Bearcats Breakfast 10.12.11

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With the Big East opener Saturday, it's time to take a closer view at the conference outlook and how realistic the chances are of UC walking away with its third conference title in four years.

Anybody who visits Andrea Adelson's blog at ESPN can read coverage of the entire league and find perspective on the everybody. You can read the power rankings, the midseason reports or any number of Big East related items. But none of those focus solely on UC's chances.

In theory, just about anybody can win the Big East, but at this point I whittle it down to four legit contenders: WVU, USF, UC and Rutgers. They've established themselves as the clear upper half to this point. For anybody wondering, I've been selling Pitt since Day 1 and will continue to do so. They are struggling with many of the same unfortunate issues of transition UC experienced last year. It will take at least a season to get everyone on the same page.

--- That said, those title contenders begin and end with West Virginia.
This blog will continue to fight the stigma that WVU is that much heads and tails better than everyone that it is theirs to lose. But they are the favorite.

Even Zach Collaros offered as much.

"They are (the favorites) every year in the Big East," he said. "They have been doing it for however long, before we were winning games. They always have the highest recruiting class and all that stuff, it comes down to who plays better on any given day. From the looks at things and what people are writing and saying, West Virginia might be the favorites, but we are happy being under the radar winning games."

They sit in the favorite position because of their prolific offense. Though, it should be noted they aren't scoring as many points a game as the Bearcats. The man lighting a couch on fire would then point out their schedule has been tougher. Has it?

How do the FBS defenses played rank compared to each other? And let's throw USF in there since they lead the league in total yardage

WVU opp DRank  UC opp      DRank  USF opp   DRank

Marshall     69       Tennessee   33        ND            51

Maryland    84       Akron          74        Ball St.      112

BGSU        78       NC State      88       UTEP        111

LSU            5        Miami (OH)  58        Pitt            68

UConn       44                                    

Average    56        Average      63      Average    92

Not exactly a resounding difference between UC and WVU (we'll get to USF later). Granted, the Mountaineers did score 21 points on an LSU defense that may be the best in the country, but you can't discount UC posting 22 against a Tennessee defense that's among the better ones in the SEC at Rocky Top.

The Mountaineers are moving the ball all over the field against these teams. They are averaging more than 500 yards per game on an average of 76 plays at 6.6 yards per play. UC is averaging 440 yards a game on an average of 69 plays at 6.3 yards per play.

Yet, thanks to short field created by the second best turnover margin in the country, they are scoring five more points a game than WVU. 

ZC will take those numbers all day.

"A lot of people talking about how our numbers are down total yardage, you know we can't help that," he said. "The defense has given us such short fields, we are not complaining. They keep doing that and we will keep doing our jobs scoring points."

Take further into consideration UC plays West Virginia at Paul Brown Stadium and you have as good a chance to knock them off as any team in the league.

The only problem, of the other three aforementioned frontrunners, games against USF and Rutgers will come on the road. 

--- How about South Florida? What to make of the enigmatic Bulls? If any offense numbers of the first half can be exposed as inflated, it would be the Bulls. They are averaging 505 yards a game. Notre Dame gave away its points through turnovers, while the other two FBS teams (plus running up 70 against FCS FAMU) are both ranked in the bottom 10 nationally. Then they posted the stinker at Pitt.

BJ Daniels improved dramatically this season. The Bulls are legitimately better. You can't take away the Notre Dame game from them -- but you can think about it. If ever a team lost a game more than the winning team won it, that was the game.

So, what are the Bulls hanging their hat on right now? Running up the score against three defenses undeserving of being on the same field and being walloped on national TV by a struggling Pitt team.

And that defense which held its own a year ago, has take a step back while UC stepped forward, at least to to this point. If you only count games against FBS opponents this year, South Florida ranks 7th in the Big East defensively. UC is fourth (mainly thanks to the turnover disparity).

The Bearcats will travel to USF after the Louisville game this week. The Bulls already have a loss in the conference. A UC win down there could all but put USF away in the title picture. Looking back, the USF loss at home was the most critical swing game of the 2010 season. Such could be the case again this year.

--- Rutgers presents a unique case study. The Fighting Schianos own an aspect to their team that they feel can dominate anyone and that's their defense. They get in their own way too often with penalties, but teams are averaging but 15.2 points against them this year.

(Sidenote: High score of 26 points against Rutgers this year? My strong Ohio Bobcats. Matt Lauer gives that a dramatic eyebrow raise)

The offenses haven't exactly been juggernauts: North Carolina (72), Ohio (38), Syracuse (100), Pitt (76), Average (72). But they certainly have looked stout, especially at home. Which brings us to the most important element of The Rut.

They face all of the aforementioned contenders in Piscataway. Oct. 29 vs WVU, Nov. 5 vs USF and Nov. 19 vs UC. Three games in four weeks will define their season.

They are already 2-0 in the Big East with wins against Syracuse and Pitt. They control their own fate maybe more than any of the big four teams considering the schedule.

Of course, they are now starting a freshman at quarterback in Gary Nova. And anybody who reads this blog has seen the stats on inexperienced QBs winning Big East titles. (Hint: It doesn't happen)

--- The Bearcats are as confident and enthusiastic for the start of Big East play as you can be at this point. And looking around, rightfully so. Everyone has holes. Should the turnover margin express keep trucking along through the conference season, UC's game against WVU could decide the BE title.

Of course, all that can change by Monday. That's life in the Big East where very little separates the programs.

"When you look at the Big East this year, it's everything we thought would happen when we were in Newport (media days)," Butch Jones said. "Everyone is pretty much the same. It's a week-to-week conference. There are no my-bads or off days. One bad day can take you from all your dreams and goals and aspirations and we found that throughout a very short period of time that anyone is capable of beating anyone."

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