So this one will be easy. Only four of eight Big East teams actually played FBS opponents this past weekend. The conference went 8-0 overall this weekend, though I cannot say I was altogether impressed, at least by the teams playing FBS opponents.
South Florida (Proj. Scoring Margin: -16.0 | Actual Scoring Margin: +3 | Diff: +19.0)
I give epic credit to South Florida for pulling of a Holtzian dream scenario. I really do. They sat back, took advantage of an opponent's miscues, and made sure an arch-conservative offense didn't get in their way. Notre Dame doubled USF in total yardage -- 508 to 254 -- but lost because they incredibly committed 33.69 EqPts' worth of turnovers. I'm pretty sure "regret" is defined as "committing five touchdowns' worth of turnovers in a game where only four would have won you the game." There is skill in putting yourself in position to pounce on mistakes, but ... in a game where B.J. Daniels averaged 3.8 yards per pass attempt (including sacks), Demetris Murray and Darrell Scott combined to average 2.8 yards per carry, and a defense that was supposed to be one of the Big East's best gave up 500+ yards, South Florida did little earn the win other than stepping in front of Notre Dame mistakes.
Actually, that all sounds more critical than it should have. USF made fewer mistakes and therefore deserved to win the game, but ... if they play that game 10 times, Notre Dame wins 7-8. Alas, USF won the one that counts, and they can tell the stats to go stick it.
Just About Right
Syracuse (Proj. Scoring Margin: +5.3 | Actual Scoring Margin: +7 | Diff: +1.7)
The Football Outsiders Almanac 2011 projections didn't think much of The 'Cuse this year, and they don't after the first game either. Wake Forest led 26-14 when quarterback Tanner Price got injured, and Syracuse outscored the Demon Deacons 22-3 the rest of the way to pull off the win in overtime. Really, that's the main story of the game. More than anything Syracuse did, Wake averaged 5.3 yards per play with Price behind center and 1.7 with Ted Stachitas. 'Cuse running back Antwon Bailey was incredibly inefficient, gaining 53 yards on one carry and 61 over the other 24, and quarterback Ryan Nassib averaged a below-average 5.8 yards per pass attempt (including sacks). On the bright side, nine different Orange defenders racked up tackles for loss (Deon Goggins, Torrey Ball and Jay Bromley had 1.5 each), and Wake Forest had no running game of which to speak. But the Price-to-Chris Givens (seven catches, 170 yards, 2 TD) combination almost stole a road win for the Deacs.
It was a (probably predictably) slow start for both of the Big East teams switching to high-octane offenses.
West Virginia (Proj. Scoring Margin: +34.3 | Actual Scoring Margin: +21 | Diff: -13.3)
What an odd, odd game this was. Thanks to the same weather that delayed games at Iowa, Notre Dame and Michigan, West Virginia's 34-13 win over Marshall started at 3:37 PM ET ... and ended at 10:24, just 24 seconds into the fourth quarter. In three quarters, it featured a punt return touchdown for Marshall, a kickoff return touchdown for West Virginia, some inspired play from the West Virginia offense, some inspired play from a good Marshall defense, and everything in between. Dana Holgorsen's offense is not synonymous with "grind it out," but WVU's three touchdown drives averaged 11.3 plays, 59.3 yards and 4:47. You do what you've got to do, but it's still a bit alarming when your running backs average 1.9 yards per carry. The West Virginia defense was particularly WVUish, allowing just 187 yards, one drive of more than 47 yards and three three-and-outs.
Pittsburgh (Proj. Scoring Margin: +45 | Actual Scoring Margin: +19 | Diff: -26.0)
Buffalo lucked out when quarterback Chazz Anderson elected to transfer from Cincinnati, and for a while it looked like they would steal a win at Heinz Field in Todd Graham's Pittsburgh debut. Pitt led just 21-16 two minutes into the fourth quarter, primarily because of Anderson, a persistent-if-conservative Buffalo passing game (267 yards over 51 attempts) and the fact that Pittsburgh couldn't get their offense onto the field. The Panthers' rearranged offense averaged 6.4 yards per play, but they only ran 66 plays to Buffalo's 93. Time of Possession in the second half: Buffalo 24:04, Pittsburgh 5:56. But they figured things out in the nick of time. Pitt's final five possessions resulted in four touchdowns, and Buffalo twice turned the ball over on downs in Pitt territory. Running back Ray Graham went for 201 yards (6.9 per carry) and three touchdowns, and that was enough. In his first game in this offense, quarterback Tino Sunseri averaged just 5.6 yards per pass attempt. The Panthers were projected awfully high in the Almanac, and they came nowhere near those expectations in Game One.
Played an FCS Opponent
Man...NOBODY devours cupcakes better than Cincinnati. Up 41-0 over Let's Go Peay at half.
Cincy really does destroy cupcakes like nobody's business. Their last six games against FCS opponents have resulted in an average score of Cincy 52, Opponents 5. This one: Cincy 72, Austin Peay 10. That's how it's supposed to work, of course, but plenty of teams struggle or sleep-walk. Cincy relishes the opportunities to put up video game numbers. They gained 561 yards (7.9 per play -- 7.9 per pass, 7.9 per rush) and allowed 277 (93 in the first half), and ... no contest. I have no idea if Cincy's going to be any good this year, but they were good Saturday.
UConn whipped Fordham, 35-3, in another textbook "doing what you're supposed to do" cupcake fest in Paul Pasqualoni's first game as UConn coach. Playing at a slow pace, UConn gained 434 yards in 63 plays (6.9 per), allowed just 169 yards (3.0 per play), allowed little through the air and absolutely nothing on the ground. Freshman running back Lyle McCombs broke out for 141 yards and four touchdowns (none from more than five yards out) in his debut, and quarterback Johnny McEntee averaged 8.2 yards over 13 pass attempts (including sacks). Efficient and effective. Now the season starts for real (sort of) with a trip to Vandy.
Three touchdowns and coast. Louisville led Murray State, 21-0, 17 minutes into the game; at the time, they led the Racers in total yardage, 219-49. Then, they either lost focus or went on cruise control, getting outscored, 9-0, and outgained, 242-166. They still won easily, but after an inspired start, it's hard to know how optimistic to be.
Rutgers is not a team that always roughs up lesser teams, but they did this time, knocking North Carolina Central around, 48-0. The new offense was so-so; the Scarlet Knights gained just 347 yards (4.6 per play), and though Greg Schiano gave the backups a lot of reps, Chas Dodd still only averaged 6.6 yards per pass attempt (53% completion rate), and running backs Jawan Jamison, De'Antwan Williams and Savon Huggins combined for just 130 yards on 38 carries (3.4 per). The defense, however, was impenetrable. NCCU had only one drive of over 30 yards, and it ended in an interception. The Scarlet Knights forced four turnovers and sacked various NCCU quarterbacks nine times, and ... this is incredible ... 15 different Rutgers defenders registered a tackle for loss. Good gracious.