Big East opens conference play with 5 Friday night prime time games

first_img Facebook Twitter Google+ Published on October 6, 2010 at 12:00 pm Contact Mark: mcooperj@syr.edu | @mark_cooperjr Commentscenter_img Starting Friday, the Big East will get its shot at redemption. Friday night national lights will be focused squarely on the conference. As Big East play opens up this weekend, the conference does not have the opportunities it had early in the season to build a reputation. Those have already been squandered. But conference play is a blank slate. Every team is still undefeated. No matter how bad the Big East has been up to date, the league champion still gets a BCS bid. And five Friday night games will provide the conference with the opportunity to climb back into the national psyche. ‘I think right now, everybody’s sitting back saying, ‘Hey, we can win this conference,” Pittsburgh head coach Dave Wannstedt said in the Big East coaches’ teleconference Monday. The Big East will have at least one game in prime time seven of the next eight weeks, including those five Friday evening games. For one night a week, at least, the conference gets to be the main attraction in college football. It starts with Connecticut at Rutgers (7:30 p.m., ESPN) Friday.AdvertisementThis is placeholder text Though both teams have had up-and-down seasons to date, the opportunity to play prime time on national TV has them thinking about a fresh start. ‘Whether it’s Thursday night or Friday (night), there’s nobody else on, and you’re the only team playing. There’s always an added excitement as you get to showcase your conference and showcase your own team,’ UConn head coach Randy Edsall said Monday. ‘This is something that’s really benefited and aided the Big East conference.’ The first Friday night Big East game last season featured Pittsburgh at Louisville. The Panthers rolled, 35-10, and the game proved to be a bit of foreshadowing. Pitt went on to a 10-win season and a victory in the Meineke Car Care Bowl, while the Cardinals won just four games. UConn and Rutgers enter the Big East opener heading in two different directions. After losing two of its first three games, the Huskies (3-2) have rebounded with back-to-back wins over Buffalo and Vanderbilt. Cody Endres has supplanted Zach Frazer as the starting quarterback for Connecticut: He’s thrown four touchdowns to one interception in his two games of action. Rutgers (2-2), on the other hand, hasn’t looked impressive at all this season. The Scarlet Knights have a five-point win over Florida International to go along with a win over FCS opponent Norfolk State and will go into Friday night’s game on the heels of a disappointing 17-14 loss to Tulane in Piscataway, N.J., during homecoming weekend. Starting quarterback Tom Savage left that game with an injury. His status for this week is still up in the air. ‘We need to regroup quickly,’ Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano said Monday. ‘We have a very good Connecticut team coming to our house Friday, and we’re looking forward to that opportunity.’ In addition to the game being in prime time and opening the Big East season, UConn versus Rutgers is becoming a heated rivalry. Since 2003, five of their seven meetings have been decided by a touchdown or less. Rutgers owns the all-time series with a 20-9 record. The Scarlet Knights have won in each of the past two years, but the two wins are by six points combined. The two teams’ rivalry on the recruiting trail also helps heat up the matchups between the schools. ‘(We’re) two football teams that are competitive year in and year out, and (with) the logistical proximity between the two schools, it’s just a good matchup every year,’ Schiano said. ‘It’s always been a very exciting game. ‘It comes down to the end, and it’s a very physical game every year.’ The only other in-conference game on the schedule this week is Syracuse at South Florida. The other four teams begin conference play in Week 7, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t excited for the start of a new season this weekend. The conference season. ‘I think the intensity level goes up a notch when you get into your conference play,’ Wannstedt said. ‘So (the rest of the season) is going to be very competitive, and I think it’ll add a little bit to the energy level to this game between Connecticut and Rutgers.’ Rutgers falling off from where it once was Four years. That’s how long it’s been since Rutgers became a national Cinderella story. It’s been four years since the Scarlet Knights reeled off nine consecutive wins to start the season — propelling RU to as high as No. 7 in the nation after a huge upset over No. 3 Louisville. Rutgers finished that season 11-2, and head coach Greg Schiano was commended for his work in turning around a program that hadn’t seen much success. Now, four years later, it’s looking as if that one season was nothing more than an anomaly. Sure, the Scarlet Knights have found some success. Twenty-five wins, including three bowl victories, in the past three years confirm that. But those numbers don’t look as impressive when compared to 2006. ‘Maybe that was ahead of schedule for where we are as a program,’ Schiano said Monday. ‘I’m certainly glad it happened because it allowed us to do a lot of things that are going to allow us to have, ultimately, the kind of success that we’re looking for. ‘‘I look at it as a long process. The people we’re chasing, they’re not sitting targets. They’re all working hard and investing money in their programs, as we are. … Ultimately we’re going to reach where we set out to reach.’ Big man on campus RB Ray Graham Pittsburgh Sophomore Last week: 29 carries, 277 yards, three touchdowns Graham entered this season as the backup running back for Pittsburgh behind last season’s Big East Offensive Player of the Year, Dion Lewis. It was expected that Lewis — who ran for 1,799 yards last season — would be the guy rushing for over 200 yards in a game. But not much has gone as planned for the Panthers (2-2) this season. The sophomore — who did not receive a carry in the season-opening loss at Utah — may be staking a claim for the starting running back job in Pittsburgh. He has run for 115, 100 and 277 yards in the last three games and is doing it at a video game-like 9.5 yards per carry. Despite playing one less game than essentially all other conference leaders, Graham is second in the Big East in rushing yards and tied for second in rushing touchdowns. And with Dion Lewis struggling (143 yards on 3.0 yards per carry) and injured (shoulder), Graham is inching closer and closer to winning that starting job. mcooperj@syr.edulast_img read more