Overview: Oh, how the near-mighty have fallen. The Big East could have patted itself on the back after USF's win over Auburn and Cincinnati's win over Oregon State. The excitement has been tempered a little with one of the conference favorites, Louisville, losing 40-34 at Kentucky. Pittsburgh also lost a nonconference road game to Michigan State. Even USF's big win lost a little luster when Mississippi State stunned the Tigers with an upset at Auburn.
Best matchup: West Virginia running game vs. East Carolina run defense. If ECU coach Skip Holtz knows the key to stopping West Virginia's dominant running game, he's not letting anyone in on the secret. East Carolina is the only team to hold West Virginia to fewer than 200 rushing yards in each of the past two seasons. The Mountaineers have averaged 3.2 yards per carry in those meetings. In their only game against ECU as starters, Pat White and Steve Slaton had a combined 119 rushing yards last season. Alas, the Pirates have lost both meetings with West Virginia.
The pressure is on: Pittsburgh quarterback Kevan Smith, a redshirt freshman, struggled against Michigan State. Smith went 9-for-18 with two interceptions in a 17-13 loss. Pittsburgh was 0-for-12 on third down. If Smith does not improve, it could mean more snaps for touted true freshman Pat Bostick.
Who's hot: Cincinnati has forced a nation-leading 17 turnovers. … Cincinnati wide receiver Marshawn Gilyard has blocked a punt in each of the past two games. … Rutgers quarterback Mike Teel leads the nation in passing efficiency, completing two-thirds of his passes with eight TDs to one interception. Facing Buffalo, Navy and Norfolk State in the first three games helps.
Who's not: Louisville has allowed more than 40 points in back-to-back games for the first time since 2003. … Temple sacked Connecticut quarterback Tyler Lorenzen six times last week. … A week after making a 55-yard field goal against Oregon State, Cincinnati freshman Jake Rogers missed two field goals (43- and 32-yard attempts) against Miami University.
Keep your eye on: No. 2 running backs. The Big East has two Heisman-contending tailbacks (Slaton and Rutgers' Ray Rice) and a couple of other solid starters (Louisville's Anthony Allen and UConn's Donald Brown). But several Big East teams are getting a closer look at their depth at the position. At Connecticut, sophomore Andre Dixon ran 29 times for 129 yards last week. At Rutgers, true freshman Mason Robinson moves into a backup role with the season-ending injury to Kordell Young. And perhaps the best backup in the conference is West Virginia true freshman Noel Devine, who is averaging more than 15 yards per carry.
Numbers game: For a league that's not supposed to play defense, the Big East has had a good showing so far (Louisville notwithstanding). Five Big East teams are in the nation's top 25 in total defense: Rutgers (No. 7), Connecticut (No. 8), Pittsburgh (No. 11), USF (No. 18) and Cincinnati (No. 25). … Syracuse is 0-3 for the first time since 1986. That Syracuse team started 0-4 but finished 5-6. … Louisville meets Syracuse on Saturday. That's the nation's 93rd-ranked defense against the nation's 117th-ranked offense. … Rutgers scored 42 points in the second quarter against Norfolk State. The 42 points came on 12 offensive plays and consumed only 1:31 of the game clock.
Freshman to watch: Pittsburgh tailback LeSean McCoy, a true freshman who committed to Miami before going to prep school, had a breakout day last week against Michigan State. McCoy rushed for 172 yards and a touchdown. The Panthers also have used McCoy as the quarterback in the shotgun formation, similar to the "Wildhog" formation used by Arkansas and Darren McFadden.
BIG EAST STANDINGS
Injury update: Cincinnati quarterback Ben Mauk, who was a late scratch in the win over Miami (Ohio) because of a sore right shoulder, is expected to start this week against Marshall. … Rutgers backup tailback/kick returner Kordell Young will miss the rest of the season following season-ending knee surgery. … Connecticut linebacker Ryan Henegen (leg) is day to day. … Pittsburgh backup tailback LaRod Stephens-Howling (ribs) is expected to return against Connecticut. Panthers offensive tackle Jason Pinkston (shoulder) is questionable.
They said it:"I thought we were already in the [state's] 'Big Three.' I didn't know Miami was still in there. People have their own opinions about the 'Big Three,' but we really don't listen to them. We just play our games. A lot of people are recognizing us more now, watching us play on TV and seeing us beat ranked teams. I'm glad they picked us No. 2 behind Florida. I think we could be in front of Florida, but everybody has their own opinions."
-USF wide receiver Taurus Johnson on where the Bulls rank in their state
"You've got to bounce back off the canvas. I used the illustration of Muhammad Ali. He's been knocked down before and come back and knocked people out. That's got to be us right now. We've got to get ourselves off the canvas, get our gloves back on and get ready to go." -Louisville coach Steve Kragthorpe
"Let's not make this just a quarterback issue. The quarterback didn't play well enough to win, we all know that. But the times that we did have somebody open and Kevan was getting ready to deliver the ball, we would get pressure. Other times we would get good protection, Kevan makes a nice throw and we have a chance to catch a touchdown in the end zone but we didn't catch it. Any one of those plays by two or three different positions would have given us a chance to win that game. It's an offensive thing right now; it's not a quarterback thing." - Pittsburgh coach Dave Wannstedt
Worth noting: Louisville offensive lineman Breno Giacomini apologized Tuesday for making an obscene gesture toward the crowd at Kentucky before taking the field at Commonwealth Stadium. The gesture was caught in an online photo gallery on The Louisville Courier-Journal's Web site. … West Virginia coach Rich Rodriguez hopes to give Devine more carries after he rushed for 137 yards on only five carries against Maryland. … Syracuse is one of just four teams ranked in the 100s nationally in total offense and total defense. The others are Rice, Middle Tennessee and San Jose State.