Up For Grabs

Pitt has to win if expects to keep control in the Big East.

Pitt has to win if expects to keep control in the Big East.

The countdown to the end of the Big East regular season is two weeks. And there are only two teams one can count out of the chase to at least capture a share of the conference title.

Pittsburgh still has the best chance to grab the league’s BCS bowl, but Connecticut helped itself and others by downing Syracuse last weekend. The Huskies bumped the Orange out of second place and now share that with West Virginia. Both are 3–2 in conference play, while Pitt is 4–1.

“It’s what I’ve tried to instill in these young men,” said UConn coach Randy Edsall.

“Hey, don’t let anybody count you out. You just got to keep fighting.”

Pittsburgh, though, can clinch no worse than a tie for the title by winning this week’s home Backyard Brawl against West Virginia. The Panthers can win the title outright by adding a season-ending road win against Cincinnati. On Saturday, Pitt nudged South Florida by 17–10.

“That was a heck of a win for our football team for a lot of reasons,” said Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt. “We needed to bounce back (from a loss to Connecticut) and the encouraging thing is we still haven’t put together a complete game.”

Pitt received a game-winning 22-yard touchdown run from Dion Lewis in the fourth quarter in Tampa. Lewis ran for 105 yards and a score, while quarterback Tino Sunseri was 11-for-16 passing for 142 yards and a touchdown to make the Panthers bowl eligible at 6–4. South Florida got a nice 45-yard touchdown run on a reverse from wideout Terrence Mitchell, but allowed a three-game winning streak to end.

Connecticut won at Syracuse’s Carrier Dome behind two touchdown runs from Jordan Todman and three field goals from kicker Dave Teggart. SU could only manage two Ross Krautman field goals. It ended a sometimes wonderful, but always strange Big East season for the Orange. Syracuse, which hosts Boston College this Saturday, became the first team in Big East history to win all of its conference road games, but lose all of its league home games.

West Virginia, 7–3 overall, remained alive on the strength of its defense in a 17–10 win over Louisville at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium. The Mountaineer defense held the Cardinals to nine first downs, 26 rushing yards and 171 total yards. It didn’t allow an offensive touchdown. West Virginia is the nation’s only team that’s held every opponent to 21 points or fewer.

“Our kids are playing hard and they’re playing with a lot of confidence right now,” said WVU defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel.

On the other end of the conference, Cincinnati, the league’s back-to-back reigning champs, managed to escape the cellar and remain alive with a wild 69–38 victory over Rutgers. It was the highest-scoring game in Big East history. UC’s Isaiah Pead scored five touchdowns (four rushing, one receiving) and the Bearcats offense ripped off 661 yards of offense en route to 10 touchdowns.

Individual numbers? Pead had 213 yards rushing and teammate Zach Collaros completed 23-of-39 passes for 366 yards and four touchdowns. Rutgers wideout Mark Harrison had 10 receptions for 240 yards and a league record-tying four touchdowns, and teammate Chas Dodd completed 19-of- 29 passes for 335 yards and four touchdowns.

West Virginia 17, Louisville 10
Pittsburgh 17, South Florida 10
Connecticut 23, Syracuse 6
Cincinnati 69, Rutgers 38

Breaking it down

As stated, Pitt wins the Big East outright by taking its last two games. But Connecticut and West Virginia can still take the outright title as well. Syracuse, South Florida and Cincinnati all remain in the hunt to tie for the league championship.

After Pitt, UConn has the best chance to win the league outright. The Huskies need to win out at home against Cincy and at South Florida and hope Pitt loses at least once. Connecticut holds tiebreaker advantages over Pitt and WVU.

WVU needs to defeat Pitt at Heinz Field this Friday and win at home against Rutgers. It also has to hope Connecticut loses one of its final two games.

What’s ahead

This week’s schedule has two Big East games on Friday. Louisville visits Rutgers at 11 a.m. on ESPN2. The U of L can become bowl-eligible for the first time since 2006 with a win.

WVU and Pitt meet at noon in the 103rd edition of the Brawl. That game will be televised by ABC.

Saturday league games will be Cincinnati at Connecticut; Syracuse hosting Boston College; and South Florida visiting Miami (Fla.).

Statistical eye-openers
Connecticut’s Jordan Todman scored a couple of touchdowns and ran for 130 yards against Syracuse. That performance was good enough to keep Todman No. 2 nationally in rushing with a 145.1 yard average. He’s second only to Oregon’s LaMichael James. Louisville’s Bilal Powell is eighth, averaging 120.7.

West Virginia’s defense, meanwhile, continues to impress. The Mountaineers are fourth nationally in rush defense (88 yard average), scoring defense (12.9) and total defense (245.1). WVU is also No. 8 in pass defense, allowing an average of 157.1 yards.

Going backward
When Rutgers’ Greg Schiano had the Scarlet Knights on a roll a few years back, many thought RU was rejuvenated. Now it seems like RU is headed for the days of old. With two games to play the team is in last place in the Big East and has a chance to tie Temple for the most last-place finishes in league history. Temple, booted from the league in 2004, had seven.

The good and the bad
During Pittsburgh’s win over South Florida, Panther defensive end Brandon Linsdsey recorded his 10th sack of the season. No Pitt player has reached double digits since Joe Clermond in 2007. Pitt, though, also was whistled for 11 penalties for 116 yards. In the prior three games, the Panthers had been called for 11-90 combined.

Injury news
South Florida running back Moise Plancher injured a shoulder against Pitt and was limited throughout the game.

When Cincinnati’s Isaiah Pead rushed for his career-high 213 yards, it was the first 200-yard game for a Bearcat since Richard Hall had 238 against Miami in 2004.

How bad was it?
Louisville’s offense was shut down to such a degree that the team’s leading rusher against West Virginia was kicker/punter Chris Philpott. He had 21 rushing yards on a fake punt. “Just no execution on offense,” said U of L coach Charlie Strong.

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Athlon recaps another stellar week of action in the Big East conference.

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