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Big East needs a big Week 3

9/12/2011

There is a way for the Big East to erase the near disaster that was Week 2. Five of the seven games on the league slate come against opponents from automatic qualifying conferences, the perfect opportunity to get a little more national attention and bat down some of the guffaws that already have started from other parts of the country.

Granted, a total meltdown was averted when Pitt and Syracuse held on in the fourth quarter to beat FCS opponents, and West Virginia erased a halftime deficit to beat Norfolk State. But Louisville lost to a Sun Belt team; UConn lost to a Vandy team it beat last season; Rutgers had 1 rushing yard and could not convert turnovers into points; and Cincinnati was not competitive for the majority of its loss at Tennessee. It was not just the losses, but the way the teams lost that was so disappointing -- especially after an 8-0 start to open the season.

But this is a new week, and with that comes new opportunities.

Let us start in Louisville, where the Cardinals suffered the worst of the four losses, 24-17 to FIU. They had breakdowns at essentially every position on the field, and coach Charlie Strong already has said his team is not good enough to beat Kentucky. He might be a little too kind there. Kentucky has had its hands full in the first two weeks of the season against midling competition. Western Kentucky went 2-10 last season; Central Michigan 3-9. Both teams had leads on the Wildcats, and both teams outgained the Wildcats. In fact, Kentucky ranks No. 115 in the nation in passing yards and No. 110 in total offense. That should help Louisville, considering the secondary is an area of concern. Kentucky has won four straight in the series, so a win here would be absolutely critical for a Cardinals team in desperate need of a confidence-builder.

Next, Pitt goes on the road to play Iowa, a team coming off a stunning overtime loss to in-state rival Iowa State. Pitt has had myriad problems in two games, and absolutely has got to have better play out of quarterback Tino Sunseri. But the Panthers have the nation's leading rusher in Ray Graham. Good thing for the Panthers -- Iowa ranks No. 82 in rushing defense, giving up an average of 167 yards a game. Iowa State showed Iowa can be beaten. Plus, Pitt won the last matchup between the two, at Heinz Field in 2008.

You know who else has shown they can be beaten? USC. The Trojans have put together terrible performances in their two victories, squeaking out a win at home against Minnesota (which just lost to bottom feeder New Mexico State) and Utah. The Trojans are supposed to be a high-powered offense, but are averaging 15.5 points a game and 109.5 yards on the ground. Syracuse has had its share of problems on defense and in the run game, but the Trojans are not unbeatable by any stretch.

West Virginia travels to Maryland in a game the Mountaineers should win. They beat Maryland at home 31-17 last season and have shown flashes on offense. But they have got to put a complete game together, and are in danger of being caught in "lookahead land" with a huge home game against LSU set for the following week.

Finally, UConn hosts Iowa State on Friday night in a game that has taken on added importance. The Cyclones are coming into the game off an emotional triple overtime victory against Iowa and could be facing a serious letdown. UConn might be struggling to produce touchdown drives against FBS opponents, but the Huskies do have a quality run game once again. Lyle McCombs has run for 100 yards in his first two games. D.J. Shoemate is expected to return. There is the absolute potential to dominate on the ground against a defense that ranks No. 89 in the nation against the run, giving up an average of 181 yards a game. If UConn can finish off some of its drives and avoid turning the ball over, it won't matter who starts at quarterback.

So there you have it. It will not be easy, but there are ways for the Big East to pull off a few upsets and get back to winning in a critical Week 3.