Inexperienced QBs lead Big East teams down stretch
Inexperienced quarterbacks are as easy to find in the Big East this season as teams with a realistic chance to win the conference's automatic BCS bowl bid.
Of the six teams with two or fewer losses, Louisville, Connecticut and Rutgers have relied heavily on quarterbacks with less than a year of experience.
Cincinnati's Munchie Legaux joined the parade of green QBs when senior Zach Collaros broke an ankle in the Bearcats' 24-21 loss to West Virginia last week.
Legaux came in and completed 10 of 21 passes for 144 yards, and coach Butch Jones said he's confident the sophomore can effectively lead the Bearcats (7-2, 3-1).
''The big thing with Munchie is he doesn't have to win the game, he just has to run our offense,'' Jones said. ''Probably, we'll open it up. That may seem hard to imagine, but we may open it up just because he can throw the football but also he can run the football. The great thing is the way we practice is he's gained the same amount of reps that Zach has each and every week.''
And Legaux said he will be relying on Collaros for help.
''He's going to be in the film room with me all week,'' Legaux said. ''We're going to watch film, he's going to show me some things and make sure I see the same things he sees if he's out there.''
But that doesn't mean there won't be a learning curve. Connecticut junior Johnny McEntee said he's learned more playing in the Huskies' nine games this season than he did watching and practicing over the past three years combined.
''It's a night and day difference,'' he said. ''Every game I learn something new and every week preparing, I learn a new thing about defenses and how to prepare to win a game. Last year and the years before I really had no idea about that.''
McEntee has started splitting time with redshirt freshman Scott McCummings, who runs the Huskies' option package. Coach Paul Pasqualoni acknowledges their inexperience is part of the reason UConn (4-5, 2-2) has struggled on offense this year, ranking last in the conference in passing.
''They are not only inexperienced quarterbacks who had never, ever taken a snap in a game, but they're learning a new system,'' he said. ''So the challenges there are large, overwhelming sometimes.''
Rutgers (7-3, 3-2) also has featured two quarterbacks. Sophomore Chas Dodd is the more experienced of the two, appearing in 11 games as a freshman. He has regained the starting job after losing it earlier in the season to freshman Gary Nova.
Coach Greg Schiano said he will continue to play whoever gives his team the best chance of winning, regardless of his level of experience. He said he believes quarterbacks are now coming into college more prepared to start.
''The coaching is much better in high school than it's ever been - more sophisticated, more college-like in the pass game and protections,'' he said. ''But, still there is no substitute for the speed that you see at the Division I level and the only way you get experience is by playing.''
Freshman Teddy Bridgewater has started the last seven games for Louisville (5-5, 3-2), and has thrown for 1,440 yards and nine touchdowns with eight interceptions. Coach Charlie Strong said his success has been a product not just of hard work and talent, but also a willingness to lean on the more experienced players around him.
''The offensive line made him better, the running backs have made him better, the wide receivers, but he's doing an outstanding job for us and the future looks bright with him,'' he said.
Bridgewater, who will try to become the first freshman quarterback to lead his team to the Big East's BCS berth since Pat White back in 2005, said he's still learning how to manage a game at the college level.
''The biggest thing is just to play fast and also just to execute and eliminate mistakes,'' he said. ''Don't think too much.''
West Virginia (7-3, 3-2) has junior Geno Smith back behind center this season. He and Pittsburgh's Tino Sunseri will face off next week in a battle of experienced quarterbacks.
Coach Todd Graham has gone with Sunseri after also using freshman Trey Anderson early in the year for the Panthers (5-5, 3-2). He said the senior's experience gives the Panthers an advantage.
''We're going into the last two games, going into November playing for a championship and that's when it's going to be won,'' he said. ''I think experience down the road, to know when to throw the ball away, to know how to distribute the football, that experience is big because it helps with the emotions of the game, so it does help to have an experienced guy.''
AP Sports Writer Joe Kay in Cincinnati and AP freelance writer Josh Abner in Louisville contributed to this report.