Tasser: Big East football schedule in full swing this week

By Donnie Tasser

Well it’s that time of the week again, everybody. With conference play getting fully started… Well it’s that time of the week again, everybody. With conference play getting fully started this week, I felt it was only appropriate to feature a midseason breakdown. I will give power rankings for this far into the season and dish out conference awards as well.

Midseason Power Rankings

West Virginia — WVU, at No. 25 in the country, is the conference’s only ranked team. They’ve been playing heads and shoulders above everybody else, and quarterback Geno Smith seems like the second coming of Pat White. They played South Florida last night, a team that mysteriously gives them trouble year in and year out. Check back with me in a week to see if  they’re still ranked here. I think they will be, but stranger things have happened.

Rutgers — The Rutgers offense finally woke up with freshman quarterback Chas Dodd under center, and the Scarlet Knights lit up Connecticut. This vaults them from the bottom to the upper echelon of my Big East power rankings because the Huskies were playing well. Rutgers plays a nonconference game with Army this week, which is no slouch. The Black Knights beat Tulane, who have beaten the Scarlet Knights already this year. If Dodd proves he isn’t a one-game wonder and wins this week, the newfound offense will combine with a tough defense to form a solid team.

Syracuse — Raise your hand if you thought the Orange would be 4-1 and slightly favored in the Pitt game. Anyone? Yeah, didn’t think so. Anyway, they beat South Florida last week for the first time ever and, well, they don’t look as bad as I thought they would. Quarterback Ryan Nassib is having a good year, and the Orange blitz effectively on defense. So is Syracuse for real? Not entirely, says I. They will continue to be competitive the rest of the year — keep in mind which conference they are in — but they’re in no position to challenge for the title.

Cincinnati — The Bearcats slashed through Miami (Ohio) last week as expected, and it seems like their team is finally pulling it together. But they — like a certain team from Western Pennsylvania — had a chance to impress in their nonconference schedule and just were not up to the task. Quarterback Zach Collaros is dangerous, but Cincinnati is going to have to put full games together against decent opponents if the Bearcats are going to challenge, which is something they haven’t done yet this season.

Connecticut — The Huskies finally looked like the team everyone thought they would be at the beginning of the season. Then they went and let a true freshman pass all over them. This team is having a heck of an inconsistent season, and coach Randy Edsall better get his team back on track. They have the talent to win a conference title but have zero margin for error from here on out.

Louisville — The Cardinals have a good quarterback-running back duo in Adam Froman and Bilal Powell and have already won more games than I predicted they would at the beginning of the year. Coach Charlie Strong has his team prepared every week, and this looks like a team back on the rise after several years in the Big East basement. They don’t have the talent to win this year, but they could pull a surprise or two down the line.

Pittsburgh — This has truly been a disappointing year for the Panthers thus far. Losing all three big nonconference games was not good, and the blame falls all around — quarterback, head coach, offensive line, injuries, off-the-field distractions and even too much media hype. Notre Dame controlled much of the game last weekend and miraculously Pitt still found itself in position to possibly win the game. Coaching lapses — specifically with play-calling and time management — took the greatest blame in the loss, but the players themselves had several chances and couldn’t come through. They have the talent to win the conference, but they are greatly underachieving and could very well lose to a gutsy Syracuse team this week.

South Florida — Skip Holtz has to pick his team up. They just lost to Syracuse for the first time ever and had to play West Virginia last night. Since the Big East adopted its current format in 2005, South Florida has been the only team in the conference that has a winning record against WVU, but I don’t think this is their year. Not with B.J. Daniels playing like he is, anyway.

Here is the players-of-the-year race, as it stands at midseason.

Offensive Player of the Year: Running back Jordan Todman, Connecticut

Todman leads the conference in rushing yards even though he missed a game, and he’s pretty much been carrying the Huskies. He is averaging 152 yards per game and leads the conference with eight rushing touchdowns.

Honorable mention: Quarterback Geno Smith, WVU

Defensive Player of the Year: Safety Joe Lefeged, Rutgers

Lefeged is leading a rough and tough Rutgers defense and has done it all so far this season. He leads the conference in pass breakups and ranks eighth in tackles. The hard-hitting senior has also shined on special teams, blocking two kicks and recovering fumbles.

Honorable Mention: Defensive lineman Chris Neild, WVU

Coach of the Year: Doug Marrone, Syracuse

Marrone has led the Orange to a surprising 4-1 start and has people paying attention to ’Cuse for the first time since … Heck, I can’t remember.

Honorable Mention: Charlie Strong, Louisville

Biggest Surprise: Syracuse

They already matched their win total from last year and could actually make a bowl game this year. Syracuse in a bowl game, who woulda’ thunk it?

Honorable Mention: Louisville

Biggest Disappointment: Pittsburgh

The unanimous conference favorites have played terribly. Greg Romeus has been hurt, Dion Lewis ineffective and Jon Baldwin has developed little chemistry with new quarterback Tino Sunseri. And the team has had enough run-ins with the law to make Adam “Pacman” Jones blush.

Honorable mention: The whole conference. Seriously.