South Florida, Cincinnati take over Big East lead

Here's a team-by-team look at the first half of the Big East season:

Cincinnati Beacats

This is getting serious. The 15th-ranked Bearcats (6-0, 1-0) suddenly have the nation's second-longest winning streak (nine) and have been ranked three consecutive weeks for the first time since 1954, when Sid Gillman prowled the sidelines. Sellout crowds have become the norm at Nippert Stadium. The Cincinnati Enquirer actually ran a photo of the team boarding buses for a trip to Rutgers. Isn't this supposed to be a basketball school? The upward trend began under former coach Mark Dantonio and has continued under Brian Kelly, whose spread offense with new quarterback Ben Mauk is beginning to click. The defense leads the country in takeaways (25). A Big East title is a very real possibility. The Bearcats already are bowl eligible, but there's a lot of season left. It'll be interesting to see how Cincinnati copes with its newfound success.

Midseason MVP
Any number of defensive players could qualify, but when it came time to win the biggest game of the season thus far, Saturday at Rutgers, Mauk stepped up. The Wake Forest transfer with the rebuilt arm passed for 257 yards and three touchdowns and made several key plays with his feet. Mauk has completed 65 percent of his passes and thrown for 12 touchdowns and just three interceptions. He ranks second in the conference in passing efficiency.