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There wasn’t a lot of pretty football played in the Big East on Saturday, but there were a pair of exciting, tight games and the conference title race became clearer.
Below are the scenarios on what needs to happen for each of the teams that still have a shot — I am not including Louisville, Rutgers and Cincinnati, which all lost in Week 11.
Pittsburgh (5-4, 3-1 Big East)
Win out, or beat South Florida (Saturday, 12 p.m. on ESPN 2 or 3) and West Virginia (Week 13), and Connecticut loses one of last three games.
Syracuse (7-3, 4-2)
Beat Connecticut on Saturday (7:30 p.m. on ESPNU).
Pittsburgh loses two of its last three games (at USF, West Virginia, at Cincinnati).
West Virginia (6-3, 2-2)
Win out (at Louisville, at Pittsburgh, Rutgers).
Syracuse lose to UConn.
UConn lose to Cincinnati (Week 13) or USF (Week 14).
UConn (5-4, 2-2)
Win out (at SU, Cincinnati, USF).
Pittsburgh loses one of its last three games.
South Florida (5-4, 2-2)
Win last two conference games (Pittsburgh, Connecticut).
Syracuse loses to Connecticut (Saturday).
West Virginia loses one of its last three games.
Once again, it’s a mess. Things will get clearer after the Week 12 games. Or at least, I hope.
This game won't go in the Syracuse history books as the greatest game that was ever played by an Orange football team, but the feeling is no different.
Freshman kicker Ross Krautman nailed a game-winning 24-yard field goal with 1:07 remaining in the fourth quarter to help Syracuse (7-3, 4-2 Big East) become bowl eligible for the first time since 2004.
The Orange now sit alone in second place in the Big East Conference and trail first place Pittsburgh by a half-game.
After Rutgers missed a late, go-ahead, 45-yard field goal, Syracuse responded with a 11-play, 66-yard drive to get within chip-shot, field-goal range.
The truth is, the night belonged to Rutgers’ wide receiver Jeremy Deering, who used the Wildcat formation to carve through the Syracuse defense and rush for 166 yards and a touchdown on 29 carries.
The Orange couldn’t stop Deering but could stop the Scarlet Knight offense when he wasn’t in the game.
That was the case on Rutgers second-to-last possession, which marched deep into Orange territory.
But Deering, who carried the ball five times for 41 yards during the drive, exited for a breather and on the next play, quarterback Tom Savage was sacked by Syracuse’s Derrell Smith for an eight-yard loss.
That tackle pushed the Knights back to the Orange 27. San San Te’s field goal attempt was short.
Deering’s TD came in the third quarter on a 19-yard scamper and gave Rutgers a 10-7 lead.
SU tied the game at 10 on its second possession of the half when Krautman hit a 48-yard field goal.
Syracuse running back Delone Carter had a team-high 85 rushing yards on 18 carries. Nassib finished 16-of-31 for 214 yards with a TD and interception.
Freshman kicker Ross Krautman nailed a game-winning 24-yard field goal with 1:07 to go in the game to help Syracuse edge host Rutgers, 13-10, at Rutgers Stadium.
With the victory the Orange (7-3, 4-2 Big East) are now bowl eligible for the first time since 2004.
Rutgers (4-5, 1-3) was led by wide receiver Jeremy Deering who ran for a career-high 166 yards on 29 carries and a touchdown from the Wildcat formation.
The Scarlet Knights used an eight-play, 85-yard touchdown drive, capped off by a Jeremy Deering 19-yard rush to score the quarters only TD.
The game enters the final quarter tied 10-10.
Deering, a wide receiver, a rushed for 108 yards on 20 carries.
Syracuse tied the game at 10-10 on its second possession of the quarter when freshman kicker Ross Krautman nailed a 48-yard field goal.
The Orange marched to the Rutgers’ 18-yard line but Nassib was sacked twice to force a field goal try.
The fourth quarter will start with Syracuse facing a fourth-down punting situation.
Using a first-quarter, four-yard touchdown reception by running back Antwon Bailey, Syracuse leads Rutgers, 7-3, at halftime.
The Scarlet Knight’s lone score came on a 26-yard field goal by kicker San San Te late in the second quarter.
From the Wildcast formation, Rutgers wide receiver Jeremy Deering has rushed for a game-high 71 yards on 14 carries.
The Scarlet Knight rushing attack setup a couple second-quarter scoring opportunities but Rutgers didn’t capitalize.
San Te missed a 47-yard field goal early in second quarter. Two possessions later, the Knights, starting inside Orange territory because of an interception thrown by Nassib, couldn’t connect on a play-action pass, which freed up wide receiver Mason Robinson near the end zone.
Syracuse running back Delone Carter has a team-high 58 rushing yards on 10 carries. Nassib, 6-for-16 with just 106 passing yards and an interception, has struggled.
Syracuse’s TD came after both teams turned the ball over inside Rutgers territory.
On the Orange’s second possession of the game, Syracuse used a 33-yard reception by tight end Nick Provo to move into Scarlet Knight territory.
One play later, Rutgers Kordell Young fumbled the ball, which was scooped up by Syracuse’s Michael Holmes.
Six player later, Nassib found Bailey in the flat.
Each team gained minimal yardage on their next possessions and were forced to punt.
Rutgers is now driving and will start the second quarter at the Syracuse 38-yard line.
Last week, Louisville went for it on 4th-and-1 late in the fourth quarter to seal the deal against Syracuse.
This week, the Cardinals tried it again but was stuffed and lost in overtime, 24-21, to visiting South Florida on Saturday afternoon.
The Bulls (6-3, 3-2 Big East) became the first conference team to become bowl eligible after kicker Maikon Bonani nailed a 37-yard field goal on USF’s first possession in overtime.
The game-winning kick came after the Bulls defense forced a turnover-on-downs by stuffing the Cardinals, who had the first possession in overtime, on 4th-and-1 inside USF’s 10-yard line.
USF moves into a tie for second place in the Big East standings with Syracuse.
However, the Orange (6-3, 3-2) defeated the Bulls in Week 5 and own the conference tiebreaker.
Louisville (5-5, 2-3) drop in the standings and practically need a miracle to have a shot at a league title.
If Syracuse beats Rutgers, 3:30 p.m. on ESPNU, the Orange will earn bowl eligibility and be alone in second place in the league standings.
Most Rutgers football games this season have come down right to the wire, and last week's loss to South Florida was no exception. The Scarlet Knights led most of the game, but fell behind 28-27 early in the fourth quarter, and in the end were not able to eke out a road victory against the rebuilding Bulls. That game saw Rutgers adopt more of a short-passing approach on offense, which eased the pressure on what has been a horrific pass protection unit, but limited opportunities for big plays. A critical end zone safety provided what turned out to be USF's margin of victory. The Rutgers offense actually was not the goat for once though, as the team's once-stout defensive unit has succumbed to a spate of injuries.
Now the Scarlet Knights return to Piscataway for their first home game since Eric LeGrand's devastating spinal cord injury and paralysis at the Meadowlands. No public details have been released about LeGrand's medical progress, but after a few complications he was transferred to a rehabilitation facility in West Orange, N.J. This Saturday will be an opportunity for the Rutgers athletic community to come together in support of Eric, but the season must go on. 2010 has been an extremely disappointing year, with Rutgers mired at 4-4 and struggling to earn bowl eligibility.
This week's opponent is also looking to go bowling this year, and their current record represents a surprising role reversal for the two teams from the past few seasons. Syracuse has defied expectations under second-year coach Doug Marrone. Behind an attacking defense, an effective rushing attack, and good special teams play, the Orange stand only one game away from their first winning season in nearly a decade. They are coming off a disappointing home loss to the Louisville Cardinals. Oddly enough, while the Carrier Dome has a reputation for being a tough home venue, Syracuse has done most of its damage this year in a trio of conference road upsets.
Offensively, Rutgers established a formula against USF of short passes and running out of the Wildcat formation. With the team's offensive line still in tatters, look for freshman Chas Dodd once again to get the call under center. Also seeing time will be receivers Mohamed Sanu and Jeremy Deering taking direct snaps. With Sanu battling a lingering injury, Deering saw the majority of the snaps last week, demonstrating impressive burst and acceleration in the process. Rutgers is going to have to strike the right mix of protecting Dodd while keeping their play calls from being too predictable, which will be no easy task against a top Syracuse pass rush.
Rutgers has been a sieve on defense without the services of LeGrand or linebacker Manny Abreu. The latter is questionable to return this weekend, but may still be limited if he does play. That portends well for the Orange, where Marrone has done a great job rebuilding an offensive line that excels in creating holes for senior back Delone Carter. While not as futile offensively as Rutgers, Syracuse has struggled on that side of the ball as well. If this one turns out to be a low-scoring field position battle, then seemingly Syracuse would have the edge based on their running game and special teams play. Rutgers will need to keep its home crowd invested, and recapture its propensity to force turnovers from earlier in the season.
Both programs' efforts at appealing to the New York City market make for another interesting game subplot. Rutgers is the only major conference football program located in the metropolitan area, but many of Syracuse's alumni come from Long Island and New Jersey, as anyone who has ever attended the Big East basketball tournament can attest to. Marrone has made a concerted effort at wooing NYC in contrast to previous Syracuse coach Greg Robinson.
Rutgers has largely brushed aside any shots up to this point, but last year's drumming in the Carrier Dome proves that Syracuse can no longer be taken for granted as they were under Robinson. Heck, they are actually favored in this one by a field goal, which would have been incomprehensible not too long ago. With Rutgers in flux and looking internally for answers, this is as prime an opportunity as any for Syracuse to gain ground both locally, and in the Big East conference race. All the pressure is on a Rutgers team backed up against the wall, and it is difficult to be that optimistic with how this year's Knights have looked.
Rutgers hosts Syracuse this Saturday at 3:30 p.m. in Piscataway, NJ. The game will be televised live on ESPNU.