Big East Bowl Chase is starting to take shape

This was not a good week for the Big East hopefuls this week with three of four conference underdogs being shut out. Also, Rutgers bowl hopes took a big hit that may force them from consideration for a Big East bowl. Here's the story in the Big East this week.

The Big East Bowl Race
The Big East bowl race got more cluttered as a resurgent Pittsburgh defeated UConn to come within one win of bowl eligibility and set the Panthers up for a Thanksgiving evening showdown against West Virginia.

West Virginia (8-1, 5-0)
West Virginia had no trouble dispatching Cincinnati to come closer to locking up the Big East's BCS Bowl bid. They now have a bye week while they prepare to host Pittsburgh in the annual Backyard Brawl on Thanksgiving and will end the season traveling to South Florida. Either of those upcoming opponents could steal first place from the Mountaineers, but only by defeating West Virginia.

This, of course raises an interesting question. What would the national press say if a 6-5 Pittsburgh team went to a BCS bowl over 9-2 West Virginia?

South Florida (5-3. 3-1)
South Florida has been the big surprise of the Big East this season, and with their 27-0 shut-out of Syracuse, they hold a solid second place in the league and can win their way to first place. Next Saturday the Bulls host Cincinnati who defeated them 45-23 last season. One more win makes South Florida bowl-eligible. On November 26th the bulls travel to UConn. These relatively easy games set the stage for the final game hosting West Virginia which may decide which team receives a BCS bid.

A South Florida BCS bid could spell trouble for Rutgers. With West Virginia potentially going to the Gator Bowl and Pittsburgh being within one win of bowl eligibility, one team may end up missing a bowl bid this year.

Despite a win against ranked Louisville and with two of their three losses against Big 10 leader Penn State and ACC leader Miami, and a defense ranked #18 in the nation, USF has only received one vote in a nationally recognized poll (AP).

Pittsburgh (5-5, 4-2)
The Panthers have shown a remarkable ability to win games in the Big East over the past few seasons. Since the beginning of last season, Pitt has posted an 8-4 conference record, yet only a 5-6 record out of conference. They are down to their last opportunity to become bowl eligible, the annual Backyard Brawl at West Virginia on Thanksgiving. They kept their hopes alive and vaulted into Third Place in the Big East by shutting out UConn to win their fourth game in the last five. With a win at West Virginia and losses by both West Virginia and South Florida, Pitt would once again vault improbably into first place. A loss at West Virginia knocks Pitt out of bowl consideration.

Louisville (7-2, 3-2)
Louisville won a one-sided contest against Rutgers to improve to 3-2 and 4th place, but with losses to South Florida and West Virginia, they have only slim hopes of improving their position. Like Rutgers, Louisville hopes that South Florida stumbles because there is a better chance that the Gator Bowl would select them over South Florida than West Virginia, yet they still must defeat Syracuse and UConn. As Dan Welch said in his [u]Keys to the Louisville Game[/u], "Every game is a must-win situation if the Cards are going to play on New Years Day in the Gator Bowl."

Rutgers may not be receiving votes on the various polls, but it appears that the voters do pay more attention to Rutgers than in the past. After defeating Pittsburgh 2 weeks ago, Louisville climbed from 24th to 23rd in the AP Polls, but after their Friday night blow-out of Rutgers, Louisville has climbed significantly in the polls, going from 23rd to 18th in both the AP and Coaches polls.

Rutgers (6-4, 3-3)
In addition to a bowl game, Rutgers is fighting for their first 7-win season since 1992. Rutgers dropped from second to fourth place with their losses to South Florida and Louisville. With a bye week before their last game against Cincinnati, Rutgers has only one more chance to impress the bowl selection committees before the season ends. The Fiesta Bowl committee has expressed interest in accepting Rutgers to the Insight Bowl in Phoenix (which they operate) if they can win 7 games.

If Rutgers fails to beat Cincinnati, they can still receive a guaranteed bowl bid with losses by Pittsburgh, UConn and Cincinnati. [b]If Louisville, South Florida, Pittsburgh and West Virginia all finish with at least 5 conference wins, then Rutgers cannot receive a Big East Bowl Bid with only 3 conference wins. In this case, Rutgers would have to hope that an at-large bowl bid is available.[/b]

Cincinnati (4-5, 2-3)
Cincinnati's bowl chances are on life support. Needing two more wins to become eligible, they were shut out last week by West Virginia. One more loss and they are locked out of bowl consideration. This will be a disappointment for a team that has attended bowls in 4 of the past 5 years. Making this task harder is that both of those two wins must come on the road at South Florida and Rutgers. If they can manage to defeat the Bulls, then the game at Rutgers will be a showdown as each team is playing for their chance at a bowl game.

Now that Cincinnati has improved their competition by joined a BCS league, they need to start improving in other areas. For their game against rival West Virginia, they could only 25,893 seats which is close to a season high. They rank second to last in average attendance among BCS Conference schools (ahead of Duke). They also need to improve facilities at Nippert Stadium as the second quarter against West Virginia was delayed several minutes due to darkness as the stadium lights went out.

University of Connecticut (4-5, 1-4)
UConn's slim bowl hopes took another blow this weekend with a 0-24 shut-out to Pittsburgh. UConn can still gain bowl eligibility, but must beat both South Florida and Louisville at home or they will stay home this year. UConn has been decimated by injuries, but received a small gift as QB Matt Bonislawski started for the first time since injuring his shoulder on October 7th. The return was much earlier than expected, and UConn did not announce or even hint at the change until just before game time. UConn fans are shocked since it's been only a year since posting an 8-4 record in their first year of Big East play and a 39-10 win over Toledo in the Motor City Bowl.

Syracuse (1-8, 0-6)
Syracuse will not be eligible to attend a bowl this rebuilding year. They suffered another insult with a 27-0 loss to new Big East member South Florida. During halftime, Syracuse retired the famous Number 44 Jersey, worn by 25 Orangemen including 8-time NFL rushing leader Jim Brown (1954-56), first-ever black Hesiman winner, RB Ernie Davis (1959-61) and 3-time All American RB Floyd Little (1964-66). A "size 20 feet" #44 jersey was unveiled near one end zone of the Carrier Dome. The last player to wear the number was fullback Ron Konrad (1995-98).

Syracuse will finish their season with games against Notre Dame and Louisville. Without another win, this will be the worst season since Syracuse went 1-6 in 1945 and their first ever 10 loss season.

Notre Dame (7-2)
Notre Dame is not a football member of the Big East, but the Big East bowls can take Notre Dame over another team as long as they are Bowl Eligible and are not invited to the BCS. The Fighting Irish continued their march to an expected invitation to the BCS by defeating Navy 42-21. By defeating Syracuse and Stanford, Notre Dame would have a 9-3 record and a likely invitation.

The Bowls
The Big East Champion will receive an automatic invitation to a BCS Bowl.
The following bowls will invite teams in order:

- The Toyota Gator Bowl (Jan 2 at 12:30PM in Jacksonville, FL vs. the ACC 2nd Place Team)
- The Insight Bowl (Dec. 27 at 8:30PM in Phoenix, AZ vs. the PAC-10 4th Place Team)
- the Meineke Car Care Bowl (Dec. 31 at 11:00AM in Charlotte, NC vs. an ACC Team)
- ** The Motor City Bowl (Dec. 26 at 4:00PM in Detroit, MI vs. a MAC Team)

Bowls are not required to select teams according to their finish in the Big East, but can not select a team with more than 1 fewer losses than another unselected team. If Notre Dame (5-2) is bowl eligible and is not picked for a BCS Bowl, the Gator, Insight or Meineke Bowls can select the Irish over a Big East team.

The Motor City Bowl would select a Bowl-Eligible Big East Team only if the Big 10 does not have seven Bowl Eligible teams. This is not expected to happen this year.

To see the Bowl picture for all the Division 1A teams, visit The Bowl Chase

Scarlet Report Top Stories