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November 8, 2006
All eyes on Rutgers: It's just another Thursday night in the Big East. While other conference races have nearly wrapped up, the Big East is just beginning. For the second consecutive week two undefeated Big East teams will face off on Thursday on national television. After beating visiting West Virginia last week, Louisville has to go on the road for the biggest game in it opponent's history when the No. 3 Cardinals face No. 15 Rutgers.
Best matchup: Louisville offense vs. Rutgers defense. The Cardinals racked up 465 yards of offense against West Virginia, but the Mountaineers weren't exactly stout defensively. Under Greg Schiano, who doubles as defensive coordinator, Rutgers' fast and attacking defense is in the top five nationally in five defensive categories. Throw in the home crowd, and it might be trouble for Brian Brohm and the Cardinals offense.
Worst matchup: Syracuse at South Florida. Were you among those who saw too much offense in Louisville's win over West Virginia last week? You won't have to worry about that here. Syracuse is among the nation's worst offensive teams ranking 112th in total offense and 91st in scoring defense. South Florida's offense has shown a tendency to disappear at times this season ? like in a 13-7 loss to Kansas and a 23-6 loss to Cincinnati.
The pressure is on: Pittsburgh. The conference is counting on an established name like Pittsburgh to prove the depth of the Big East. With losses to Rutgers and South Florida the last two weeks - to go with a non-conference loss to Michigan State early in the season - the Panthers aren't close to joining the top 25. Pittsburgh needs a convincing win and a return to form from Tyler Palko against Connecticut to get back on track before facing West Virginia and Louisville to end the season.
Upset alert: Cincinnati over West Virginia. The Mountaineers are coming off their first loss since Oct. 1, 2005 (against Virginia Tech) and their first Big East loss since Nov. 25, 2004. For all the criticism of the Big East's out-of-conference schedules, Cincinnati has played Ohio State and Virginia Tech on the road and remains the Big East's top run defense. It could spell trouble for the Mountaineers.
Most to gain: Rutgers. Louisville used the win over undefeated West Virginia to become a favorite to play in the national title game. Could Rutgers do the same by knocking off No. 3 Louisville? The Scarlet Knights still have the Big East title in their sights if they beat Louisville and West Virginia.
Most to lose: Louisville. All that talk about the Cardinals playing in the national championship game will be moot if Louisville loses on the road to Rutgers. The Big East title would also be in jeopardy.
Who's hot: Cincinnati's rush defense. The Bearcats have allowed an average of 66 yards per game on the ground in the last five games with only one opponent ? Louisville with 105 rushing yards ? topping the century mark.
Who's not: Pittsburgh quarterback Tyler Palko. After a good start to the season, Palko has struggled in his last two games ? losses to Rutgers and South Florida. In those two games, Palko is 27 of 49 (55.1 percent) for 328 yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions.
Must see TV: No. 3 Louisville (8-0, 3-0) at No. 15 Rutgers (8-0, 3-0), 7:30 p.m. Eastern on Thursday, ESPN
Backup who could have an impact: Defensive end Johnny Dingle. Dingle was the beneficiary of changes throughout the Mountaineers' depth chart this week. Dingle has played well since being moved to the second team earlier this season and won his job back from Jason Ingram.
Key stat: 1. Times in Rutgers history a ranked Scarlet Knights team has played a ranked opponent.
Take the line: West Virginia is a 19?-point favorite over Cincinnati this week. Take the Bearcats and the points. Cincinnati has put a scare into Louisville and Virginia Tech this year, and allowed only nine points the last two games. West Virginia comes into this game wounded after the Louisville loss. Season: 5-5
They said it: "There's a faction of people who look for things to criticize about Big East teams. If it was a low-scoring game, they'd probably say there was no offense. Because we're a smaller football league, people jump on us no matter what. I certainly think our league is still underrated, and I think other leagues are way overrated."
Injury update: Louisville wide receiver/kick returner Patrick Carter will likely miss the Rutgers game with a sprained ankle. Defensive end Zach Anderson, who missed the West Virginia game with a sprained MCL, is expected to return against Rutgers. ? West Virginia running back Steve Slaton is expected to return against Cincinnati after a sprained wrist limited him against Louisville. ? Pittsburgh defensive end Chris McKillop is considered week-to-week after twisting his knee against South Florida. ? USF quarterback Matt Grothe is expected to play against Syracuse despite being hobbled by an ankle injury last week against Pittsburgh.
Worth noting: Connecticut running back Donald Brown, who ran for 199 yards and two touchdowns in his first start against Rutgers, will start against Pittsburgh. Brown's spot on the first team was held by Terry Caulley, who is still bothered by an ankle injury. ? West Virginia made several changes following the loss to Louisville. Cornerbacks Franchot Allen and Larry Williams were listed as first team ahead of Antonio Lewis and Vaughn Rivers. Reed Williams will replace Bobby Hathaway at strongside linebacker. Brad Palmer will replace Mike Villagrana at tight end. Ridwan Malik was ahead of John Holmes at strong safety. Pat McAfee was also listed ahead of punter Scott Kozlowski. ? ESPN announced its broadcast of Louisville-West Virginia last week was the second most-watched college football game in the network's history when it reached an estimated 4.91 million homes. The largest audience was earlier this year with 6.318 for the Florida State-Miami game on Labor Day. ? Pittsburgh tight end Darrell Strong was suspended indefinitely after making an obscene gesture toward the South Florida crowd after a touchdown catch in the 22-12 loss to USF.
Looking back: The conference made up for a light schedule last weekend by making one of the two games the highlight of the season. Louisville's 44-34 win over West Virginia gave the Cardinals national attention. It also opened the door for debate around the country. Should an undefeated Big East team beat out a one-loss team for a shot at the national title? In the other conference game, South Florida handed Pittsburgh its second loss in a row.
Freshmen who impressed: Freshmen accounted for three of Louisville's touchdowns against West Virginia. True freshman Anthony Allen had 47 yards and two touchdowns on 12 carries. Redshirt Trent Guy returned a punt 40 yards for a touchdown. South Florida redshirt freshman quarterback Matt Grothe completed 19 of 25 passes for 180 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions in the win over Pitt. He also carried the ball 12 times for 51 yards and a score.
Bowl watch: Louisville (8-0) and Rutgers (8-0) are in contention for the Big East title and a BCS Bowl, but West Virginia (7-1) still has a shot at the conference title. The Mountaineers would need a three-way tie with Rutgers and Louisville and would need to be the highest ranked team of the three to earn the BCS bid. Pittsburgh (6-3) is bowl eligible. South Florida (6-3) is bowl eligible for the second consecutive year after its win over Pittsburgh. Cincinnati (5-4) needs one more win to be the Big East's sixth team headed to the postseason.