August 31, 2006

Big East: Week 1 breakdown

Fox's Big East Week 1 picks national writer David Fox's predictions for Week 1 in the Big East.
Thursday's game:
Connecticut 31, Rhode Island 14
Saturday's games:
Cincinnati 28, Eastern Kentucky 7
Pittsburgh 21, Virginia 14
Rutgers 28, North Carolina 17
South Florida 17, McNeese State 10
Wake Forest 28, Syracuse 14
West Virginia 35, Marshall 17
Sunday's game:
Louisville 42, Kentucky 14

Best matchup: Pittsburgh's Tyler Palko vs. Virginia's secondary. Without wide receiver Greg Lee, Palko will have to find a new favorite target in the passing game. Making things tough on him will be the Cavaliers' secondary, which returns three starters who had a combined 10 interceptions last year.

Worst matchup: Louisville's Brian Brohm vs. Kentucky's pass defense. There are few better ways for Brohm to test his surgically repaired knee than at home against Kentucky, 84th in the country last year in pass defense.

The pressure is on: Mike Teel, Rutgers. Teel has plenty of weapons around him with a backfield of Brian Leonard and Raymell Rice and tight end Clark Harris. He will need to improve greatly on his 2-to-10 touchdown-to-interception ratio from last year to keep the offense moving. Backup quarterback Jabu Lovelace was inconsistent during the preseason.

Upset alert: Rutgers over North Carolina. The Tar Heels are favored at home to beat the Scarlet Knights, but Rutgers' offense has the horses to get the job done. Rutgers' skill people could be a matchup nightmare for North Carolina's linebackers.

Most to gain: South Florida quarterback Matt Grothe. Grothe, a redshirt freshman, was neck-and-neck with senior Pat Julmiste for the starting quarterback job through spring and into the final week of fall practice. Both should see playing time against Division I-AA McNeese State. A strong performance could put Grothe over the top and earn him the starting nod.

Most to lose: Pittsburgh. The Panthers need a win over Virginia to start the season after dropping their first three games last year. Pittsburgh will follow the Virginia game with matchups against Cincinnati and Michigan State.

Who's hot: Louisville is white hot against Kentucky. The Cardinals have beaten the Wildcats in the last three season openers by a combined score of 81-24.

Who's not: Syracuse quarterback Perry Patterson. Patterson completed only 42.9 percent of his passes and threw three touchdowns and seven interceptions over the last five games of 2005.

Must see TV: Kentucky at Louisville, 8 p.m., Sunday, ESPN. Get your first look at the Derby City Duo this season. Brohm and Michael Bush should put on a show against the Wildcats.

Newcomer who could have an impact: Take your pick, Pittsburgh. Junior college transfer offensive tackle Jeff Otah and true freshman defensive tackle John Malecki are likely to start at Virginia. True freshmen Kevin Collier and Dorin Dickerson should see some time at tailback behind LaRod Stephens-Howling.

Key stat: 0-2. Pittsburgh coach Dave Wannstedt is 0-2 coaching against Virginia's Al Groh. Both losses came in 2000 when Wannstedt coached the Miami Dolphins and Groh coached the New York Jets.

Take the line: Pittsburgh is favored by 3-1/2 over Virginia at home. Expect the Panthers to win by at least a touchdown. The Cavaliers are breaking in a new quarterback and running back. Their top wide receiver, Deyon Williams, will miss the opener. On defense, the Cavs will be without standout linebackers Ahmad Brooks and Kai Parham.

They said it: "I really don't know what you're talking about, bud. We'll leave it at that." Marshall coach Mark Snyder when asked about a West Virginia student caught spying on an open Thundering Herd spring practice in April.

Injury update: Connecticut tight end Dan Murray (ankle) is out. Cincinnati linebacker Corey Smith (hamstring) is questionable.

Worth noting: There will be some good bloodlines in the Syracuse-Wake Forest game. Orange linebackers Jerry Mackey, the great nephew of NFL Hall of Famer John Mackey, and Kelvin Smith - the nephew of Tennessee Titan Keith Bulluck will try to take down Wake running back Micah Andrews, the son of former NFL and Auburn running back William Andrews. Cincinnati quarterbacks Dustin Grutza and Nick Davila are still competing for the starting job going into the season opener against Eastern Kentucky. Three projected starters were suspended for South Florida's first two games. Running back Ricky Ponton, wide receiver Jackie Chambers and defensive end Josh Julmiste will all miss the opener and the week two game against FIU.

More Week 1 Conference Previews: ACC | Big Ten | Big 12 | Pac-10 | SEC

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