Big East Ultimate Schedule

August 3rd, 2009

There are many articles out there on the best games this season, on a national level as well as by conference. But how would each conference’s (or in some cases division) schedule look if you had to follow the actual rules when doing so? This is just one person’s opinion, so feel free to add your input/suggestions. Today brings the Big East, a league that boasts six conference title contenders, and that should mean a wild fall in the Northeast.


Big East Schedule “Rules”

-          Seven conference games

-          Five non-conference games


Week 1: Cincinnati @ Rutgers (September 7th)


By far the best game of the season’s opening weekend, the Bearcats and Scarlet Knights get a head start on the competition in regards to the Big East title. Outside of a game at Maryland the final Saturday of the month the Scarlet Knights won’t get a true test, so how much of a feel can people get for Greg Schiano’s team from this game? Domenic Natale and Jabu Lovelace will have decided (at least for this game) who will take the first offensive snap of the season, and outside of Tim Brown the wide receivers will be unproven commodities.


The Bearcats should have no such problems offensively with quarterback Tony Pike and receivers Mardy Gilyard (also one of the country’s best special teams threats) and Marcus Barnett back on campus. But with ten starters gone from a defense that helped lead Cincinnati to the FedEx Orange Bowl, head coach Brian Kelly will be looking for some definitive answers there. That’s what makes this tilt so interesting; the units with the biggest issues will look for answers against each other.


Other Game Considered: Minnesota @ Syracuse (9/5)


Week 2: East Carolina @ West Virginia (September 12th)


The Pirates, who went on to win Conference USA, embarrassed the Mountaineers in Greenville last September. Revenge would be sweet for Bill Stewart’s team, but this will also be their first test of the season without the graduated Pat White. Jarrett Brown has experience, most notably beating Rutgers in Morgantown two seasons ago when a win would have sent the Scarlet Knights to a BCS bowl, but he isn’t the speedster that White is. ECU is again a favorite in C-USA, and a defense that shut down the Mountaineers a season ago returns some key playmakers with free safety Van Eskridge leading the way.


On offense Patrick Pinkney will lead the way in his senior campaign, while the hope is that Dominique Lindsay can come back at full strength after missing 2008 due to a preseason knee injury. The offensive line is experienced as well, and if they can stay healthy the Pirates are a team to keep an eye on. Expect this to be one of the better games on the Week 2 national schedule.


Other Games Considered: North Carolina @ Connecticut (9/12), Syracuse @ Penn State (9/12), Buffalo @ Pittsburgh (9/12)


Week 3: Connecticut @ Baylor (September 19th)


Week 3 has some enticing games on the Big East schedule, but the pick here is the Huskies’ trip to Waco because of the presence of Robert Griffin III. The sophomore quarterback is one of the nation’s most exciting dual threat players, possessing the ability to kill you with his legs while also being one of the more accurate throwers you’ll see (15 passing TDs, 3 INT in 2008). Head coach Art Briles did a good job in his first season at the perennial Big 12 doormat, and enough key players return to have Baylor fans thinking bowl game in 2009. And they’ll have payback on their minds with the Huskies winning last year’s meeting 31-28 in East Hartford.


Zach Frazer goes into fall camp as the starting quarterback; by game three UConn will need him to have provided enough evidence that he is the man or else they’re in trouble. Cody Endres, who also saw snaps in 2008, is the backup so there will be some experience under center. But that doesn’t always equal quality, which is what the Huskies will need with running back Donald Brown off to the NFL. The defense, a staple of the Randy Edsall regime, will once again be solid with one of the conference’s best linebacking units. Whether or not they can contain Griffin will tell the tale in Waco.


Other Games Considered: Cincinnati @ Oregon State (9/19), Navy @ Pittsburgh (9/19), Louisville @ Kentucky (9/19), Northwestern @ Syracuse (9/19)


Week 4: USF @ Florida State (September 26th)


The first-ever meeting between the Bulls and Seminoles, a game that in regards to the history of college football in the Sunshine State may have a little more meaning for USF. QB Matt Grothe and DE George Selvie will lead the way north for a team looking for extra validation in a state that focuses primarily on the SEC (Florida) and ACC (FSU and Miami) at the expense of the Bulls since they play in the Big East. What could help out Grothe is the fact that the Seminoles have to account for heavy turnover on the defensive side of the ball.


The question on defense is how well the other linemen perform. The better the play the more that frees up Selvie, who had to deal with numerous double-teams in 2008 after breaking the conference TFL record (31.5) in 2007. How much pressure can the Bulls put on Christian Ponder, a quarterback who finished 2008 with 14 touchdown passes to thirteen interceptions. The more heat USF can apply the better, but don’t be surprised if the Seminoles give D’Vontrey Richardson some snaps as well. And with Graham Gano off to the NFL and Maikon Bonani out for the season (injury), look for some possible adventures in the kicking game.

Other Games Considered: Rutgers @ Maryland (9/26), Pittsburgh @ NC State (9/26), Louisville @ Utah (9/26), Fresno State @ Cincinnati (9/26)


Week 5: Colorado @ West Virginia (October 1st)


Last season the Buffaloes were able to knock off West Virginia in Boulder thanks in large part to the exploits of wide receiver Josh Smith. With Smith gone (transfer), who will the big play threat be for CU? As for the backfield, there was a breakout freshman in that meeting but it wasn’t the highly-touted Darrell Scott. Rodney Stewart proved to be a handful all night for the Mountaineers, kick-starting a freshman campaign that was better than any Colorado fans imagined heading into the season. They’re both back, as is Demetrius Sumler, something that should take some of the pressure off of QB Cody Hawkins.


Colorado will have to deal with some experience issues defensively, something the Mountaineers may be able to exploit against a team whose only road game to this point will have been a visit to Toledo. Just like the East Carolina game, expect West Virginia to be more than ready for payback.


Other Games Considered: Pittsburgh @ Louisville (10/3), USF @ Syracuse (10/3)


Week 6: Bye Week (October 10th)


The back loaded Big East schedule lends itself to two bye weeks in order to account for the first Saturday in December. UConn/Pitt is an intriguing game, but the games on the hardwood have been more competitive in recent years than the football affairs. Four of the last five meetings have had margins of ten points or more. Also, Louisville could be a home underdog facing a Southern Miss tea expected by many to be in the thick of the Conference USA race.


Games Considered: Southern Miss @ Louisville (10/10), Connecticut @ Pittsburgh (10/10)


Week 7: Cincinnati @ USF (October 15th)


The defending champs head south to take on a USF team hoping that their star power will be the determining factor in the Big East title race. The Bearcats won last season’s meeting in the Queen City 24-10, picking off Matt Grothe three times in the win. The loss was the second straight for the Bulls, who finished the regular season 1-4 after starting 2008 6-1. In the final five regular season games Grothe accounted for three touchdown passes, eleven interceptions and just one rushing score. The more help he gets from the supporting cast the better off the Bulls will be, and given how badly last season’s game went look for USF to have some extra motivation.


Other Games Considered: Pittsburgh @ Rutgers (10/16), Marshall @ West Virginia (10/17), Louisville @ Connecticut (10/17)


Week 8: USF @ Pittsburgh (October 24th)


These are my two picks to finish atop the Big East standings, so it only makes sense to be at Heinz Field for the Bulls’ trip north. Pitt gave USF their first loss of the season in Tampa last year, holding the ball for more than thirty-six minutes in the 26-21 victory. Bill Stull had one of his best performances of the season and the Panther defense held Matt Grothe to just 154 yards of total offense. Something else the Bulls need to be wary of is the penalty count; they had eleven in the loss.


Other Games Considered: Connecticut @ West Virginia (10/24), Louisville @ Cincinnati (10/24)


Week 9: Rutgers @ Connecticut (October 31st)


Halloween brings a rematch of a game that wasn’t the easiest on the eyes a season ago. The Scarlet Knights could probably care less about the aesthetics of that 12-10 victory, a result that kick-started their season-ending seven-game win streak. The Huskies received one of Zach Frazer’s best performances of the season but it didn’t matter as they were just 5-for-14 on third downs. Look at that stat on Halloween and it should be a solid indicator of how much the Husky passing attack has progressed, with a higher success rate possibly meaning a UConn win. If you want a player to watch, how about Connecticut kicker Tony Ciavarino, who was just 1-for-4 on field goal attempts in the loss.


Other Game Considered: USF@ West Virginia (10/30)


Week 10: Bye Week (November 7th)


Seems like a good week to take a break, although the Bearcats do host the lone team to beat them in conference play last season. And while Louisville/West Virginia has been one of the signature rivalries of the retooled Big East, the Cardinals don’t have the look of a title contender this season.


Games Considered: Connecticut @ Cincinnati (11/7), Louisville @ West Virginia (11/7)


Week 11: West Virginia @ Cincinnati (November 13th)


In the middle of their six-game winning streak to end the regular season the Bearcats picked up a signature victory in Morgantown. In the 26-23 battle Cincinnati held the Mountaineers to just 4-for-20 on third downs, and Pat White to just forty-one yards on twenty carries. White did have a solid game passing the football, but the Bearcats were able to take away the most dangerous aspect of the now-departed quarterback’s game. With ten new starters on defense can Cincinnati shut down Jarrett Brown? The more important task may be to shut down Noel Devine, who ran for just fifty-eight yards in the most recent meeting.


Other Games Considered: USF @ Rutgers (11/12), Notre Dame @ Pittsburgh (11/14)


Week 12: Connecticut @ Notre Dame (November 21st)


These two schools have staged some memorable games on the hardwood (and the soccer field for that matter); what will happen in their first-ever meeting on the gridiron? It still remains to be seen just how long this series goes on for (the Huskies have been criticized for the rumored deal of a six-game series with no true home games), but this game is a chance the UConn program would not have were they still at the FCS level. Notre Dame recruits at a different level to be honest thanks to the name brand, but don’t underestimate the coaching ability of Randy Edsall. Also of note is the presence of Jon Tenuta, whose blitzing scheme terrorized the Huskies a few seasons ago when they went down to Georgia Tech.


Other Game Considered: Rutgers @ Syracuse (11/21)


Week 13: Pittsburgh @ West Virginia (November 27th)


A Big East schedule just wouldn’t be complete without the Backyard Brawl, and the Panthers have won the last two meetings in the series. Down 15-7 with just under twelve minutes left in the game Pitt scored twice on LeSean McCoy touchdown runs to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. McCoy ran for 183 yards in the win but he’s in the NFL so the Mountaineers don’t have to worry about him this time around. Just like any heated rivalry, the ability for teams to harness their emotions and not allow the dislike of the opponent to result in foolish penalties or mistakes will also be important.


Other Games Considered: Illinois @ Cincinnati (11/27), Miami (FL) @ USF (11/28)


Week 14: Big East Bonanza! (December 5th)


Why pick one game when you can have three? USF/Connecticut, Cincinnati/Pittsburgh and West Virginia/Rutgers will all take place on the final day of the regular season, likely to be played at the same time on the ESPN family of networks. Syracuse and Louisville sit this weekend out, and with those two being the teams few give a chance of winning the title to it makes sense. If I had to pick one of these three it would be Pittsburgh visiting Cincinnati. Big East schedule makers get it right again with their trio of games.