If you thought the Big East was just a jumble of teams with no clear-cut favorite before the season started, things got even a little more mixed up last night.
With primetime games on ESPN (West Virginia at Syracuse) and ESPN2 (Rutgers at Louisville) it represented a chance for the cream to rise to the top. Longtime conference power West Virginia was expected to handle an improving Syracuse program, while Rutgers was expected to win at Louisville and keep a hold on first place.
Well, so much for that theory. West Virginia got drilled, 49-23, by Syracuse and Rutgers was sloppy in a 16-14 loss to the Cardinals.
Instead of Rutgers (5-2, 2-1) moving to 3-0 in the conference with a half-game lead over Cincinnati (6-1, 2-0), the Scarlet Knights are now a half-game behind Cincy. The same can be said of the Mountaineers. A win and a Syracuse loss would’ve put West Virginia in sole possession of the first place.
Sounds complicated, doesn’t it? It gets worse. West Virginia, Syracuse, Connecticut, Louisville and Pittsburgh are all 1-1 in the conference. South Florida is 0-3 in conference play.
What this means is the entire Big East, except for South Florida, is still in contention for the conference title.
The Big Winner
Syracuse: It was a huge win for the Orange, which played in front of its largest crowd in three seasons. It was also the second straight year Syracuse beat West Virginia. The question is was this just a flash in the pan or a legitimate win. The Orange struggled in wins against Rhode Island, Toledo and Tulane and was blasted by USC. Not too mention Syracuse struggled to score mightily in a 19-16 OT loss at Rutgers on October 1. Road games against Louisville and Connecticut over the next two weeks will prove if Syracuse is for real.
Cincinnati: The Bearcats have been so quiet you might have to stick a fork in them to make sure they are alive. Saturday's 37-34 win over South Florida put them in sole possession of first place. It doesn't get easier, however, as Cincy is at Rutgers and Syracuse Nov. 5 and 11, respectively. It's clearly a make-or-break stretch for Cincy.
The Big Loser
West Virginia: The Mountaineers were still in decent position to stay in the conference title mix. The Mountaineers are still a contender, but now they absolutely have to win at Rutgers next week. A loss to the Scarlet Knights would put them behind the eight ball.
Rutgers: The loss isn’t devastating for the Scarlet Knights because they are one of only two teams with two wins in the conference. One of those wins was against Syracuse. But Rutgers needs to regroup quickly with West Virginia coming to town next weekend. A win against the Mountaineers would put Rutgers well on its way to winning the Big East championship.
Cincinnati (6-1, 2-0): @ Pittsburgh, vs. West Virginia, @ Rutgers, @ Syracuse, vs. Connecticut
Connecticut (3-4, 1-1): @ Pittsburgh, vs. Syracuse, vs. Louisville, vs. Rutgers, @ Cincinnati
Louisville (3-4, 1-1): vs. Syracuse, @ West Virginia, vs. Pittsburgh, @ Connecticut, @ South Florida
Pittsburgh (3-4, 1-1): vs. Connecticut, vs. Cincinnati, @ Louisville, @ West Virginia, vs. Syracuse
Rutgers (5-2, 2-1): vs. West Virginia, vs. South Florida, @Army, vs. Cincinnati, @ Connecticut.
South Florida (4-3, 0-3): vs. Connecticut, @ Rutgers, @ Syracuse, vs. Miami, vs. Louisville, vs. West Virginia
Syracuse (5-2, 1-1): @ Louisville, @ Connecticut, vs. South Florida, vs. Cincinnati, @ Pittsburgh
West Virginia (5-2, 1-1): @ Rutgers, vs. Louisville, @ Cincinnati, vs. Pittsburgh, @ South Florida