Overview: One of the biggest league games of the season is Friday night in Tampa, Fla., when West Virginia comes calling on USF. The Bulls won in Morgantown, W.Va., last season, and a second consecutive victory over the Mountaineers would put USF squarely in the league title picture. Each of the six other league teams is playing a nonconference game this weekend, including three Big East-ACC matchups: Maryland at Rutgers, Louisville at North Carolina State and Pitt at Virginia. Syracuse (at Miami of Ohio) and Connecticut (vs. Akron) are playing MAC opponents, and Cincinnati is playing in California for the first time in 49 years when it meets San Diego State.
Best matchup: West Virginia TB Steve Slaton vs. USF's linebackers. Slaton has rushed for 100 yards in all four games this season and is averaging 125.5 ypg, with nine TDs. He is one of the best tailbacks in the nation because of his speed and shiftiness, and everybody knows that if you slow him, you slow WVU as a whole. Well, USF slowed him last season (18 carries, 43 yards, no TDs) and beat the Mountaineers in West Virginia. USF has the fastest defense West Virginia will see this season, and Bulls defenders have said playing assignment football will be the key Friday. LBs Ben Moffitt, Tyrone McKenzie and Brouce Mompremier will be the guys whose job it will be to keep Slaton ? and WVU QB Pat White ? from running wild. Also keep an eye on USF FS Nate Allen, who had a monster game in the Bulls' upset at Auburn.
The pressure is on: Louisville defensive coordinator Mike Cassity. Cassity was a holdover from former coach Bobby Petrino's staff, but he has come under increasing fire for Louisville's pitiful start on defense this season. The Cardinals' national-title hopes are gone, but league championship dreams are alive ? assuming the defense starts actually stopping somebody. Saturday's nonconference game against N.C. State is a chance for the unit to get well. N.C. State's offense is shaky, and Wolfpack QB Harrison Beck can be pressured into mistakes.
Who's hot: USF DE George Selvie leads the nation with 8.5 sacks. He also leads in tackles for loss with 15. ? Rutgers TB Ray Rice has scored three touchdowns in all three games this season. ? Cincinnati's Kevin Huber leads the nation in punting (49.6 yards per punt). ? Louisville WR Harry Douglas has 38 catches (and five TD receptions) in four games. ? Cincinnati hasn't allowed a rushing touchdown this season. ? UConn plays MAC member Akron this week, and the Huskies have a nine-game winning streak against MAC schools.
Who's not: Louisville's secondary has been getting torched. The Cardinals are allowing 282.2 passing yards per game and already have allowed 11 TD passes. ? Pitt has committed nine turnovers in the past two games and 12 in the past three. ? Syracuse has one rushing TD this season and hasn't rushed for more than 62 yards in any game this season. ? Pitt's third-down conversion percentage is just 28.6 percent (16 of 56). ? USF K Delbert Alvarado already has missed four field-goal attempts this season.
Keep your eye on: USF QB Matt Grothe will be overshadowed in the pre-game hype by WVU's White, but Grothe actually may be more important to this team than White is to the Mountaineers. Quite simply, there is no one to take up the slack if Grothe, who's averaging almost 241 yards of offense per game, is shut down. Grothe ran for one TD and threw for another in USF's upset of WVU last season, and he especially has to have some success with his feet Friday night if USF is to pull the upset. ? Rutgers QB Mike Teel leads the nation in passing efficiency, but the Scarlet Knights' level of competition hasn't been high. Saturday, Maryland should provide a sterner test. Teel struggled at times last season (13 picks, 12 TDs), but if he truly has everything figured out, Rutgers' offense is going to be difficult to stop for anybody.
Numbers game: Cincinnati leads the nation with 19 takeaways in four games. ? West Virginia has scored 40 points in 11 of its past 12 games. ? Cincinnati is off to its first 4-0 start since 1954. UConn is 4-0 for the first time since 1997. ? Syracuse's previously moribund offense had three plays of 60-plus yards last week against Louisville. ? Pitt has a minus-7 turnover margin. ? West Virginia backup TB Noel Devine is averaging 11.1 yards per carry, on 24 carries. ? Rutgers has a 10-game home winning streak. ? West Virginia has been ranked for 31 consecutive polls and has been in the top 10 in 20 of the past 22 polls.
Freshman to watch: Highly touted true freshman QB Pat Bostick makes his first career start for Pitt on Saturday at Virginia. Bostick played the entire second half of last week's loss to UConn, and coaches obviously feel he can give a sputtering offense a boost. He and true freshman TB LeSean McCoy could be quite the duo for seasons to come. ? Marcus Barnett, a redshirt freshman, slowly is becoming Cincinnati's go-to receiver. He has good hands and has become Dustin Grutza's favorite receiver. Barnett gets to go against the nation's 119th-ranked pass defense this week when the Bearcats play at San Diego State.
BIG EAST STANDINGS
Injury update: Connecticut G Lawrence Green (leg) is questionable for Saturday's game against Akron. ? Louisville's Douglas has an undisclosed injury and is said to be questionable Saturday against N.C. State. ? USF guard Matt Huners (knee) will miss Friday's game against West Virginia. .. Syracuse center Marvin McCall (ankle) and linebacker Mike Stenclik (concussion) are questionable for Saturday's game against Miami (Ohio). ? West Virginia WR Nate Sowers (hamstring) is questionable to play against USF.
They said it:"I know our kids are respectful of the rating that they've gotten. They heard from me that you get ranked because you win games. You don't win games because you're ranked."
-Cincinnati coach Brian Kelly
"I think it's overrated because everyone is going to change things through the spring and summer. The only thing that Greg and Rod may be able to give us is more insight on individual players. They may know some of their strengths and weaknesses, but for the most part you are going to get that on film anyway." -West Virginia coach Rich Rodriguez on having two former USF assistants (Greg Frey and Rod Smith) on his coaching staff
"If you try to do more than you need to do, you're in trouble. If I play corner, I can't try to help the safety. You have to do your assignment and that's it." - USF CB Mike Jenkins, in the Tampa Tribune, on how to stop West Virginia's option offense
"I don't know about that specific situation and will not comment on that incident. However, in this country you're open to criticism regardless of who you are and whether it is right or wrong. When you're a public figure or representing a state or institution and you're out there competing, people can write what they want." - UConn coach Randy Edsall on Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy's post-game tirade last Saturday
Etc.: Rutgers hasn't allowed a sack this season. ? Louisville K Art Carmody has a big leg and it has showed with seven touchbacks already. ? Cincinnati is ranked this week for the first time since October 25, 1976. ? Syracuse's victory over Louisville last week was the Orange's first over a ranked opponent since 2004. ? There were 73 combined points in Louisville's game last week ? the lowest combined total in the Cardinals' four games this season. ? Cincinnati is at San Diego State this week, with the game in Qualcomm Stadium. It's one of three games for the Bearcats in an NFL stadium this season; the others are at USF (Raymond James Stadium) and at Pitt (Heinz Field). ? West Virginia's Rodriguez is one win shy of the 100-victory mark in his career. ? USF is expecting a record crowd (65,587, a sellout) for Friday night's game.