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 six game, West Virginia at Syracuse.
If you're ever curious just why Bill Stewart was ultimately fired as head coach at West Virginia, the 2010 game against Syracuse will explain it all. The Mountaineers entered the game ranked in the top 25, were 5-1, and still in the driver's seat in the Big East. As was the case all season, they got a stellar defensive effort, holding Syracuse to 19 points, 246 yards of total offense, just 63 yards passing, and somehow managed to lose the game. Geno Smith threw three first half interceptions while Syracuse got a touchdown pass from Ryan Nassib to Van Chew and four first half field goals to take a 19-14 lead. Neither team scored another point and the Orange got what was to be a signature victory in the rebuilding effort of Doug Marrone. The win catapulted Syracuse into Big East contention and its best season since Paul Pasqualoni was in charge and brought West Virginia pack to the Big East pack. This year's battle should have the same impact for both teams involved.
The Mountaineers have no excuse for entering this year's game flat, or tired. After playing UConn at home, they get a bye week to rest up and get healthy before traveling to the Carrier Dome. Even with a worst case scenario in the non-conference schedule, West Virginia should enter the game 4-2. With six games under their belts, the offense should be comfortable with Dana Holgorsen's offense and he should be comfortable being the head man and making all of the in game calls. It will also help that by this time the replacements in the secondary and on the defensive line should be comfortable with their new roles and ready to go for the stretch run in conference. The Mountaineers have won their last four trips to Syracuse.
Syracuse will enter the game in much the same shape that West Virginia will. Worst case, the Orange will be 4-2 and should be 1-0 in conference play when they welcome the Mountaineers to the Carrier Dome. Though Delone Carter is gone, Antwon Bailey is a very capable replacement and by week seven, the Orange offense should be humming. The challenge for Syracuse will be in developing new starters along the defensive line and in the secondary to match up with the new spread, pass-first attack of West Virginia. The Orange face Tulane on the road and then have a bye week before the Mountaineers come to town. Effectively giving them three weeks to prepare for a team that will look almost nothing like it did the year before.
This year's game probably will be as competitive as last year's game, but will likely look very different than it did in 2010. The Orange have no excuse not to be much more productive on offense, and neither do the Mountaineers. In fact, both teams may very well double their offensive output due to improved offensive play and massive turnover for the opponent's defense. Syracuse somehow managed to be a better road team than a home team and that trend might continue in 2011. We're convinced that Geno Smith won't be nearly as interception prone as he was in 2010, and there's no way this year's game will have a scoreless second half. So if the game is as much as a shootout as we think it will be, you'd have to think that tilts it in the favor of West Virginia who would put themselves squarely in the driver's seat at 2-0 in the Big East with wins over two teams that upset them last year.