Tasser: Big East title now up for grabs

By Donnie Tasser

In the words of Yogi Berra, “It’s deja vu all over again.” Once again Pitt failed to live… In the words of Yogi Berra, “It’s deja vu all over again.” Once again Pitt failed to live up to expectations for a big game, which results in a new No. 1 team in my power rankings. The season has been a jumbled mess thus far, with still no Big East team in the Top 25, and the conference’s only BCS-ranked team is Syracuse, coming in at No. 37. Five teams are still alive for the title, but with a big weekend we can see the number potentially whittled down to just two. Ah, the beauty — and frustration — of parity.

Power Rankings:

South Florida — The Bulls have been red hot as of late, averaging 30 points per game over their three-game conference winning streak, after averaging only 16.5 in losses to West Virginia and Syracuse. Quarterback B.J. Daniels has been limiting his mistakes on offense, their defense has implied the bend-but-don’t-break strategy, and seemingly all of the bounces have gone their way. That right there sounds like the perfect recipe for a winning streak, and they can move into a tie for first in the conference with a win against Pitt tomorrow.

Pittsburgh — The Panthers went into last Thursday’s contest with Connecticut content with a two-game conference lead, and that’s exactly how they played — sloppily and with no urgency. They made special teams mistakes, couldn’t find a rhythm on offense until late, and their normally stout run defense couldn’t touch tailback Jordan Todman. And all of this happened right as I was praising them for their consistent play. Now they have no more room for mistakes. They are still in the driver’s seat for the BCS Bowl berth, but they travel to South Florida this week for a big showdown with a surging Bulls team.

Syracuse — The Orange officially clinched their first bowl bid since the 2004 season with an ugly 13-10 win over Rutgers. That has pretty much been Syracuse’s season: Nothing spectacular, but it just seems to come through. This week it faces off with a dangerous Connecticut team to wrap up its conference schedule — it still has to play Boston College — and another win would be huge. It has losses to Pitt and Louisville, but owns the tie-breaker over both South Florida and West Virginia. If Pitt were to fall to either of those two, it would move into a three-way tie for first. The Orange currently have the highest BCS ranking in the conference, which is the next tie-breaker after head-to-head.

West Virginia — The Mountaineers might have finally gotten their offense back on track with a 37-10 win over Cincinnati after jumping out to a 30-3 halftime lead. But the Bearcats boast the league’s worst defense, so maybe it’s all just a stop-gap for their problems. They face off with a scrappy Louisville team tomorrow and need a victory to stay alive in the Big East race. If both they and Pitt win this week, it would set up a huge Backyard Brawl showdown next Friday.

Connecticut — The Huskies just won’t die. A couple weeks after I threw them in last and left them for dead, they rose from the ashes like a phoenix and have won two straight games, knocking off the conference’s two most talented teams — WVU and Pitt. They can complete their comeback with a win over second-place Syracuse tomorrow. With USF still on the schedule, don’t count out the Huskies just yet.

Louisville — The Cardinals need just one more win to clinch a bowl berth, their first since the likes of Elvis Dumervil and Brian Brohm graced Papa John’s Stadium in 2007. They lost a heartbreaker, 24-21 in overtime to South Florida last week that pretty much ended their hopes of winning the Big East, but they are still dangerous. Quarterback Adam Froman should be back in the lineup against West Virginia, and they can effectively end the Mountaineers’ title hopes with a win.

Rutgers — The Scarlet Knights lost another close one, this time 13-10 to Syracuse last week. They have lost three straight since the Eric LeGrand ordeal and travel to Cincinnati for a matchup of futility: Rutgers’s pitiful offense versus Cincinnati’s porous defense.

Cincinnati — It was blown out by West Virginia, and the two-time returning conference champs are all but done with no bowl game in sight. On the bright side: It will host what I call the Basement Bowl against Rutgers this weekend to see if it can climb out of last place.

Like always, I’ll end this column handing out the hardware.

Offensive Player of the Week: Jordan Todman, running back Connecticut

Todman put the Huskies on his shoulders and tore through Pitt’s highly regarded run defense. He carried the ball 37 times for 222 yards, rushing against a defense that came into the game giving up an average of only 94 yards per game.

Defensive Player of the Week: Lawrence Wilson, linebacker Connecticut

In a down week for defensive players, Wilson wins after recording 11 tackles and a sack against Pitt.

Play of the Week: Jon Baldwin’s 20-yard touchdown catch

I’m still not sure how he got his foot down, but it was pretty sweet. I might as well rename this the Jon Baldwin Award since he keeps winning.