Big East Preview: Wk 14

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Can Williams, Bulls play the role of spoiler this weekend?

Can Williams, Bulls play the role of spoiler this weekend?

Pittsburgh at Cincinnati, Saturday, noon EST

Pittsburgh Panther coach Dave Wannstedt has insisted his team is playing for more than pride when his team visits Cincinnati on Saturday. And he’s correct. If Pitt wins, it will earn a piece of the Big East championship for only the second time in school history.

That, of course, is window dressing during this holiday season. After falling 35-10 last week to West Virginia, the Panthers are all but out of the chase for the Big East’s BCS berth. Pitt would have to win at Cincy, then have Connecticut lose at South Florida and WVU fall at home to Rutgers to realize the dream. If the 6-5 Panthers lose, it would mark the program’s first non-winning season since 2007. Wannstedt’s job status has also been a matter of discussion in the Steel City.

“We’re trying to win Saturday,” said the coach. “I’m not concerned with [job security]. We’re just trying to beat Cincinnati.”

It’s something Pitt hasn’t done the last two seasons. Last year, UC won a wild 45-44 game to cap an undefeated regular season. This year, though, the Bearcats are 4-7 and out of bowl contention. Cincy will miss the postseason for the first time since 2005.

This game could be another high-scoring affair. Cincinnati, behind Big East passing leader Zach Collaros, has the league’s No. 1 offense. Pittsburgh, meanwhile, has the league’s No. 2 passing attack and is going against a UC pass defense ranked last in the Big East.

Rutgers at West Virginia, Saturday, noon EST

If you break this game down, there’s not much that indicates 4-7 Rutgers will win. Perhaps the Scarlet Knights have the edge in special teams, but that’s about it. The Mountaineers are 20-point favorites and have hopes of a BCS bowl berth.

Yet WVU coach Bill Stewart knows his team was a 28-point favorite at home a few years back and on the cusp of a national championship game when it fell to Pittsburgh.

“[Rutgers] beat UConn,” Stewart said. “They lost by three to Syracuse. They lost by one to USF. That right there is more than enough for me to say that we should spend some time and watch these lads on film and figure out how to beat them.”

If WVU does defeat RU, it can land a BCS bowl berth if Connecticut then loses at South Florida. Otherwise, it looks like a Champs Sports Bowl for the Mountaineers.

On paper, it appears West Virginia should cover the spread. The Scarlet Knights have the Big East’s No. 7 scoring offense and will be going against the league’s best defense across the board. On the flip side, RU has the league’s No. 7 total defense, while WVU’s offense is No. 3.

Rutgers is 0-16 all-time in Morgantown and has lost 15 straight games to the Mountaineers.

Connecticut at South Florida, Saturday, 8 p.m. EST

This isn’t only the Big East’s game of the week. It’s the game of the season.

If Connecticut, a 2-point underdog, can defeat South Florida, the Huskies will earn a share of the Big East title and, more importantly, the conference’s BCS berth. It would be the first for Connecticut.

“The guys have put themselves in a position to accomplish the goals that they want to accomplish,” said UConn coach Randy Edsall.

They’ve done so by winning four straight games to move into a tie for first place at 4-2.

They’ve done so by defeating both West Virginia and Pittsburgh and securing tiebreaker advantages.

Now, however, they must down a South Florida team that’s won four of its last five games and is coming off an overtime victory against Miami, Fla. It’s important to note the game is played in Tampa, because Connecticut is 5-0 at home this season, but just 1-4 on the road. That one win, however, was just two weeks back against Syracuse at the Carrier Dome.

As always, UConn, 7-4 overall, will rely on the running of Jordan Todman, the nation’s No. 2 rusher, averaging 148.1 yards per game. The Huskies have the Big East’s No. 1 rushing attack, but are last in passing.

The big question is whether South Florida can score. The 7-4 Bulls are next-to-last in the Big East in passing and sixth in total offense. Also, starting quarterback B.J. Daniels is suffering from a leg injury and may not be able to go. If that’s the case, freshman Bobby Eveld would get the start on senior day. Eveld did, however, step in last week against Miami and help lead the Bulls to the overtime victory.

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Athlon previews the final week of action in the Big East. UConn controls its own destiny but WVU might be the favorite.