Over the next ten days, Big East Coast Bias will take a look at the ten games that we think will be the most vital in crowing the Big East football champion in 2011. It's difficult to narrow the list down to ten, so take the list with a grain of salt, but in looking over the conference's contenders and the schedule for 2011, these are the games we think we will look back upon and see were the most critical in determining the Big East's champion. Up next, our number five game, Louisville at Cincinnati.
The 2010 meeting between Louisville and Cincinnati on a cool Friday night at Papa John's Cardinals Stadium was, despite featuring two teams out of the conference race, one of the best and most entertaining games of the season. The two teams combined for 887 yards of total offense and 62 points. Louisville tailback Bilal Powell had his best game of the season, rushing for 209 yards and this amazing 85 yard touchdown run:
But the night belonged to Cincinnati quarterback Zach Collaros who threw for five touchdowns, three of them to Armon Binns, and the Bearcats passing attack proved too much for the Louisville secondary to handle. Collaros' 62 yard touchdown to Binns midway through the fourth quarter was the dagger and the Bearcats escaped with their third consecutive win over Louisville.
Cincinnati should look a lot like the 2010 version, but, hopefully with am improved defense. Last year Louisville and most other teams with a powerful running game were able to push the Bearcats around up front. Ten starters from last year's defense return and the coaches are hoping that'll help improve a rush defense that gave up over 200 yards on the ground to Louisville, West Virginia, and Connecticut. Offensively Cincinnati should look familiar. Collaros, tailback Isaiah Pead and wide receiver DJ Woods all return. Armon Binns is no longer around to terrorize the Louisville secondary, but Kembrell Thompkins is healthy this year and has enormous potential, Dyjuan Lewis is back, and so is sophomore Anthony McClung. So, the Bearcats should field a potent offense once again. Worst case scenario, the Bearcats should enter the game at 3-2. If they're able to upset either Tennessee or NC State, then they'll be that much closer to returning to respectability and could enter the game with a little momentum. They'll get a week off after playing at Miami (OH) to prepare for Louisville.
The Cardinals will likely be the the opposite of what they were in last year's game against Cincinnati. It wasn't until the following week when Louisville shut out Connecticut 26-0 that the Cardinals defense developed some confidence and ultimately developed into one of the best defenses in the Big East. Against Cincinnati they were still thin and had questions across the secondary, especially when Johnny Patrick left the game with injury. This year the Cardinals will try and replace Bilal Powell's explosive play with a tandem of running back in Victor Anderson and Jeremy Wright. The scheme won't change, which means Cincinnati can expect a heavy dose of downhill running and play-action passing. There were no deep threats in the passing game last year, but Louisville is hoping that along with Josh Bellamy and tight end Josh Chichester, that freshmen Eli Rogers, Devante Parker, and Michaelee Harris will inject a bit of life into the passing game. Defensively, Louisville should field one of the deepest and best front sevens in the Big East. Whereas they struggled to get pressure on Collaros in 2010, they should be able to pressure him effectively this year. The challenge will be at cornerback where there is still no one reliable to line up against the receivers Cincinnati will throw at them. Perhaps by week seven the Cardinals will have some answers at corner. Unlike Cincinnati, Louisville will travel to Cincinnati the week after a difficult road trip to Chapel Hill to face a very talented North Carolina team.
This will be one of the more telling matchups of the Big East season because it comes early enough in the season for both teams to still be in the Big East hunt, and it will be the game that tells us which team is improved over the year before. The game features strength against strength and weakness against weakness. Louisville and its questions about the offensive line, quarterback, and replacing Bilal Powell will be matched up against Cincinnati's questionable defense. Conversely, the Cincinnati offense should be outstanding and so should the Louisville defense. Will the Louisville defensive line be able to pressure Collaros on its own and allow the secondary some extra help in coverage? This will be a fun game for fans because it is the first of two games Cincinnati will play at Paul Brown Stadium and the crowd could be anywhere from 30-40% Louisville fans, making it not much of a road game at all. Ultimately, we think Cincinnati will be a much improved team this year and Louisville will have one too many question marks to answer before they can win a game like this in 2011.