Making a Statement: How the Big East Can Earn Some Respect in Week Three

Dan Kelley@DanKelleyWritesCorrespondent ISeptember 17, 2009

PISCATAWAY, NJ - SEPTEMBER 07:  Tony Pike #15 of the Cincinnati Bearcats celebrates a touchdown as Charlie Noonan #96 of the Rutgers Scarlet Knights looks on at Rutgers Stadium on September 7, 2009 in Piscataway, New Jersey.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

It’s well known that the Big East is generally perceived to be the weakest of the BCS conferences in college football. And unfortunately, in FBS football, perception often outweighs reality.

Winning is the only way to change things for the Big East; even though it hasn’t seemed to work up until this point.

Despite the league’s representative winning in three of the conference's last four BCS games and a solid 13-9 record in bowl games since 2005, people want to take away the Big East’s bid to play in the very BCS games they’ve been dominating.


Despite the nation’s unchanging perception, however, it is extremely important for the Big East to continue winning. This weekend, the league will have a tremendous opportunity to make a statement to the rest of the college football world that they’re here to stay.

During the first two weeks of the season, the majority of the Big East, like most BCS teams, has been feasting on cupcakes. Now it’s time for the conference to get out of the shallow end of the pool and jump head first into the real football season.

There are six key games this weekend that will give football fans an idea of where this rag-tag conference stands this season.

Cincinnati (-1) @ Oregon State

Both of these teams come into the game undefeated at 2-0, but Cincinnati gets the slight edge for having looked like world-beaters in the first two weeks of the season.

They began the season by manhandling a then-trendy pick to win the Big East, Rutgers, 47-15 on the road. They returned home last week to indulge and enjoy a cupcake, beating Southeast Missouri State 70-3.

Oregon State of the Pac-10 has looked slightly less impressive so far, but nevertheless comes into the game with an unblemished record. They shredded Portland State 34-7 before surviving last week's 23-21 nail-biter against UNLV.

My prediction: If Oregon State’s defense isn’t better than the 21 points they allowed to UNLV, Cincinnati quarterback Tony Pike is going to pick them apart all day. The Bearcats win in relatively comfortable fashion, 31-20.

West Virginia @ Auburn (-7)

At some point you have to wonder if the Mountaineers look forward to playing SEC teams. After all, they’re 4-0 against them since 2005, including their 34-17 win against Auburn last year.

This year’s game will be a lot tougher for West Virginia, as the Tigers roll into the game 2-0 after putting on an impressive offensive display in their 49-24 win over Mississippi State last week.

Mountaineers quarterback Jarrett Brown, however, has looked absolutely terrific so far this season and should have success against the Auburn defense. Last week against East Carolina, Brown threw for 334 yards and four touchdowns in a 35-20 win.

My prediction: If Brown continues to play like a Heisman candidate, WVU should win this one. With running back Noel Devine on the field as well, the Mountaineers may have too much firepower for Auburn to stop. WVU wins 34-31.

Navy @ Pittsburgh (-7.5)

This one may be tougher for Pittsburgh than the line indicates. Navy put a pretty good scare into Ohio State before losing 31-27 in the first game of the year. Their running game gave the OSU defense serious problems to the tune of 186 yards on the ground.

It could be a match-up of strengths, though, because of Pittsburgh’s solid run defense. The thing that should really concern Navy is how surprisingly prolific Pittsburgh’s offense has been.

With LeSean McCoy gone to the NFL, it was thought Pittsburgh may struggle offensively. But the Panthers appear to have found their next great tailback already in freshman Dion Lewis.

Lewis has run for 319 yards and four touchdowns in just two games this season, compiling an impressive 7.3 yards per carry.

My Prediction: Lewis again powers the Panthers offense to a win this week, 24-17.

UConn @ Baylor (-10)

The Huskies won a close game at home against Baylor last season, but this is a different Connecticut team than a year ago. Gone are four first-day NFL draft picks in William Beatty, Darius Butler, Cody Brown, and the nation’s leading rusher in 2008, Donald Brown.

On top of that, starting quarterback Zach Frazer is out with a knee injury and second-stringer Cody Endres has been recovering from a bug, but should play. Considering the Connecticut passing game has already been disappointing, this spells bad news for the Huskies.

Baylor is lead by veteran quarterback Robert Griffin III and enters the game 1-0 after beating Wake Forest 24-21 in their first game of the season.

The Bears controlled the game on the ground against Wake Forest, rushing for 197 total yards, including 41 from Griffin III.

My prediction: UConn was likely a serious underdog before losing Frazer. Being on the road won’t help the Huskies either. Baylor wins 21-10.

Louisville @ Kentucky (-13.5)

Louisville hasn’t fared well against their SEC rival the last couple of years. Last season, the Wildcats embarrassed the Cardinals 27-2 at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium.

This year's game is in Lexington and the Cardinals' fate probably won’t be much different.

The Cards were less than impressive in their opener against Indiana State, an FCS team. Louisville won 30-10, but there were some serious negative aspects of the victory.

New starting quarterback Justin Burke threw for 223 yards and two interceptions. He never managed to reach the end zone. The Cardinals overcame his performance with a solid rushing game led by Victor Anderson’s 93 yards and two touchdowns.

In contrast, the Wildcats were extremely impressive in their opener at Miami University (Ohio). They won 42-0 behind a balanced offensive attack that ran up nearly 500 total yards. Not to be outdone, their defense yielded just 188 total yards to the RedHawks.

My prediction: If you’re the betting type, I’d say bet the house on Kentucky. This one won’t be close. The Wildcats should easily cover the 13.5 point line. Kentucky wins 38-13.

Northwestern (-3) @ Syracuse

Wait, wait, wait...Syracuse, the team that’s been absolutely dreadful the past four seasons, winning only 10 games during that period, is only a three-point underdog to a middle-tier Big Ten team?

Believe it.

This is a different Syracuse team despite the familiar 0-2 hole to start the season.

The Orange took Minnesota, a dark horse to contend for the Big Ten title, to overtime before traveling to Happy Valley and playing much more competitively with Penn State than anyone would have expected. It’s pretty clear that Syracuse is vastly improved.

Thus far the team’s calling card has been its tough, aggressive defense which has visibly frustrated its first two opponents at times. With Northwestern replacing quarterback C.J. Bacher and running back Tyrell Sutton, who both torched Syracuse in a 30-10 win last season, the Wildcats could struggle to score against the much tougher Orange defense.

Northwestern has not looked great so far this year. Last week, the Wildcats needed a late field goal to propel them ahead of Eastern Michigan in a 27-24 win.

My prediction: The Orange get their running game going, which thus far has been stifled by two great defenses, and running backs Delone Carter and Antwon Bailey lead Syracuse to their first win under Doug Marrone. Syracuse wins 24-20.

The Big East has the opportunity to make a statement this weekend. Wins by Cincinnati, West Virginia, Pitt, and Syracuse should be plenty to shut the critics up for at least a week.

With the ACC and Big Ten both suffering a couple of embarrassments to start the year, this is a great opportunity for the league to divert the negative attention off of itself.

Now they just have to win the games.