Louisville was the first team to stake claim to at least a portion of the 2011 Big East Conference championship as it beat South Florida 34-24 back on Friday. The Cardinals sit atop the Big East for the first time since 2006. The Cardinals will win the league’s BCS bid if Cincinnati loses to Connecticut on Saturday. The result of the WVU/South Florida game wouldn’t matter to the Cardinals as long as Cincinnati loses.
It was an impressive comeback for Louisville in the South Florida game as the Cardinals trailed 17-3 late in the second quarter. It was also an impressive comeback for the Cardinals this season as Louisville was once 2-4 following consecutive losses to Marshall, North Carolina and Cincinnati. Louisville won five of its last six regular season games to finish at 7-5 overall and at 5-2 in the Big East.
"This team has been able to handle adversity all year long," said Louisville coach Charlie Strong. "We’ve been able to play well at the right time."
Strong credits the development of freshman quarterback Teddy Bridgewater with turning the season around.
"He continues to get better and better," Strong said. "It’s been amazing to see how well he has progressed this season. He makes very few mistakes.
"Our offense playing the way it has down the stretch is the reason we’ve been able to win games," Strong said. "Injuries have taken over on defense but offensively we’ve got better and better and better."
Cincinnati Hopes for Help
The 8-3 Bearcats win the BCS birth only if WVU loses at South Florida. A two way tie between Cincinnati and Louisville would favor the Bearcats due to Cincinnati’s 25-16 victory over the Cardinals back on Oct. 15. But a three way tie would go to West Virginia as long as the Mountaineers stay as the highest ranked team in the BCS standings.
Cincinnati was stunned by the loss of quarterback Zach Collaros for the regular season during the loss to WVU. The Bearcats played a poor offensive game the next week in a 20-3 set back at the hands of Rutgers. Cincinnati bounced back and got back into the title chase with a 30-13 win at Syracuse last week.
"Last week we had a top week in preparation," Cincinnati coach Butch Jones said. "We’ll need that again against UConn."
It will be 71 days between games for Cincinnati at Nippert Stadium. Cincinnati played back to back Big East Conference home games against Louisville and West Virginia at Paul Brown Stadium.
Jones. meanwhile, has had his name surface as a candidate for job openings at UCLA, North Carolina and Illinois.
Connecticut Denies Rutgers
The Scarlet Knights could have clinched a share for their first Big East championship last week, but Rutgers was blown out by Connecticut 40-22. Freshman standout Lyle McCombs rushed for 95 yards and two scores to lead the Huskies. McCombs now leads the Big East Conference with 1,109 rushing yards. The UConn defense forced six turnovers and had six sacks on the day.
"It was very disappointing with everything that was on the line to play as poorly as we did," said Rutgers coach Greg Schiano. "We didn’t play winning football."
Connecticut (5-6) needs an upset win at Cincinnati Saturday in order to go back to a bowl one season after it earned its first BCS birth.
8-4 Rutgers, meanwhile, finishes the regular season at 8-4 and will await a birth in either the Belk Bowl in Charlotte or in the Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium. It will be the sixth bowl appearance for Rutgers in the last seven years.
Mohamed Sanu of Rutgers set a new Big East record with 109 receptions in the regular season. He finished with 1,144 receiving yards. That total currently leads the Big East but WVU’s Stedman Bailey has 1,117 yards with one regular season game remaining.
"Mohamed made some spectacular plays while being very consistent all year long," Schiano said.
Rutgers also has the leading tackler in the Big East in linebacker Khaseem Greene. Greene finished the regular season with 127 tackles. That number is currently 29 more than any player in the conference.
Syracuse and Pitt Play for Bowl Birth
The winner of this game Saturday will get to six wins and will likely be headed to the Beef ‘O’ Bradys bowl in St. Petersburg or the BBVA Compass Bowl in Birmingham. The loser will have its season come to an end with a record of 5-7.