The start of the 2011 college football season is less than 20 days away. With kickoff right around the corner, Athlon takes a look at the top 10 must-see games in the Big East for 2011.
1. Pittsburgh at West Virginia (Week 13)
Nov. 25, All-Time Series: Pittsburgh leads 61-39-3
The Backyard Brawl is the Big East’s top rivalry and there should be plenty on the line when these two teams meet in late November. The new coaches in this rivalry aren’t particularly fond of one another, so there will be some added spice to this matchup. West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen wasn’t happy with Pittsburgh’s Todd Graham during their time in Conference USA accusing Tulsa of faking injuries to slow down Houston’s high-powered offense. The Mountaineers have won the last two matchups in this series and three out of the last four in Morgantown. Both teams are expected to be in the Big East championship race and this game could have conference title implications.
Athlon’s Very Early Prediction:West Virginia by 5
2. LSU at West Virginia (Week 4)
Sept. 24, All-Time Series: LSU leads 1-0
If the Big East wants more respect on a national level, this is a must-win game. The Mountaineers held their own in Baton Rouge last year before losing 20-14. For LSU, it’s another year and the same story unfolding. The defense should be one of the best in the SEC, but the offense is a concern. If LSU gets better quarterback play from Jordan Jefferson, contending for the national title is within reach. The matchup to watch in this game will be the West Virginia passing attack versus the LSU secondary. The Tigers should have one of the top pass defenses in college football, while West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen has produced some prolific passing attacks over the last couple of seasons.
Athlon’s Very Early Prediction: LSU by 3
3. West Virginia at South Florida (Week 14)
Dec. 1, All-Time Series: Tied at 3-3
The Big East likes to schedule matchups on the final weekend that could have an impact on the conference title. Mission accomplished. The Mountaineers and Bulls are expected to be in the thick of the Big East title race, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if this game determines who wins the conference crown. Last season’s matchup was a 20-6 West Virginia win, while South Florida has won the last two games in Tampa. Considering the chilly temperatures in Morgantown in early December, a trip to Florida isn’t a bad way to end the regular season.
Athlon’s Very Early Prediction: West Virginia by 2
4. South Florida at Pittsburgh (Week 5)
Sept. 29, All-Time Series: Pittsburgh leads 5-3
These two teams are predicted to be the biggest threat to West Virginia in the Big East race. Athlon has South Florida picked second in the final conference standings, while Pittsburgh is projected to finish third. This matchup hasn’t been kind to South Florida in recent years. The Panthers have won the last three, including a 41-14 blowout in 2009. Interestingly enough, two of South Florida’s wins in this series have been in Pittsburgh. These two coaches should be familiar, as South Florida’s Skip Holtz and Pittsburgh’s Todd Graham coached against each other in Conference USA.
Athlon’s Very Early Prediction: Pittsburgh by 3
5. South Florida at Notre Dame (Week 1)
Sept. 3, All-Time Series: First Meeting
This opening week matchup is flying under the radar in terms of buzz, but there’s a lot of intrigue with this game. South Florida coach Skip Holtz is back at his old stomping grounds. He played at Notre Dame in 1986 and coached in South Bend with his father Lou from 1990-1993. This is the first meeting between these two teams, but it’s an important one. In Brian Kelly’s second season at Notre Dame, the Irish could be a contender to make one of the at-large BCS bowl spots. The Bulls closed out 2010 by winning five out of their last seven games and could jump into the top 25 with a win in South Bend.
Athlon’s Very Early Prediction: Notre Dame by 7
6. Notre Dame at Pittsburgh (Week 4)
Sept. 24, All-Time Series: Notre Dame leads 45-20-1
New Pittsburgh coach Todd Graham should be familiar to Notre Dame fans, especially after he led Tulsa to a surprising win against the Irish last season. The Panthers are 2-1 in their last three games against Notre Dame, but lost 23-17 in South Bend last year. Graham and Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly want high-octane offenses, so this could be an entertaining offensive affair. Expect the quarterbacks to be under the microscope in this game. By Week 4, Notre Dame’s quarterback battle should be sorted out, and Pittsburgh should have a better idea if Tino Sunseri is the right man to lead the offense.
Athlon’s Very Early Prediction: Notre Dame by 6
7. Miami at South Florida (Week 12)
Nov. 19, All-Time Series: Miami leads 2-1
South Florida is hungry to stake its claim among the hierarchy of programs in the state of Florida. And this is a huge game in the battle for recruits for both schools. The Bulls shocked the Hurricanes last year, winning 23-20 in overtime. The loss to South Florida was the final straw in the Randy Shannon era at Miami. New coach Al Golden is the right man for the job, but the Hurricanes will have their hands full in 2011, especially with some question marks at key positions. Can the Bulls make it two in a row over their in-state rival?
Athlon’s Very Early Prediction: South Florida by 3
8. West Virginia at Syracuse (Week 8)
Oct. 21, All-Time Series: Syracuse leads 31-27
Syracuse has made big progress under coach Doug Marrone and could contend for the conference title this year. However, one of the roadblocks will be West Virginia, a team the Orange hasn’t had much success with in recent years. Syracuse upset the Mountaineers last year, winning 19-14 in Morgantown. However, last season’s victory was the first since 2001 over West Virginia. The Orange failed to win a conference game at home last season and that trend will have to change if they want to contend for the Big East crown in 2011.
Athlon’s Very Early Prediction: West Virginia by 8
9. Syracuse at Pittsburgh (Week 14)
Dec. 3, All-Time Series: Pittsburgh leads 33-30-3
These two teams are expected to be locked in a tight battle for positioning behind West Virginia in the Big East race. The Orange has struggled mightily against Pittsburgh in recent years, losing the last six matchups in this series. Syracuse’s last victory against the Panthers came in 2004, winning 38-31 in the Carrier Dome. The Big East schedule makers did a good job keeping the suspense for the conference race until the last weekend, especially with West Virginia-South Florida and this game on the Week 14 slate.
Athlon’s Very Early Prediction: Pittsburgh by 6
10. Cincinnati at Pittsburgh (Week 10)
Nov. 5, All-Time Series: Pittsburgh leads 8-2
If you are looking for an underrated matchup on the Big East schedule this year, this game might be the one. These two teams hooked up for a memorable 45-44 game in 2009, which gave Cincinnati the Big East title. Pittsburgh earned revenge for that defeat last year, winning 28-10 in Cincinnati. Both teams want to push the tempo on offense, so there could be plenty of points scored in this one. After last year’s disappointing season, Cincinnati wants to get back into Big East contention and winning at Pittsburgh would be a step in the right direction.
Athlon’s Very Early Prediction: Pittsburgh by 7
Other Top Games to Watch
Cincinnati at Tennessee (Sept. 10)
Louisville at Kentucky (Sept. 17)
Syracuse at USC (Sept. 17)
Pittsburgh at Iowa (Sept. 17)
West Virginia at Maryland (Sept. 17)
NC State at Cincinnati (Sept. 22)
Rutgers at Syracuse (Oct. 1)
Connecticut at West Virginia (Oct. 8)
Louisville at Cincinnati (Oct. 15)
Utah at Pittsburgh (Oct. 15)
Syracuse at Louisville (Oct. 29)
Connecticut at Syracuse (Nov. 5)
South Florida at Syracuse (Nov. 11)
Louisville at Connecticut (Nov. 19)
Other Big East Content:
Ranking the Big East's Best Units
Predicting the Big East's Breakout Players
Is Louisville the Surprise Team for 2011?
Ranking the Big East's Top 25 Players for 2011
Athlon's 2011 Big East Predictions
Athlon's 2011 All-Big East Team