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 eight game, Connecticut at West Virginia.
Nothing encapsulated the fog that seemed to come over teams as they played UConn more than the 2010 matchup in East Hartford. After dominating the first half of the game and jumping out to a 10-0 lead, the Mountaineers seemed to get lulled into the very type of game that UConn showed a knack for winning. Despite being outgained more than 150 yards, the Huskies clawed their way back into the game and forced overtime. After recovering a Mountaineer fumble in overtime, Dave Teggart kicked the game winning field goal to give UConn a 16-13 lead and catatpult them into the Big East race. It might also be the game that spelled the end of the Bill Stewart era as once again a struggling offense squandered a good defensive effort and kept the Mountaineers out of Big East title contention.
The 2011 battle figures to be quite different. For starters, the Mountaineers figure to be much more potent offensively. With new head coach Dana Holgorsen leading the offense, it's extremely doubtful that the Mountaineers will be held to 13 points by just about any opponent. Geno Smith is perfect for the Holgorsen offense. He's tall, mobile, has a smooth, quick release and can make all of the throws. He'll also be tested in Holgorsen's offense, for by the time the UConn game rolls around, West Virginia will have already played at Maryland and hosted top 5 LSU. As long as Holgorsen can settle on a running back(s) to carry the load and give the offense the necessary balance, they should be a real headache for opposing defensive coordinators. By game six, Jeff Casteel and the defensive staff should be settled in on the replacements in the secondary and once again field an outstanding defense.
While the game might seem something of a mismatch for UConn, the Huskies might match up better with the Mountaineers than any other team in the Big East - at least defensively. They return nine starters from last year's excellent defense, including all four defensive linemen, led by Kendall Reyes and Travardo Williams. If the Huskies can manage to get some pressure on Smith with just the front four, they might be able to slow down the Mountaineers passing attack enough to make the game close late. It also helps that with the coaching transition, the Huskies defense will be coached by Don Brown, one of the nation's best up and coming defensive minds. We're confident that with six weeks under his belt, he'll have the Huskies defense ready to play.
This game will come down to whether or not UConn can generate enough points on offense. Last year the Huskies clearly benefited from the Mountaineers stalling offense and if there is one thing we can be sure of in 2011 it's that the Mountaineers are not going to stall on offense. This should be a very entertaining contract in styles and with UConn hosting Western Michigan and West Virginia hosting Bowling Green the week prior, both teams should come in healthy and rested off of wins. It's the Big East opener for both and could feature teams already close to bowl contention (if West Virginia somehow manages to upset LSU). Still, with so many questions on offense for UConn, it's hard for us to see it winning the game. We felt that way last year too, however. With the game in Morgantown, it might be competitive into the second half, but we see the Mountaineers rolling late offensively and winning a statement game.
#9 - Pitt at Rutgers - Read about it here.
#10 - USF at UConn - Read about it here.