Posted by Chip Patterson
With Connecticut's upset of the first-place Pittsburgh Panthers on Thursday night, a seemingly closed Big East title race has been officially re-opened. The Panthers could have put significant space between them and the rest of the conference, with a 1.5 game lead over second-place Syracuse AND owning the tie-breaker against the Orange. The Orange could have pulled away from the rest of the pack last week, but instead fell short 28-20 to Louisville.
So now the entire Big East is within two games of first place with each team having at least two conference games left on the schedule, with some having as many as four. Such a tight race in a conference like the Big East would not seem like a big deal on the national scale, but when there is a BCS bowl berth at stake everything chances. Let's take a look at the weeks ahead in the Big East.
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Now a few thoughts...
1. Pittsburgh still the team to beat - Despite the upset to Connecticut, Pittsburgh will be the only team in the conference with one loss at the conclusion of Week 11. The number of two-loss teams will be cut down to four by Sunday, thus pushing three teams basically out of the race entirely. Also, the teams with the easiest remaining schedule (according to the combined conference record of opponents) are all teams that Pittsburgh has defeated. The most crucial of which is second-place Syracuse. Win out, and the BCS Bowl berth will belong to the Panthers. But nothing is certain, particularly with trips to Tampa and Cincinnati left on the schedule. Don't forget about those Mountaineers...
2. Three (1-2) teams the most dangerous - With four conference games left on the schedule, even the teams at the bottom of standings have a chance to create the most havoc. Pittsburgh has yet to play West Virginia and at Cincinnati, two teams that have not lived up to the standards of recent years but are still very dangerous. Rutgers also hosts Syracuse on Saturday, and could continue to muddle the standings with an upset of the Orange. They may have the toughest battle to win the conference, but they have the best chance to spoil the fun for the favorites. Pittsburgh needs at least a game of separation heading into the finale at Cincinnati, because that game is anyone's to win - no matter what the records say.
3. Looking for a dark horse? Try Louisville - The Cardinals are fresh off an impressive upset of Syracuse, and they have one of the easiest remaining schedules in the conference. Also with wins over Connecticut and the Orange, they have positioned themselves well in the event of the likely possible tie-breaker. Last week the Cardinals showed that the success of the rushing game is not dependent on Bilal Powell, and being able to dictate tempo with the ground game will help significantly down the stretch. First-year coach Charlie Strong has seen his fair share of obstacles this season, but if he can muster up any kind of home-field advantage at Papa John's Stadium in the next two weeks the Cardinals could find themselves in the Big East title hunt come December.