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What to watch in the Big East: Week 12

11/17/2011

Here are the top stories to watch in the Big East in Week 12:

1. Separation. I may have to put this at No. 1 for the final three weeks of the season depending on what happens Saturday. Cincinnati still controls its destiny. But a loss against Rutgers, and the door flings wide open for every other two-loss team in the league. There are scenarios for a five-way tie, and for a six-way tie, which seems pretty fitting given what has happened to the Big East this fall. Does anybody want to take charge?

2. Munchie in charge. Yes, he has one of the best names in college football. But this is serious business for Munchie Legaux and the Bearcats. You have a player who was involved in a serious competition for the backup quarterback job until Week 1 of the season, who saw meaningful snaps for the first time ever against West Virginia last week and is now being asked to help deliver a Big East championship. No pressure. Cincinnati has to win two of its final three games on the road, but there is a streak the Bearcats have going for them -- they have won five straight in the series against Rutgers. Cincinnati has had success with its backup quarterbacks in the past (Zach Collaros for Tony Pike) and is hoping for more of the same with Legaux.

3. Mohamed Sanu vs. Cincinnati secondary. The Bearcats face one of the top receivers in the Big East for the second straight week. They didn't do so well containing Stedman Bailey or Tavon Austin last week -- each player had more than 100 yards receiving with Bailey hauling in a 59-yard touchdown. Now they face the tough task of playing against Sanu, who is second in the nation in receptions per game (9.4) and the undisputed go-to guy for Rutgers quarterback Chas Dodd. It is a safe bet that Cincinnati will be just fine at stopping an anemic rushing game. The Bearcats have the advantage at the line of scrimmage, too. But if there is an area they can get beat in, it is in the secondary with Sanu running free.

4. Louisville run D vs. UConn run O. The Cardinals gave up 200 yards rushing last week to Pitt, and now face a team that wants to ground and pound. Can Louisville revert to its old ways and stop somebody? Does coach Charlie Strong have the attention of his players? The Cardinals are hurting for depth up front with several players banged up, but they should still have an advantage in this game. Louisville has got to play disciplined, though, because UConn is one of the least penalized team in the league and Louisville is one of the most. In a game that figures to be without offensive fireworks, you can bet each coach is emphasizing all the little things.

5. UConn magic? UConn has played better at home in Big East play (no, I have not forgotten about Iowa State and Western Michigan). And the Huskies still have a chance to win the Big East, just like Louisville. UConn has been in this position before. Think back to last year when everybody counted the Huskies out. They got the last laugh. One fun tidbit about this game: The last team to beat UConn in the regular season last season? Louisville.

6. Rivalry. USF definitely counts its matchup against Miami as a rivalry game, but do the Hurricanes? Both teams need a win to become bowl eligible, but you have to believe this one might mean more to USF. The Bulls are still a program on the rise and must win these games to gain respect across the state of Florida and on the recruiting trail. After beating Miami 23-20 in overtime last year, you have to believe that the Bulls are going to be confident going into this game. A second straight win over Miami would be huge.

7. Jacory Harris vs. USF front. If you don't know the book on Harris by now, then you have not followed college football for the past few years. The guy makes mistakes. He has been much better at taking care of the football this year, but I have a feeling the USF game plan is going to be to get in his face to force him into errant throws. USF has 31 sacks on the season, so this is an area the Bulls have to win in order to have a shot in the game.

8. Big East vs. ACC. A USF win would give the Big East a winning record over the ACC (4-2) in the regular season, with potentially three bowl matchups to follow (Champs Sports Bowl, Belk Bowl, Orange Bowl). The Big East has finished with a winning record over the ACC just once in the past four years (2008, 4-3). Remember my preseason prediction, folks.