The View From Afar

Wanderings, musings and just plain thoughts from columnist-at-large Bill Gleason

There are two big games in the Big East this weekend. Everyone knows about WVU-Louisville, but the other big game is South Florida vs. Pitt.

In a game that many pundits at the beginning of the season thought would be a flat blowout, South Florida brings a 3-2 record into the big mustard bottle to face a suddenly hapless Pitt team that got its first win over a Division 1A foe last week, defeating Cincinnati 38-20.

Why is this game big? Because Jeff Sagarin says so. According to the Sagarin ratings South Florida is the highest rated team in the Big East. What the Big East really needs is a USF win over Pitt.

Why?

Because Pitt has already blown any chance at national respect this season, and South Florida needs to follow up their win over Louisville and beat the bottom half of the Big East. West Virginia really needs a USF win. Why? Because a USF win keeps them in the top 20 of most computer polls, and they are WVU's next opponent.

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Matt Keller started it off, so I won't hold back my Louisville opinions either. I think the Cardinals have a very good offense. I think they'll lay 60 points on you at the drop of a hat, and they'd probably hang 80 on you if they had the time. However, I don't think they have the defense to measure up. Don't believe me? Let's look at UL for a moment.

At home Louisville is beating opponents by a mind boggling 64-17. However, away from home Louisville is actually on the short end of the composite score at 35-23. Want to dig deeper? Not only has Louisville struggled on the road, they've struggled against hapless Kentucky and got blasted by a South Florida team whose only other wins came over Florida A&M and Central Florida. Something tells me that Louisville is in for a tougher time in Morgantown then people think.

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This year's version of Ground Rich has finally found a tailback to leap out of the crowded picture in the backfield. Partly due to the poor play of the other backs, partly due to the injury to the more heralded Jason Gwaltney, and partly due to the fact that he may have been grossly underrated to star with, Steve Slaton has emerged as West Virginia's premier rusher. With his speed and surprising strong running style, he has grabbed the tailback job by the throat, and it doesn't appear he wants to let go. Here's hoping the Silent Assassin continues to improve week after week.

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There is going to be a void in the West Virginia backfield with the injury to Gwaltney. It isn't a glitzy void, but it is an important one. The Long Island Express was the designated battering ram in short-yardage situations, and now he's out for at least four weeks. Owen Schmitt would appear to be willing and able to take on this power-punching load, but if he does, who takes over the clocking back role? Gwaltney hasn't exactly been blowing into the line alone on those short yardage plays. And Schmitt has been more than willing to give up his body so JG can get the Mountaineers a first down.

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The physical attitude displayed by this year's version of the Mountaineers was no more evident than what was heard in the post-game radio interview of offensive line coach Rick Trickett after the Rutgers game. You could hear the adrenaline in his voice as he grizzled about running the ball all over Rutgers. And when it was mentioned that WVU only threw the ball 11 times in the entire game, it was no surprise that he noted "that was two too many."

Despite the heavy criticism that this coaching staff receives for their perceived inability to conceive a forward passing threat, the mental and physical toughness displayed by this year's football team is a pure thrill to the throwbacks.

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While we're talking Big East, how about taking a look up north of Morgantown. Take a big whiff. You smell that? The stench coming from Pittsburgh is the transformation of the Pitt program from being on the cusp of greatness to being on the cusp of the sewer. You gotta love Dave Wannstache. He can take a good football team and turn it on its head faster than the WB cancels sitcoms.

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It is nice to see the improvement displayed in the program at Rutgers. It is a testament to what happens when you actually give a coach a chance to build a program, rather than performing a housecleaning every 3-4 years. However, the real test of patience will be next year, when they could take a step back due to the loss of several key players.

The difference in the programs at West Virginia and Rutgers is no more evident than this past week's game. Rutgers is on the cusp of their best season in 15 years with a roster loaded with juniors and seniors. West Virginia is rebuilding with a roster laden with 30 freshmen and sophomores on the two deep. And West Virginia goes to Rutgers and runs the most conservative offense in America, and wins handily. Keep your chin up Rutgers. You'll get there, but you have 20 years of tradition to erase to do it.

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Don't look now but Connecticut is quietly sneaking up the back stairs towards the Big East penthouse. Sporting a nice 4-1 record, the Huskies could be 6-1 and 3-0 in conference play when they hit Morgantown for their Wednesday evening affair with the Mountaineers. UConn has handled everyone they've played, with the exception of a tough loss at Georgia Tech, and the Huskies absolutely manhandled Syracuse this past weekend.

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Speaking of Syracuse, the over/under on RehirePasqualoni.com is three weeks. It isn't the best thing in the world to have one of the most storied programs in the conference on a freefall toward the basement of the league.

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Go Mountaineers! A win this Saturday puts WVU squarely in the drivers seat for the Big East title. A second loss for Louisville all but eliminates their title hopes. And while neither USF nor UConn have lost a Big East game, neither have played WVU, and UConn hasn't faced Louisville. It is going to get real interesting over the next couple of weeks.


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