What are the most important, must-see Big East match-ups of the second half?
by Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden on twitter)
The the midway point of the 2011 college football in the rearview mirror, so Athlon Sports takes a look at the top must-see games left on the Big East slate.
1. West Virginia vs. Rutgers (Week 9)
Oct. 29, All-Time Series: WVU leads 32-4-2
To say that the West Virginia Mountaineers have owned this series is an understatement to say the least. The Mounties have won 16 straight games against Rutgers dating back to a 1994 17-12 win by the Knights in New Brunswick. Greg Schiano's bunch hasn't played a great schedule, but with a dominating performance against Pitt (34-10) and an double-overtime win over Syracuse, the Knights are atop the Big East standings. With a win at Lousiville this weekend, Rutgers could make this the first of many title elimination games.
Athlon's Prediction: West Virginia by 10
2. 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 could 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.
Athlon’s Prediction: West Virginia by 5
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. If South Florida can rebound from an 0-2 Big East start (as expected) then mission accomplished. 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 Prediction: West Virginia by 2
4. West Virginia vs. Cincinnati (Nov. 12)
Nov. 12, All-Time Series: WVU leads 15-3-1
The Mountaineers have owned this series but have seen thier grasp on the Bearcats lossen dramatically of late. The Bearcats have won two of the last three in close fashion - both by three points. West Virginia spanked Cincy last season 37-10 in Morgantown last season and the Bearcats defense will have to play its usual attacking, risky style to beat Geno Smith and Dana Holgorsen.
Athlon's Prediction: West Virginia by 10
5. Cincinnati vs. Rutgers (Week 12)
Nov. 19, All-Time Series: Cincy leads 8-7-1
The Scarlet Knights have lost five straight to the Bearcats. But Rutgers won the two games prior (2005, 1994) and both were in New Brunswick and both were lopsided affairs. Greg Schiano will have to figure out a way to slow the Cincy attack, as even in a down year for the Bearcats, they managed to drop 69 points on Rutgers. Cincy scored 47 on the Knights in 2009 as well, so slowing Zach Collaros and the Big East's highest scoring team (41.7 ppg) will be key to Rutgers' Big East title hopes.
Athlon's Prediction: Rutgers by 1
6. South Florida vs. Rutgers (Week 11)
Nov. 5, All-Time Series: Rutgers leads 4-2
The only six meetings between these two teams have taken place over the last six seasons. Rutgers has won the last two at home, including a 31-0 beatdown in 2009. USF's trip to Piscataway will be its third road game in four (with trip to Syracuse the following week as well) so winning on the road against Rutgers is paramount to any and all Big East title hopes for Skip Holtz' bunch. The Bulls are coming off back-to-back losses and will host Cincy this weekend. If South Florida losses a third time in a row, beating the Knights would appear to be unlikely.
Athlon's Prediction: Rutgers by 4
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 – especially considering how poorly the state has performed this season. So 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 have had their hands full of costly injuries and off-the-field distractions. However, the Canes appear to be improving after the 1-2 start. There are no conference crowns on the line in this one, but state bragging rights might be just as important and Golden doesn’t want to lose two in a row to their in-state rival.
Athlon’s Prediction: South Florida by 3
8. Cincinnati at Pittsburgh (Week 10)
Nov. 5, All-Time Series: Pittsburgh leads 8-2
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 looks like more of the contender than Pitt, so this early November duel will be key for the Bearcats continued BCS hopes.
Athlon’s Prediction: Pittsburgh by 7
9. Cincinnati vs. South Florida (Oct. 22)
Oct. 22, All-Time Series: Cincy leads 5-3
The Bearcats had won four straight in this series, including two straight in Tampa, until South Florida came up to Cincy last season and outlasted them 38-30. The Bulls are coming off two straight losses to Pitt and UConn and needs to rebound immediately this weekend if it expects to stay in the Big East hunt.
Athlon's Prediction: South Florida by 1
Other Key Games to Watch:
Syracuse vs. Pitt (Dec. 3)
West Virginia vs. Syracuse (Oct. 22)
Cincinnati vs. Syracuse (Nov. 26)
Rutgers vs. UConn (Nov. 26)
UConn at Cincinnati (Dec. 3)
South Florida vs. Syracuse (Nov. 11)