As the college football season draws near, Athlon Sports is making sure fans know exactly when and where to tune in this fall. Here are the Big East's Top 20 must-see football games for the 2012 season:
1. Week 14 (Nov. 29): Louisville at Rutgers
The Cards are the prohibitive favorite and the 16-14 win over Rutgers last fall signaled a big turning point in Louisville's season. After a 2-4 start, the Cards out-lasted the top defense in the league before winning four of their next five games to end 2011. This year, on the final week of regular-season play, the Big East crown could be hanging in the balance. On paper, this road game should be the Cardinals' toughest league test and a third straight win over the Knights, a team that could be a top Big East contender, would likely produce Charlie Strong’s first trip to a BCS Bowl.
2. Week 3 (Sept. 15): Rutgers at USF
The Scarlet Knights and the Bulls are both looking up at Louisville in the preseason standings. Rutgers’ first nine games will feature only two tough tests — road trips to Arkansas and South Florida. And after what happened in last year’s meeting, fans can bet on this one being another thriller. The Knights scored two touchdowns in the final eight minutes to send the game into overtime where a San San Te field-goal won the game for Rutgers. South Florida feels it can push the Cards for conference supremacy as well with B.J. Daniels returning for his fourth-year under center. The winner of this early game will likely become the top contender to Louisville’s league crown.
3. Week 8 (Oct. 20): USF at Louisville
The 34-24 road win over USF last fall clinched a share of the Big East title for Strong’s bunch in 2011 and a home win over the Bulls in late October should all but do the same in '12. Daniels did not play in that game last year due to a shoulder injury and will be champing at the bit to get a crack at counterpart Teddy Bridgewater — who he had to watch produce arguably his best game as a freshman from the sidelines. The Cards QB threw three touchdowns, no interceptions and amassed 241 yards through the air in the clutch road win over USF last fall. A healthy Daniels makes this game more interesting, but this game being played in the "502" makes an upset more unlikely.
4. Week 7 (Oct. 13): Louisville at Pitt
The Cardinals' second toughest road test of the Big East year will be a trip up to The Steel City. The depleted Panthers won this game last fall 21-14 in Papa John’s Stadium, so revenge will certainly be on the minds of Cards players. Bridgewater had his best game running the football (54 yards) but the rest of the team managed only 61 yards rushing while the Panthers rolled up 200 yards on the ground — without Ray Graham. New Panther coach Paul Chryst brings an exciting and innovative offensive game plan to the table, so the X’s and O’s chess match between him and Strong should be entertaining to watch.
5. Week 14 (Dec. 1): Pitt at USF
Two teams with Big East title aspirations will meet on the final day of the regular season. The Bulls got hammered by Pitt and Ray Graham last year 44-17 in primetime on a Thursday night. The star tailback rushed for 226 yards and two scores in the beat down that signaled the unraveling of the Bulls season. The Bulls finished with just one win in its final seven games following the humiliating loss. Skip Holtz and the USF faithful will be fired up to welcome the chance at retaliation. And since the world will know what has happened in the Louisville-Rutgers game two nights earlier, there could be serious BCS implications involved in this season finale.
6. Week 3 (Set. 15): North Carolina at Louisville
The Big East rarely has opportunities to prove itself as a league against top-level competition, but this is its best chance at a signature non-conference win in 2012. The league’s projected top team will play host to a very sound UNC team that could easily win eight or nine games. This was a 14-7 home win for the Tar Heels last fall but it was only Big East Freshman of the Year Teddy Bridgewater’s second career start.
7. Week 5 (Sept. 29): Florida State at USF
The last time these two met was back in September of 2009 — and South Florida won 17-7 in Tallahassee. Now, things are slightly different. Florida State has rebuilt its roster and the game will be played in Tampa. This is a huge in-state test for USF to not only prove its mettle on the field, but on the recruiting trail. Another win over the Noles would be easily the best win of the year by any Big East team.
8. Week 13 (Nov. 24): Rutgers at Pitt
The four-team round robin atop the Big East is complete with this Knights’ road trip across The Keystone State. The final three games of the year will be huge for Rutgers and fans can bet that Pitt hasn’t forgotten the 34-10 thumping Greg Schiano’s boys put on the Panthers last fall. Rutgers must finish the season strong as this tough road test is sandwiched around a trip to Cincinnati and a visit from Louisville to wrap-up the regular season.
9. Week 12 (Nov. 17): USF at Miami
Much like the FSU game, the Bulls can boost their in-state recruiting stock with a win over a traditional Sunshine State power. Not to mention add a huge feather in the non-conference Big East win cap. These two have split the last two seasons with the road team winning both. It could be a positive omen for an improved Bulls team facing the downtrodden Canes.
10. Week 12 (Nov. 17): Rutgers at Cincinnati
The Bearcats might be the Big East’s wild card this fall. They appear to be floating between the have’s and have not’s of the league — at least, in the preseason. They won 10 games in 2011, but got handled with ease by Rutgers last fall on the road. This year’s test could be a total crapshoot. Certainly, it will be one to watch.
11. Week 2 (Sept. 6): Pitt at Cincinnati
The season opener (yes, in Week 2) will be a huge conference test for Cincy right out of the gate. The Bearcats won 26-23 on the road in Pittsburgh last fall.
12. Week 13 (Nov. 23): USF at Cincinnati
Shootout in the New Sombrero ended in Bearcats favor last fall 37-34. Butch Jones has quite the home schedule, leaving the state only three times in the first 11 games.
13. Week 4 (Sept. 22): Rutgers at Arkansas
Not many people will give the Knights a chance at winning in Fayetteville, but a great defense is what you need to compete with Tyler Wilson. Crazier things have happened.
14. Week 10 (Nov. 3): Pitt at Notre Dame
A late-season road trip to South Bend will give Pitt a national TV chance at a signature non-conference win over a Top 25 team. This was a 15-12 ND win last fall.
15. Week 9 (Oct. 26): Cincinnati at Louisville
This will be only the second time all year that the Bearcats will leave the state of Ohio. Last year, Cincy won 25-16 in Nippert Stadium.
The Best of the Rest:
16. Week 1 (Sept. 2): Kentucky at Louisville
17. Week 5 (Sept. 29): Louisville at Southern Miss
18. Week 3 (Sept. 15): Virginia Tech at Pitt
19. Week 4 (Sept. 22): Louisville at FIU
20. Week 5 (Sept. 29): Cincinnati vs Virginia Tech (Landover, Md.)
Big 12's Must-See Games of 2012 (Coming Tues.)
-by Braden Gall
2012 Athlon Sports Big East Predictions and Previews:
1. Louisville Cardinals: No. 23
2. South Florida Bulls: No. 34
3. Pitt Panthers: No. 45
4. Rutgers Scarlet Knights: No. 46
5. Cincinnati Bearcats: No. 56
6. Syracue Orange: No. 67
7. UConn Huskies: No. 69
8. Temple Owls: No. 73