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Monday, September 29, 2008
The Big East race so far: Some answers, more questions


Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett

It's almost October. Most Big East teams have officially concluded one-third of their regular season. Connecticut and South Florida will reach the halfway mark already this week.

So with this body of evidence, what do we know now about the conference race? More than we did a month ago, surely. But so much still remains in doubt.

Part of that is because of the back loaded Big East schedule. There have been only two league game thus far, with two more coming this week. Cincinnati won't play its first conference game until Oct. 11, the latest start to league play of any BCS team in the country.

"This thing is wide open," Louisville coach Steve Kragthorpe said. "I think it's a race that really won't start to unfold until the month of November."

The second contributing factor to our lack of knowledge is the inconsistent performances by Big East teams. We know South Florida and UConn, who are both 5-0, look like the two most complete teams and will be major contenders all season. We also know that Syracuse is no factor and that Rutgers needs a miraculous makeover to have any shot at the league title.

The other four teams are wrapped in mystery.

Many people liked Pittsburgh as a dark horse contender this summer, and the Panthers have improved since their opening loss to Bowling Green. How much they've improved will be revealed Thursday night at South Florida. Cincinnati has all sorts of quarterback issues but boasts a veteran defense and a coaching staff that figures out ways to win. Louisville has enough offense and enough conference home games against the big boys to play spoiler, at the very least.

The biggest wild card, though, remains West Virginia. The Mountaineers have scuffled to a 2-2 start but still have the talent to win this league for the third time in four years. They get South Florida at home to end the year and have owned Connecticut, pounding the Huskies by an average of 34 points the past three years.

"Connecticut and South Florida are probably the two favorites," Pittsburgh coach Dave Wannstedt said. "But every team right now is saying, 'Hey, we've got a chance to win the conference.' There's not a coach or a player that's not having those thoughts, at least."