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 nine game, Pittsburgh at Rutgers (Click here to read about game #10: South Florida at Connecticut).
Last year, Rutgers at Pittsburgh helped the Panthers get a league win which in turn ended up getting them these rings. Whether you think you should get rings for a split title where you aren't the BCS representative, well, just as the B1G Ten Conference. As for Rutgers, the bottom fell out of their season with the loss to Pitt last year. After the first half in 2010, it was a tie ball game at 14 all. Then the second half happened. Pitt outscored the Scarlet Knights 27-7 to wrap up a 41-21 victory. Rutgers would then lose five games to finish 4-8 overall and dead last in the Big East with a 1-6 record.
Both Pittsburgh and Rutgers went through coaching changes in the offseason. Before their bowl game, Pitt fired Dave Wannstedt. Mike Haywood from Miami of Ohio was hired to replace Wannstedt. Haywood was fired in January following an arrest for domestic violence. Tulsa's Todd Graham was then hired. He's sticking around and bringing a "high octane" offense to Pittsburgh. If you were a Panthers fan during the Wannstedt era "high octane" was not a phrase you'd ever have thrown around.
Rutgers got a new offensive coordinator to fix the mess head coach Greg Schiano made of the offense last year. Who did Rutgers pick up? Former Pitt offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti. If nothing else, Rutgers should be more effective than last season on offense.
Rutgers will host the game against Pittsburgh in 2011 on October 8. As we've discussed before on BECB, the Panthers have a difficult out of conference schedule. After playing Buffalo, Maine, at Iowa, Notre Dame and South Florida, Pitt might come into the game with a record of anywhere between 3-2 to 5-0. I'd lean more toward four wins than five or three. Rutgers might be 2-2 to 4-0 entering the game after games against North Carolina Central, North Carolina, Ohio and at Syracuse. Since I have questions about their offensive line, I'm going to skew negative and say they'll be closer to 2-2 than 4-0.
Rutgers is going to need to steal a game from one of the teams we think will be in contention for the title (West Virginia, Pitt and South Florida) in order to make it to a bowl game. I'm not inclined to think that Rutgers will be able to outscore Pitt and pull off the upset. Even with Wannstedt last year, Pitt lit up Rutgers for 500+ yards of offense. This one could get ugly if Ray Graham and Tino Sunseri are rolling and Rutgers doesn't slow down the pace of the game by controlling the ball. With a win in this game, Pitt could be on their way to Big East title they don't have to share.