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November 22, 2007

Big East title set to be decided

MORE CONFERENCE PREVIEWS: ACC | Big 12 | Pac-10 | SEC

FOX'S BIG EAST PICKS
This week's games
Overview: The Big East title comes down to this week's Connecticut-West Virginia game. Ranked third in the BCS standings, the Mountaineers need a win this week first and foremost. After that, they will keep an eye on the Big 12 race over the next two weeks. The Huskies' surprise 9-2 season, their best since joining Division I-A and second best overall, has been lost in the shuffle this season. A win over West Virginia would be tough to ignore.

Best matchup: West Virginia's run offense vs. Connecticut's linebackers. Connecticut's run defense hasn't been spectacular this season, but its linebackers Danny Lansanah, Scott Lutrus and Lawrence Wilson have been productive (300 combined tackles) and opportunistic (eight combined interceptions). The Huskies already have wins over the best running quarterback they've faced (USF's Matt Grothe) and the best running back they've faced (Rutgers' Ray Rice), but those guys aren't as fast as West Virginia's Pat White and Steve Slaton.

Best matchup II: Connecticut's run offense vs. West Virginia's run defense. Connecticut TBs Andre Dixon and Donald Brown have traded roles as the Huskies' primary ball-carrier. Each has been effective, and they have rushed for a combined 1,362 yards and 10 touchdowns. The Mountaineers' run defense, anchored by NT Keilen Dykes, allows 93 yards per game.

The pressure is on: USF and Cincinnati. Stumbling this week against Pittsburgh and Syracuse could cost the two upstarts one of the Big East's bowl bids against fellow major-conference opponents. Bowl games against Conference USA or the MAC boost the pocket book but not necessarily national perception. Bowl games against the Pac-10 or ACC might.

Who's hot: West Virginia's White has rushed for 458 yards and four touchdowns in the past three games. He has also thrown for 465 yards in that span. Pittsburgh LB Scott McKillop - the nation's leading tackler - had 16 tackles, 2.5 tackles for a loss and 1.5 sacks in a loss to Rutgers last week. Rutgers' Rice has averaged 165 rushing yards over the past six games. He has run for 10 touchdowns in that span.

Who's not: West Virginia has lost five fumbles in the past two games. All have come from White and Slaton. Louisville QB Brian Brohm has thrown eight interceptions in the past four games. He had never had more than five in a season before this year. Rutgers WR Tiquan Underwood has one catch for three yards in his past two games. Pittsburgh freshman TB LeSean McCoy has fumbled five times in the past six games.

Keep your eye on: West Virginia and the BCS standings. WVU coaches, players and fans as well as Big East officials will watch the BCS standings should the Mountaineers defeat Connecticut this week and No. 2 Kansas lose to No. 4 Missouri.

Numbers game: Last week began with seven teams still alive for the Big East title. UConn and WVU are the only teams alive this week. Brohm became the Big East's career passing leader in last week's loss at USF. Brohm has passed for 9,719 yards since Louisville joined the Big East, topping Miami QB Ken Dorsey's record of 9,565 career yards. USF DE George Selvie relinquished his national lead in sacks to Indiana's Greg Middleton. Middleton has 1.33 sacks per game; Selvie is at 1.32. Selvie had led the nation for most of the season.

BIG EAST STANDINGS
TeamConf.All
Connecticut5-19-2
West Virginia4-19-1
South Florida3-38-3
Cincinnati3-38-3
Rutgers3-37-4
Pittsburgh2-34-6
Louisville2-45-6
Syracuse1-52-9
Freshman to watch: USF TB Mike Ford has rushed for 274 yards and four touchdowns in the past two games, against Syracuse and Louisville. The Orange and Cardinals are the two worst rush defenses in the Big East. USF's opponent this week, Pittsburgh, has performed better. The Panthers are allowing an average of 126.8 rushing yards per game.

Injury update: Rutgers QB Mike Teel, who has thrown only 13 passes in the past two games because of a thumb injury, practiced Tuesday. USF TB Benjamin Williams (ankle) remains limited. SS Carlton Williams did not finish the Louisville game after sustaining a concussion. West Virginia LB Reed Williams and CB Sidney Glover had minor concussions against Cincinnati but could play this week.

They said it:
"From my standpoint, it's similar to all the questions relative to the bowl games. Our focus is on Syracuse. That's the most important thing. Any speculation relative to bowls and jobs, we've got plenty of time for that after the Syracuse game (Saturday). The focus for me and my football team is going to be on getting nine wins for the first time since the 1950s. Job speculation and all those things we've got plenty of time to do that after this weekend."
Cincinnati coach Brian Kelly on speculation he is a candidate for the vacant Michigan job

"I don't talk about it and I don't think about it. My thing is working with this football team. We have to play Cincinnati this weekend and that's a darn good football team."
Syracuse coach Greg Robinson on the possibility of this being his final game with the Orange. He is 7-27 overall and 2-18 in the Big East in three seasons at Syracuse

"When we lost, I told the guys ... 'It's going to be a crazy year, anyway.' There are some big games left. I think our guys are seeing it now. The nice thing from the league standpoint our focus from Day One is now we control our own destiny."
West Virginia coach Rich Rodriguez

Bowl implications: The Connecticut-West Virginia winner claims the Big East's automatic bid in the BCS. A Connecticut win would clinch an outright Big East title for the Huskies. USF (going to Pittsburgh) and Cincinnati (going to Syracuse) are trying to stay in the running for the Sun and Meineke Car Care bowls. At 4-6, Pittsburgh must pull off two upsets to become bowl eligible.

Etc.: It has been rumored that SMU is interested in Louisville's Steve Kragthorpe for its coaching vacancy. Cardinals administrators said SMU has not contacted Louisville regarding Kragthorpe. Rutgers' Rice has been named a Doak Walker Award finalist, along with Mike Hart of Michigan and Darren McFadden of Arkansas. USF's Selvie was named a finalist for the Nagurski Trophy (nation's best defensive player) along with Chris Long of Virginia, Aqib Talib of Kansas, James Laurinaitis of Ohio State and Glenn Dorsey of LSU. Connecticut punt returner Larry Taylor, who returned a punt for a touchdown against Louisville earlier this year though he appeared to call for a fair catch, attempted to do the same against Syracuse last week, but the play was whistled dead.

MORE CONFERENCE PREVIEWS: ACC | Big 12 | Pac-10 | SEC

David Fox is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dfox@rivals.com.



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