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November 1, 2006
Best matchup: West Virginia at Louisville. This is a no-brainer. This matchup will be the biggest game of the season until the Michigan-Ohio State game on Nov. 18. Both teams are in the top five nationally in scoring offense and total offense, in the top 10 in rushing offense and scoring defense. The Big East will have its first showcase conference game since its makeover in 2004. And judging by last year's matchup - a triple overtime thriller - this should be a good one.
Worst matchup: South Florida QB Matt Grothe vs. Pittsburgh's defense. Not really a bad matchup, but, hey, there are only two games in the Big East this week. The last time Pittsburgh faced a run-pass threat at quarterback it was Michigan State's Drew Stanton, who passed for 198 yards, ran for 105 and accounted for three touchdowns in a 38-22 Spartans win.
Upset alert: South Florida over Pittsburgh. The Bulls always present a tough challenge, especially at home. Rutgers' closest game this season, a 22-20 win over USF, occurred at Raymond James Stadium. Last year the Bulls beat Louisville 45-14 in Tampa, Fla. It could be a rough day for Pittsburgh, which is likely on the outside looking in as West Virginia, Louisville and Rutgers fight for the conference title.
Most to gain: The winner of West Virginia at Louisville. The winner of this game will catapult itself into the national title race, possibly ahead of a one-loss SEC team.
Most to lose: Pittsburgh. The Panthers are lingering on the edge of the Top 25 even with losses to Michigan State and Rutgers. A defeat in Tampa could do irreparable damage in the eyes' of voters.
Who's hot: Rutgers defensive end Jamaal Westerman Westerman has 3? sacks in his last two games after getting 2? against Connecticut on Sunday. Also against the Huskies, he also forced a fumble and blocked a punt that gave Rutgers the 24-13 final score.
Who's not: Syracuse's running game. The Orange has not run for 100 yards in its last four games. Syracuse had 61 yards on the ground last week against Cincinnati, hurt by four sacks of quarterback Perry Patterson.
Must see TV: No. 3 West Virginia (7-0, 3-0 Big East) at No. 5 Louisville (7-0, 2-0 Big East), Thursday 7:30 p.m., ESPN2
Backup who could have an impact: Brandon Cox, Louisville defensive end. The injury to Zach Anderson has forced Louisville to again shuffle its defensive line. Cox should start at one defensive end spot opposite sophomore Earl Heyman, who has started five games at tackle and two at end. Junior Willie Williams has moved into the starting defensive tackle spot alongside the Cardinals' top lineman, Amobi Okoye.
Key stat: 10. Incomplete passes for Pittsburgh's Tyler Palko in his last game against Rutgers. He had 11 incomplete passes in the previous three games against Central Florida (four), Syracuse (four) and Toledo (three).
Take the line: Louisville is a 2?-point favorite at home over West Virginia. Take the Mountaineers outright. Season 5-4.
They said it: "We've got two teams in the top 10, one in the top 15 and another right on the cusp. From top to bottom we're a small league, but from one through eight our league is as strong as it's been in a long time. All the talk of the demise of the Big East should be gone by now."-West Virginia coach Rich Rodriguez
Injury update: Rutgers running back Ray Rice left Saturday's game against Connecticut with an ankle injury but plans to return after a bye week for the Louisville game. ? Louisville defensive end Zach Anderson (knee) is doubtful against West Virginia. ? Connecticut running back Terry Caulley (ankle) missed last week's game against Rutgers. Coach Randy Edsall has not determined if Caulley will return Nov. 11 against Pittsburgh.
Worth noting: During Monday's Big East teleconference, West Virginia coach Rich Rodriguez addressed the coaching vacancy at North Carolina, for which he has been mentioned as a candidate. "I've always said that this is a great place to coach," he said. "I feel that any job you take, you take the job as if it's the last job you'll ever have. And I think I've always taken that approach. I'm certainly taking it now. I'm focused on what we're doing right now in our season. And after the season, I'm sure I'll sit down with our people here and discuss with my family if anything is interesting at that point." ? No. 3 West Virginia at No. 5 Louisville will be the first top-five matchup in the Big East since No. 3 Miami beat No. 2 Virginia Tech 41-21 on Nov. 4, 2000. ? Rutgers fullback Brian Leonard set the school's career record for receptions (195) after making seven catches Sunday against Connecticut. ? The Huskies made another change at quarterback on the season by starting D.J. Hernandez ahead of Matt Bonislawski. Hernandez was 8 of 17 for 67 yards with an interception against the Scarlet Knights. Hernandez will start the next game against Pittsburgh.
Looking back: In a light week of Big East action, Cincinnati held Syracuse to a field goal and 180 yards of offense in a 17-3 win. On Sunday, Rutgers avoided a trap game thanks to a touchdown apiece from its defense and special teams in a 24-13 win over Connecticut.
Freshman who impressed: Donald Brown, Connecticut running back In his first career start, the redshirt freshman ran 28 times for 199 yards and two touchdowns on Sunday against Rutgers, a team that had not allowed a 100-yard rusher all season.
Bowl watch: Rutgers (8-0), West Virginia (7-0), Louisville (7-0) and Pittsburgh (6-2) are all eligible. South Florida (5-3) and Cincinnati (5-4) need one more win.