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Sunday, October 26, 2008
What we learned in the Big East: Week 9

Posted by's Brian Bennett

1. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss: For now, and this can change in a hurry, West Virginia is once again the team to beat in a hopelessly muddled Big East race. The Mountaineers might have gained this status by default had they not played this week, since they are the only team left undefeated in league play. But they also earned it in a thoroughly impressive 34-17 win over Auburn on Thursday. If the offense can keep up that level of execution and the defense stays solid, West Virginia is the favorite to win the title. At least until Saturday.

2. Brian Kelly's brain will be challenged: The Cincinnati coach is often hailed as an offensive guru, and now he'll have to put those skills to work. The Bearcats' problems continue at quarterback, as Tony Pike couldn't make it through the Connecticut game with his mending left arm. Cincinnati is an astonishing 0-for-25 on third downs in its last two games. The running game has gone absent at times, and the incompletions are piling up in the passing game. Maybe Dustin Grutza returning will help, but he's still a couple of weeks away. Kelly needs to figure out an answer before then.

3. Pittsburgh and South Florida haven't arrived yet: It's easy to fall into a trap of anointing teams based on strong early-season performances. But for all the talent that Pitt and USF have accumulated in recent years, neither school is a consistent top-tier program yet. The Bulls, who had risen to No. 10 in the polls this month, lost for the second time in three games and look like they will fail to win their first conference title. This season is starting to look like 2007, when USF began 6-0 and rose to No. 2, only to lose three straight. The Panthers created excitement and hope during their five-game winning streak until they imploded in Saturday's 54-34 home loss to Rutgers. With injuries to quarterback Bill Stull and center Robb House, the future now looks cloudy.

4. Rutgers might actually go bowling: Everyone threw dirt on the Scarlet Knights' grave after their 1-5 start. But now they've won two straight, including that 54-point explosion at Pittsburgh. They should be favored in upcoming games against Syracuse and Army. So Rutgers would just need to split against Louisville and South Florida to get to 6-6 and qualify for the postseason. Amazing.

5. Forget everything you thought you knew: Thought UConn was going to fade away? Figured Louisville was at least a year away? Convinced Rutgers couldn't score? Any assumptions you make about this league are likely to be rendered moot the following weekend. No fan base outside of Syracuse can truly feel their team is either out of it or in control right now. November is going to be a wild, unpredictable ride in the Big East.