My grand idea stepping in for Brian Bennett today was to look at 2010 Pac-10/Big East football matchups. Then I saw the games.
Syracuse visits Washington on Sept. 11 and Louisville travels to Oregon State on Sept. 18. Those are not appealing matchups for the Big East -- just compare Brian Bennett's power rankings to mine over in the Pac-10.
It's hard enough to win on the road, and even more so when you cover multiple times zones, but the biggest issue is the Beavers and Huskies both are veteran teams that have bowl aspirations, while Syracuse and Louisville are both rebuilding and the Cardinals are breaking in a new coach.
Don't you hate it when the Big East's struggling teams match up with more highly rated teams from another BCS conference and then those games are used at season's end as a measuring stick for conference quality?
It's more than likely somebody at some point next year will say that the Big East went 0-2 against the Pac-10, ergo that means something when you compare the conferences.
Of course it doesn't. I promise I won't say or write that. Most likely.
I know there's another side to this, too: What if Syracuse and/or Louisville pull the upset?
Glad you asked. That's our topic: Here are three keys for each to fly back from the West Coast with a win.
Syracuse vs. Washington
Don't let QB Jake Locker run: Syracuse fans surely remember Locker. He made his college football debut in the Carrier Dome -- I was there -- and he immediately looked like a budding star in the 42-12 Huskies win. Locker is a much better passer now, but it's still his running that makes him a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses. He's 230 pounds and he's as fast as most safeties. The good news for the Orange is their defense might be sneaky good. There's strength at corner, linebacker and a solid edge pass rush. Locker will make plays, but most of his big ones come on the run. Contain those runs. And if he's feeling pressure and stuck in the pocket, he could make mistakes.
Re-instate Delone Carter: The Orange have all sorts of questions on offense -- new coordinator, new QB, few playmakers, etc. Carter, at present suspended after being arrested for assault in April, is not a question. In fact, he would be the best answer for Syracuse in Seattle. The Huskies lost three starters from their front seven, including two NFL draft picks, and they ranked ninth in the Pac-10 against the run in 2009 anyway. A grinding running game would keep the ball away from Locker and could expose the Huskies lack of depth up front.
Sneak attack! The Huskies open at BYU the week before Syracuse comes to town and then they play host to Nebraska the week after. In other words, the Huskies could either suffer a letdown or be looking ahead. In any event, there are reasons to believe they could be less than focused on the Orange. Recall for a moment that Washington went 0-12 in 2008 before turning things around in 2009 under first-year coach Steve Sarkisian. It isn't like this program has re-established itself completely. Any team is vulnerable when it gets caught napping.
Louisville vs. Oregon State
Stop the Rodgers brothers: Any Pac-10 fans reading this are probably laughing and going, "Duh." Running back Jacquizz and receiver James -- both generously listed at 5-foot-7 -- are the best pair of offensive weapons in the Pac-10. Both are great runners and receivers. And it sounds like Louisville has all sorts of issues on defense, though as a former SEC guy I tend to have a lot of faith in Charlie Strong figuring something out. The point is the Beavers are breaking in a new quarterback, so the game plan probably won't be too fancy for the second game of the season. There are other weapons on the Beavers' offense, but if a defense at least contains the Rodgers brothers, it gives itself a chance to be successful.
Challenge the Beavers LBs: The Beavers are replacing two linebackers, and a third co-starter might not be ready to play as he is trying to come back from a torn Achilles. Oregon State's defensive line looks strong with tackle Stephen Paea, who figures to draw a double-team inside, and end Gabe Miller, and the secondary is solid, but dinking and dunking and misdirecting some inexperienced linebackers might prove productive.
Sneak attack 2! Oregon State opens at TCU on Sept. 4 and has a bye before Louisville comes to town. The following week, the Beavers visit Boise State. That's two top-10 teams in the first three games, sandwiched around the Cardinals. While the bye week should help the Beavers refocus, there's still a natural tendency to look back and forward to more heralded opponents. And, oh by the way, the last time these two teams tangled, it wasn't pretty for the Beavers, see a 63-27 beatdown in 2005. Strong might want to show that video to his team to remind them the Cardinals were an elite team just a few years ago.