Big East Week 11 Preview
"AND DOWN THE STRETCH THEY COME!" South Florida fading fast on the turn, Cincinnati and West Virginia surging hard around the final corner. Heck, the ‘Cuse even has some company in last place now.
If the Big East conference race this year is the Preakness, then that about sums it up. Media darlings Pitt and USF have stumbled (the Bulls much more heavily) after being given the best starting spots. Meanwhile, WVU stumbled out-of-conference but has breezed through Big East play thus far and if they can beat Cincinnati at home this weekend, it's going to be very tough to stop them from getting at least a share of this year's conference title. Meanwhile, the Big East has struggled in the nation's eyes this year, but every team in the conference is still technically in bowl contention (though a Syracuse loss this weekend would change that).
So let's get down to this week's light slate of action. While there's a low quantity of games (just three), they're all high on quality and should be intriguing matchups that will go a long way to shaping the final Big East standings.
Fresh off a surprising victory over Louisville in the Dome, Greg Robinson's squad travels to Piscataway for a noon start. The game will be televised on ESPNU and should present a stiff challenge for the ‘Cuse. Rutgers, after starting just 1-3, embarked on a brutal four-game stretch in which they played what now constitutes the four teams that are currently ahead of them in the Big East standings. In this four game stretch, the Scarlet Knights went 2-2 and the two games they lost were by a combined total of ten points to the top two contenders in the conference. The key to their resurgence has been the turnaround of signal caller Mike Teel, who earlier in the season got into a verbal spat with teammates that led to him being reprimanded by coach Greg Schiano. Now, Teel is fresh off a bye, and before that, a school record effort of six touchdown passes as Rutgers toppled a ranked Pittsburgh team by twenty. With Teel's recent resurgence and the injury problems in SU's secondary, expect a pass-heavy attack by Rutgers. On the SU side of the ball, expect a dose and a half of Curtis Brinkley, who is rapidly evolving into one of the nation's better backs (put Beanie Wells, Javon Ringer or Joe McKnight behind that O-line and see what they do!) Unfortunately, it's going to be very tough for SU to go out and get their first road victory of the season when they don't have any go-to guys in the wide receiver corps. Expect the crowd to get behind Rutgers early and the Orange to not have nearly as much success coming from behind as they did last week. SU hangs around til the fourth quarter, but that's all this week. Rutgers 27, Syracuse 17.
Meanwhile, the Cardinals visit the Panthers in what should be another high-scoring, entertaining affair. Surprisingly enough, Dave Wannstedt's squad has struggled at home this season, but if QB Bill Stull is able to return to the lineup from a concussion, don't expect that to be a problem. Pitt's game plan starts and ends with sophomore tailback LeSean McCoy. Through him and backfield mate LaRod Stephens-Howling, the Panthers have been able to run the clock and wear out opponents' defenses all season long. While the ‘Ville came into last week's game with one of the nation's top 10 rush defenses, it was gashed for over 200 yards by SU. Expect Pitt to try to exploit this weakness, which in turn will set up some play-action passes down the field to take advantage of the suspect Louisville secondary with eight crammed in the box. The key for Louisville is seizing momentum early in this game. By now, Dave Wannstedt will have reminded his team how mightily they've struggled at home this season and his team will surely know that without this game, it's very unlikely that Pitt will win the Big East title. Expect Louisville to bust out a couple of gadget plays in this game to trap Pitt's over-aggressive defense. I see this one being a heavyweight fight that, much like last week for Pitt, could very well come down to the kicking game. Pitt's offense is a tad better, as is their defense and special teams. For that reason, I see Pitt taking advantage at home and putting a tad more points on the board than the Cardinals. Pittsburgh 34, Louisville 31.
The top 25 welcomes back that team from Morgantown and that team from Morgantown will welcome what could very well be its stiffest competition of the season this weekend. The Cincinnati Bearcats have one of the nation's best secondaries, as I'm sure you've heard me say time and time again. While I expect them to shut down Pat White's passing game, the Bearcat defense hasn't had to face a dual-threat QB remotely as dangerous as White thus far. In a night game televised on ESPNU, you can expect a low-scoring defense duel from these teams with plenty of hard, smashmouth football. White, Noel Devine and Jock Sanders are just too many weapons to contain for a Bearcat defense coming off a superb performance against USF. Meanwhile, Cincy will likely be able to pile up the passing yardage, but this is a WVU defense that bends, but rarely breaks. The ‘Eers D has been improving the entire season and I expect a statement game here from them. The game ends relatively close in score, but WVU dominates all other aspects. West Virginia 20, Cincinnati 13.
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