Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett and Heather Dinich
The ACC and Big East will square off three times on Saturday -- South Florida at Florida State, Rutgers at Maryland and Pittsburgh at NC State. Which means it's time for another round of blogger debate between the conferences.
Brian Bennett: Heather, I've got some good news and some bad news for the ACC. The good news is, William & Mary, Richmond and Middle Tennessee aren't on the schedule this week. The bad news is, three ACC teams will have to play against opponents from an actual BCS conference, the Big East. Should the ACC just go ahead and forfeit all of them now and save itself further embarrassment?
Heather Dinich: Is it March yet? Look, Bennett, last I checked the ACC had four teams in the national rankings and the Big East had ... oh, that's right, Cincinnati. Isn't that the same team Virginia Tech beat in the Orange Bowl last year? South Florida lost its quarterback and Florida State found one. UNC beat Connecticut, and Rutgers ... well, I might have to give you that one. The Pitt game should be interesting, unless, of course, NC State uses the same
offense it did against South Carolina. But what exactly is it you think the Big East has on the ACC heading into this week?
BB: The Big East has a 16-5 nonconference record, compared to the ACC's 17-10 mark. Hey, we could sit here all day and discuss which conference is better -- and I'm sure some people would want us to do that -- but why don't we look at this week's games instead?
Let's start with South Florida at Florida State. What has gotten into the Seminoles? Are they really as good as they looked at BYU this week? I had to check my calendar because I thought for a minute it was 1999 again.
HD: Well, let's just say the Noles CAN be that good. Christian Ponder has been overshadowed by Jacory Harris at Miami, but he's played just as well, and I expect him to be the difference in that game, especially with Grothe out. The question for FSU is which defense will show up. They seem to have given up as many big plays as they've made. What are you expecting from that Tally quarterback, B.J. Daniels?
BB: Daniels is really good. He's got a rifle arm and the speed and moves of a basketball player, which he is for the Bulls in the winter. I think they're going to be able to make some plays in the passing game, where they have a lot of weapons. I worry, of course, about his inexperience and whether South Florida can run the ball. Matt Grothe, after all, was their leading rusher the past three years.
I think we both agree that FSU has the edge in that game. What about Pitt at NC State? I watched the Wolfpack get crushed by South Florida last year and lose to Rutgers in the bowl game. Any reason not to think another Big East team will whip them?
HD: I picked NC State, but it's probably the one I was least sure of. The Pack could be starting its fourth different offensive line in as many games, and they've been banged up too much to have any consistency in their secondary. Tom O'Brien has been talking about those units as areas of concern all week, and rightfully so. He's so excited, though, to finally play some "smashmouth football," and he's hoping a win over the Panthers will open some recruiting doors in Pennsylvania.
I'll tell you what, though, Bennett, if there's one difference in this game it's on the sideline, and I'd take O'Brien over Wannstedt. You think he'll have the Panthers in the Top 25 this season? I see you have them at No. 2 in this week's power ranking behind Cincinnati.
BB: You're harsh on Wanny. Did you know he's 13-4 in his last 17 games? He's got about twice as many wins over FBS opponents as O'Brien does during that time.
I think Pitt is one of the most underrated teams in the country right now. The Panthers have gobs of talent all over the field, and their one big question mark -- quarterback -- has thus far been answered by Bill Stull's solid play. He's completing 70 percent of his passes and making great decisions. If NC State has problems on the O-line and in the secondary, the Wolfpack are in trouble. Because Pitt is absolutely loaded on the defensive line and has plenty of receivers to burn those DBs, especially freakish athlete Jonathan Baldwin. I like Pitt to control this game from start to finish and win a low-scoring battle.
OK, let's get to the Rutgers-Maryland game. The Scarlet Knights apparently have three FCS teams on their schedule now with the way the Terrapins have been playing. What in the world is going on with Ralph Freidgen's team?
HD: Oh, man, there's not even enough space in the blogosphere to start dissecting Maryland's problems. The big man has pinned the Terps' 1-2 start on a bit of bad luck and a young roster, but the truth is their problems range from recruiting to staff continuity -- much deeper issues than their woes up front on both lines. At first it was the defense not holding up its end of the deal, but last week it was the offense, which had four turnovers. To lose to Middle Tennessee two years in a row and barely beat James Madison at home is worse than bad luck -- it's inexcusable.
This is quite a different Rutgers team, though, than when these teams last met in 2007 and the Terps upended a top 10 team. How low has Rutgers sunk since then?
BB: Well, I thought Rutgers was ready to break through this year, and I picked them to win the Big East -- and then they went out and laid an egg in the opener against Cincinnati. This is a team that should be pretty good, with an experienced offensive line and a talented defense. But the passing game has been slow to develop, and now they're starting a true freshman quarterback (Tom Savage) who is a little groggy from a head injury last week. The running game hasn't blossomed and the Scarlet Knights have struggled to score points. Perhaps Maryland will be the cure to what ails them, though I think this could be a sloppy game.
So let's wrap this up. I say the Big East goes 2-1 this week, with Rutgers and Pitt winning. Not bad considering all three games are on ACC turf. What do you say?
HD: Well, I say the ACC goes 2-1, with the lone loss coming in College Park. If I'm wrong, I'll talk to you in March.