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September 27, 2006

Big East: Week 5 Breakdown

Fox's Big East picks
Rivals.com national writer David Fox's predictions for Week 5 in the Big East.
Saturday's games:
Rutgers 28, South Florida 21
Navy 24, Connecticut 21
Pittsburgh 38, Toledo 21
Syracuse 21, Wyoming 14
Cincinnati 21, Miami (Ohio) 14
Last week: 6-2 Season: 25-5

Rank and file: After starting 4-0, Rutgers entered the AP poll at No. 23 for its first top 25 ranking in 30 years. With No. 4 West Virginia and No. 8 Louisville both on off weeks, the Scarlet Knights are the only ranked Big East team playing this week. Rutgers will play South Florida in Tampa on Friday.

Best matchup: Rutgers running back Ray Rice v. South Florida outside linebacker Stephen Nicholas. Rice, the fourth-leading rusher in the country, will go up against one of the Big East's most experienced linebackers in Nicholas, who has 40.5 career tackle for a loss. Rice ran 26 times for 158 yards in Rutgers' 45-31 loss to USF last year.

Worst matchup: Pittsburgh's passing game against Toledo's pass defense. Against Iowa State, Bret Meyer completed 68 percent of his passes and threw for 243 yards and two touchdowns against the Rockets' defense. There's no reason Tyler Palko couldn't have similar results.

The pressure is on: Rutgers wide receiver Willie Foster. The senior special teams standout, who has yet to record a catch this year, moves into the starting lineup with Shawn Tucker out for most of the remainder of the season. Fullback Brian Leonard and tight end Clark Harris are the first targets in Rutgers' passing game, but Mike Teel needs a weapon at wide receiver to keep opposing defenses honest. Tiquan Underwood and Dennis Campbell also need to contribute as downfield threats.

Upset alert: Navy over Connecticut. Navy has one big win (37-9) over Stanford but lost to Tulsa in overtime and beat UMass by just one point earlier this season. Meanwhile, Connecticut is going back to a start quarterback who already lost his job once. A Navy win wouldn't be a total surprise.

Most to gain: Cincinnati. The Bearcats wrapped up a nightmarish stretch of the schedule with back-to-back road games at Ohio State and Virginia Tech. With a home loss to Pittsburgh in Week 2, Cincinnati is on a three-game losing streak. A win over rival Miami (Ohio) this week and Akron next week would even up the Bearcats record before an Oct. 14 matchup at Louisville.

Most to lose: Rutgers. A loss to South Florida would likely mean a short-lived appearance in the polls.

Who's hot: After rushing for 31 yards in games against Pittsburgh and Ohio State, Cincinnati at least got a start in establishing a running game with 121 rushing yards on 38 carries against Virginia Tech. Greg Moore ran 16 times for 48 yards, and Butler Benton ran nine times for 52 yards.

Who's not: Rutgers' passing attack. Welcome to the top 25, Rutgers. You're the worst among ranked teams in pass offense (106th) and passing efficiency (94th).

Must see TV: No. 23 Rutgers at South Florida; 8 p.m., Eastern, Friday; ESPN2

Backup who could have an impact: Pittsburgh defensive end Chris McKillop. The junior started last year at defensive end and had 3.5 sacks. He returned to the position against The Citadel last week and will stay there following the season-ending injury to redshirt freshman Doug Fulmer.

Key stat: 0. Sacks for West Virginia. The Mountaineers are the only team in the country without a sack. Syracuse had eight sacks against Miami (Ohio) last week.

Take the line: Pittsburgh is favored by 11 at home over Toledo. Iowa State's Bret Meyer had success against the Rockets in Week 1. Tyler Palko should as well. Toledo quarterback Clint Cochran is listed third on the Rockets' depth chart this week after missing last week's game with an unspecified injury. His replacements are freshmen. Pittsburgh should cover the spread. Season: 3-1.

They said it: "Those guys do their thing, we do our thing. This is a good conference. I'm proud of what we're doing. It's turned out better than people thought."
-Rutgers fullback Brian Leonard on Miami and Boston College, two former Big East teams who are in the "others receiving votes" category in this week's AP poll.

Injury update: Pittsburgh defensive end Doug Fulmer is out for the season following ankle surgery. Linebacker Tommie Campbell will return after a one-game suspension but may not re-take his starting job claimed by Brian Bennett. Rutgers wide receiver Shawn Tucker is out indefinitely after breaking his ankle against Howard. Syracuse's leading receiver Taj Smith is likely out of the season after sustaining a broken collarbone last week against Miami (Ohio).

Worth noting: Whoever voted for the new clock rules will love the Navy-Connecticut game Saturday. The teams are second and third, respectively, in rush attempts per game. Connecticut will start quarterback Matt Bonislawski this week after D.J. Hernandez was 5 of 13 for 27 yards with two interceptions against Indiana. Huskies running back Terry Caulley set a career high with 31 carries against Indiana last week. He ran for 152 yards. Quarterback Tyler Palko passed Tony Dorsett to become Pittsburgh's No. 4 player in in total offense with 6,655 total yards. Quarterback Alex Van Pelt holds the school record with 11,148 total yards followed by Dan Marino (8,320) and Rod Rutherford (7,609) The last time Pittsburgh faced Toledo, the Rockets scored two touchdowns in the fourth quarter to beat the Panthers 35-31 in 2003. Darius Reynaud's 110-yard receiving game last week against East Carolina was West Virginia's first 100-yard receiving game since Chris Henry hit that mark in Nov. 2004. Cincinnati has been outscored 74-18 in the second half in the last three games against Pittsburgh, Ohio State and Virginia Tech. Louisville has allowed 41 points this season, compared to 106 through four games last season. The last time Rutgers was ranked, it finished the season 11-0 in 1976. That was also the last time the Scarlet Knights started a season with five consecutive wins.

Looking back: Pittsburgh and Rutgers romped over Division I-AA teams at home, but it was a tough week for Big East teams on the road last week. Cincinnati held a 10-5 halftime lead to Virginia Tech but lost 29-13. East Carolina held Steve Slaton to 80 yards and forced three Pat White interceptions in the Mountaineers' 27-10 win. Connecticut beat Indiana 14-7 in Bloomington, Ind., but played poorly enough to switch quarterbacks. USF also lost on the road to Kansas.

Freshmen who impressed: Pittsburgh's 51-6 win over The Citadel gave the Panthers plenty of opportunities to test their freshmen. Oderick Turner led all receivers with 130 yards and a touchdown on five catches. Running back Kevin Collier carried 13 times or 54 yards and a touchdown.

More Week 5 Conference Previews: ACC | Big Ten | Big 12 | Pac-10 | SEC

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