We tackled expansion issues in Thursday's special edition of the mailbag, so I'm going to try and keep this one to current football-related questions. But expansion questions are always welcome and I'll do my best to answer more of them next week.
On to other topics ...
Pawel from New York: Seeing as you've bet against Syracuse in the last four Big East games and they won three of them, would you mind reversing your call on tomorrow's game? Maybe the guys read your blog and make it their personal business to "stick it to the man." Whatever it is. it was working.
Brian Bennett: Sorry, Pawel, no can do. I've got a picks record to think about. And with the news that Louisville won't have its starting running back or quarterback, I can't take the Cardinals in this one.
Jeff from N.Y. writes: I think the way that Syracuse is running their offense is actually good the way it is. Ryan Nassib started off the year solid, but once Big East play started he has turned the ball over quite a bit. It seems that Doug Marrone has kept the offense a lot simpler with only running plays and some screen passes with minimal passes over the middle.With the way the defense has been playing, and Rob Long being able to punt the ball well enough to keep the field position advantage, shouldn't SU just keep pounding teams with the running backs?
Brian Bennett: If it ain't broke, don't fix it. Syracuse's defense has been running the show, and the Orange have already played the best offenses they'll face this year in Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and West Virginia.
Scott from Winterville, N.C., writes: Noel Devine's foot injury has been discussed ad nauseum since the LSU game, and seems to be the go-to line for Stew during each post game interview. No doubt that this has factored into WVU's offensive production (even though I think it's secret code for "the offensive line isn't performing"), but why not share the snaps with someone else then? I'm in no way saying to bench Devine or anything, but if it's such an issue, and we have other players like Tavon Austin, Shawne Alston, etc. who we continue to hear good things about, then why not share the tailback load a bit? Furthermore, I really enjoy watching Ryan Clarke play when he remembers to bring the ball with him.
Brian Bennett: We heard a lot in the preseason about Alston and Daquan Hargrett and Trey Johnson, but those guys have barely played. That tells me the coaches don't have confidence in them yet. Of course, one way to get confidence in them is to play them and see what they can do. Another factor is just about every Mountaineers game has been close, and most coaches will go with the known commodity when the game is on the line. They tried pounding Clarke away in overtime at UConn and he fumbled. I can't blame West Virginia for riding Devine, even if he's only 80 percent or so. But the explosive running plays just aren't there like they used to be.
Jared from New York City writes: Is there a minimal chance that Michigan fires Rich Rodriguez and he ends up back in the Big East possible at WVU, or are all those bridges burned? They can move Stewart back to assitanct coach and try to find some of the magic of a few years ago.
Brian Bennett: I'm running this e-mail just so West Virginia fans get a chuckle. I'm not sure Rich-Rod is welcomed to eat dinner in Morgantown, much less ever coach the Mountaineers again.
Lawrence W. from Bluefield, W. Va., writes: We're a little over half way through Charlie Strong's first season at Louisville and its already obvious he has the team playing better than Steve Kragthorpe did after three years. He's essentially playing with Krag's players so what do you see that is making Strong's team look and play so much better? Does it come down to "x's and o's", coaching knowledge, attitude, personality? Thoughts?
Brian Bennett: All of the above, yes. I'm blown away by how much better-coached this team is than the previous ones, and how many veteran players have raised their skill level. It's clear that Strong and his staff are excellent coaches and teachers, and it's also clear just how much of that Louisville had been missing. Most of all, I never thought the Cardinals looked particularly well-prepared or disciplined under Kragthorpe; Strong has changed that in a hurry.
Steve from Seattle writes: The score differential for the RU/USF game was the safety. Was it a playcalling mistake or was it a freshman QB mistake of throwing a screen pass in the end zone? (!!!!) And does Tom Savage win the job back now?
Brian Bennett: Without knowing the exact play call, it sure looked like a designed screen all the way, which is a dangerous play in the end zone. South Florida's Keith McCaskill made a great play to stuff it. And the Bulls defense blew up the Scarlet Knights' offensive line the two previous plays to back them into that hole. Chas Dodd was pretty efficient, completing 19 of 22 passes with no interceptions, but his throws were mostly short and for not much yardage. Until the offensive line improves, I don't think it matters too much who the quarterback is.
Brian from Tampa writes: How can USF win the Big East? What needs to happen?
Brian Bennett: The Bulls are 2-2, but they still get Pitt at home. They need to win out and get to 5-2 and have Pitt lose another game. They'd also need Syracuse to lose two more games and no one else finish 5-2, and then they'd own the head-to-head tiebreaker with Pitt. If Pittsburgh, Syracuse and the Bulls were all 5-2, then it would be the highest-ranked team in the BCS standings that got the nod for the BCS game. USF would probably not be ranked higher than the other two if that were the case.
Bennett from Melbourne, Austrailia, writes: To most people that were actually paying attention, the successes of Louisville under Coach Strong and Syracuse under Coach Marrone really shouldn't come as a surprise. Similarly, anyone with half a brain would look at Rutgers, UConn, and Cinci and have serious question marks about what kind of success they will really have. I read your blog daily, and frankly it seems that your preseason predictions and the teams you cover the most, are the ones that are having the most recent success. At what point will stop being a front-runner journalist that reports on what happened, and start being a Big East Expert that delves deeper, puts the pieces together, and forecasts to the future?
Brian Bennett: Well, it's pretty easy to write in on Nov. 4 and say you knew all along how the season would play out. If you could point me to your own preseason predictions -- with a verifiable time stamp, of course -- I'd be happy to run them here. Why would anybody think UConn, a team that returned 16 starters off a squad that won five straight to end last year, including a bowl victory over a current Top 20 team in South Carolina, might be good? Or that Cincinnati, coming off back-to-back BCS games and returning a ton of offensive talent, would contend?
And let's see, I had Pitt as the preseason favorite all offseason, said Syracuse would challenge for a bowl game and that Louisville would finish either 4-8 or 5-7 (the Cardinals are 4-4 right now). I also ranked Rutgers fifth and continually said the Scarlet Knights were a year away.
I guess we can't all be as accurate as the hindsight soothsayers from "Austrailia," though.
Jon H. from Arlington, Va., writes: Down here in ACC Country, they have actually had the nerve to talk about the lack of BCS quality teams [in the Big East]. However looking at their conference, it seems about the same, they just don't get the bad press. It's very possible with a loss or two that the ACC could have one or zero ranked teams. Their strongest game is a VT loss to Boise State, which is not all that different from a WVU loss to LSU or Cincinnati losing to OU. I might give a slight nod to the ACC, but they are far from a position of strength when it comes to their BCS position. Anything else I could include to beef up this argument?
Brian Bennett: The ACC is lucky to have the Big East, or everybody would be pointing out how terrible the ACC is. Still, that league doesn't have much to brag about. Virginia Tech is now looking like the best team, and the Hokies not only lost to Boise State but to James Madison. Did you know that the Big East champion has finished higher than any ACC team in the final BCS standings the past two years and three of the last four years? Or how about the ACC's 2-10 record in BCS games since 1998? Where would the ACC be without former Big East member Virginia Tech?
The Big East is bad this year, but the ACC doesn't have it much better.