Non-conference tilt highlights Big East's weekend

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Connecticut at Rutgers (Friday, 7:30 ET)

THE LINE: Connecticut -6.0

THE PLOT: As great as Connecticut has been the past three seasons, the Huskies areonly 4-16 on the road within the Big East. Head coach Randy Edsall has been with theteam since 1999, and his record on the road is not any more impressive: 21-34.

Rutgers, however, has had Connecticut’s number, compiling a 20-9 record against the Huskiesin the rivalry’s history. The past two games have ended in Scarlet Knight victories by just acombined six points. This Greg Schiano-led group is 32-27 at home.

THE PICK: If we were to base the outcome of this game on how the two schools haveplayed thus far on the year, then Connecticut would win by three scores. The Huskies playedtough in the only two road games played so far, a 30-10 loss at Michigan and a 30-16 loss atTemple. The three home wins have seen an average score of 49-15, one of which was a 40-21victory over Vanderbilt, one of two Big East wins over BCS opponents on the year.

The Scarlet Knights are dead last in the Big East in both points-per-game and yards-per-game.Rutgers nearly lost at Florida International on September 11th, and did lose to Tulanelast Saturday. Schiano’s squad will need to rely on its conference leading defense–first in points,second in total yards–to put Connecticut’s Jordan Todman on hold. That last feat,though, has been difficult to do.

In the four games Todman has played, he has rushed for 638 yards on 98 carries and seventouchdowns–good enough for fourth in the nation in both total yards and yards-per-game.

THE SCORE: Connecticut 23, Rutgers 10

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Syracuse at South Florida (12:00 ET)

THE LINE: South Florida -7.5

THE PLOT: The Bulls of South Florida and the Orange of Syracuse have nothistorically made for great football games. Of the five meetings between the two schools, eachgame was won by South Florida in convincing fashion: at least 14 points.

That’s not to say the Orange is not making strides. Syracuse has scored as many, if not morepoints as the year prior in games against the Bulls.

But this year should arguably be the most evenly matched stint between the two schools. Bothschools are 3-1 with losses at better BCS programs and neither team has surrenderedmore than 14 points in any win.

THE PICK: Something that has gone ridiculously overlooked this year is the fact thatthe Big East lacks quarterback experience. No other conference has taken more bashing from themedia and/or fans than the Big East. (Okay, maybe the ACC.) Of the eight teams, fiveboast sophomore starting quarterbacks. The next closest BCS conference is the Pac-10, whichhas six of 12 teams starting sophomores or freshmen.

If the Bulls had a healthy Matt Grothe–hell, if they had an injured Grothe–then I wouldeasily have South Florida winning this match. Head coach Skip Holtz is making his BigEast debut, so it would be unfair to gauge him just yet.

As for Orange head coach Doug Marrone, he has had seven opportunities to win a BigEast game. His lone victory was last year’s second-to-last game at home against No. 25 Rutgers,a 31-13 win.

I think Syracuse wins its first Big East road game since 2007 on Saturday. The Orange lost atWashington by three touchdowns, but it was a great game, and it never hurts to come off a byeweek.

THE SCORE: Syracuse 28, South Florida 21

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Pittsburgh at Notre Dame (3:30 ET)

THE LINE: Notre Dame -6.0

THE PLOT: Unless Pittsburgh reaches a bowl game against a formidable opponent,this will be the last chance the Panthers have at impressing media members, coaches, and/orvoters. The remainder of the slate for Dave Wannstedt‘s group is comprised of Big Eastadversaries, and a victory of none would prove as helpful as a win over the Irish of Notre Dame.

The Irish have owned Pittsburgh since 1988, holding a 12-4 record. But since the departure ofBrady Quinn and the full implementation of Charlie Weiss, Notre Dame hasbeen awful. Over the past three years the Irish are 16-21. This year has not been much betterseeing just a 2-3 start with two home losses. The Irish have lost to Pittsburgh each of the past twoseasons, including a four-overtime thriller in 2008.

THE PICK: On paper, Pittsburgh should win. The Panthers have a much better defenseand two sophomore running backs that can kill you in Dion Lewis and RayGraham. Then what is the Panthers’ kryptonite? If it is not the quarterback situation withsophomore Tino Sunseri, then it is Wannstedt. Both of Pittsburgh’s losses have comeat the hands of currently ranked teams–a 27-24 overtime loss at now No. 10 Utah and a 31-3shellacking by now No. 13 Miami (FL).

But no one cares what happens on paper; that is why we play the games.

I know you have heard it a thousand times over, but Notre Dame truly could be 4-1 right now.

The Irish lost to Michigan and Michigan State on final drives, and have beat both Purdue andBoston College handily.

Notre Dame’s home record has not been great the past few years, but that does not mean the Irishdo not feel comfortable at home. I expect Brian Kelly to get his third career win withNotre Dame, put the Irish back at .500, and set the wheels in full motion before hitting the softerportion of its schedule.

THE SCORE: Notre Dame 28, Pittsburgh 17

LAST WEEK Straight up: 3-1 Vs. spread: 1-3

OVERALL Straight up: 14-2 Vs. spread: 6-10

(I failed to predict scores before Week One, but if you would like to count my predictions onWeek One from an outside source, you can add the following: Straight up 2-1, Vs. spread 0-3)

(Odds courtesy of SportsBook.com by way of our friends at NBCSports.com.)

Report: Gus Malzahn hands play-calling reins to OC

Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn reacts to a play during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Arkansas on Saturday, Aug. 30, 2014, in Auburn, Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)
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Following yet another pedestrian performance last Saturday, Gus Malzahn took his play-calling to task.

“Hadn’t been very good,” the Auburn head coach said Wednesday. “It’s gotta be better. It’s gotta be better and it will get better.”

To get better, and avoid the further heating of his coaching seat, Malzahn has elected to fire himself.

Citing a source with knowledge of the situation, al.com is reporting that offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee will call plays in place of Malzahn in what’s almost a must-win game for the coach and the team tonight against LSU.  The website writes that “[t]his isn’t the first time Lashlee has called plays in a pivotal game for Auburn… [as] Lashlee called the plays in Auburn’s 26-10 win at Texas A&M last season, the last SEC win for the Tigers.”

Since that game, the Tigers have lost three in a row in conference play.

Lashlee will be orchestrating an offense that, thus far this season, is tied for 86th in scoring offense (26.7 ppg).  Take out the 51 points AU scored against Arkansas State in Week 2, and the Tigers averaging 16 points per game against Power Five teams.

WATCH: Like his team, Mark Dantonio disappeared during blowout loss

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - DECEMBER 03:  Head coach Mark Dantonio of the Michigan State Spartans looks on during warm ups against the Wisconsin Badgers during the Big 10 Conference Championship Game at Lucas Oil Stadium on December 3, 2011 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
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Who knew that Mark Dantonio was into prestidigitation?

As you already know by now, No. 8 Michigan State was overwhelmed and embarrassed by No. 11 Wisconsin Saturday afternoon, then taken to the woodshed for good measure in a not-as-close-as-it-sounds 30-6 loss in East Lansing.  The Spartans’ running game was practically non-existent on the afternoon (2.8 yards per carry), and its special teams weren’t much better.

Those two phases of the game essentially disappeared for the whole of the blowout, as did their head coach at one point in the contest.

Take that, Houdini. Or Whodini, if you were a Sparty fan wondering when your team was going to get to the good part…

Ken Starr describes Art Briles as ‘an honorable man who conducted an honorable program’

WACO, TX - OCTOBER 17:  Head coach Art Briles of the Baylor Bears looks on as the Bears take on the West Virginia Mountaineers in the second half at McLane Stadium on October 17, 2015 in Waco, Texas.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
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Oh boy.

Earlier this year, Art Briles was dismissed as the head coach at Baylor in the midst of the sexual assault scandal that rocked both the football program and the Baptist university.  Not long after, president Ken Starr followed the head coach out the door.

Briles embarrassingly began his redemption tour earlier this year with a tone-deaf interview that was overwhelmingly panned.  Starr, in an interview during something called the Texas Tribune Festival Saturday, likely trumped that level of embarrassment in the eyes of many as the former president vociferously defended his former coach.

“I believe that Coach Briles is an honorable man who conducted an honorable program,” Starr said by way of the Austin American-Statesman.

At least two of Briles’ players were convicted of sexual assault committed while they were Bears football players.  Several other players were accused of committing either sexual assault or violence — or both — while playing for Briles.

An outside review, the details of which have never been made public, accused the school of mishandling rape allegations and alleged that the football program, Briles and his coaching staff included, felt it was above the law.

In one of the lawsuits filed that stem from the rape allegations, one woman claimed that the school and the program were deliberately indifferent to her claims of rape.  Despite the appearance of a cultural issue that was pervasive at the Waco school, Starr declined to concur.

“I disagree with the sense that there was a fundamental failure,” said Starr. “I love Title IX. It has been an instrument of great, great reform … [but] the pendulum has swung much too far in one direction. …

“I’m going to resist the issue, or the characterization, that there was an endemic problem. Is there in fact a cultural insensitivity to issues of interpersonal violence? That was not the case at Baylor and is still not the case at Baylor.”

You know that feeling when you’re absolutely positive you should stop talking but simply can’t? When you have the right to remain silent but not the ability?  Yeah, that.

Rocky Slop: Tennessee comes up empty twice inside 10-yard line, Florida leads 21-3

KNOXVILLE, TN - OCTOBER 10: Joshua Dobbs #11 of the Tennessee Volunteers carries the ball against the Georgia Bulldogs on October 10, 2015 at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, Tennessee. Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)
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If this was supposed to be the year Tennessee finally came out on top in the SEC East, the Florida Gators did not get the memo. Florida is up 21-3 on Tennessee in Knoxville at the half, thanks in part to a Vols offense that has imploded inside the 10-yard line twice in the first half. Tennessee was booed off the field, while on offense, as the final seconds ticked away in the first half. It has been 11 long years since experiencing a win over Florida, so you can imagine the pent-up frustration the home crowd has.

The tempers flared right from the opening kickoff, with Tennessee being called for an unsportsmanlike penalty on the opening kickoff, giving Florida 15 free yards without running a play. Two plays later, Florida starting quarterback Austin Appleby completed a 51-yard pass to Antonio Callaway to the Tennessee four-yard line. Three plays later, the Gators jumped on the Vols with a short pass from Appleby to DeAndre Goolsby for a 7-0 lead right out of the gates.

Tennessee looked to catch a huge break on special teams when Callaway failed to hold on to a punt. Tennessee recovered at the Gators’ two-yard line but was unable to punch it in from the door step on four straight plays. Marcus Maye broke up a pass from Joshua Dobbs intended for Alvin Kamara on fourth down. Down 14-0 in the second quarter, thanks to a touchdown pass from Appleby to Jordan Cronkrite to finish off a 93-yard drive, the Vols worked their way back to inside the 10-yard line and seeing a chance to build some momentum. That hope was dashed when Quincy Wilson picked off a pass from Dobbs to the back of the end zone on third and goal.

Florida turned what could have been three or seven points for Tennessee into a 21-point lead. On the first play of the ensuing possession following the turnover in the end zone, Apply picked up 20 yards through the air with Callaway hauling in a pass.Later, on 2nd and 3, Appleby completed a 36-yard pass to Tyrie Cleveland, and a few plays later it was 21-0 after a video review to confirm Jordan Scarlett had punched one in from the one-yard line.

Nothing has gone well for the Vols, but credit Florida for making the plays they have bene making. The Gators have made plays on both sides of the football and avoided letting a special teams hiccup burn them.