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
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).
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
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.
schedule: Cincy, @UConn,
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
faithful, or one can only hope so.
Gator (presuming ND goes BCS at-large):
Charlotte (I still refuse to
recognize the name "Meineke Car Care Bowl"): USF