Thank goodness for the start of conference play. Not just because the Big East has been so abysmal in out-of-league action, but because this is where the real fun lies. After months of arguing about which of these teams are better, we finally get to see them go head to head, starting this week.
I go head to head with the readers twice a week. Let's go:
Matthew from Acworth, Ga., writes: I need some help here. My Mountaineers are 3-1, have a decent chance of going 11-1, and all I can feel is "eh." They lost against the only decent opponent they've played, and the rest of the Big East looks so bad that any win feels meaningless. Is there any reason I should be emotionally invested in this team for the rest of the year?
Brian Bennett: I understand that there are not any marquee games left on the schedule, and the shot at a national title is gone. But if your team wins its league and goes to a BCS game, that's a great season no matter what. Not to mention revenge games against USF and Cincinnati, the Backyard Brawl and a challenging game at UConn. C'mon, Matthew, let's get fired up for conference play!
Jason from East Hampton, Conn., writes: Just one question about UConn. Even though UConn put a beating on Vandy last Saturday it seems as though the offense is really focusing on running the ball A LOT. I dont understand why, I mean, Cody Endres wasnt having that bad of a game. For example, three times on third-and-one we ran the ball and didn't make the first down. Why couldn't Randy Edsall just put a little faith in the offense to throw a short pass? It seems as though when Endres did throw the ball there was a lot of effort to catch it by the WRs and so my question is why does Edsall only use his offensive "spark" periodically? Shouldnt he be trying to pass the ball more?
Brian Bennett: Well, first of all, let's make it clear that UConn has the best offensive line in the league and the leading rusher in Jordan Todman. This is always going to be a team that thinks run first, and it should because that is its strength. Give me a back who rushes for 190-plus yards, and I like my chances at winning. I do agree that those third-and-short calls were very underwhelming on Saturday. The defense was so geared up to stop the run that a play-action and dump off to the tight end seemed like it would have been very effective. But let's not discount the fact that it was the final nonconference game, and perhaps Edsall didn't want to show off all his third-down calls against Vanderbilt.
Tom S. from Cranbury, N.J., writes: If Tom Savage is hurt, why doesn't Greg Schiano consider using Mohamed Sanu as the starting quarterback instead of Chas Dodd? Sanu played quarterback in high school and has displayed has a good arm. If the offensive line can't block anybody, at least Sanu has a good chance of escaping the pocket and creating something with his legs. I almost look a Sanu as a Denard Robinson (Michigan) type. He's fast, has a good arm, & can really cause some match-up problems for Connecticut. Lastly, if Schiano is going to rely on the Wildcat so often, why doesn't Sanu throw the ball more?
Brian Bennett: I really like Sanu, and I shudder to think what the Rutgers offense would look like without him. But take it easy on the Denard Robinson comparisons. Take away Sanu's 91-yard touchdown run on Saturday's second snap, and he's only averaging 3.7 yards per carry. The Wildcat has only been effective in short stints, and I agree with you that Sanu needs to throw the ball more out of the formation to loosen defenses up. There's one other problem here, though; Sanu is also Rutgers' best receiver, so if you put him at quarterback you hurt the passing game. I actually thought Dodd showed some good things last weekend, though the idea of starting a true freshman in a conference game has to give Schiano pause.
Matt from New York, N.Y., writes: If Syracuse, were to beat USF -- I know this is a big IF -- where do you see them in the Big East rankings? Third?
Brian Bennett: I would have to rank the Orange at least in the top half of the league. After all, they'd be one of only two teams with a conference victory and would own a 4-1 ranking. As I wrote earlier today, it's hard to get too much of a gauge yet on either Syracuse or South Florida, which makes Saturday's game very intriguing.
Kyle from Pittsburgh writes: Being one of the few people actually in attendance for the Pittsburgh v. Florida International game (another miserable crowd), I couldn't help but notice how awful Jon Baldwin's ball skills are. I used to think teams were crazy trying to cover him 1-on-1, but not anymore. It's time for people to stop comparing to Larry Fitzgerald. Thoughts?
Brian Bennett: I have to disagree, because I've seen Baldwin make all kinds of amazing catches the past couple of years. I think he still needs work on his route-running and his ability to get away from press coverage. And, clearly, he and Tino Sunseri have not gotten in sync this year. I fear Baldwin's pro stock has fallen so far this season, but there's a lot of season left.
Brandon from Steel City writes: Ray Graham had one of the best games ever by a Pitt running back. Given it was against a bad team, but Ray was dominant on the ground, almost 10 ypc. The old adage says that a player shouldn't lose his job because of injury. I think Dion Lewis shouldn't lose his job for another reason. HE HAD 1800 YARDS LAST YEAR. Give the guy a crack and he turns it into a touchdown. I'm a huge Graham fan, but I think people should withhold judgement on changing backs until Lewis gets a chance to run behind the revamped line.
Brian Bennett: I agree that you can't give up on Lewis, because he's been too good. He deserves a chance to work his way out of this slump. At the same time, though, Graham has been far and away Pitt's most valuable offensive player this year. You have to go with the hot hand. Split the carries, perhaps, but don't put Graham on the bench right now.
Gil E. from Nashville writes: As one of the Mountaineer faithful, I have to ask why West Virginia is not back in the Top 25 and in their place you have Air Force and Nevada? Seems like a double standard of sorts and re-enforces my opinion that there is no love for the Big East at all. It doesn't matter how much the teams have proven themselves (OK, I mean WVU). Why is there so much hatred of the Big East overall?
Brian Bennett: I didn't rank Air Force this week, though I can understand why some would. Nevada is a no-brainer at 5-0 and with blowout victories over Cal and BYU, which is more impressive than anything West Virginia has. I think the Mountaineers are a Top 25 caliber team, but at this point their résumé includes a decent win over Maryland, an overtime escape at Marshall and a six-point loss to an LSU team that needed another miracle to beat Tennessee at home. At this point in the season, the Top 25 should be about who you beat and who you played, and the Mountaineers need to add a little more to their portfolio.