Big East Rewind

The Big East bowl forecast is as cloudy as they come. Christopher Mumola tries to shed some light on the subject and the possible scenarios.

West Virginia (8-1 overall, 5-0 Big East):


The West Virginia Mountaineers wrapped up back-to-back Wednesday night beat-downs of Big East foes by cruising to a 38-0 road win over
Cincinnati, a week after pasting Connecticut.  The Mountaineers continue to be led by the tandem of QB Pat White and RB Steve Slaton, who have combined for over 600 yards of rushing in the past three games.  The stingy Mountaineer defense has held every opponent except Louisville under 20 points.  Clearly appear to be the class of the conference this year, and they continue to control their own destiny for the Big East title and BCS berth.  Wins over archrival Pittsburgh and upstart USF will give them a 10-1 season and a likely top 12, maybe top 10 ranking – their best season since their 11-0 mark in 1993 (which came to a crashing halt, losing 41-7 to Florida in the Sugar Bowl).

 

Remaining schedule: Pitt and @USF

Analysis: The Mountaineers showed no apparent rust coming off their unexpected bye-week after Hurricane Rita postponed their trip to USF.  All of the positive momentum from the Louisville win carried over, and WVU appears to be playing in a real groove at this point.  Given their vaunted home-field advantage and the strength of their running game (and Pitt's struggles to defend the run), on paper, all indications point to a resounding win over the Panthers.  But rivalry games can never be taken for granted.  Also, WVU has consistently come up short in recent years when big expectations are laid at their doorstep.  They began the season as an underdog and have vastly exceeded expectations.  Now that the media and fans are expecting a cakewalk to an undefeated Big East campaign and discussing which BCS bowl they will be going to, it's worth considering if the Mountaineers and Rodriguez will falter a bit under these expectations.

 

USF (5-3, 3-1):

 

The South Florida Bulls followed up their unexpected victory at Rutgers with a 27-0 win in the Carrier Dome, over what can only be described as a Syracuse team on life-support.  Suddenly, USF is in control of their destiny and can actually host a Big East title game against WVU with wins over Cincy and UConn (both are 4-5).  The Bulls essentially ran all over Syracuse, to the tune of 338 yards (222 coming from Andre Hall), but played a spotty game in a lot of ways.  QB Pat Julmiste continues to underwhelm, with a 5-for-14 performance which produced less yardage (89 yards) than USF took in penalties (92 yards).  The Bulls also converted a mere 3 of 14 third-down opportunities.

 

Remaining schedule: Cincy, @UConn, WVU


Analysis: No team better personifies the unpredictability and parity of the new Big East conference than the USF Bulls.  Given little chance in their first Big East season, they shocked the college football world by decimating the highly-ranked Louisville Cardinals, 45-14 in their first conference game.  All of a sudden, expectations soared for the Bulls in a wide-open Big East, only to be met with a resounding thud after being comfortably dispatched by Pitt.  But with a big upset of Rutgers in
New Jersey, followed by a shutout of a gasping Syracuse team, the Bulls are actually in better position to win the Big East than any team, save West Virginia. 

 

Sloppy, one-dimensional play may be good enough to get USF to that WVU game at 7-3, but they will have to play their most complete game of the year to close the deal.  (Even in their big win over the Cardinals, the Bulls posted little yardage on offense and gave up massive amounts of real-estate on defense, only to be bailed out with huge special teams plays and multiple crucial Louisville turnovers.)  Should be interesting to see how they handle the weather in that late November trip to Connecticut.  If they emerge victorious, winners of 4 straight and hosting the biggest game in the program's brief history, all bets may be off….particularly if the Mountaineers come into the game wobbly from a loss to Pitt.

Pittsburgh (5-5, 4-2):

 

For once, the Panthers managed to get off to an early-lead, scoring on their opening drive against UConn, and then rode their special teams and defense to a deceptively easy-looking 24-0 win over the Huskies. After the opening touchdown, the Panthers' offense struggled to find a rhythm all day long, and scored their only other touchdown following a blocked punt that gave them the ball inside the UConn 30.  In fact, UConn drove deep into Panther territory three times, only to come up empty each time.  Once, Darrelle Revis blocked a field-goal that would have made the game 7-3, and it was returned for a touchdown by fellow Aliquippa alum Josh Lay.  As time expired in the first half, UConn failed to punch the ball in from the 1-yard line.  Finally, Lay came up big again, by picking off a Bonislawski pass into the end zone during the 4th quarter.  The Panthers defense failed to consistently pressure the quarterback and gave up lots of yards, but always made a big play to snuff out each Husky drive.  The offense needs to get on track in a hurry if the upset at Morgantown is going to happen.


Remaining schedule: @WVU

Analysis: Looking at the Mountaineers' rushing game (8th best in NCAA), and the way Notre Dame and Louisville exploited the Panthers' weak rushing defense (ranked 74th in NCAA), the Pitt players and staff have to be dreading a repeat of the 2003 trip to Morgantown. On the other hand, Pitt has won 4 of its last 5 and do carry some real urgency into the game as well, with a sixth-straight bowl bid at stake.  Pitt is as healthy as they've been all year, but with one crucial exception: senior run-stopper Thomas Smith.  If he's able to play effectively next week, it could make all the difference for Pitt.

 

Louisville (7-2, 3-2):

 

After clearing the hurdle of the Pitt game, and then dismantling bowl-eligible Rutgers 56-5 this past weekend, the Cardinals are beginning to consistently play like the team everyone picked to cruise through the Big East this year.  The scary part is how routine their 500-yard offensive showing against the Knights really was, plus the fact that they did it without RB and national scoring leader Michael Bush.  How efficient were the Cardinals?  Brohm was 22-for-30, with 315 yards, 3 TDs and no interceptions; six different receivers had multiple receptions, and Bush's backup had nearly 100 yards on 11 carries.

Remaining schedule: Syracuse, @UConn


Analysis:  It's hard to escape the conclusion that the remaining schedule offers little hope of the
Louisville machine throwing a gear.  The home game against the woeful Orange is a lock, and losing at UConn is very difficult to see.  UConn was effective at eating clock against Pitt this past week, and the Huskies boast the best statistical defense in the conference, all of which may keep them in that game.  Still, a 9-2 finish is extremely likely for the Cardinals, although all hope of the Big East title that everyone expected from them is effectively gone already.

Rutgers (6-4, 3-1):


What a difference two weeks make!  Seems hard to believe that it was just that long ago that
Rutgers beat Navy to get bowl eligible and the Scarlet Knights were shaping up as one of the feel-good stories of the college football season.  Now, Rutgers is starting to look….how do I put this kindly...a lot more familiar, shall we say?  Coming off a disastrous home loss to USF (in which they committed six turnovers, including two that got returned for touchdowns in the first half, putting them in an early hole), the Knights completely failed to get off the plane in Louisville.  In addition to losing by seven touchdowns, the Knights converted only a single third down play all day (in 12 attempts) and got outgained by over 300 yards.  Their penalties (12) easily outnumbered their first downs (9), which is never good.

 

Remaining schedule: Cincy

Analysis: With only a mediocre Cincy squad left on the board, at home no less, Rutgers still has a good chance to finish 7-4 and will almost certainly go bowling for the first time since the Jefferson administration.  But with the incredibly sloppy loss to USF and the utter failure to even compete against Louisville, the shine has come off this season considerably this November.

 

Cincinnati (4-5, 2-3):


In many ways,
Cincinnati has proven (perhaps to the surprise of very few) to be the "boring team" of the new Big East conference.  Not necessarily commenting on their style of play or talent, but rather the fact that every other Big East team has had their moments (good and bad) and interesting storylines this year…except the Bearcats.  They've essentially beaten who we would've expected, and loss to who we've expected, week in and week out.  West Virginia shocked us with the comeback against the Cardinals and their consistency since; USF has taken fans on a wild roller-coster of expectations and emotions; Pitt had a catastrophic start and then bounced back; even pathetic Syracuse has been compelling for the sheer spectacle of seeing that kind of program imploding each week.  But the Bearcats have been the team of no surprises.

 

Remaining schedule: @USF, @Rutgers


Analysis: Cincy gets their turn to be exciting this week, when they can derail USF big push to a Big East title game with
West Virginia on Dec. 3rd.  While they can still technically get to bowl eligibility with wins over USF and Rutgers, two road wins against winning teams seems too much to expect from these middling Bearcats right now.  Unfortunately, both of Cincy's final opponents will be playing for something as well, and both are frankly better teams.  Right now, 4-7 is looking like the most likely outcome.

 

UConn (4-5, 1-4):


After a fast start (4-1), a rash of key injuries sent the Huskies into a 4-game losing skid that has left them clinging to remote bowl-eligibility hopes.  Even with starting QB Matt Bonislawski back, UConn failed to muster a point against Pitt.  Oddly enough, the Huskies played a very solid game against the Panthers, outgaining them in both rushing and passing, getting twice as many first downs (20 vs. 11 for Pitt), and getting solid pressure on Tyler Palko all afternoon.  However, three interceptions snuffed out promising drives, and most of all, a blocked FG resulted in the game-changing return touchdown scored by Josh Lay.


Remaining schedule: USF,
LV


Analysis: The bad news?  Well UConn needs to win it's last two games to get bowl eligible, and one of them is against
Louisville.  The good news?  UConn gets to host both games, and the venue may be a real edge in late November against a team filled with Florida natives.  Also good news is the fact that the Huskies have continued to fight and actually played well in their vist to Pitt.  If they can take better care of the turnovers and get the RB duo of Brockington and Caulley playing at their highest level, they may pull an upset off before this year is through.  But bowl tickets are probably a bad investment right now.


Syracuse (1-8, 0-6):

Well, it's official: the Orange have hit rock-bottom.  Things were bad enough before last week, but they got downright dreadful when Syracuse failed to produce a single point on Senior Day against a school that started their football program when Donovan McNabb roamed the rug under the Dome.  The passing numbers tell the story: 8-for-26, for 65 yards and 3 picks. Making the USF loss even more depressing is the fact that it was clearly Syracuse's last chance to win a second game this year.  Road trips to South Bend and Louisville hold out the prospect of a truly embarrassing 1-10 finish.

 

Remaining schedule:  @ND, @LV


Analysis:  What is there really left to say here?  At this stage, merely keeping the final two games from becoming embarrassing blowouts has to be the only realistic goal.  Both the Irish and Cardinals rank in the top 10 nationally for scoring, making it possible that
Syracuse loses these two games by a combined 100 points.  This is as bad as it will ever get for the Orange faithful, or one can only hope so.


BOWL SCENARIO:
BCS: WVU
Gator (presuming ND goes BCS at-large):
Louisville
Insight:
Rutgers

Charlotte (I still refuse to recognize the name "Meineke Car Care Bowl"): USF



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