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 three game, South Florida at Pittsburgh.
Pittsburgh was able to bounce back from losing to Connecticut the week before and giving away their lead in the Big East standings to beat South Florida in Tampa on November 20. It might be an overstep to call the performance a rebound. The final score was Pitt 17, South Florida 10. It was 10 all heading into the fourth quarter. Pittsburgh finished the game with 11 penalties for 116 yards. The game was only tied going into the fourth because of tacklers that could never get there on a 45 yard end-around touchdown for the Bulls. Dion Lewis went over 100 yards on the ground for only the second time all season and sealed the game with a 22 yard run where he bulldozed the entire Bulls defense. South Florida still had 1:31 to work with to tie the game after Dan Hutchins missed a 43 yard field goal. After the brutality of the touchdown Lewis had earlier in the fourth quarter to give the Panthers the lead, Dave Wannstedt should have gone for it on fourth and three from the Bulls 23, but . . . who are we kidding that's the kind of decision that made Wannstedt himself after all.
Luckily for Pitt, South Florida didn't cross the 50 yard line. B.J. Daniels threw an interception on the final play of the game to Panthers cornerback Antwuan Reed who had been flagged FOUR TIMES for pass interference during the game. Neither team performed well on offense. If you weren't a fan of either team, it was one of those games that was the reason for the old slogan "the Big East: we watch it so you don't have to."
I expect none of that conservative nonsense from Pittsburgh this season under head coach Todd Graham. South Florida will also be better on offense now that quarterback B.J. Daniels took his lumps last year growing into the position. However, that doesn't mean that I expect a really high scoring game. South Florida will still have a solid (albeit diminished from last year) defense this season. The Panthers should have one of the best defenses in the league.
Unlike last season, this game will be played early in the season and will mark the first Big East game for either squad. Therefore, I expect a lot effort from both teams. Both teams will have played Notre Dame so we'll have a common opponent to compare. South Florida gets the Irish in the first game of the season in South Bend. Pitt will play Notre Dame at home the week before they face South Florida.
Pittsburgh will have home field advantage against the Bulls. The Panthers will be coming off a short week and will have just have likely been in a barn burner just five days before against the Irish. That factor I think will make the game closer than it needs to be.
Ultimately, I can't pull the trigger on a South Florida upset in this game. I think Daniels will be improved but not enough to knock off the Panthers at home. I believe the winner of the game will need at least 28 points and South Florida can't attempt to go at that pace without running into costly turnovers. Unlike last year, this should be a fun game to watch.