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September 25, 2012For the first time this season Louisville isn't the only Big East team in the top 25. The Cardinals, who moved up to No. 17 in the Coaches' Poll and No. 19 in the AP, were joined by Rutgers, which was voted No. 23 in the AP Poll and tied with Virginia Tech at No. 25 in the Coaches' Poll.
Some saw Rutgers' victory at Arkansas as a boost for the conference, but that's all media hype, according to Rutgers coach Kyle Flood.
"A couple of people have asked me that question, and we really don't look at it like that during the season," he said. "I know on the TV shows and the newspapers and magazines, etc., there is always talk of the conference, but I have always felt that conference power is always cyclical. All we wanted to do on Saturday was be 1-0. It didn't matter to us whether that team was in the Big East, the Big Ten, the SEC or any other conference, we wanted to beat them."
Still, Flood had to admit that a win over a team picked to be a BCS contender from the SEC was sweet, regardless of how awful Arkansas has looked this season under interim coach John L. Smith.
"Well, it isn't new for Rutgers because I think we had a win over Tennessee back in the 70s," Flood said with a laugh. "No, I think our program is at a different place now. We are fortunate to have recruited a number of athletes who had an opportunity to go to a lot of different places but chose to continue their education and development at Rutgers."
Flood's Scarlet Knights (4-0, 1-0) look to be Louisville's top competition for the league crown. Prior to the season Louisville was favored to win 11 of 12 games by a Las Vegas Sportsbook. The one loss? Rutgers. And Monday Rutgers was ranked ahead of Louisville in the Big East power poll by ESPN's Andrea Adelson.
"The Scarlet Knights have the most impressive wins of any team in the conference," Adelson wrote. "While USF and Arkansas may not be as strong as we thought they would be headed into the year, they are two very talented teams. Rutgers deserves major credit for winning three road games -- including the one against the Razorbacks. I count the victories over USF and Arkansas as two quality wins, and that gives them the boost ahead of preseason favorite Louisville this week."
RUTGERS ROAD WARRIORS
As Adelson noted, even if USF and Arkansas have not been as good as most predicted, Rutgers' winning on the road is impressive.
"I think going on the road so early in the football season tests your team's maturity," Flood said. "I thought we had a mature team on defense, but offense has really done well.... When you are on the road in a hostile environment the crowd can really close in on you. I never felt like this team fell victim to that at all so far this season."
Another contender for the Big East title likely will be Cincinnati (2-0, 1-0). The Bearcats have played just twice in the first four weeks but picked up a big win over Pitt (34-10) in Week 1, then beat Delaware State 23-7. Cincinnati will square off against ACC power Virginia Tech (3-1) Saturday at FedEx Field in Andover, Md.
The game is counted as a "home" game for the Bearcats despite the nine-hour travel distance from Cincinnati. FedEx Field is just under five hours from Blacksburg, where Virginia Tech is located.
UC quarterback Munchie Legaux's four turnovers against Delaware State haven't tempered coach Butch Jones' enthusiasm about Legaux's ability to lead the team.
"You can't take the turnovers away, but I thought he improved his accuracy," Jones told the Cincinnati Enquirer. "I thought he was in command of the offense. He hit some big-time throws. I saw improvement from Game 1. I just think it's another teaching tool. It's another opportunity to get better. I'm not discouraged. I'm actually encouraged from watching the film. Those are all correctable mistakes that he made."
PITT 2012, LOUISVILLE 2011?
Could Pittsburgh be this year's version of Louisville from 2011? The Panthers looked terrible in the first two weeks of the season but seem to have righted the ship.
"I never felt like I was fighting against them ... everyone's got a role and everyone's got a job to do on each play, and guys got to do that," new coach Paul Chryst said. "Our job is to make sure they know what to do, know how to do it and that they feel confident doing it."
The Panthers opened the season with an embarrassing 31-17 home loss to Youngstown State and then got pounded at Cincinnati. Since then they beat then-No. 12 Virginia Tech 35-17 and clobbered Gardner-Webb 55-10 Saturday. Louisville started last season 2-2 with losses to FIU and Marshall but came back to win a share of the Big East title and make the Belk Bowl.
For Louisville in 2011 the transformation was fueled by defensive improvement. For Pitt, it's all about offense. The Panthers put up 1,163 yards the last two weeks, a school record for back-to-back games.
"He really simplified things," receiver Mike Shanahan said of Chryst. "We keep it pretty basic. We run a lot of the same plays. Our philosophy on that is just to simplify things, do what we do well. It doesn't matter if the defense knows if it's coming or not because we have things to beat it."
Pitt is off this week before playing at Syracuse on Oct. 5 and entertaining UofL on Oct. 13.