With basically a month (ok, five weeks if we're being precise) to go in the college football season, the time has arrived where we can finally get a handle on conference races. As usual, the Big East is a giant
clusterf train wreck, with three teams (Cincinnati, WVU, Pitt) currently controlling their own destinies, and another (Lousivlle) ready to pounce if those three stumble. As we've seen in recent years, anything can happen in the Big East. Since 2003, only two teams have won the conference title outright (WVU in 2005, Cincinnati in 2009). While CIncinnati has surprised some people in year 2 under Butch Jones and USF has disappointed, yet again, WVU and Pitt are again right in the thick of the race. Lately, both WVU and Pitt have stumbled don the stretch, allowing UConn and Cincinnati to swipe the conference's BCS bid.
Should we expect more of the same from the Mountaineers and Panthers? Or will new head coaches succeed where their predecessors failed? Can Butch Jones replicate the success that Brian Kelly enjoyed in Cincinnati? Is Charlie Strong's second Louisville team ready to return to the promised land? We'll take a gander at remaining schedules and rooting interests after the jump, but for reference, current Big East standings look like this:
Cincinnati 2 - 0 1.000 6 - 1 .857
West Virginia 2 - 1 .667 6 - 2 .750
Louisville 2 - 1 .667 4 - 4 .500
Pittsburgh 2 - 1 .667 4 - 4 .500
Rutgers 2 - 2 .500 5 - 3 .625
Syracuse 1 - 2 .333 5 - 3 .625
Connecticut 1 - 2 .333 3 - 5 .375
USF 0 - 3 .000 4 - 3 .571
And since we're going to be settling into a new conference home next year, we should probably keep an eye on the Big XII race as well. That league has had a championship game every year since its inception, but is playing a round-robin schedule for this first time this season. Recently, the trend has been for the winner of the Oklahoma-Texas game to go on and win the championship game for a spot in the BCS. Occasionally, the conference has placed a second team in the BCS, with Kansas beating Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl at the end of the 2007 season and Texas taking out Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl after the 2008 season being the most recent occurrences. Again, we will break down some possible rooting interests for remaining conference games after the jump, but here are the current standings:
Oklahoma State 5-0 1.000 W5 8-0 1.000 W8
Kansas State 4-1 .800 L1 7-1 .875 L1
Oklahoma 4-1 .800 W1 7-1 .875 W1
Texas A&M 3-2 .600 L1 5-3 .625 L1
Texas 2-2 .500 W1 5-2 .714 W1
Texas Tech 2-3 .400 L1 5-3 .625 L1
Missouri 2-3 .400 W1 4-4 .500 W1
Baylor 1-3 .250 L2 4-3 .571 L2
Iowa State 1-4 .200 W1 4-4 .500 W1
Kansas 0-5 .000 L5 2-6 .250 L6
At this point, all of the league leaders have yet to play each other. That changes this weekend with first-place Cincinnati visitng Pitt and WVU taking on Louisville. Next weekend, WVU visits Cincinnati and Louisville travels to Pitt, meaning things should be much clearer after next weekend. Unless, of course, WVU beats Louisville but loses to Cincinnati and Pitt beats Cincinnati and Louisville to create a 3-way tie for first.
The simple math would be for either Cincinnati, WVU, or Pitt to win out. Such a scenario would guarantee that team a league championship and BCS berth. Obviously, for WVU, that would be the best scenario. But what if WVU happens to drop a game along the way? History has shown that teams can win the conference at 5-2 as long as you beat the good teams and lose to the bad ones (like UConn did last year and WVU did in 2007). So, the Mountaineers can still make the BCS at 9-3 as long as they lose to the right team.
Having already beaten both Rutgers and UConn, WVU can safely root for both the Scarlet Knights and Huskies the rest of the way out because it already holds a tie breaker over both those teams. USF is also a safe team to cheer for since the Bulls already have 3 conference losses and would only advance to a tiebreaker in the unlikely scenario that several teams tie at 4-3.
Syracuse, the lone team to beat WVU so far, could win out to finish 5-2, but would need to beat both Pitt and Cincinnati to get there. I think that's unlikely, but stranger things have happened. Thus, WVU needs to root for UConn to give the Orange their third league loss this saturday in Storrs, and for USF to knock off the Orange next weekend at the Carrier Dome just to make sure Syracuse isn't involved in any tie breakers.
That leaves us with Cincinnati, Pitt, and Louisville.
Cincinnati and Pitt are, from my perspective, the two "must-wins", as they are most likely to finish at 5-2. Louisville could also finish at 5-2, and finishes with Pitt, USF, and UConn. If WVU loses to the Cardinals this weekend, the Mountaineers would need to root for either 2 of those teams to kock off the Cardinals or hope for one win and a 3-way tie with Louisville and another team that Louisville lost to and WVU beat, such as Cincinnati or Pitt.
That brings us to this weekend, where WVU fans concerned solely with winning the Big East should probably root for Pitt to beat Cincinnati, thus setting up a potential insurance policy should WVU lose to one of those teams. Cincy still has Rutgers, Syracuse and UConn left after facing Pitt and WVU, so a Bearcat loss to the Panthers and a loss to Rutgers would likely put WVU in a good position for a tiebreaker. Pitt, having already lost to Rutgers, would have to play Louisville and Syracuse aside from WVU, so if the Panthers finished at 5-2 with a win over WVU, the best WVU could hope for is a tie between Pitt, WVU, and either Rutgers or Louisville at 5-2. That's not a senario I want to have to hope for.
If Pitt beats Cincinnati and WVU wins its next 3 games and Syracuse drops a game somewhere, WVU could likely cruise into the BCS even with a loss at perennial thorn-in-its-side USF.
Got all that? Good. Hopefully the picture clears up some after this weekend. Check back for more updates as the season progresses.
At this point, everything is pointing toward an epic Bedlam Series showdown between Oklahoma and Oklahoma State on December 3 for a spot in the BCS, and potentially the national championship game. There are still landmines for both teams, however, and as we saw with Texas Tech, even the top teams are prone to upset losses. Kansas State, sitting at 7-1 overall and 4-1 in the conference, could still sneak in if things break right.
This weekend is of particular interest, with Oklahoma hosting Texas A&M and Kansas State traveling to Oklahoma State. Wins by the Sooners and Wildcats would create a 3-way tie between the top teams. K-State wants very much to knock off the Cowboys, who could in turn upend their rivals at the end of the year and send K-State to the BCS.
Next weekend, though K-State would have to get by a pesky A&M squad and OK-State has to travel to Lubbock to take on the same Texas Tech team that upset Oklahoma a few weeks back.
If both Oklahoma and Oklahoma State both take care of business this weekend, though, everyone else would have 2 losses with only 2 games remaining before Bedlam. If that happens, and the Sooners visit the Cowboys for a trip to the BCS or possibly the national championship game on the line, my guess is that you'll really see Bedlam live up to its name.