Big East Week 9 Preview
The ebbs and flows of the Big East have rolled into October's final weekend. West Virginia looks to bear the standard for the conference this weekend when it hosts SEC foe Auburn. Meanwhile, in the conference, WVU's bitter rival, Pittsburgh, looks to keep rolling towards a potential Backyard Brawl showdown with the Mountaineers for the Big East title. Along with the Cincinnati Bearcats, they are the last unbeatens in conference play.
West Virginia hosts Auburn on Thursday night from Mountaineer Field, a field it should be noted the Mountaineers are unbeaten on this season. WVU's early embarrassing losses were both roadies, back to back. Since then, West Virginia has flown under the national radar. The ‘Eers will jump into the national spotlight for their game against Auburn, which will be televised on ESPN. Their opponent, the Auburn Tigers, has had plenty of its own problems this season. Offensive coordinator Tony Franklin only survived a half-season with the team after his offense ranked in the bottom third of Division I-A in nearly every category. Both teams were pre-season top ten picks here, more for their offenses than anything else. However, they'll likely rely on defense tonight. Auburn defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads was a coach at Pitt last year when the Panthers stunned WVU in early December, thwarting their national title aspirations. Pat White didn't play much in that game, but appears to have a relatively clean bill of health for tonight. Expect WVU to emphasize the ground game early and often with multiple threats in the backfield. This game will be determined by who seizes the early momentum and who wins the battle of the clock and turnovers. If the Mountaineers can get their fans into the game on a chilly night in Morgantown, this one could get rather ugly. Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville is no stranger to adversity, but he'll need to have revamped that offense very quickly to keep the Tigers in it. Because no matter how good their defense is, WVU will eventually gash it for a few big runs. Expect WVU's ground attack to be too much, as they pull away in the second half. West Virginia 27, Auburn 17.
Cincinnati looks for its fifth consecutive victory when it travels to UConn for a high noon start on Saturday. The Bearcats will dodge most of the cold weather with the early kickoff, but adjusting to it could be key for this team. They rely more on an aerial attack, while we can expect to see a solid dose of Donald Brown out of the Huskies. UConn is looking to bounce back after a tough loss to Rutgers last week, but this will not be the easiest opponent for them to accomplish that. Cincy will likely stack the box with eight men to stop Brown and rely on their playmakers in the secondary. Mike Mickens & Co. should be able to hold their own against Zach Frazer, who has filled in decently for Tyler Lorenzen at QB, but has made his mistakes when they count the most. Cincy's balanced offensive attack should enable them to spread out UConn's defense, using their quickness and athleticism to make plays. Cincy has had a week off after nipping the Scarlet Knights by three. Though it didn't help miraculously heal all their QBs, it should refresh and refocus the team for the homestretch of the Big East schedule. Expect this to be close with UConn showing miles and miles of heart on the field (per their norm). However, all those miles of heart may be irrelevant if the game comes down to a field goal, which is a matter of inches. Just ask Connecticut kicker Tony Ciaravino. He missed three in last week's loss to Rutgers. The pick: Cincinnati 23, Connecticut 20.
South Florida visits Louisville for a 3:30 pm kickoff at Papa John's Stadium. USF leads the all-time series 3-2, but both of its losses in the series have come on the road. Louisville, meanwhile, is riding a wave of momentum since a couple early season setbacks. The team has developed a balanced offensive attack akin to the Pittsburgh one that gave the Bulls fits a few weeks ago in Tampa. If Louisville can get off to a good start and get a couple turnovers, they have a great chance in this game. South Florida is an off-and-on team that has lots of talent, but sometimes doesn't come to play all the time. Jim Leavitt announced earlier this week that two of his defensive players will miss this week's game with what could be long-term injuries. He'll need to turn the switch on this week to get Matt Grothe & Co. going on offense, because this Cardinals team will put points on the board. Of course, Louisville's defense has never been one of its strong points, but at home, I expect an inspired performance from this defense. Let's just hope this one doesn't come down to the kicking game; these two teams feature two of the Big East's worst kicking corps. But in the upset of the week, I'll take Louisville in a 35-31 thriller.
Rutgers and Pittsburgh will clash also at 3:30 in a game featuring two Big East teams coming off victories last week. While Pitt's was more commonplace (romp over Navy), Rutgers took a wild and crazy affair, upsetting UConn 12-10. The win is certainly better than a loss for Rutgers, but don't expect it to change their season. Pitt has more athletes, a better defense, an absolute stud in the backfield and an underrated coach in Dave Wannstedt. Yes, I said it; he's actually been doing a pretty solid job with halftime adjustments and other in-game coaching since the season-opening debacle against Bowling Green. Anyhow, expect LeSean, LeSean and more LeSean in the early going, as Pitt looks to take a half-game lead in the Big East standings. For a Pitt team that's already toppled South Florida, that could prove to be huge. Rutgers will need to expand on their defense from last week, which limited Donald Brown to just over 100 yards (yes, limited) and a few more of the lucky bounces they got last week. Unfortunately for Greg Schiano, this one isn't in the friendly confines of Piscataway, New Jersey. The pick: Pittsburgh 34, Rutgers 17.
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