What to watch in the Big East, Week 7

October, 15, 2009
10/15/09
8:30
AM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett

1. The battle of unbeatens: The last two undefeated Big East teams, No. 8 Cincinnati and No. 21 South Florida go head to head Thursday night in Tampa. The winner will have an inside track to the league's BCS bid and keep alive national title aspirations. The loser will have to hope for some help down the road.

2. Can Cincinnati handle the heat?: We're not talking about South Florida's defensive pressure. We're talking about the climate. Temperatures have been in the 90s in Florida all week, and it should be in the 80s at game time. That's a lot hotter than what Cincinnati has been practicing in for the last few weeks, and it's worth monitoring the Bearcats' endurance as the game wears on.

3. Rutgers' pass defense: The Scarlet Knights got ripped apart for nearly 400 passing yards in the opening loss to Cincinnati. They haven't played a capable passing team since. Pittsburgh certainly fits that description, as Bill Stull is playing better than any quarterback not named Tony Pike in the Big East. Stull has lots of big-time receiving targets, too, including Jonathan Baldwin, Dorin Dickerson and Oderick Turner. Is Rutgers better equipped to handle a top-flight passing offense on Friday night than it was on Labor Day?

4. Tom Savage: The true freshman will make his first career Big East start against Pitt. The Panthers should bring lots of pressure on the rookie with their front four, but they are vulnerable in the secondary. Can Savage keep his composure, make big throws and avoid his first college interception?

5. Pitt vs the blitz: The Panthers have not beaten Rutgers in the Dave Wannstedt era, and they know what they're going to get from Greg Schiano's team. The Scarlet Knights will blitz at least half the time from all angles. Rutgers' defense has been causing all kinds of turnovers and defensive scores, albeit against lesser competition. Pitt's offensive line, which has protected Stull wonderfully so far this year, has to be ready for the onslaught.

6. Connecticut's finishability: OK, so I just made that word up. But clearly, the Huskies have had all sorts of trouble closing teams out this year, as witnessed by their fourth-quarter blown leads against Pitt and North Carolina. They're better than Louisville and should be leading again going into the final 15 minutes on Saturday night at Rentschler Field. Let's see if UConn can go for the kill this time instead of wilting down the stretch.

7. Louisville run defense and offense: For the Cardinals to have any chance of winning a Big East road game, they're going to have to both stop and start the run. They'll need to slow down Andre Dixon and Jordan Todman of UConn, both of whom are capable of going over 100 yards in the same game. And Louisville must get its own running game going with Victor Anderson and Bilal Powell. Bad news for the Cardinals: they rank seventh in the Big East in rushing offense and last in rush defense.

8. West Virginia's focus: After revenge games against Auburn and Colorado and the Big East opener at Syracuse, the Mountaineers get Marshall at home. They've never been challenged in this series, and Bill Stewart seems a little concerned that his players might be looking past the Thundering Herd. That's always dangerous against an in-state rival. It would be good to see West Virginia come out sharp and focused and put this game away early.

9: Mighty mite battle in Morgantown: The West Virginia-Marshall game features the No. 2 running back in the FBS -- the Thundering Herd's Darius Marshall -- and No. 3 in the Mountaineers' Noel Devine. Marshall will try to prove he can put up monstrous numbers against big-time competition. Devine could pass Marshall with a huge game. Both backs are small in stature but will provide large amounts of entertainment on Saturday.

10. The BCS standings: The first official standings come out on Sunday. If Cincinnati wins, where will the Bearcats be in relation to the other BCS title contenders? And if South Florida wins, how high can the Bulls begin their climb?

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