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Week Four Big East Preview

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EAST CAROLINA (1-2) AT WEST VIRGINIA (3-0)

Time/TV: Noon/ESPN2

Favorite: West Virginia by 24.5

Despite playing West Virginia consistently close the last few years, East Carolina will be looking for its first win in 12 trips to Morgantown when it takes the field tomorrow afternoon.

The Pirates boast a run defense that is allowing just 86 yards per game on the ground, and held Virginia Tech to 33. Of course they haven't seen an attack like the one they'll see Saturday as the Mountaineers rank second in the country in rushing, averaging 343.7 yards a game.

Heisman hopeful Steve Slaton is among the nation's leaders at 130.7 rushing yards per contest and eight touchdown runs, but he ran for only 80 yards in last year's matchup with ECU, marking one of only three times in his last 17 games he's been held under 100. Quarterback Pat White is also off to another tremendous season, rushing for 244 yards and going 31-of-49 for 436 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions through three games.

A large portion of East Carolina's offense is predicated on the passing game and junior quarterback Patrick Pinkney. Pinkney was 31 of 41 for 406 yards in the Pirates' victory over North Carolina, and threw for 203 yards and two touchdowns in last weekend's loss to Southern Miss. None of this bodes well for a revamped West Virginia secondary that ranks 68th in the country against the pass.

No one is quite sure how they've done it, but ECU has figured out some way to slow down the WVU rushing attack the last two seasons. If they do it again tomorrow then some sort of full-fledged investigation will have to be launched.

CC Prediction: West Virgina 38, East Carolina 13

NORTH CAROLINA (0-2) AT SOUTH FLORIDA (2-0)

Time/TV: Noon/ESPN

Favorite: South Florida by 13

South Florida will play as a ranked team for the first time on Saturday as Butch Davis and the winless North Carolina Tar Heels come to town.

This is a dangerous game for USF, which is not only taking the field as a national player for the first time, but with the knowledge that a showdown with West Virginia is just a week away.

While Matt Grothe is the name that immediately pops up when talking about the Bulls, it's the USF defense that's been most responsible for both of the team's wins. Trae Williams and Mike Jenkins have showed why many consider them the best cornerback tandem in the country, safety Nate Allen was named Big East Defensive Player of the Week after his performance against Auburn, and defensive end George Selvie ranks among the nation's leaders in sacks and tackles for loss.

The D will be tested by Tar Heel redshirt freshman quarterback T.J. Yates, who was 25-of-38 for 339 yards with three touchdowns in last weekend's two-point loss to Virginia. Yates is off to the best start of any Carolina quarterback in a long time, and has the potential to keep the Heels in games against quality opponents.

Though USF must struggle against Auburn hangover/West Virginia anticipation, UNC hasn't defeated a ranked opponent in their last six tries, and they lost to UVA for God's sake. Still, this one is closer than it should be.

CC Prediction: South Florida 21, North Carolina 14

CONNECTICUT (3-0) AT PITTSBURGH (2-1)

Time/TV: 7:00/ESPNU

Favorite: Pittsburgh by 9.5

Uconn may very well be the least impressive 3-0 team in the country, but the solid play of quarterback Tyler Lorenzen has made them vastly improved from a year ago, and with Pitt's issues at quarterback the line of 9.5 seems a tad high to me.

Kevan Smith's poor play last weekend against Michigan State likely kept the Panthers from another 3-0 start, and now Dave Wannstedt is saying that he is going to wait until Saturday to announce whether Smith or true freshman Pat Bostick will get the start in the Big East opener for both squads. Smith has started the past two games and performed well against Grambling, but he was 9-of-18 for 85 yards with two interceptions in East Lansing.

In the last two weeks LeSean McCoy has firmly established himself as Wannstedt's franchise player for the next three or four seasons. The bad news for the freshman is that Connecticut boasts a solid trio of linebackers in Danny Lansanah, Scot Lutrus, and Ryan Henegan, who may or may not be making his first start of the season. The Husky defense ranks eighth in the nation in total defense with 217 ypg allowed, and is surrendering just ten points a game. Of course this would be far more impressive of Uconn's three wins hadn't come against Duke, Temple and Maine.

If Pitt's defense doesn't play like it did a week ago, or if Donald Brown can find a way to shake his sophomore slump, then I think Connecticut cut very easily pull the upset here. As much as my heart is telling me not to, I'm sticking with the safe play.

CC Prediction: Pittsburgh 21, Connecticut 16

MARSHALL (0-3) AT CINCINNATI (3-0)

Time/TV: 7:30/Local

Favorite: Cincinnati by 24

Off to its best start since 1954, Cincinnati is expecting a big crowd at Nippert Stadium Saturday night as the 3-0 Bearcats take on winless Marshall.

Both teams enter the game with their starting quarterbacks dealing with injury issues.

UC starter Ben Mauk missed last weekend's game against Miami of Ohio because of soreness in his shoulder, and watched as backup Dustin Grutza threw for nearly 300 yards and two touchdowns on his way to earning Big East Offensive Player of the Week honors. Mauk practiced well this week and Cincy coach Brian Kelly said today that he will be the starter Saturday night.

Expected to miss the whole game because of turf toe, Marshall senior quarterback Bernard Morris was forced to enter last weekend's game against New Hampshire late in the second quarter with his team trailing 24-0. He finished the game 31-of-42 for a career-high 417 yards and three touchdowns, but the deficit proved too much to overcome. Marshall said this week that the foot was still hurting, but that his team needed him to play.

The Thundering Herd can't afford their hobbled QB to be anything less than stellar against a Bearcat defense that ranks first in the country in turnover margin, has intercepted 11 passes in three games, and has allowed only one offensive touchdown and 16 total points thus far this season.

Marshall would love to prematurely end the college football renaissance in the Queen City, but they don't have nearly enough guns to get the job done.

CC Prediction: Cincinnati 34, Marshall 10