Big East schedule rankings
Underdog conference enters 2007 with high hopes
Posted: Thursday June 21, 2007 1:20PM; Updated: Thursday June 21, 2007 4:14PM
It took the Big East a couple of years after the defections of Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College to the ACC, but the conference rebounded triumphantly in 2006.
The Big East was 5-0 in bowl games and 37-8 in nonconference games (the best mark of any league).
True, many of those games weren't against world-beaters, but it was a big step. The league still went 14-7 against the other five BCS conferences.
In 2007, the Big East will look to repeat those marks -- especially on the road.
The Big East's toughest out-of-conference matchup appears to be South Florida's trip to Auburn on Sept. 8. After that, top out-of-conference games will include Louisville's trip to Kentucky and West Virginia's game at Maryland.
In addition to the trip to College Park, the Mountaineers will play at Marshall for the first time since 1915. The contest against the Thundering Herd will be the only one in the Mountaineers' first five games in which they don't play a bowl team from last year.
In conference, West Virginia has to go to Rutgers and South Florida, making it the toughest schedule in the Big East.
1. West Virginia
Behind the ranking: West Virginia is the only Big East team whose nonconference opponents have a winning record (32-31). The Mountaineers and Syracuse are the only teams in the league without a Division I-AA team on the schedule. Four of West Virginia's first five opponents (Western Michigan, Maryland, East Carolina and South Florida) went to bowl games last year. The other game, a trip to rival Marshall on Sept. 8, will be the game of the year in Huntington -- where West Virginia has not played since 1915. West Virginia will also have to wait until Nov. 8 for its first conference game at home. The bright side is that the Mountaineers get an open date between a road trip to Rutgers on Oct. 27 and a home game against Louisville on Nov. 8.
Toughest game: West Virginia's Big East opener will be a rematch of last year's 24-19 loss to South Florida that knocked the Mountaineers out of BCS bowl contention. When they meet the Bulls on Sept. 29 in Tampa, they will have already played on the road at Marshall and Maryland. Louisville and Rutgers could be tougher opponents, but West Virginia faces Louisville after a bye week and Rutgers two weeks after the open date.
Cakewalk: How many times can you say a visit from an SEC team is a cakewalk? How about when that team is Mississippi State, and West Virginia defeated them 42-14 in Starkville last season.
Trap game: A Nov. 17 trip to Cincinnati could be a letdown game after West Virginia faces Louisville a week earlier.
Changes from last season: The Mountaineers replaced Division I-AA Eastern Washington with Western Michigan. West Virginia's nonconference road trips were upgraded to include Maryland (9-4) and in-state rival Marshall (5-7) in place of Mississippi State and East Carolina.
Behind the ranking: The Big East did the Panthers no favors with their schedule. Pittsburgh will be the only team in the conference to play Louisville (12-1), Rutgers (11-2) and West Virginia (11-2) all on the road. At least the rest of Pitt's Big East schedule is at home. Out of conference, Pittsburgh lost to Michigan State 38-23 at Heinz Field last year and will head to East Lansing for a rematch in the third week of the season. Pitt also goes to Virginia.
Toughest game: All signs point to the Backyard Brawl being tougher than usual for Pittsburgh. The Panthers face West Virginia in Morgantown on the last day of the season after going to Rutgers and facing conference upstart South Florida the previous two weeks. If the Panthers stumble down the stretch as they did last year, they might not have enough left in the tank to avenge last year's 45-27 loss to the Mountaineers.
Cakewalk: Pittsburgh will have to break in a new quarterback and replace its top two playmakers on defense in 2007, but it will have a good warm-up in the first two weeks. The Panthers start the season against Eastern Michigan (1-11) and Division I-AA Grambling (3-8) at Heinz Field.
Trap game: In a span of three weeks in October, Pitt will face Navy and Cincinnati at home, then Louisville on the road. The three teams went a combined 29-10 last year and will present a game-planning nightmare for the coaching staff. Pitt will have to adjust to Navy's triple option, then to Cincinnati's pro-style offense and Louisville's spread offense. The week after that stretch is a home game against Syracuse on Nov. 3, just before a bye week. Syracuse could be primed to pounce on a worn out Pitt team looking forward to a week of rest.
Changes from last season: Pittsburgh managed to go 0-4 against Michigan State, West Virginia, Louisville and Rutgers last year at Heinz Field and now has to face all four on the road with a younger team.
Behind the ranking: Louisville and West Virginia are the only Big East teams facing seven opponents that went to bowl games last year. The Cardinals don't have the marquee nonconference game they had in past years with Miami. The best out-of-conference game this year is a road trip to rival Kentucky (8-5). The in-state showdown could turn into an offensive showcase. Also out of conference, Louisville goes to N.C. State and hosts Utah. Louisville's schedule is again backloaded with trips to West Virginia (Nov. 8) and South Florida (Nov. 17). The finale is against Rutgers on Nov. 29.
Toughest game: Louisville ends the season on a three-game stretch that could decide the conference, but the first one will be the most important. Louisville goes to West Virginia on Nov. 8 for a rematch of last year's 44-34 win over the Mountaineers.
Cakewalk: There are not many times a program can drop Temple from the schedule and replace it with an easier game. Louisville managed to do that with a home opener against Murray State, which went 1-10 in Division I-AA.
Trap game: Louisville doesn't appear to have any true trap game, but the Oct. 20 trip to Connecticut is as good a pick as any. The Cardinals face the Huskies coming off a short week with a Friday game in East Hartford following a road trip to Cincinnati and a home game against Utah.
Changes from last season: Get ready for even more Louisville on Thursday nights. Its two biggest games of the season -- at West Virginia and vs. Rutgers -- will again be on Thursday night. Louisville will play on Thursday two more times and Friday twice. Louisville's out of conference schedule is weaker with Miami and Kansas State off this year's slate.
4. South Florida
Behind the ranking: South Florida will play the Big East's toughest nonconference game on Sept. 8 when it travels to Auburn (11-2). The rest of the Bulls' schedule outside of the Big East is much easier. The Bulls will face Elon (5-6), North Carolina (3-9) and Central Florida (4-8) at home, and will travel to Florida Atlantic (5-7). The Bulls' longest homestand all year is back-to-back home games in September against the Tar Heels and Mountaineers. South Florida is a dark horse for the Big East title in part because of home dates with West Virginia and Louisville, two teams the Bulls defeated in the last two years.
Toughest game: South Florida's trip to Auburn on Sept. 8 is a potential program-defining game. The Bulls are in position to field their best team in school history this year, but USF has a long track record of struggling outside of its conference in road games. Since 2002, USF has lost on the road to Auburn, Kansas, Miami, Penn State, South Carolina, Alabama, Oklahoma and Arkansas.
Cakewalk: At least South Florida gets to warm up for the game against Auburn with Elon in its home opener.
Trap game: After facing Auburn and West Virginia in September, South Florida opens October with a road trip to up-and-coming Florida Atlantic. The Bulls squeaked by Sun Belt cellar dweller Florida International 21-20 at home last year.
Changes from last season: South Florida's schedule is tougher by virtue of its game at Auburn. USF gets Big East frontrunners West Virginia and Louisville at home.
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