The College Football Notebook

November 24, 2010 8:31 AM

The Big East Race

BigEastRace.jpgThe inclusion of the Big East as an automatic qualifier in the Bowl Championship Series is under only slightly less fire for the inclusion of Bristol Palin in the finals of Dancing With The Stars. But like it or not, the mediocre Big East champ will headed to one of college football's showcase spots, almost certainly the Fiesta Bowl which gets the last choice in the selection order this year. So let's take a look at who we might be watching in January.

Pitt leads the pack right now at 4-1, but both UConn and West Virginia are only a game back and are squarely in the mix. Even Cincinnati, with a 2-3 league record has a chance, given its last two are with the Huskies and Panthers. Big East teams play all the way through to December 4, so most teams will play both this weekend and next. The stretch drive starts on Black Friday when Pitt hosts West Virginia, a "Backyard Brawl" and from living in the Steel City I can attest this rivalry is as fierce as portrayed in the media. Pitt follows that game up with a finale in Cincinnati. This program is known for its ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory and I'm really not expecting them to sweep both games. Which opens the door to the challengers.

UConn was my preseason pick to win the Big East, but even if they do it, I was still wrong--at 6-4, they have been incredibly mediocre and it's stunning that they're path to the Fiesta Bowl is so realistic. They need to beat Cincy at home on Saturday, then win at South Florida and from there just hope Pitt loses once. The Huskies beat both Pitt and WVA, so they would win a three-way tie where the trio all finishes 5-2. West Virginia obviously needs to beat Pitt on Friday, then hope UConn drops a game. Cincinnati is hoping for a complete crackup where everyone ends at 4-3. They can control a lot of that with their two remaining games, although they would also need WVA to lose at home to Rutgers.

Of the three most likely contenders, all have a showcase running back--though Pitt's Dion Lewis has had a disappointing year, he started to come out of it last week at South Florida and was one of the best players in this conference as a freshman in '09. He's got a lot of career ahead of him and a strong finish puts him right back with the headliners in this conference. UConn's Jordan Todman has been terrific even when his team hasn't. And West Virginia brings Noel Devine. The problem with all three is getting support for them, at least when it comes to competing at the highest level. And like it or not, the highest level, playing the likes of Nebraska, Oklahoma or Oklahoma State, is exactly where one of them will be.

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Dan Flaherty is the editor of the Sports Notebook Family, published through the Real Clear Sports Blog Network, offering daily commentary in college football ,game analysis in the NFL. and coverage of college basketball. He is the author of The Last New Year's, a book that revisits the historic high points of college football's New Year's Day bowl games.

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