Big East Week 10 Preview
Like a pinball machine on steroids, the Big East has seen more twists and turns than your everyday O.J. Simpson court case. Contenders like South Florida and West Virginia have fallen by the wayside, only to crash and burn and then miraculously rise from the ashes, a phoenix reborn. Underdogs, like Rutgers and Louisville, have risen from their early season to doldrums to spook many of the league's upper-echelon teams. And, unfortunately, we're not much closer to solving the Big East puzzle than we were at the beginning of the season. Anyhow, down to this week's slate of games.
South Florida opens the action at Cincinnati in a battle of two teams with high preseason expectations that have been shot down by the injury bug. There will be two keys to this game and they're both health-related. If Cincy's Tony Pike starts at quarterback, the Bearcats have a great chance to pull the upset at home. But if South Florida tailback Mike Ford is able to give it a go, the Bulls will likely grind out the clock and re-establish themselves as Big East contenders once more. With both teams coming off upset losses, both squads should be super-motivated for this game. But I see South Florida with a few too many weapons to contain, as they pull even behind Matt Grothe's arm (and legs) late in the game to force a rare conference overtime game. USF has too many weapons for Mike Mickens & Co. to cover all day. Two big keys in the game will be the kicking game and the turnover battle, but I see the Bulls holding off the Bearcats 23-20 in overtime.
After two losses in September, the ‘Eers have been morphed into a ‘rambling wreck' of sorts and take their show on the road to the Northeast. UConn is coming off a surprise rout of Cincinnati, giving fans hope that Donald Brown won't be the only dimension of this offense for the foreseeable future. However, most college games come down to pure talent, athleticism and speed, with a dash of coaching and lucky bounces thrown in for good measure. In that case, I give WVU the nod in the first three, with UConn getting the nod in the last two. If UConn can get their fans into the game early (perhaps a long Donald Brown TD run), then they'll certainly hang around for the fourth quarter. If not, I expect West Virginia to wear down the Huskies with their power running game and a fast-improving defense that should hold Donald Brown to little over 100 yards on the ground (an accomplishment in itself!) With that being said, it's tough to predict the lucky bounces, since they rely so much on the particular day, weather, etc. But talent always manages to shine through. In that case, take WVU despite the adverse conditions and likely cold weather. WVU 31, UConn 20.
The Pitt Panthers step outside the Big East for an intriguing battle of 5-2 teams on Saturday when they travel to South Bend to face the Fighting Irish, the team you either love or loathe. Notre Dame, led by Jimmy Clausen, has matured rapidly this season, but the battle to watch in my mind is the Pitt offense against the Notre Dame defense. If the Fighting Irish can slow LeSean McCoy & Co., they'll be able to excite the fans and if Pitt has to play from behind, things could get very difficult with the rabid Notre Dame crowd. Pitt, coming off a loss to Rutgers, should have no trouble getting motivated for this game, but the key to the game lies in the health of their signal caller Bill Stull, who suffered a concussion in the third quarter of last week's game. On the other hand, Notre Dame is 4-0 at home this season…but the catch is, yes there's always a catch. Notre Dame's two toughest opponents so far (Michigan State and North Carolina) have dealt them their two losses. Their biggest home win comes in the form of an 18-point triumph over now-lowly Michigan in the Golden Dome. LeSean McCoy will be a whole different animal for the Fighting Irish defense, but expect them to make this a very close game. With Conor Lee handling the placekicking duties for the Panthers though, I predict one of the nation's best finishes off the Irish with a dagger field goal late in the game: Pittsburgh 26, Notre Dame 24.
The resurgent Cardinals visit the flailing Orange to cap out the Big East action. For a more in-depth look at the matchup, check back tomorrow for an in-depth SU game preview. But to briefly summarize, this game, unfortunately, won't be determining Greg Robinson's job status. If it wasn't a loss to Akron, a rout on national TV by Penn State or a close call against a FCS team or any of the bajillion instances before that would necessitate an immediate removal of the head coach, it won't happen after the Louisville game. In fact, the Orange is actually showing a few signs of life, albeit very limited. The keys for SU will be seizing momentum and then running with it for a full sixty minutes. Louisville currently has just one opponent in common with SU (though that'll change soon). If you believe the stats, SU lost to USF by 32 and Louisville beat them by 4. That would suggest a spread of 36; unfortunately, that's not how it works (I say unfortunately because that's a spread the ‘Cuse should cover). SU needs to focus on shutting down the Cardinals' rushing attack, namely Victor Anderson. Anderson is averaging a gaudy 6.4 yards per attempt thus far. Louisville is very similar to Pittsburgh in many respects. Their offense is primarily run-oriented, but led by a ‘caretaker' quarterback that can still beat you. Both teams sport defenses that are a notch above middle-of-the-pack, but nothing special. Unfortunately, these defenses look like the 1985 Chicago Bears when viewed through the eyes of the anemic SU offense. SU will get some points (breaking twenty would be nice), but again it appears they'll be involved in a losing battle, though who knows: maybe the prime-time game will fire up the ‘Cuse? From the way I see it, I expect another tease game from SU, where they're right in it up until about ten minutes to go, before letting L'ville pull away. The pick: Louisville 34, Syracuse 23.
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