryland and it cost them. With only 11 games on the schedule, we might look back at the end of the season and see that this performance cost the Owls a shot at a bowl game.
Rutgers 26 Howard 0 The Scarlet Knights played a pretty conservative, simple game plan against overmatched Howard and moved to 2-0 with a 26-0 win over the Bison. Gary Nova threw two touchdown passes in the effort. The Scarlet Knights' defense was outstanding again, holding Howard to just 149 yards of total offense and posting a shutout. Rutgers also impressed, drawing over 50,000 for a game against an FCS opponent, something other league teams have struggled to do.
What We Learned Not much, really. Rutgers is never going to be a flashy offensive team and they were clearly trying to not show a whole lot against a team they didn't need to. This is who Rutgers is going to be in 2012: A conservative, pro-style offensive team that relies on an outstanding defense.
Big East Power Rankings After Two Weeks
3. South Florida