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West Virginia Mountaineers 2011 Football Schedule Preview: Big East Opponents

The West Virginia Mountaineers opened football practice last week, a sign that the turbulent offseason is over and the season is just around the corner. New head coach Dana Holgorsen has begun implementing his pass-first offense, and Mountaineer fans are dreaming of a return back to the top of the Big East and a BCS Bowl Game.

Here's a look at the West Virginia Mountaineers' Big East conference football schedule in 2011.

Saturday, October 8, Connecticut - The conference slate opens with a home date with UConn, the foe that did the most damage to WVU's bowl chances last year. Ryan Clarke's goal-line fumble is up there with Tremain Mack's punt block as one of the most infuriating plays in Mountaineer history. The Huskies are led into Morgantown by new coach Paul Pasqualoni, whose most recent contribution to the college football landscape was the destruction of the Syracuse Orange as a viable program. While Pasqualoni is probably a better head coach than his record suggests, it will still take him awhile to right the ship in Storrs. The Mountaineers remember last year's embarrassment, and won't let it happen again. Forecast: WVU 42, Connecticut 20

Friday, October 21, at Syracuse - The Mountaineers will be coming off a much-needed bye week before playing under the Friday night lights in the Carrier Dome. This should lead to the ‘Eers being healthy and ready. The Orange absolutely exposed Geno Smith with a zone blitz scheme last year that led to him tossing three interceptions on the way to a homecoming day loss. It can be assumed no one on either sideline has forgotten that, and the key to WVU's success is keeping Geno upright and making the right decisions with the football. Last season's game exposed his weaknesses as a passer, and all of Morgantown is counting on his growth under Holgorsen to correct these problems. Let's hope it has. This one will be closer than Mountaineer fans will like, but they'll still prevail. Forecast: WVU 31, Syracuse 21

Saturday, October 29,  at Rutgers - Rutgers! On the road! Feel the excitement! While Syracuse will have given WVU more trouble than expected the week before, that won't be the case in Piscataway. The Mountaineers should steamroll a Knights team that is predicted to have Rutgers' usual struggles again this season. Honestly, I'm not sure why Rutgers is so bad every year. (Ray Rice's tenure notwithstanding.) Sometimes it feels like you can set your watch to it. In fact, one of the Mountaineers' biggest issues during this stretch of the season will be keeping their focus on the task at hand. The Big East knew what it was doing when they put this year's schedule together. Forecast: WVU 38, Rutgers 10

Saturday, November 5, Louisville - Let it be said that Charlie Strong did a heckuva a job trying to raise a sinking ship that had been Kragthorpe'd beyond recognition. The Cardinals are still a year away from respectability and this one shouldn't be close, either. WVU won't have played at home in nearly a month, and with the Backyard Brawl still three weeks away, expect for Mountaineer faithful to turn out in droves. They could spend much of the second half watching the second team. Forecast: WVU 41, Louisville 14

Saturday, November 12,  at Cincinnati - This one's being played in the Bengals' stadium. Why? Mountaineer fans.  Look into the stands at this one, and you'll see a whole lot of gold. Look on the field and you'll find a Bearcat team that spent last season rebuilding from the most glorious stretch of football that school has ever seen. Cincinnati won't be quite back to that form this year, but a tough defensive unit will try to disrupt Geno Smith's passing game. If the offensive line can hold, and Smith can make smart decisions with the football, the ‘Eers should light the scoreboard enough to hold off the anemic Bearcats' offense. If Geno and crew stumble, this one will be hotly contested. I expect the offense to rise to the task, and the Mountaineers to keep the ‘Cats at arm's length. Forecast: WVU 31, Cincinnati 14

Friday, November 25, Pitt - The Backyard Brawl. Nothing better for fans of either school, and this one will be a doozy. New Pitt head coach Todd Graham has a stable of former Mountaineers assistants with an axe to grind. I expect Pitt to punish the Mountaineers up front with a heavy dose of the running game. If the Panthers control the tempo and play smart on defense, it's going to be an unhappy holiday weekend in the hills of West Virginia. Forecast: Pitt 31, WVU 28

Thursday, December 1, at South Florida - Despite a loss in the Backyard Brawl the week before, the Mountaineers' Big East title hopes will still be alive when they travel to Tampa ... they just might not be when they return. WVU's two toughest conference games are played six days apart at the season's end. While I think the Mountaineers will be the most talented team in the conference, I'm still not convinced they will win it. BJ Daniels has been successful against WVU's defense in the past and that very well could continue this season. Jeff Casteel has issues in the secondary, and if that plagues the Mountaineers late in the season, they will return home with another 9-3 season and another disappointing trip to a second-tier bowl game. Forecast: South Florida 35, WVU 31

Check back Tuesday for more on the 2011 West Virginia Mountaineers.

Photographs by dizfunk used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.