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A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN

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The Big East has more scenarios than you can shake a stick at!

(Photo courtesy baseballdigest.com)

WHAT: Homecoming

WHY: People love a parade.

WHO: UC vs. Syracuse

WHERE: Nippert Stadium

WHERE ELSE: ESPNU

WHEN: 12 noon, day before Halloween

SERIES: Bearcats up 6-4

LAST ONE: 28-7 UC in the Carrier Dome


      Wow.

      What a difference a week makes. After back-to-back reasonably impressive showings against Miami (OH) and Louisville, the Bearcats came back in a non-trophy game last week and made a team that hadn't scored a touchdown in two weeks look like an offensive juggernaut.

      Sure, the South Florida game was entertaining, but it would've been much more entertaining had a few passes been hung onto and a few more drives been completed with touchdowns. 590 yards of total offense ought to be a win in most leagues, but it wasn't to be against the Bulls.

      Quite honestly, looking at the Big East schedule prior to the season, you probably had the USF game penciled in as a winner. Likewise, a home game against Syracuse was probably in your preseason win column. But, as ESPN's Lee Corso says, "Not so fast!"

      Syracuse doesn't look like the orange-helmeted whipping boys that they've been of late.

      In the 90s and early into this decade, the Orange(men) were dominant against UC with superior players that often made the NFL. When UC's Jason Mammarelli drilled a 45-yard field goal as time expired to beat Syracuse 10 years ago, it was considered a major upset over a major program.

      Then, the tide turned in Mark Dantonio's second year and UC's reeled off five straight against struggling Syracuse teams that weren't living up to their historical success. The last three haven't even been close.

      You can bet Coach Doug Marrone will be using that message heavily as the Orange hit town for Homecoming. THEY are the 5-2 team and UC is treading water at 3-4. THEY beat South Florida in Tampa 13-9, while UC's tackling against USF here looked like the "Running of the Bulls" in Pamplona.

      Now, after being dismantled by Pitt 45-14, Syracuse rebounded with a 19-14 upset of #20 West Virginia in Morgantown.

      Does anyone have a handle on this league?

      Will the real Slim Shady please stand up?

     The Bearcats now find themselves in a "must win" situation. To be bowl eligible, they need to win three of the next five. In my opinion, that should be four of the next five because I'm not big on rewarding .500 teams with bowl games. However, ESPN needs programming so pretty much anyone with a chamber of commerce and a set of goalposts has a bowl game.

      Will this be the beginning of another Nippert winning streak? Or, will you have new found time to visit Uncle Frank and Aunt Maude over the holidays?


UC OFFENSE VS. SYRACUSE DEFENSE


Well theoretically, UC should be able to move the ball. Healthy Zach Collaros or not, the Bearcats offense is designed to move and strike quickly. Heck, coming in cold, Chazz Anderson moved the team and pretty much threw a TD pass. What Collaros, Anderson or perhaps even Brendon Kay would need is consistent catches from the receivers. While Barnett, Woods and Binns put up huge numbers, those could've been even bigger if they had made a few of the less dramatic catches. Also, the return of Alex Hoffman could be key as UC's running game was stifled without him in. When Isaiah Pead can ramble for 100-plus, then there's all sorts of pass plays that will work.


Syracuse beat the Mountaineers with defense and were led by Senior LB Doug Hogue who had 10 tackles and a couple picks against WVU's Geno Smith. For that, he's the National Defensive Player of the Week. Fellow LB Derrell Smith is the leading tackler for the Orange and this group held USF to 9 points and WVU to 14. (Then again, Pitt nailed'em for 45. Who shows? Jekyll or Hyde?)


NOD:


A healthy Collaros and the Bearcats should be back in repair enough to get back to .500. However, if the injury hampers his scrambling ability, it takes away from his style and that could be costly. The return of Hoffman and/or major corrections on the offensive line is crucial also. If Pead has holes, everything else can work. If Collaros can't go, Chazz Anderson has the discipline to control the game, but he'll need help from the defense....


SYRACUSE OFFENSE VS. UC DEFENSE


Redshirt Sophomore Ryan Nassib threw for just 63 yards (one score) on 5-13 passing vs. WVU. On the other hand, B.J Daniels of USF had putrid numbers and came in connecting on routes like the second coming of Joe Montana. Still, Syracuse is a run-first team. Junior Antwon Bailey contributed 94 yards in relief of Senior Delone Carter who left the Mountaineer game in the second quarter injured (after gaining 75 yards). Carter is an Akron Copley product and is the clear #1 if he's healthy. Much like the opposition can give UC fits by controlling Pead, UC can change the Orange game plan by containing their runners. But, can a defense made up primarily of sophomores pull that off?


UC's defensive staff I'm sure will be ready to burn the tape of the USF game in their Halloween bonfires. However, they first need to show it repeatedly to the troops to scare the you-know-what out of them. The truth is (though it does you little good now) playing youngsters eventually leads to a pretty stout squad. The 4-7 unit five years ago barely shaved but they turned into a collection of warriors that led to Coach Dantonio's success and some of Coach Kelly's early success. The guys not making plays now, WILL make plays in future seasons. Thing is, they might not have everything corrected by Saturday.


NOD: The fortunate thing for UC is Syracuse is not a quick strike offense, they won vs. USF and WVU by playing a "tough D, grind it out" style. The defensive game plan rides on how or if the Bearcats tackle the RBs Carter and/or Bailey. Syracuse has tried the pro-style passing attack and pretty much ditched it. IF the Bearcat offense can rack up early points, it will force the Orange to play a way they don't want to play.


SPECIAL TEAMS


Jake Rogers had a good night kicking the football against USF and typically is consistent at home. Kick returners Prince-Tyson Gulley and Max Suter are not the threat that USF presented and if Rogers nails touchbacks then it doesn't matter anyway. Syracuse does offer up Freshman Ross Krautman who drilled four FG's at WVU and has only missed one all season (and is 19-20) on PATs. Kicking in front of a rabid crowd in Morgantown is probably more difficult than "The Nipp", so we'll just throw out the intimidation theories now.


In the punt game, Syracuse has the appropriately-named Rob Long who doubles as their kickoff man. Long averaged nearly 52 yards a pop last week which definitely plays into Coach Doug Marrone's style.


NOD: I'd call the placekicking even between Rogers and Krautman. Long's probably the better punter and neither team offers up a returner that scares you to death.


PUT IT ALL TOGETHER SCOTT....


I sure wish I could. I'm as baffled about this team and this league as anyone. What it all boils down to is: the bad teams are better, and the good teams aren't as good as they were. That leaves you with parity in a league that needs a stand-out team for respect and doesn't have it. West Virginia was ranked but should've lost to Marshall and did lose to Syracuse. Pitt killed Syracuse and Rutgers, but didn't look that impressive in their early games (including losing to Brian Kelly's 4-4 Irish). Connecticut's at the bottom of the league and got shutout by Louisville. Rutgers isn't scaring anyone. And, I'd be less than honest if I didn't tell you that UC's not met expectations (be those expectations right or wrong).


It's a league that no one is grabbing a hold of and running away. You can't look at your "schedule strength" from here on out, because that's all out the window now.


In the end, the team that wants it more will take it, because it's been there for the taking for the past few weeks. Realistically, if UC falls short against Syracuse, the coaching staff can get an early start on recruiting. For that reason, I expect the Bearcats to rise up and take care of business.

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