Was there ever any doubt that it would come down to Pitt and West Virginia? The 103rd edition of the Backyard Brawl between the Pittsburgh Panthers and West Virginia Mountaineers kicks off from Heinz Field on Friday at noon, with nothing less than the Big East Championship and a BCS Bowl bid hanging in the balance.
The more surprising aspect is what the Brawl's effect on the Big East will be. Here are the standings and scenarios:
PITT BEATS WEST VIRGINIA, UCONN LOSES TO CINCINNATI: Pitt wins the Big East.
PITT BEATS WEST VIRGINIA, UCONN BEATS CINCINNATI: Pitt would need to either win their regular season finale at Cincinnati or have UConn lose their final game at South Florida to take the Big East. If UConn and Pitt finish tied alone atop the standings, UConn wins the title via their November 11th victory over the Panthers.
WEST VIRGINIA BEATS PITT, UCONN LOSES TO CINCINNATI: West Virginia finds itself tied alone atop the Big East and only needs to win its final contest against Rutgers to take the Big East.
WEST VIRGINIA BEATS PITT, UCONN BEATS CINCINNATI: There would be a three-way tie atop the Big East standings. If results hold on the final week, the Big East compares results amongst all tied teams. In this scenario, UConn takes the Big East, having defeated both the Panthers and Mountaineers. If UConn somehow loses the following week and Pitt finishes tied with West Virginia, the Mountaineers take the conference title based on their heads up result.
So, essentially, Pitt controls its own destiny. West Virginia, on the other hand, needs some help. But, if the Mountaineers win and UConn holds down the fort, the Huskies sneak into the Fiesta Bowl. Every other team in the Big East is effectively out of the conference race at this point.
Got it? Good. Onto the picks:
Louisville at Rutgers: Make no mistake, the ugliest Big East game of the week is also the first, as bottom dwellers Rutgers and Louisville are set to kickoff an hour before Pitt and West Virginia. The visitors have have struggled to find an identity all season while the hosts appear to have lost theirs, dropping four in a row and surrendering 69 points to Cincinnati last week. It's hard to imagine Greg Schiano's team lacking defense, but such has been Rutgers in 2010, surrendering average of 32.5 points per game over their last six contests. LOUISVILLE 24, RUTGERS 10.
West Virginia at Pittsburgh: The last three games between the Panthers and Mountaineers have been decided by a total of 11 points. The key to this year's contest may be Pitt's up-and-down running game, which averages over 154 yards per game, clashing with West Virginia's running defense, which surrenders less than 90 per game. Both the Panthers and Mountaineers are also ranked in the top 20 in scoring defense. Is another grind on the horizon? You betcha. The two teams are close in talent, which should lead to an intriguing contest. Flip the score around and it's just as likely to occur. Pitt gets the edge on backfield options, with Dion Lewis and Ray Graham each carrying the possibility of a breakout game. But if Noel Devine gets on track, it could be a long afternoon for the Panthers. PITT 21, WEST VIRGINIA 20.
Cincinnati at UConn: The Huskies, behind the prolific Jordan Todman, have defied the odds all season to find themselves in the conference title hunt. The key to this game lies in which Cincinnati team shows up. The Bearcats have been Jekyll and Hyde all season, scoring prolifically in spurts and taking Oklahoma down to the wire while also being blown out by West Virginia and Syracuse. This game is far too important for Randy Edsall's Huskies to come out flat. Look for the UConn to ride Todman and wear the Bearcats down as the game edges on. UCONN 27, CINCINNATI 24.
South Florida at Miami: South Florida has done well this season, gaining bowl eligibility despite boasting an abysmal offense and utterly impotent passing game. On the opposite sideline, Miami is loaded with talent but prone to mistakes. You'd like to see the Bulls could make a game of this, but all I see is the Hurricanes pulling away in the second half. MIAMI 41, SOUTH FLORIDA 10.
Boston College at Syracuse: After starting the season 2-5, Boston College ran off four straight victories and turned its season around. Upon closer inspection, though, all four of the Eagles' victories were tight and against the bottom dwellers of the ACC. Further, the only team with a winning record that the Eagles have beaten all season is Clemson. A tough one to pick, this game holds greater meaning only in the sense that the Big East badly needs to record another non-conference victory. They'll notch one this week. I like Syracuse to squeak by at home and complete a Lazarus-like regular season. SYRACUSE 18, BOSTON COLLEGE 13.