After six full weeks of league play, the Big East Conference football title and Bowl Championship Series automatic qualifying bowl berth will be decided this weekend. The field, which started with eight teams, has been narrowed down to just three programs -- West Virginia University, the University of Cincinnati and the University of Louisville.
Out of those three teams, only the Cardinals (7-5, 5-2 Big East) have finished its regular-season schedule and clinched at least a share of the league title. Meaning, the Big East's BCS bowl bid comes down to two games: Thursday night's contest between WVU and the University of South Florida at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, FL (8 p.m. ET on ESPN); And, Saturday's noon match up between the Cincinnati and the University of Connecticut at Nippert Stadium in Cincinnati, OH.
Mark Mengus of SB Nation's Big East Coast Bias laid out the league-title scenarios Sunday::
- If West Virginia loses to South Florida, Cincinnati would win the Big East with a win over Connecticut on Saturday.
- If West Virginia wins and Cincinnati loses, Louisville would win the Big East by virtue of having a head to head tiebreaker over West Virginia.
- If West Virginia wins and Cincinnati wins, there would be a three way tie and West Virginia would win by virtue of being the highest ranked in the BCS rankings of the three schools.
- If West Virginia and Cincinnati both lose, Louisville would also win the Big East.
- If West Virginia loses and Cincinnati wins, Cincinnati would win the Big East by virtue of its head to head win over Louisville.
So, which program is going to take home the title?
That question is easier asked then answered, as Big East football is known for its unpredictability, which has led to Louisville (predicted to finish seventh out of eight teams in the preseason media poll) and Cincinnati (fifth) having a chance to earn the league championship.
The odds favor the Mountaineers (8-3, 4-2) who, as Mengus noted, just needs to beat the Bulls (5-6) to do what it was predicted to do in the preseason polls.
How much of a threat is USF is to WVU? Each week Big East experts are have waited for the Bulls, who have lost six of their last seven games but still could earn its seventh consecutive bowl berth, to turn back into what they were at the beginning of the season -- a decent football team. However, the percentages of that happening -- especially, if junior quarterback B.J. Daniels does not play because of an injury -- are pretty slim.
Can Cincinnati take down UConn? Of course it can, but the Bearcasts haven't looked the same since senior quarterback Zach Callaros had his season ended a few weeks back. Luckily for Cincy, it still has running back Isiah Pead (1,042-rushing yards, 5.6 yards per carry ) who's still a decent candidate for Big East Player of the Year.
As of lately, the Huskies (5-6 3-3) haven't been playing great but haven't been playing terrible either. Last week, UConn knocked out Rutgers University of the league-championship race with a solid 40-22 victory. Freshman running back Lyle McCombs, who leads the league in rushing yards per game (100.43), can help put the Huskies in position to score points. If that happens, look out for the upset.
In conclusion, if Big East history has taught fans anything, don't be shocked if the Cardinals' forced strategy of waiting for everybody to choke and imploded might be the best one. However, as much as I think that WVU is overrated, its still easily the most talented squad in the league and junior quarterback Geno Smith, who hasn't played up to expectations this season but still is very good, will lead them to a league title.