As I perused the list of games slated for broadcast, I realized that the best games weren't always on the tube. That's not to say that TV always misses the mark, of course. But for the serious Big East fan (and as West Virginia fans, you're all included, right?) there are some games that will have a major bearing on the league race and national perception that will escape the eye of the general public.
Of course, you have the ability to record games that are on at the same time, or attend one and then watch others later. (That's what most of you Mountaineer fans will be doing, I'm sure.) But for those that can't, or only have time for one contest per week, which one should they pay attention to?
In making this list, I didn't try to come up with a pseudo-scientific rating system. First, no one would agree with my criteria, and second, it would probably just reflect any built-in biases I have anyway. I simply looked at all of the games and tried to compare them on their true quality. How good will the teams be? What effect will the game have on a Big East or national level? Is it an out-of-the-norm match-up? Also, even though we could select one game for each day that the league plays on during the week, I'm going to make things a bit tougher by picking just one game from each week's slate. On to the must-see contests:
This one's a no-brainer, as the league clash between Rutgers and Cincinnati will provide one team a head start in the race for the league title. The winner will enjoy a place at the top of the conference standings for more than a month, while the loser will have an early deficit from which to recover. Syracuse has a good test against Minnesota on the opening weekend, and Connecticut's trip to Ohio is a sterner than normal early test as well, but the Bearcats and Scarlet Knights hold sway.
WVU hosts East Carolina in a revenge match (although the coaches and players won't use that word, and will deny it's a factor. While the game itself should be a good one, UConn hosts North Carolina on the same day, and that one might have a bit more juice from a regional perspective. UNC is battling to make the move into the national elite, and can't afford to stumble in this contest. For the Huskies, it's a chance to gain some notoriety of their own – not to mention another notch for the Big East in the bitter struggle with the ACC.
West Virginia's game with Auburn takes top honors this week, although the Louisville – Kentucky game deserved some consideration (o.k., a half-second's worth). If I thought UofL had any hope of winning this game, then it might have...naw, forget it. WVU's trip into the heart of the SEC, with 85,000 screaming fans on hand, is the classic of the week.
This week has several interesting match-ups, with Pittsburgh traveling to North Carolina State and Louisville trekking to Utah. But the excitement most hovers around USF and its short jaunt to Tallahassee to take on Florida State. The Bulls want to take every chance they can get to establish buzz in their home state, and a win certainly wouldn't hurt the league either. If USF can get as jacked up for this one as it does for WVU, a win certainly isn't out of the question.
League play gets underway this week, but two open dates leave a short schedule of contests. WVU – Colorado gets a very narrow nod, mostly because of the Thursday night national date.
The league battles begin to take precedence as fall commences, and the Pitt – UConn fight is the premier contest of the day. The Huskies have played well against the Panthers, and both schools might need this win badly, especially if either dropped earlier road games to ACC foes. The edge probably goes to Pitt on its sandpile of a field.
For all you Herd fans out there, sorry. The contrived series doesn't even come close, as USF hosts Cincinnati in the league's heavyweight bout of the week. Will the Bearcats be able to outscore the Bulls on a Thursday night national telecast?
This one's a toughie, but the Pitt – USF match-up gets a slight nod over the WVU – UConn battle – assuming that the Huskies haven't managed to remain unbeaten to this point. I don't see that, so the Panthers and Bulls get the top nod.
USF three weeks in a row? Hey, nobody said there had to be balance in this process. West Virginia's trip to Tamp puts the Bulls back on national television, and also completes a brutal three week slate for Jim Leavitt's crew. No doubt he will be exhausted after October's pre-game sprints.
By default, Cincinnati and Connecticut rule the week. If UC's defense has rounded into shape by this time, this could be the start of a strong stretch run for the defending Big East champions.
West Virginia's prime-time trip to the Queen City will be another high water mark in what is becoming something of an uncivilized war between the two schools. The intensity has really ratcheted up over the past two seasons, and I'd expect nothing less in this one. It's a big week for the league on TV, with two prime-time games plus the league game of the week and Notre Dame's visit to Pitt. And yes, I considered the Irish factor in my pick, but can a non-conference game in November match up to big league contests? Maybe if ND is undefeated, I'll reconsider.
OK, I'll put the Irish up this week, as they host the Huskies in South Bend. It's a light week in the league, and a major opportunity for UConn in the spotlight. Wouldn't two back-to-back losses to the Big East be a great thing for Notre Dame? Of course, that would involve rooting for Pitt the previous week...
It's the Backyard Brawl. And in this league, nothing else comes close. Not the Keg of Nails, or Louisville- UK (this isn't hoops), or any other game you care to name. Yes, USF gets its second crack at a major instate foe when Miami comes calling, and in just about any other week that would be enough. But with the way this series has played out recently, it's clearly the king.
This weekend is a de facto league championship weekend. Is there any reasonable scenario that could play out that would make this weekend moot? Not that I can see – it would have to involve an undefeated league team with everyone else coming in with at least two losses. Just can't see that at this point. In picking the biggest game of the week, it might seem as if I am giving away which two teams I think will be at the top at this point in the season. Maybe I am, and maybe I'm not, but you'll have to wait for the preseason predictions to verify that. In any event, the Pitt-Cincinnati game will probably get a bit more TV hype, so that one gets the edge at this point.
OK, I've gone out on my limb. What'd I mess up or overlook? What do you think? Share your thoughts on our message boards, or drop us a line (or a hundred) in the Mountaineer Mailbag, and let's get some football discussion going!