Big East second-half preview

October, 12, 2011
10/12/11
11:00
AM ET
Here are a few things I will be watching in the second half of the season.

[+] EnlargeDana Holgorsen
Rob Carr/Getty ImagesDo Dana Holgorsen and the Mountaineers have what it takes to run the table in the second half of the season?
Bold prediction: West Virginia goes undefeated in league play. There. I said it. Remember, the category is bold prediction, and this one is bold when you consider: The Mountaineers have gone undefeated in league play just twice (1993, 2005). This is a league that is celebrated for being completely wide open because any team can win any week. Last season, three teams finished at 5-2 in Big East play. In 2007, West Virginia and UConn each finished 5-2. So this is not a league known for teams that run the table each season. But West Virginia has a pretty prolific offense -- really the only one that racked up yards on No. 1 LSU this season. The defense is coming together as well. West Virginia is the only team in the Big East that is in the top 20 in the nation in total offense and total defense. In fact, the Mountaineers are one of three teams in the top 20 in total offense and total defense (Wisconsin, Stanford).

What I am looking forward to: Seeing how Rutgers and Cincinnati finish out the year. These are the two biggest surprise teams of the first half of the season at 4-1. Will their defenses continue to play well enough to make these two teams contenders? Rutgers still has some questions on offense, where the offensive line has been better but not where coach Greg Schiano wants it. The Scarlet Knights also are starting a true freshman at quarterback now. As for the Bearcats, there still is concern about giving up too many big plays in the pass game, and how this team is going to play now that the league schedule is set to begin.

Top three impact games:

Cincinnati at Rutgers, Nov. 19. This is the last in a tough four-game stretch for the Bearcats. It begins at USF on Oct. 22, then features a game at Pitt and then home to West Virginia before going to Rutgers. This stretch will determine how they fare in the Big East this season.

Pitt at West Virginia, Nov. 25. The Panthers have had a rough go of it to start the season, but this game always has an impact. There has been an upset or two in this series, and it always gets national attention because of the heated rivalry.

West Virginia at USF, Dec. 1. This one could end up being a de-facto league championship game, if only because USF always gives the Mountaineers fits. West Virginia has won only once in Tampa, in the first meeting in the series back in 2005.

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