Big East Coaches Cautious After Strong Start

The Big East Conference began its 2011 football season in perfect fashion. After the first weekend of play, it boasts an 8-0 record.

That’s not to say that the weekend schedule was rigorous. All the games were against nonconference opponents, which included four FCS programs. In their weekly teleconference, Big East head coaches expressed satisfaction with the results put were quick to point out that a season is not predicated on the opening week’s outcome.

While half of the games were against FCS opponents, the marquee contest was South Florida at Notre Dame. The Big East has had its share of success in South Bend of late, and this time was no different. Despite two lengthy weather delays, USF overcame the elements and the mystique of college football’s most storied program, beating the 16th-ranked Fighting Irish 23-20.

USF head coach Skip Holtz is a Notre Dame alum and played under his father, Lou Holtz, there. The win had to be personally satisfying for the coach but, moreover, it also had to raise some eyebrows. USF is a team on the rise.

Skip Holtz praised Bulls quarterback, B.J. Daniels, Monday, for his field management and “protecting the football.” The coach also noted that while the South Florida defense gave up 500 yards to the Irish, it also had four takeaways.

When asked how the he managed the tone in the locker room during two delays, Holtz said he tried to keep it between Romper Room and Comedy Central. While he instructed his players to remove their shoulder pads and shoes in order to relax and rest, he steered it away from the somber or raucous extremes.

Most of the Big East coaches, in their weekly teleconference, expressed satisfaction but caution with the initial results. West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen noted he took in all the Big East games and reported “from the outside looking in, all the teams looked pretty good.” Still, he concluded, it was far too early to take assumptions about the total season.

UConn head coach Paul Pasqualoni singled out South Florida for praise.

“That was one great job and one good-looking football team,” Pasqualoni said of the Bulls. “They were very athletic, fast, well-coached and prepared.”

Of his own team, Pasqualoni expressed general satisfaction but cautioned that the opposition gets more difficult. The Huskies next game is against SEC opponent Vanderbilt. UConn beat the Commodores last year at Rentschler field, but Pasqualoni was wary of a “hot, intense” setting in Nashville on Saturday night. Vanderbilt dispatched FCS opponent Elon 45-14in their opener.

In other notes, Skip Holtz cited the death on of Hall of Famer Lee Roy Selmon (56) as a huge loss for USF. Selmon was the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ first pick in the 1976 NFL expansion draft. He played eight seasons for the Bucs before injury forced his retirement.

An Oklahoma native, Selmon played college football at OU but made Tampa his home after his career ended. He was instrumental in the advancement of the USF football program and participated in Holtz’s interview. The coach said Selmon’s influence was felt throughout the university, and his “fingerprints were all over the football program and athletic department.”

The last time the Big East enjoyed a perfect record against nonconference opponents to open the season was 2000 when teams went 6-0. In the lone conference game that week, West Virginia defeated Boston College.

The schedule has somewhat more competition this week with Florida International at Louisville (Friday), Rutgers at North Carolina, UConn at Vanderbilt, Cincinnati at Tennessee, Rhode Island at Syracuse, Ball State at USF, Maine at Pittsburgh and Norfolk State at West Virginia.

Pitt coach Todd Graham noted that each week is a challenge and that FCS teams are constantly seeking opportunity for a “signature win.”

Graham said there is more parity than most fans realize: “If you’re not humble in the way you prepare, you’ll get humbled [in the game].”

Notes:

West Virginia was ranked 19 in the AP Poll, up from 24 last week. It debuted at 24 in the USA Today Coaches’ Poll.

USF debuted in the AP Top 25 this week at 22.

 

The Big East players of the week were:

Offense
Ray Graham, RB, Pittsburgh (Junior)

Defense
Jerrell Young, S, USF (Senior)

Special Teams
Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia (Junior)

Honorable Mention
Lyle McCombs, RB, UConn (R-Freshman)

Chas Alecxih, DT, Pittsburgh (Senior)

Maikon Bonani, K, USF (Junior)

Ryan Nassib, QB, Syracuse (Junior)

Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia (Junior)

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