Big East Week 14 Preview and Predictions

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Louisville, Rutgers clash in finale for BCS bid

<p> Louisville-Rutgers will determine the Big East's BCS representative and the title race, but Pittsburgh and Connecticut are battling for bowl eligibility.</p>

Stumbling and limping isn’t the best way to enter a season-defining game.

At least for Louisville and Rutgers, though, both teams will look across the sideline at a team in a similar spot.

This de facto Big East championship game has been set for several weeks, but both teams made the challenge a little more difficult with injury-riddled losses Saturday. Louisville lost 23-20 in overtime to Connecticut, a game that saw quarterback Teddy Bridgewater leave twice with injuries. And Rutgers saw starters Gary Nova, Jawan Jamison and Khaseem Greene head to the bench with injuries in a 27-6 loss to Pittsburgh. All are expected to play this week.

While Louisville and Rutgers play for a BCS bid -- and Rutgers plays for its first outright conference title -- the events of last week put new stakes on the other two games in the Big East this week. After their wins over the Big East leaders last week, Connecticut (at home against Cincinnati) and Pittsburgh (at USF) are playing for bowl bids.

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Big East’s Top Storylines to Watch in Week 14:

How will Teddy Bridgewater’s injury situation impact Louisville?

Bridgewater suffered a broken left (non-throwing) wrist against Connecticut last week but returned to finish the game -- and sustain an ankle injury. Bridgewater returned from that, too, but is expected to play against Rutgers. Louisville coach Charlie Strong expects the wrist to impact his sophomore quarterback more on handoffs, so Strong says the Cardinals will play from the shotgun and pistol formations. Bridgewater is a concern for the Cards, but so is a run game that has fallen apart in the last two weeks after the injury to Senorise Perry. Louisville has run for 65 total yards the last two weeks after running a balanced offense through most of the 9-0 start.

Whoever runs the ball for Rutgers, can Louisville stop him?
Limited by an ankle injury, Scarlet Knights running back Jawan Jamison has carried the ball 13 times for 51 yards the last two weeks -- though it didn’t stop him from going over the 1,000-yard mark for the season. Sophomore Savon Huggins ran for 179 yards in Jamison’s absence against Cincinnati, but Rutgers rushed for only 50 yards against Pittsburgh as the Panthers built an 21-point first half lead. Jamison expects to be ready to take over his workhorse duties against Louisville. Either way, the Cardinals haven’t been able to stop much of anyone against the run in the last few weeks. Louisville is allowing a Big East-worst 194.7 rushing yards per game in conference games. Of course, that doesn’t include Syracuse passing for 246 yards and three touchdowns in Louisville’s first loss of the season two weeks ago.

Better late than never for Lyle McCombs?
McCombs has had his two best rushing days of the season in the last two weeks with 120 yards and a touchdown against Pittsburgh and 133 yards against Louisville. Not all of the problems in UConn’s run game can be traced to McCombs, who rushed for 1,151 yards last season. The line has been ineffective for most of the season, and the unit is just now regrouping after the loss of veteran Adam Masters at midseason. McCombs, though, said he had his best day of the season as a runner against the Cardinals. Another 100-yard game from McCombs could be critical if UConn is going to defeat Cincinnati and become bowl eligible, especially if quarterback Chandler Whitmer is limited. Whitmer left the Louisville win after a head injury, but UConn coach Paul Pasqualoni is optimistic Whitmer will play.

Can the new-look Cincinnati offense crack the UConn defense?
George Winn returned to form last week by rushing for 119 yards and two touchdowns in a 27-10 win over USF. Meanwhile, Brendon Kay was turnover-free after throwing two interceptions against Rutgers. Cincinnati also took advantage of good field position for most of the game. Was this a sign of progress or a symptom of the USF defense? The Bearcats will find out this week. The UConn defensive pressure starts up front where the Huskies lead the Big East in run defense and sacks.

What does Ray Graham have in store for his finale?
Only in the last month has Pittsburgh running back been fully confident in the knee he injured last season. The results have shown that much as the senior topped 100 yards in three of the last four games. As he finishes his career, Graham has a chance to put Pittsburgh in a bowl game. Considering the season began with a loss to Youngstown State, Pittsburgh in a bowl would be a notable turnaround.

Is this the end of Skip Holtz at USF?
A rash of coaching firings started this week, but the Big East still has regular season games to play. If there’s a move on Skip Holtz, who has overseen the worst season is USF’s short history, it’s not going to come until after the Pittsburgh finale. The season has been full of dubious firsts -- the first season with eight losses and the longest losing streak in program history with six in a row. A costly buyout may prevent USF from firing Holtz, but we won’t know until after this weekend.

Week 14 Big East Predictions:

Week 14 Big East Games David Fox Braden Gall Steven Lassan Mitch Light
Louisville at Rutgers (Thu.) Rutgers 28-21 Rutgers 30-27 Louisville 24-20 Rutgers 27-20
Cincinnati at Connecticut UConn 21-14 Cincinnati 24-20 Cincinnati 24-17 UConn 23-18
Pittsburgh at USF Pitt 35-10 Pitt 17-13 Pitt 27-17 Pitt 27-10
Last week 2-2 2-2 3-1 2-2
Overall 42-22 44-20 44-20 42-22

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