- Brian Bennett, ESPN Staff Writer
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Call me impatient, but whenever the new Big East football schedule comes out, my eyes go straight toward the end.
It's no secret that the league tries to backload its schedule and create marquee matchups in the final week between title contenders. And so those December games usually tell us who conference officials think are the favorites going into the year.
Here are the three games scheduled for Championship Week:
Dec. 1 (Thursday): West Virginia at South Florida
Dec. 3: Connecticut at Cincinnati; Syracuse at Pittsburgh
Hmmm. I had USF and West Virginia as 1-2 in my way-too-early 2011 power rankings last month. Think a Thursday night tilt between those two budding rivals is an accident? Louisville and Syracuse had been out of the final-week mix in recent years; it's good to see the Orange finally in that slot, but the Cardinals and Rutgers apparently aren't viewed as serious contenders.
The Bulls will also kick off the league race on a Thursday night when they play at Pittsburgh on Sept. 29 in an ESPN game. Skip Holtz's team will be challenged early, with four of their first five league games on the road (though that means they get the final two at home, with no worries about cold weather).
Some other notes:
In addition to the two games featuring USF, the Big East will appear one other time in the ESPN Thursday night primetime slot: NC State at Cincinnati on Sept. 22. There will be four ESPN Friday night broadcasts featuring the league: Florida International at Louisville (Sept. 9); Iowa State at Connecticut (Sept. 16); Rutgers at Louisville (Oct. 21); Louisville at South Florida (Nov. 25); and South Florida at Syracuse (Nov. 11). There's also one Wednesday night ESPN game: Connecticut at Pittsburgh (Oct. 26).
Louisville had to rearrange its schedule after North Carolina asked off the opener and moved that game to October. The Cardinals now will open with Murray State on a Thursday night. They have four weeknight games, tying South Florida for the most in the league.
We should learn a lot about Pittsburgh and new coach Todd Graham right away. How about this 13-day opening-month stretch for the Panthers: at Iowa (Sept. 17), Notre Dame (Sept. 24), USF (Sept. 29)?
West Virginia will only have to leave its state once before Oct. 22, for a trip to take on Randy Edsall's Maryland team Sept. 17. The Mountaineers open league play Oct. 8 against UConn and then get a week off before going to Syracuse, playing the two teams that beat them in league play last year in back-to-back weeks again.
The penultimate week of the regular season is shaping up as a nice little mini-rivalry week. There's the Backyard Brawl on the day after Thanksgiving, along with Louisville-South Florida, who have battled since their C-USA days. That Saturday sees UConn-Rutgers square off again after a series of close games between the two. Cincinnati-Syracuse still needs some work.
Speaking of Syracuse, the Orange's Sept. 3 opener against Wake Forest is still listed as being subject to change and could move to a weekday if TV warrants (same with West Virginia's lid-lifter against Marshall). The Orange only have one road game in their first five contests, but it's a tough one: at Southern Cal on Sept. 17.
Reigning champ UConn has a tough stretch to open its Big East defense: at West Virginia on Oct. 8, South Florida a week later and then at Pitt Oct. 26. But the Huskies have a very manageable first five nonconference games, with only a road trip to Vanderbilt and that Iowa State Friday nighter looking like challenges.
What thoughts do you have on the schedule?