The Big East Conference was jolted again following the weekend news that cornerstone members Pitt and Syracuse were leaving the conference to join the ACC.
coaches Todd Graham of the Panthers and Doug Marrone of the Orange made their first public comments Monday morning.
"I am grateful to our Chancellor Mark Nordenburg and (Athletic Director) Steve Pederson for their leadership in solidifying our program for the future," said Pitt coach Todd Graham. "We are excited about that opportunity for the future. We are excited about it."
Pitt has one of the biggest games on it’s 2011 schedule Saturday as it hosts Notre Dame.
The Panthers had a chance to be 3-0, but was felled by a furious Iowa comeback last week. Notre Dame started 0-2 with losses to South Florida and Michigan, but bounced back with a 31-13 route of No 15 Michigan State last week.
"The thing that has hurt (Notre Dame) is turning the football over," Pitt coach Todd Graham said. "They have looked very good at times with the way they’ve executed. They seemed to get everything straightened out with that win over Michigan State last week."
Graham earned one of the biggest wins of his career last year when his Tulsa team upset the Irish in South Bend 28-27.
Irish coach Brian Kelly, of course, is also familiar with Pitt having spent three seasons at Cincinnati.
Turnovers were a problem for Pitt last week as quarterback Tino Sunseri accounted for three, two on interceptions and the third on a fumble. Pitt’s defense has also been burned on the back end as the Panthers allowed three passing touchdowns in the final 7:04 in the loss to Iowa.
"It has all come in the last couple minutes of the game," Graham said of his pass defense which has allowed an average of 336 yards per game. "We are trying to execute a new system and we’ve mad a lot of errors in the fourth quarter. We have dominated (teams) for the first three quarters but we have struggled to finish games. We just have to keep working to try and eliminate the errors."
As of now, Syracuse is the other team leaving the Big East Conference for the ACC.
"Joining the Atlantic Coast Conference puts us in a strong position for the future," Syracuse coach Doug Marrone said Monday morning. "The ACC has quality schools academically and athletically and I look forward to competing against them.
"But I’ve told my coaches and the players not to comment on it because we have a tough task ahead this season," Marrone continued. "We are extremely excited about it. After the season is over I’ll be more than happy to open it up and I will talk about it as much anyone wants to talk about it. But right now I hope to be the coach carrying our team into the future and to do that we need to win football games now."
Syracuse had an early lead last week but allowed 24 consecutive points during a 38-17 loss at USC. The Orange will host Toledo Saturday at noon.
West Virginia and South Florida have earned the two biggest non conference wins so far through three weeks of the Big East season. South Florida managed to win at Notre Dame while the Mountaineers held off Maryland last week. WVU could make, perhaps, the last big statement for the league as a football conference this week as it hosts #3 LSU.
No. 17 South Florida is home to UTEP. The Bulls led 49-14 at halftime as the rolled 70-17 over Florida A&M.
"We had a chance to play a lot of people," South Florida coach Skip Holtz said. "And I am pleased with the continued development of (quarterback) B.J. Daniels. Darrell Scott played another excellent game as well."
Scott, the Colorado transfer, had 146 yards on ten carries.
"I was really proud of the focus and the maturity that this team showed and the way they are preparing each and every week," Holtz said. "It is a fun team to coach."
Rutgers was off last week. The 1-1 Scarlet Knights will face 3-0 Ohio University. Coach Greg Schiano is hoping to find a spark for the running game by making some changes on the offensive line . Rutgers is ranked 112th in the country with an average of 69 yards per game.
"Kaleb Johnson and Betim Bujari are both going to play in Saturday’s game," Schiano said of the two highly regarded freshman. "I don’t know if they will start or not.
"At running back it will be mostly Savon Huggins, Jawon Jamison and Jeremy Deering," Schiano said. "How they go and how we rotate them is based on the game plan and if someone gets into a groove."
Junior running back De’Antwan Williams, who started the first game of the season against North Carolina Central, has left the program after he was demoted behind the others on the depth chart. Williams rushed for 59 yards on 20 carries through two games.
And as far as the stories about Rutgers, perhaps, finding a soft landing in the ACC?
"I’ve taken the stance that I am going to coach our football team," Schiano said. "Our administration is going to handle the conference stuff and talk about that stuff. I am going to answered questions about the Ohio game and stick to that."
Connecticut still can’t find stability among three quarterbacks as they fell at home to Iowa State 24-20 last week.
"We turned the ball over and we failed to capitalize on the early turnovers we generated," UConn coach Paul Pasqualoni said. "We had three early turnovers and had a chance to put points on the board but we generated just three points.
"We missed some open receivers and that compounded with the fact that we didn’t run the ball as well as we needed really hurt us," Pasqualoni said. "We are experiencing growing pains. We are still learning the system on offense and defense. We are getting better but we just don’t have much to show for it."
UConn will play at Buffalo at 3:30 Saturday.
Louisville is off this week after winning at Kentucky on the road last week.
"We needed to bounce back after the Florida International loss," Louisville coach Charlie Strong said. "Our players have to understand that we have to continue to improve especially during a bye week.
Louisville senior linebacker Dexter Heyman was named Big East defensive player of the week.
"Dexter is becoming a leader of the defense," Strong. "He didn’t play as much last year, but as a starter as a senior he has accepted his role and is playing better and better every week."
Heyman had 12 tackles, including two for a loss, and a fumble recovery during the win at Kentucky.
Freshman Teddy Bridgewater also got his first extensive playing time as he took over for Will Stein who suffered a shoulder injury. Bridgewater was 10-18 for 106 yards and two touchdowns as Louisville won 24-17.