This week offers some slim pickings in the way of high-profile, BCS-busting games.
But there is no doubt Week 12 is important for the Big East, a league that still has six teams in contention for the conference championship. As it stands today, it is most important to Cincinnati.
The Bearcats (7-2, 3-1) have got to beat Rutgers (7-3, 3-2) on Saturday to stay atop the league standings. They have to win out in order to get back to a BCS game, a prospect that got infinitely harder following a regular-season ending ankle injury to starting quarterback Zach Collaros.
After losing Collaros against West Virginia last week, Munchie Legaux was forced into the starting lineup. He looked shaky at the start but did a few nice things in the second half and nearly rallied the team to a victory. Still, it is asking a lot for a player who has never started a collegiate game to and win three games to clinch a conference title. And oh by the way, two of those games are on the road.
Cincinnati has a few things working in its favor. For one, it has one of the best running backs in the league in Isaiah Pead to take on the leadership lost when Collaros went down. Teams might begin to key on him to force Legaux to throw, but there is no doubt Legaux can run himself. Yes, Collaros has great escapability from outside the pocket and the Bearcats do have several designed runs for him in each game.
But Collaros never busted a 65-yard run the way Legaux did against the Mountaineers, shedding tacklers as he ran up the middle of the West Virginia defense. Collaros has not had a run longer than 17 yards this season. Legaux is not nearly the same passer as Collaros, so the Bearcats will look to emphasize what their new quarterback can do well. But do not expect wholesale changes.
“The formula for winning doesn't change,” coach Butch Jones said. “That's scoring touchdowns in the red zone and taking care of the football and not having penalties. The big thing with Munchie is he doesn't have to win the game. He just has to run our offense. Our players have a tremendous amount of respect for him and belief in him. The way we practice is he's gained the same amount of reps Zach has each and every week. For us, it's continuing to run the offense, play with a hard edge and not hurt ourselves.”
What also helps is that Legaux has one of the best offensive lines in the league blocking for him, and one of the best defenses in the league on the other side of the football.
Cincinnati has given up its share of big plays this season, but for the most part the Bearcats have owned the trenches. Last week, they had a season-high 18 tackles for loss. Teams are averaging 80.1 yards on the ground against them. They are opportunistic as well, something that should help as Cincinnati gets settled.
Should the Bearcats win this game, not only would they remain in control of their Big East destiny, imagine the confidence boost it would give to a young player like Legaux. Rutgers coach Greg Schiano described him as a "cool customer" but you have got to think getting thrown into the game Saturday was a bit jarring for a player who last got onto the field in garbage time against Akron on Sept. 17.
A full week to prepare will help. But a win ... that is why Week 12 matters to the Bearcats.