Tasser: Pitt moves up power rankings

By Donnie Tasser

Well it’s Friday again, which means it’s time for another edition of my Big East Breakdown…. Well it’s Friday again, which means it’s time for another edition of my Big East Breakdown. Let me start with the sad news concerning Rutgers defensive tackle Eric LeGrand. LeGrand was making a special-teams tackle Saturday against Army when he suffered a spinal cord injury that left him paralyzed from the neck down. Pitt will hang a sign in honor of LeGrand and students will pass out stickers before the game.

Now we shall visit my pessimistic power rankings. Though this week, they’re a little more positive than usual. After all, the Big East actually went undefeated in nonconference games (1-0).

Power Rankings

West Virginia — The Mountaineers have played consistently well this season and managed to break the South Florida jinx with a convincing 20-6 victory. Statistically their rushing offense has not been up to par with past seasons’ teams, but with quarterback Geno Smith playing like he has all year and their defense playing lights out, it doesn’t need to be.

Pittsburgh — Pitt climbs back up to No. 2 after spending several weeks near the bottom. It finally put a complete game together and blew out Syracuse. Its offensive line played well, quarterback Tino Sunseri made good decisions, and the pass defense, specifically the linebackers, played great. Ricky Gary intercepted two passes and returned one 80 yards for a touchdown. A small reason for concern, however, is that Sunseri and star receiver Jon Baldwin only hooked up once, although it was for 61 yards.

Cincinnati — The Bearcats offense is fully back on track, and it has scored 109 points over its past three games. With Zach Collaros, Isaiah Pead and Armon Binns doing what was expected at the beginning of the season, they look dangerous. Their defense looked shaky in the first half of the game last week, giving up 24 points to Louisville, but it shut down the Cards and allowed only three points in the second half.

Rutgers — Chas Dodd did it again. The true freshman quarterback subbing for the injured Tom Savage led the Scarlet Knights back from a 17-3 deficit at the beginning of the fourth quarter to a 23-20 overtime victory over Army. Dodd is 16-of-22 for 285 yards and 3 TDs in the fourth quarter and overtime of the past two games, both of which were Rutgers come-from-behind wins. Unfortunately, Rutgers has to cope with the LeGrand tragedy, which is just awful. You never want to see something like that happen.

Louisville — The Cards played well and almost upset Cincinnati. Bilal Powell had a big game, running for 209 yards and two touchdowns, one of which was for 85 yards. Louisville looks like it’s almost ready to run with the conference’s big dogs, and it will continue to give teams trouble down the line. A bowl berth is not out of the question.

Syracuse — The Orange were riding high going into the Pitt game. But they were annihilated by the Panthers, and it appears that they just aren’t there yet. They entered the Big East gauntlet — Pitt, WVU, Cincinnati and now resurgent Louisville in successive weeks — 4-1 and could very well leave with a losing record.

South Florida — The Bulls’ defense looks great, but their offense looks horrible. This sounds a lot like Rutgers at the beginning of the year. The lack of skill and depth at the wide receiver position is not a legitimate excuse for the level of play of quarterback B.J. Daniels, who was supposed to be among the best in the conference. Rutgers started scoring points with a new quarterback; maybe head coach Skip Holtz should take note.

Connecticut — After it looked like Connecticut got its offense — and the season for that matter — back to contender status, it all came crashing down. It lost to Rutgers two weeks ago, and now its starting quarterback Cody Endres has been suspended for the rest of the season for an undisclosed violation of school policy. Starting guard Erik Kuraczea has left the team following a suspension of his own. Former starting quarterback Zach Frazer was bumped to third string for not taking his demotion gracefully, so redshirt freshman Michael Box will start. Head coach Randy Edsall needs to get a grip on his team, and fast.

All teams are in conference action this week, and it looks to be an exciting one. This week will separate the teams a bit and give us a better reading on where everyone stands, because after WVU and before USF, there’s a lot of wiggle room for the other six teams.

Rutgers at Pittsburgh — This appears to be the most exciting of the bunch. Rutgers has had a distracting week following the LeGrand tragedy but has been riding high off Chas Dodd’s comeback magic. The Panthers are coming off their best game of the season and are starting to resemble the team everybody thought they were at the beginning of the year. On a side note, Pitt running back Ray Graham will face off in this game against his older brother, Scarlet Knights starting free safety Khaseem Greene.

Syracuse at WVU — Syracuse got torched by Pitt, giving up several big plays and showing an inability to move the ball. WVU has a high-flying offense and the league’s best defense — at least statistically. This looks like another long one for the Orange.

UConn at Louisville — Going into this year, I never would’ve thought I’d predict a Cards league win, but they are playing well, and the Huskies will start an untested quarterback. This will be a battle of the conference’s top two rushers, UConn’s Jordan Todman and Louisville’s Bilal Powell.

I will once again end my column handing out hardware. Here are this week’s award winners:

Offensive Player of the Week: Armon Binns, WR Cincinnati and Tino Sunseri, QB Pittsburgh

This is a tie because both put up spectacular numbers that led their teams to victory. Binns racked up 175 yards receiving and three touchdowns on eight catches, and Sunseri was 17-of-24 for 266 yards and four touchdowns.

Defensive Player of the Week: Antonio Lowery, LB Rutgers

Lowery finished with an astonishing 19 tackles and a fumble recovery in the overtime victory over Army.

That’s it for another edition of The Breakdown. I ask everyone to keep Eric LeGrand in your thoughts with the hope that he will recover.