It Comes Down To 2 Games
By JOE KAY
AP Sports Writer
CINCINNATI – The lawsuits flew as Big East schools jockeyed for position in other conferences. Each week, the league standings got a new jolt with another round of surprises.
It’s been a wild season for the conference in transition, and there’s still a lot of intrigue left. The championship will come down to two games played in a three-day span.
Louisville, No. 22 West Virginia and Cincinnati all have a shot at the conference’s BCS bowl bid heading into the final week. There could be a two-way or even a three-way split of the regular-season title, with the BCS bid decided by tiebreakers.
It’s an appropriate finish for a conference that appeared to be near collapse at midseason, when teams were fighting to get out and West Virginia wound up fighting in court.
“I’ve been in this league for 11 years, so I’ve seen a lot,” Rutgers coach Greg Schiano said. “When the teams left in ’04, that was an eventful year. As much has gone on this year with the league and continues to go on – it’s not over yet.
“I’d probably say out of my 11 seasons, this one has been the most turbulent.”
Much of the focus has been on the teams trying to leave. Syracuse, Pittsburgh and West Virginia decided to bolt, with the Mountaineers suing the league to try to move into the Big 12 next season. The league sued back, enforcing a 27-month notification provision.
Then, the Big East decided to reconfigure with 12 football schools, a process that’s still in the works.
On the field, the standings were in as much flux as the league membership. Upsets were the norm, with nothing a surprise heading into the final week.
Two games will decide the conference’s BCS bowl representative.
The Cardinals (7-5, 5-2) are done with their regular season, having clinched at least a share of the title. The Mountaineers (8-3, 4-2) and the Bearcats (8-3, 4-2) can join them at the top.
And, in a fitting finish to such a season, it’ll be decided over three days.
West Virginia plays tonight at South Florida (5-6, 1-5). If the Mountaineers win, they’ll share the title, but have to wait to see who gets that BCS bid.
Next up is Cincinnati on Saturday, playing at home against Connecticut (5-6, 3-3). The Bearcats were in control of the league until senior quarterback Zach Collaros broke his right ankle in a loss to West Virginia that left the race wide open.
The first tiebreaker is head-to-head results, which are fittingly convoluted. Cincinnati beat Louisville but lost to West Virginia. Louisville won at West Virginia, giving it the head-to-head advantage in that matchup.
The Mountaineers would get the BCS bid by winning on Thursday and finishing higher in the final BCS standings than either Cincinnati or Louisville – something they can count on. The Mountaineers are currently ranked No. 23 in the BCS.
If West Virginia loses, the Bearcats then can grab the BCS berth with a win on Saturday, given their head-to-head advantage against Louisville.
For Louisville, it all comes down to the Cincinnati game. If the Bearcats lose and leave it a two-way finish for first, the slow-starting Cardinals would get the bid because of their win over West Virginia – a stunning outcome for a team that best represents the conference’s season of unpredictability.
The Cardinals lost four of their first six and had to turn to a freshman quarterback – Teddy Bridgewater – in the process of digging out.
“When you’re sitting at 2-4, you say, ‘We’re going to be sitting home at Christmas and it’s not going to be very fun,'” coach Charlie Strong said. “I don’t think any of us saw this coming. At 2-4, you’re just sitting there saying: ‘Will we win another game?'”
West Virginia was picked to win the conference, but faced elimination from the race before beating rivals Cincinnati and Pittsburgh to stay in it.
“We can control (tonight),” coach Dana Holgorsen said. “Once that’s over, it’s out of our control. I’m sure everybody is going to be glued to the TV set (on Saturday) if we’re able to get the victory. If we don’t get the victory, it doesn’t matter what happens on Saturday.”
It would to Cincinnati, which would then have the chance to get its third BCS bid in the last four years. This one would be satisfying for a team that was coming off a four-win season and lost its only experienced quarterback in mid-November.
“They were all saying we weren’t going to be very good this year,” senior linebacker J.K. Schaffer said. “If you look at this team, we’ve overcome a lot of adversity with the season we had last year and Zach going down. It makes it that much more special for us to say we went through that and won all these games with all the adversity.”