Every game counts in the wide open Big East.
West Virginia (6-3, 2-2) at Louisville (5-5, 2-3), Saturday, noon EST
Since Bill Stewart has taken over at West Virginia, his teams are 18–2 at home, 2–1 in neutral-site bowls — and 5–8 on the road. This week, he’s trying to relieve some of the pressure on his job status and get the Mountaineers back in the Big East title hunt by winning at 5–5 Louisville.
“The road has not been as pleasant as we would have liked it to have been,” Stewart said. “Maybe we can make amends to that this weekend and get back on track.”
Pitt’s loss at Connecticut opened the door for all of the Big East, including WVU, now 2–2 in league play. The challenge for the Mountaineers will be to contain Cardinals back Bilal Powell, who had 140 yards last week against South Florida and is fifth in the country in rushing, averaging 134.1 yards. WVU seems equipped to do that with the nation’s seventh-best rush defense. The Mountaineers are allowing an average of just 94.9 rushing yards per game.
On the flip side, West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith, who threw four touchdown passes in the first half last week against Cincinnati, will have to have success this week against cornerback Johnny Patrick and a Cardinals pass defense that’s ranked ninth nationally, allowing but 163.6 yards per game through the air.
The key in the game may be the running of WVU’s Noel Devine, who has been struggling with injuries and is averaging 85.6 yards. Louisville’s run defense is 48th nationally, allowing 142.9 yards per game.
Pittsburgh (5-4, 3-1) at South Florida (6-3, 3-2), Saturday, noon EST
Pittsburgh had a comfortable conference lead a week ago. Now the Panthers are in somewhat of an uncomfortable position with but a one-game Big East advantage in the loss column and this contest at South Florida’s Raymond James Stadium.
Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said this week his team is working on kick coverage after Connecticut’s Nick Williams returned a kickoff 95 yards for a score. Too, USF boasts dangerous return man Lindsey Lamar, who averages 30.8 yards per return. The Panthers are also dealing with the bad news that defensive end Greg Romeus, the Big East’s co-Defensive Player of the Year, is out for the season with a torn ACL after returning from back surgery.
South Florida, meanwhile, is on a high via a three-game winning streak, including last week’s 24–21 overtime road win at Louisville. While Pitt is 3–1 in Big East play and 5–4 overall, the Bulls are 3–2 and 6–3.
The question in this one centers on South Florida’s offense, specifically quarterback B.J. Daniels, going against Pittsburgh’s defense, ranked No. 1 in the conference in scoring.
On the other side, the Bulls will have to slow Pitt QB Tino Sunseri, who has completed 66.5 percent of his passes this season, and the one-two running punch of Ray Graham and Dion Lewis. South Florida has the Big East’s No. 6 pass and No. 4 rush defense.
Connecticut (5-4, 2-2) at Syracuse (7-3, 4-2), Saturday, 7 p.m EST
The Big East is down, but these two teams are up. Connecticut is coming off back-to-back victories against the teams picked to finish first and second in the conference this season. The Huskies won at home against Pitt, last week, and West Virginia. At 5–4 overall and 2–2 in league play, their season is rejuvenated.
Syracuse, meanwhile, is bowl-eligible for the first time since 2004 and is coming off a 13–10 road win against Rutgers. The Orange are in second place in the Big East at 4–2 and is 7–3 overall. SU coach Doug Marrone, however, isn’t taking anything for granted.
“(Connecticut is) a very good football team that was picked by some to win this conference,” he said. “We’re a football team that’s trying to get to the upper level, and get back to consistency and winning, and we have a long way to go.”
The teams seem pretty evenly matched. While Connecticut enters with the Big East’s No. 2 scoring offense, Syracuse has the league’s No. 2 scoring defense. The Huskies have the conference’s No. 7 scoring defense, while the Orange has the No. 7 scoring offense.
Keep your eyes on UConn back Jordan Todman, the nation’s No. 2 rusher, and Syracuse’s Delone Carter, fourth in the Big East in rushing.
Rutgers (4-5, 1-3) at Cincinnati (3-6, 1-3), Saturday, 7:30 p.m. EST
There seems to be only one thing at stake in this matchup: escaping the cellar of what some call the nation’s worst BCS conference. Both are currently 1–3 and tied for last place in the Big East.
It’s someone surprising Rutgers is in the position, but close to shocking that back-to-back reigning league champ Cincinnati is there. Bearcats coach Butch Jones spent the early part of the week talking about keeping his team together. “We have to pull each other through these tough times,” he said.
A start would be winning against a 4–5 Rutgers team at home. The bad news for UC fans, however, is the Bearcats are but 2–3 at home this season and are on a three-game losing streak.
Rutgers, meanwhile, is on its own three-game skid after falling by 13–10 to Syracuse last week. RU did have success running the Wildcat formation with Jeremy Deering’s 166 rushing yards out of the formation. But the quarterback situation with struggling Chas Dodd and Tom Savage remains an issue.
If you’re looking for matchups, the Orange have the league’s second-ranked total defense, while the Bearcats field the Big East’s No. 1 total offense. On the flip side, Syracuse has the conference’s No. 6 offense, while UC has the No. 7 defense.