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Big East Football: USF, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati Open Seasons

-- For everything Big East Football make sure to check out SB Nation's Big East Coast Bias. -- Find SB Nation team blogs at: Voodoo Five (USF), Cardiac Hill (Pitt) and Down The Drive (Cincinnati).

The Big East Conference college football season officially got its start Thursday night as three programs, Syracuse University, Rutgers University and the University of Louisville, each earned victories. The Orange edged visiting Wake Forest University, 36-29, while Rutgers routed North Carolina Central University, 45-0, and Louisville breezed passed Murray State, 21-9.

On Saturday, the traditional day for college football, three more Big East programs make their 2011 debuts. Here's a brief look at the match ups.

USF at Notre Dame: Bulls head coach Skip Holtz, a former Fighting Irish player ('86), returns to South Bend in a non-conference contest (3:30 on NBC).  Holtz will match up against a former three-time Big East Coach Of The Year, Brian Kelly, who led the Cincinnati Bearcats to BCS-bowl game just three seasons ago.

USF starting quarterback, B.J. Daniels enters his third year as signal caller. Last season, Daniels had his struggles with injuries, but still managed to throw for 1,685 yards. Daniels will need to stay healthy if USF wants to improve on last season's 8-5 record, a mark it has finished with for the past three seasons.

In the second year under Kelly, Notre Dame (No. 16 in the AP poll and No. 18 in the USA Today coaches poll) will begin the year with high expectations. Last season, the Fighting Irish closed out a 8-5 year with four straight victories. Dayne Crist, who tossed for 2,033 yards and 15 touchdowns last season, will be the Irish's starting quarterback. Crist will be looking to throw to highly-touted wide receiver Michael Floyd, who has snagged a school-record 28 TD receptions during his time at Notre Dame. 

Pittsburgh vs. Buffalo: Todd Graham makes his debut as Panthers head coach against the visiting Bulls (6 p.m. on ESPN3). Graham, who coached at Tulsa last season, brings a no-huddle offense to a town that's used to seeing grind-it-out, smash-mouth football. 

The Panthers return 14 starters from last year's squad, which earned a share of the Big East title. Second-year starting quarterback Tino Sunseri, who tossed for 2,572 yards and 16 TDs last season, is one of those returners. Another familiar name will be running back Ray Grahm, who rushed for 922 yards and eight TDs last year, while backing up Dion Lewis, who departed for the NFL. On defense, the Panthers will feature a new 3-4 scheme. 

Buffalo will look to improve on a tough 2010 campaign, which featured a 2-10 record and a last-place finish in the Mid-American Conference's East Division. Jeff Quinn, a former offensive coordinator for Cincinnati, will begin his second year as head coach at UB.

Cincinnati vs. Austin Peay: The Big East night-cap will feature the Bearcats hosting the Governors (7 p.m. on BIG East Network). Cincinnati head coach Butch Jones begins his second season and is looking to improve on a tough first year that featured a 4-8 record. 

This shouldn't be a problem as the Bearcats return 11 starters on defense and the conference's top passer (quarterback Zach Collaros), running back (Isaiah Pead) and wide receiver (D.J. Woods). Last season, Collaros earned All-Big East First Team honors, while Pead was fourth in the conference in rushing (1,029 yards with six TDs), and Woods mad the All-Big East Second Team. 

Last season, Austin Peay went 2-9 overall and just 1-7 in the Ohio Valley Conference.