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Big East Preview: Week 8

With non-conference play a successful thing of the past, the real fun can now begin, starting with a weekend that includes a monster Pitt/Rutgers showdown.

(Friday) West Virginia (6-0, 1-0) at Connecticut (3-3, 0-1)

Time/TV: 8:00/ESPN

Favorite: West Virginia by 24

Billed as a possible upset when the schedules originally came out, tonight's contest of arguably the most impressive and unimpressive teams in the Big East now looks like just another uneventful Friday night blowout. The Mountaineers enter the game concentrated on avoiding a let down before its game of the year at Louisville on Nov. 2.

Home field advantage hasn't lived up to its name thus far for the Huskies, who have lost to both Wake Forest (24-13) and Navy (41-17) at Rentschler Field this season, and will be playing host to a top 10 tam for the first time in program history Friday night. This doesn't bode well for its chances of ending WVU's 13 game winning streak, and slowing down its top rated rushing offense.

Tailback Steve Slaton is averaging 155 yards a game and over 7 yards per carry, while quarterback Pat White has rushed for 517 yards, including a 247-yard performance last week against Syracuse that broke his own conference and school record for rushing yards in a game by a quarterback.

The Huskies have had trouble with running quarterbacks, giving up 182 yards and three touchdowns to Navy's Brian Hampton, and 82 yards and another three touchdowns to Gunner Grothe of South Florida in two blowout losses.

For Uconn to win it would have to get, among a number of things, a heroic effort from tailback Terry Caulley, who is third in the Big East with 98 rushing yards per game. He set a Big East record with a 98-yard touchdown run last week against Army. But Caulley ran for just 20 yards a year ago against the Mountaineers, and West Virginia is holding opponents to 88 yards per game on the ground this season.

In case you hadn't noticed, there are very few positives coming into this game for our least favorite team in the Big East. West Virginia can look ahead to Louisville from the time they step on the field to the time head to the locker room and it won't matter.

CC Prediction: West Virginia 42, Connecticut 9

Rutgers (6-0, 1-0) at Pittsburgh (6-1, 2-0)

Time/TV: 5:45/ESPN2

Favorite: Pitt by 6 1/2

Pitt has won 19 of 23 games in this series which features two of the oldest programs in college football, and has lost to the Scarlet Knights only once since 1998. But, as the media won't let you forget, this ain't your daddy's Rutgers.

Rutgers is 6-0 for the first time since 1976, and Pitt is 6-1 for the first time since 1982, meaning this is likely the most important meeting between the two teams in quite some time, if not ever.

How have the Scarlet Knights reached this relatively uncharted area? They have the second ranked defense in the country, and are ranked first in points allowed. Their special teams have blocked four punts. Their tailback, Ray Rice, is No. 4 nationally with a nearly 150 yards per game average. And their fullback, Brian Leonard, is widely regarded as one of the top NFL prospects at the position.

Pitt counters with the nation's most efficient quarterback, Tyler Palko, who has thrown 17 touchdown passes and only three interceptions. Its defense has elicited turnovers from its counterpart more than any team in the country- 20 times in seven games, including nine interceptions made by 8 different Panthers. A win for Pitt, ranked 26th in this week's Associated Press poll, would likely move them into the top 25 for the first time this season.

The right to be the team poised to take advantage of a Louisville or West Virginia slip up is on the line, making this an important game, and also making this a game in which Tyler Palko is unlikely to perform well. HB Blades and SS Sam Bryant (who will likely spend a great deal of time in the box) are good enough to at least slow down Ray Rice, but the rest of the defense is a bit undersized and ill equipped to handle the amount of carries Leonard and Rice are going to get.


Butkus finalist HB Blades could beat us up

Rutgers legitimizes its season and puts itself in a position to make an outside run at a BCS bid.

CC Prediction: Rutgers 17, Pitt 14

(Sunday) South Florida (5-2, 1-1) at Cincinnati (3-4, 0-2)

Time/TV: 8:00/ESPN

Favorite: South Florida by 1

A win by the Bulls means they're bowl eligible for the second straight season, a win by Cincinnati means their slim bowl hopes are still alive. That's still not a good enough reason to watch, but it's true.

Gunner Grothe is the most productive freshman in the country, and has really come into his own as a leader of late. The passing side of his run/pass offensive threat will need to step up, as he takes on a Bearcat defense that ranks 20th in the nation in stopping the run, allowing only 93 rushing yards per game. USF averages a half point under 165 yards a game on the ground.

South Florida receiver and kick/punt returner Ean Randolph has quietly become a star for the Bulls. The sophomore has caught three touchdown passes, and is second in the nation averaging 19.2 yards per punt return.

The Bearcats proved they can hang with anyone in the league last week when they were 17 yards and an extra point away from stunning Louisville at home, but Nippert hasn't treated them well recently, and USF is playing its best football of the season.

CC Prediction: South Florida 27, Cincinnati 7

Last Week: 5-1

Season: 41-4