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.
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.).
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.
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.
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.
Athlon sums up a full slate of college football with the five most important things to take away from this weekend.
1. Setup Saturday? – With Auburn, Oregon and TCU taking Saturday off, Week 12 was a relatively quiet one in the top 25. Boise State was the lone team from the BCS top four to play in Week 12, and the Broncos turned in an impressive 51-0 victory over Fresno State. Although the Week 12 slate may have disappointed for some fans, it’s time to buckle up for an entertaining final stretch. Forget hitting the malls and stores after Thanksgiving, Friday has a must-see lineup. Auburn takes on Alabama, Oregon hosts Arizona and Boise State travels to Reno to take on Nevada. Three of the top four teams in the nation will be on in different time slots – all prime opportunities to impress the voters.
2. Virginia Tech clinches ACC Coastal – For the fourth time in six seasons, Virginia Tech is headed to the ACC Championship. The Hokies were outgained 464 to 369 by Miami, but it didn’t matter. The offense got timely plays from quarterback Tyrod Taylor, and the defense forced six turnovers. Running back Ryan Williams has battled a hamstring injury most of the year, but his 84-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter put the Hokies up for good and clinched their berth to Charlotte for the ACC title. Although Virginia Tech is going to end up with a solid season, there’s also a what might’ve been feeling. Had the Hokies defeated Boise State, do they lose to James Madison? My guess is the Hokies win convincingly and who knows, maybe they are sitting 11-0 with a chance to jump into the discussion for the national title. The Hokies close out the regular season with rival Virginia, but will have to wait a week to figure out if they play Florida State or NC State in the ACC Championship.
3. Tie remains atop the Big Ten – Several conference battles are coming down to the wire, but the Big Ten is the only one with three teams in the top 10 of the BCS. While Wisconsin was cruising against Michigan, Michigan State needed a furious second-half rally and Ohio State a fourth-down conversion late in the fourth quarter to keep a three-way tie atop the standings in the Big Ten. The Badgers have a loss to Michigan State, but are arguably the best team in the conference. Despite John Clay missing the last two games with a knee injury, the offense hasn’t missed a beat and only needed to throw one pass in the second half victory over Michigan. With a win over Northwestern and an Ohio State win over Michigan, the Badgers appear likely to make their first trip to Pasadena since the 2000 season. If the Spartans beat Penn State, Wisconsin beats Northwestern and the Buckeyes lose to the Wolverines, Michigan State will make the trip to Pasadena, owning the head-to-head victory over the Badgers.
4. Big 12 division winners still unsettled – The Big 12 has sent a team to the national championship game the last two seasons, but Nebraska’s 9-6 loss to Texas A&M closed the door on the small hope the conference had of making it three in a row. Nebraska’s loss also means the Big 12 North division will be unsettled for at least another week. The Cornhuskers still have a prime opportunity to punch a ticket to the Big 12 title game with a win over Colorado on Friday. However, the Cornhuskers will need a healthy Taylor Martinez at quarterback – something they didn’t have on Saturday night in College Station.
The annual Bedlam matchup between Oklahoma and Oklahoma State will play a key role in deciding the South title. With a win over the Sooners, the Cowboys will make their first appearance in the Big 12 title game. The Sooners are 1-4 in their last five conference road games, with the lone victory coming on Saturday against Baylor. If the Sooners beat the Cowboys and Texas A&M beats Texas, three teams will be tied and the BCS standings will be used to decide the champion. Considering the Sooners rank 13th and the Aggies are 17th, a win over Oklahoma State should send Oklahoma to the Big 12 Championship.
5. Searching for answers in the Big East – West Virginia, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Connecticut and Syracuse have all seemed to garner mention as the favorite for the Big East at some point this season. Through 12 weeks, the Big East crown still remains unsettled. Pittsburgh knocked off South Florida 17-10, giving the Panthers the edge going into Saturday’s Backyard Brawl matchup against West Virginia. The Mountaineers lost back-to-back games against Syracuse and Connecticut, but seem to have fixed some of the mistakes plaguing them in the two losses. The Huskies own tiebreakers over the Mountaineers and Panthers, but still have to face Cincinnati and South Florida. The Orange have impressed in Doug Marrone’s second season, but have a puzzling 0-3 record in conference play at home, while winning all three Big East games on the road. The Big East has been a wacky conference this season, but the Backyard Brawl on Friday, and Connecticut’s matchup against Cincinnati should clear the picture after next week.
Other thoughts from Week 12
There’s still plenty to be sorted out for 2010, but there’s already a lot of intrigue building for Week 1 of the 2011 season. The announcement of Boise State-Georgia as the Chick-fil-A Kickoff game means fans will be treated to two quality matchups with LSU-Oregon also on the slate. The Broncos also deserve a lot of credit for their willingness to play this game, which is a virtual home date for Georgia in Atlanta.
Although there are some details to be worked out, it looks like Hawaii will be joining the Mountain West. This move raises some questions regarding the future of the WAC and TCU’s standing in the Mountain West. Are the Warriors invited to the conference because TCU is leaving? If the Warriors leave the WAC, the remaining teams will be – New Mexico State, Louisiana Tech, Utah State, San Jose State, Idaho, Texas State and Texas-San Antonio – a far cry from having Boise State, Nevada and Fresno State.
One of Week 12’s quiet wins was Ohio beating Temple on Tuesday night. The Owls appeared to be in position to win their first MAC East title, but Ohio scored a 31-23 victory in Philadelphia. If the Bobcats beat Kent State on Friday, they will return to Detroit to play in the MAC Championship.
There’s no doubt Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck is one of the best passers in the nation, but the sophomore is an underrated athlete. Luck has 445 rushing yards this year, including 92 against Washington and an impressive 58-yard run in Saturday’s win over California. Stanford’s 48-14 blowout victory over the Golden Bears was the first win by the Cardinal in Berkeley since 2000.
After watching Arkansas beat Mississippi State, one has to wonder what would happen if the Razorbacks had a chance to play Auburn again. The Razorbacks have found a running game behind Knile Davis and the defense has been solid. If the Razorbacks beat LSU on Saturday, they should get some consideration for an at-large spot in a BCS bowl.
Expect teams to continue scheduling games in baseball stadiums in the near future. Although the Wrigley Field experiment resulted in some wacky rules, another game in Chicago wouldn’t be a surprise. Missouri is exploring the possibility of playing in Busch Stadium, and the Pinstripe Bowl will be played in New Yankee Stadium. The experience of playing in a baseball stadium was interesting and one that only adds an extra element of intrigue.
Colorado is 2-0 since firing Dan Hawkins, with wins over Iowa State and Kansas State. Interim coach Brian Cabral has made an emphasis to get the ball to running back Rodney Stewart, rushing for 318 yards over the last two games. Although Cabral was considered a longshot to keep the job, a win over Nebraska on Friday could change his standing for 2011.
Another win that went under the radar was Eastern Michigan’s 21-17 victory over Buffalo. This was the first road win for the Eagles since October 4, 2008 against Bowling Green. Second-year coach Ron English is doing a good job turning around one of the nation’s worst programs.
Florida State’s 30-16 win over Maryland puts all of the pressure on NC State this Saturday. If the Wolfpack win in College Park, they will earn a spot in the ACC Championship. If the Terrapins pull the upset, the Seminoles will go to Charlotte to play Virginia Tech.
Cincinnati is having a disappointing season, but the door hasn’t closed on a bowl appearance. The Bearcats posted 69 points in Saturday’s win over Rutgers and have games against Connecticut and Pittsburgh remaining. With the way things have played out in the Big East this year, the Bearcats could win both games. Coach Butch Jones is catching a lot of heat, but the Bearcats have a young defense and quarterback Zach Collaros is back next season, which provides hope for a winning year in 2011.
Kent State’s Doug Martin resigned, becoming the fourth school to make a coaching change this season. Martin posted a 28-53 record in seven seasons at Kent State and will coach the season finale against Ohio.
Looking ahead to Week 13
A small sample of what’s ahead
Texas A&M vs. Texas (Thursday)
Aggies need win to stay alive in Big 12 South title race and loss eliminates Texas from bowl contention.
West Virginia vs. Pittsburgh (Friday)
Backyard Brawl will play a significant role in deciding Big East champ.
Auburn vs. Alabama (Friday)
Can the Alabama defense slow down Cameron Newton?
Colorado vs. Nebraska (Friday)
Final Big 12 regular season game for both teams, with Colorado off to the Pac-10 and Nebraska headed to the Big Ten after this season.
Arizona vs. Oregon (Friday)
Bye week gave Arizona plenty of time to prepare for Oregon – but will it matter?
Boise State vs. Nevada (Friday)
An impressive showing by Broncos on Friday night could be enough to move past TCU in BCS standings.
South Carolina vs. Clemson
Will the Gamecocks get caught looking ahead to next week’s showdown in Atlanta against Auburn?
Kentucky vs. Tennessee
Volunteers need a victory to get a bowl and own a 25-game winning streak over Wildcats.
Michigan State vs. Penn State
Spartans still have Rose Bowl hopes, but winning in Happy Valley won’t be easy.
NC State vs. Maryland
The mission for NC State is simple – win and advance to the ACC Championship.
Georgia Tech vs. Georgia
Disappointing year so far for Georgia, but a win against rival Georgia Tech would give the Bulldogs momentum going into the bowl season.
Florida vs. Florida State
Seminoles looking to snap six-game losing streak to Florida.
Michigan vs. Ohio State
Michigan's struggling defense will have its hands full trying to slow down Terrelle Pryor.
Northwestern vs. Wisconsin
Without Dan Persa and a leaky run defense, Wildcats will struggle to keep up with Badgers.
Oklahoma vs. Oklahoma State
Sooners have struggled on the road recently, but own a three-game winning streak in Stillwater.
Mississippi State vs. Ole Miss
Bulldogs looking for their first win in Oxford since 1998.
LSU vs. Arkansas
Winner of this matchup keeps alive for an at-large bid in a BCS bowl.
Taking a look at some of the key players suffering injuries this weekend.
Boston College RB Montel Harris (knee) – questionable for Week 13
Florida CB Janoris Jenkins (concussion) – probable for Week 13
Iowa RB Adam Robinson (concussion) – doubtful for Week 13
Kansas State QB Collin Klein (undisclosed) – questionable for Week 13
Michigan RB Vincent Smith (undisclosed) – questionable for Week 13
Michigan WR Darryl Stonum (ankle) – questionable for Week 13
Michigan LB Craig Roh (concussion) – questionable for Week 13
Nebraska QB Taylor Martinez (ankle) – questionable for Week 13
Notre Dame LB Manti Te’o (broken nose) – probable for Week 13
Oklahoma RB Roy Finch (concussion) – questionable for Week 13
Oregon State LB Keith Pankey (ankle) – questionable for Week 13
South Carolina CB Stephon Gilmore (concussion) – probable for Week 13
Temple RB Bernard Pierce (hamstring) – questionable for Week 13
Tennessee DT Montori Hughes (ankle) – probable for Week 13
UCLA QB Richard Brehaut (concussion) – probable for Week 13
USC QB Matt Barkley (high ankle sprain) – questionable for Week 13
USC RB Marc Tyler (sprained akle) – questionable for Week 13
USC LB Chris Galippo (concussion) – doubtful for Week 13
Virginia Tech CB Rashad Carmichael (sprained ankle) – probable for Week 13
Northwestern athletic director Jim Phillips on the decision to use only one end zone for the Wildcats’ game versus Illinois. Both offenses will go towards the west end zone at Wrigley Field on Saturday.