Big East mailbag

The blog was pretty stuffed Tuesday with our midseason reviews, so the regular Tuesday mailbag arrives a day late.

Kevin from Mahwah, N.J., writes: Brian, given the many open questions in league so far, do you agree this week will answer many of them? Here is what I think we will learn:1) Is Cuse for real? 2) Will Pitt rebound or potentially be in for a big clunker? 3) Can the 'Ville compete on a higher level than the BE basement? 4) Can Cincy legitimately compete for league title? 5) Will South Florida be a good team, or potentially a basement dweller? 6) Is the Rutgers new offensive surge a one-week exception, or a new reality?

Brian Bennett: That's a pretty good summation of Week 7, Kevin. Mind if I just copy and paste that for my weekly what to watch post? The only one I think is a little shaky is No. 6. I know Army has improved, but I'm not going to be overly impressed by Rutgers' offense if it performs well against a service academy. What I do want to see, though, is whether Chas Dodd can continue his level of play in his second start. And one other question has to be: Can West Virginia get over its USF hump?

Jim from California writes: I'm disappointed in all the caveats you placed in your explanation for Syracuse's No. 2 ranking. If you didn't think they were the No. 2 team, why did you put them there? Every time SU has won a game this year, people have just found an excuse ... our opponent isn't that good, it was in the Dome, etc. And when SU lost to Washington (mind you the same team that beat USC), that's just proof positive that we're not "there" yet. I don't think SU fans are under any kind of delusion about how we've won this season (either ugly wins or against FSC opponents). And I think most SU fans understand that this is USF team in transition. But that doesn't mean we're not a decent football team. We may not win 9 or 10 games, but we're good enough to be competitive (and give ourselves a strong chance) at beating every single team in this conference

Brian Bennett: That ranking is more about the general state of the Big East and the wildly varied schedules teams have played this year. Syracuse has the record and the Big East road victory, which is good enough to make it No. 2 this week. But while I agree that the Orange will be very competitive, I'm not at all sold that they're a true league contender. You have to ask yourself this: If Cincinnati or Pitt played the Orange's schedule (Akron, Colgate, Maine, USF and Washington), what would their record be? I think it would probably also be 4-1.

Syracuse has done what it was supposed to do to this point, and it's a great story. But I believe the hard part is just beginning.

Chris from Connecticut writes: I know all of Orange nation is pumped after the win against USF. I live 6 hours from Syracuse and I bought tickets for the game against Pitt on Saturday, so the Dome should be rockin like it used to. I'm not going to be one of those homers that gets upset when you say Syracuse isn't going to win the Big East this year, but wouldn't you say Syracuse should be favored in their remaining games other than at WVU and Rutgers (maybe)?

Brian Bennett: If the Dome isn't sold out, I'll be dumbfounded. It's homecoming weekend, the basketball team has midnight madness the night before and this is the biggest game the Orange have played since 2004. There's no excuse for a single empty seat in the building. As for being favored, eh, I'm not ready to go there yet. Let's see how Syracuse does against Pitt this weekend first.

Bob from Phoenix, writes: If WVU were to run the table and finish with one loss, where do you think they might finish in the BCS rankings?

Brian Bennett: West Virginia's problem is going to be that it probably won't play a ranked team the rest of the season. Mountaineers fans should be rooting like heck for LSU to keep winning. I think WVU could get into the Top 15, maybe even the Top 12. Truthfully, though, BCS rankings won't make one bit of difference to the Big East this year. Only winning the league title will matter.

Aaron from Cincinnati writes: Brian, now that we are halfway through the season and at least a few conference games have been played, who is your favorite to win the Big East? I have to go with either West Virginia or Cincinnati at this point. West Virginia has been pretty good, and are finally back in the rankings. But Cincinnati appears to be back in stride, and with the rest of the league still reeling, I think they will make the next best run for the title. Your thoughts?

Brian Bennett: West Virginia is the definite favorite at this point. You can't count out Cincinnati since they're the two-time defending champs, but the Bearcats do have to go to Morgantown. Every week should be close and a lot of fun, however. The first two conference games were decided by a total of seven points, and I think we'll see a lot more of those kinds of games.

Rickey from Fort Myers, Fla., writes: I'm a Bulls fan but it pains me to say this: B.J. Daniels is the worst quarterback in the Big East. I was so disappointed in his decision making. He looks down his primary receiver the entire time and never checks down. Against Syracuse, he missed several wide open receivers and instead threw into double and triple coverage. There were also plenty of opportunities for him to just pull the ball down and run but he would instead try to force the ball into coverage. I know he's learning a new offense but it's still just football. Throwing to the open guy is the same no matter where or who you're playing.

Brian Bennett: I can't argue with anything you said. Daniels has thrown more interceptions (seven) than any Big East quarterback, and he's ranked seventh among league passers (ahead of only Tom Savage ... who thought that Daniels vs. Savage debate would be about who was the worst in the league?). I continue to believe in Daniels' talent, though, and I think eventually he'll get it figured out. As a Bulls fan, you just have to wait for it. It's not like there are any great options behind him.

Rich from New York, N.Y., writes: As a Rutgers alum/season ticket holder, I loved what Chas Dodd did the other night in what really was a must-win game and agree that he should keep starting. If he does supplant Tom Savage, though, how likely do you think it would be for Savage to transfer? I'm sure he's at least aware of Pat Bostick, who was once a 5-star recruit, but was eventually leapfrogged by Tino Sunseri. Could you see Savage eventually becoming our Pat Bostick? Unfortunately, as big of an apologist as I am for Savage, it seems more and more likely each time Dodd takes the field.

Brian Bennett: It's a fascinating question and one that bears watching all season. I certainly never saw this coming, not the way Savage seemed to have gotten better over the course of last year. I don't think this story is over by a long shot; Dodd played great last week, but starting quarterbacks have to do it week in and week out. We haven't seen the last of Savage this year, and as porous as that offensive line is, Rutgers will need two quarterbacks.

Todd from Carlisle, Penn., writes: As a Pitt fan I'm used to disappointment -- staring in the early '90s. When Coach Majors returned in the late '90s things seemed to start changing and Pitt was back as a respectable team that had a chance to win on most Saturdays. But as a fan I'm totally perplexed -- they've got better recruits and more depth than I've ever seen, the coaching staff as a whole seems to have the resources to make something happen and the University seems supportive. The Big East's football reputation doesn't really help, but it's clearly not a key cause of the issue. So I'm asking you as a football expert, both in the Big East and nationally, what do you see that might explain Pitt's seemingly chronic inability to be a national contender? Is it Coach Wannstedt, the players, other coaches, facilities, University, TV ratings, BE conference, bad luck, carma, our colors, mascot or something else?

Brian Bennett: Well, I'm pretty sure it's not the mascot or the colors. And as far as underachieving, let's not forget that Pitt won 10 games last year and was a play away from winning all three games it lost. So it's not like the Panthers are miles away, despite the bad start to 2010. At some point, though, perhaps you just have to reconcile yourself with the fact that this program is what it is. This isn't the late 70s or early 80s anymore, and Pittsburgh may just be a mid-level program that can rise up and have really good seasons on occasion.