FRIDAY NIGHT WRITES

A Weekly Commentary on the State of Rutgers Football. This week: Around the Big East

What I did on my Vacation

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It's not often that I can say that I spent time doing the same thing as the Scarlet Knights football team. Last night was one of those times as I and every RU player watched the #5 Louisville Cardinals take on the #3 West Virginia Mountaineers in a game that truly was as big as the hype. It was obvious from the opening kickoff that both teams were up for a grudge match. West Virginia's Steve Slaton ran well, even after injuring his left hand while Cardinal QB Brian Brohm threw bullets and scrambled for every yard. Both sides forced turnovers and there were plenty of penalties as players toed the line, trying anything for an edge, yet with all the mistakes, the teams combined for a Big East record of a combined 1008 yards of offense. The game seemed certain to be a dogfight as the players went to the locker room with Louisville ahead by the narrow margin of 16-14.

The edge for Louisville came soon after halftime as some of the stadium lights joined the Cardinal fans in their "blackout". This energized the Cardinal defense which returned a Steve Slaton fumble for a 15 yard Malik Jackson touchdown. The Louisville defense went right back to work and four plays later, Louisville's Trent Guy returned a West Virginia punt 40 yards for another touchdown and a seemingly untouchable 30-14 lead.

Seemingly, but maybe not... Pat White lead West Virginia on several well executed drives including one for 92 yards to close the score, but it was not to be as every West Virginia attack was answered by an equal Louisville parry. A come-from-behind victory was not to be and West Virginia went down by a score of 44-34.

West Virginia may have lost this one, but they have many ways to win games. Steve Slaton ran for 156 yards and a touchdown, but an injured left arm led to him fumbling twice in the third quarter while Quarterback Pat White ran for 125 yards and four touchdowns and threw for another 222 yards.

The immediate concern for Rutgers fans, though, is the upcoming contest against the Cardinals. This Louisville team is scary. The defense can be as aggressive as the Scarlet Knights and the balanced offense will keep you guessing with speedy receivers and a tough running attack. Some fans might hope for a Louisville let-down, but that will not happen. Having defeated a top 3 opponent for the first time in team history, Louisville will not lose their undefeated status without a fight.

Thunderdome Part II is next Thursday at Rutgers Stadium. Two undefeated teams enter, one leaves.

Around the Big East

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The big news, of course is that The Big East only has two undefeated teams, but that's not all.

Most of the Big East is once again fairly quiet as Cincinnati, Syracuse, Connecticut and Rutgers take the weekend off, but there is another important game that will have a big impact on league standings as Pittsburgh travels to South Florida tomorrow.

This game will feature an interesting Quarterback match-up, Pitt's talented Tyler Palko against South Florida's speedy Matt Grothe. Both teams are coming off of bye weeks after difficult losses to conference foes.

Pittsburgh is already bowl eligible and South Florida needs one more win to attain that status. Pittsburgh currently has the advantage of a better conference record, and with a win on the road, the Panthers can almost assure themselves of a bowl bid.

With a win, South Florida would leave the two teams tied up at 2-2 in the Conference, and with each team having two difficult games and 1 easier game ahead, a South Florida win would probably leave the two teams tied at the end of the season and would leave a bowl bid at the whims of the Bowl committees. If South Florida doesn't win, they can still become bowl eligible with a win next week over Syracuse, but may have trouble receiving a bid depending on what happens in the rest of the Conference.

South Florida had a bye last week to recover from an embarrassing 23-6 loss to a gutsy Cincinnati defense that took advantage of several Bull miscues and shut down talented freshman QB Matt Grothe, limiting him to 74 all-purpose yards.

At the same time, Pittsburgh has had to regroup after losing 20-10 to Rutgers in a game where Palko was sacked 4 times and limited to 169 yards passing.

Pittsburgh at South Florida will be televised locally at 12:00 Noon on MSG.

Magic_Al's Bowl Predictions

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Last week's loss to Oregon State pushed USC down in the BCS ratings and gave the Big East more bowl options. The Big East has a good chance to send two teams to BCS bowls if Louisville or Rutgers finishes in first or second place in the standings and another Big East team finishes in the Top 12. The chances of this happening improve if Notre Dame loses at USC on November 25th and finishes lower than 12th in the standings. The only downside to this scenario is that the third place team in the Big East would most likely end up going to the Texas Bowl in Houston on December 28th instead of the more prestigious Gator Bowl or the Sun Bowl, but the payout from two BCS bowls will more than make up for that slight.

However, there is one reality that will soon set in. Due to an impressive early run in out-of-conference games by the entire Big East, the three ranked Big East teams have enjoyed a bonus in the computer rankings that look at strength of schedule, and this has elevated them in the BCS standings. Rutgers, Louisville and West Virginia may take a hit in those rankings as Big East teams knock each other off.

With one more win, the Meineke Car Care Bowl will offer a bid to struggling Navy. Navy dropped the last two games to Rutgers and Notre Dame, but has their best chance to clinch that bowl slot with a win at 0-8 Duke tomorrow. Unfortunately for the Midshipmen, the season-ending injury to Quarterback Brian Hampton makes a win tomorrow all but certain.

- Orange Bowl (Big East Champions): Louisville

- Sugar Bowl (At-Large): West Virginia

- Gator Bowl: Notre Dame

- Sun Bowl: Big 12

- Meineke Bowl: Navy

- Texas Bowl: Rutgers

- International Bowl: Pittsburgh

- Birmingham Bowl: South Florida

- MPC Computers Bowl (At-Large): Cincinnati

-- The views expressed in this editorial do not necessarily reflect those of StateOfRutgers.com. If those views differ from yours, visit the message boards and tell everyone what you think.

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