2008 Big East Preview
by Lenny Del Genio
There is no doubt that the Big East is the ugly duckling of the BCS Conference Parade. Boasting just eight teams, it is the smallest of the six major conferences and none of its current members have even played for a National Championship since the inception of the BCS. However, that doesnt mean there isnt some quality football being played in this league!
In 2006, two teams, Louisville and West Virginia, both landed New Years Day Bowl berths and WVU very likely could have been in a position to play for the National Title had they not suffered a late upset to South Florida. Louisville was in the same boat, but blew a big 3rd Quarter lead against Rutgers. That being said, the Big East was a BCS conference best 12-6 vs. non-conference opposition that year and went a perfect 5-0 in the bowls.
Last year wasnt quite as good with Louisville having a down year, but once again WVU had a shot at playing for a National Title only to suffer a stunning loss in the regular season finale to rival Pitt as 29-point favorites.
The Mountaineers have undergone a coaching change (not of their own choice!) from Rich Rodriguez to Bill Stewart, who already owns a Fiesta Bowl win on his resume. This season they will be favored in all 12 games. There are two title contenders in the 2008 version of the Big East, however, as the rising program of South Florida will challenge them for both conference and national supremacy.
I really feel that the Mountaineers have a great shot at a 12-0 regular season. Looking at the numbers, they should probably be covering a lot as well. Villanova (8/30)? WVU is 8-1 in home openers winning by an average of 29 PPG (this will be a non-lined game). At East Carolina (9/6)? WVU is 17-2 all-time vs. the Pirates with the average score at 33-15. Theyve beaten ECU seven straight times, outgaining them by 194 yards/game with four 550+ yard performances. Playing in Boulder against the Colorado Buffaloes (9/18) shouldnt be very difficult for Stewarts team either. WVU has won five straight non-conference road games and 14 of 16 overall outside of Morgantown. In-state rival Marshall (9/27) wont get them as the Mountaineers are 7-0 in this in-state rivalry and 11-0 vs. Conference USA.
Looking to the conference slate, WVU is 29-4-2 all-time vs. Rutgers (10/4), with 13 straight wins. Then, theres Syracuse (10/11), who theyve beaten six straight times, including last years meeting where they led 31-7 at halftime. Playing at UConn (11/1) wont be tough because the Mounties are 4-0 vs. the Huskies all-time winning by an average of 29 PPG. Cincinnati (11/8) is another opponent theyve dominated (14-1-1 all-time). Same with Louisville(11/22) as they are 7-2 all-time vs. the Cardinals. Pitt (11/28) is a huge revenge spot following last years disaster.
That leaves just two games to decide WVUs National Championship fate. One is a game I already have circled: at home vs. Auburn on a Thursday night on 10/23. Take note that the Mountaineers have beaten an SEC team each of the last three years. The second is the regular season finale against South Florida. With the game being played in Morgantown, and revenge once again a factor, you have to like WVU here considering USFs struggles in the cold weather.
Speaking of the Bulls, I also give them a very good shot at being 11-0, like WVU, when they roll into Morgantown for the season finale. Their only potential hiccup could come September 13th when they host Kansas, a team coming off a 12-1 campaign and Orange Bowl victory. USF is 0-3 vs. Big 12 opponents, but has won seven straight non-conference home games. This will be early season game to watch.
What about the rest of the Big East? Pitt is tied for the most returning starters (15) in the conference with Rutgers, who must replace Ray Rice. Louisville has the fewest remaining starters, but will probably get off to a better start than last years disappointing squad. Both Cincinnati and UConn are coming off watershed years, but neither will be as good as last years teams. The Bearcats benefited from a +16 TO margin a year ago. The Huskies were 3-11 in conference play before going 5-2 last year. Finally, you have Syracuse, a once proud program that has fallen on very hard times.
Good luck, Lenny