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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Friday, October 21, 2011 at 9:27 AM

The Big East hasn't had much of a TV presence yet this year. But, that's about to change Friday Night when ESPN and ESPN2 run a side-by-side twinbill featuring Rutgers at Louisville and West Virginia at Syracuse.

Normally, a scheduled like this would have us running through the league standings and outlining the race. But, this eight-team league is just getting started because there's no need to start a seven-game round robin in early September! The standings don't matter much yet. So, let's step back and look at how everyone is shaping up in the national rankings. That will help you analyze tonight's action...and upcoming games this weekend and beyond.


West Virginia: 11th on offense, 17th on defense, vs. the 72nd ranked schedule
South Florida: 18th on offense, 34th on defense, vs. the 82nd ranked schedule
(Note that all schedule rankings today come from Jeff Sagarin's numbers at USA Today)

In terms of the stat rankings, these are the only teams who are really any good at the moment. And, South Florida is probably an illusion thanks to an 0-2 start in the league. We can deduce they ran up big numbers against the likes of Ball State, Florida A&M, and UTEP...because the Bulls were crushed in the stats when they upset Notre Dame...and then they couldn't even beat Pittsburgh or UCONN.

Basically, West Virginia is the only good team in the Big East this year! South Florida may be dangerous at home in league play (the 0-2 start came on the road). They'll play their first home game Saturday against Cincinnati. On the road...South Florida has been outclassed at the point of attack. 

Cincinnati: 45th on offense, 28th on defense, vs. the 144th ranked schedule
Pittsburgh: 90th on offense, 55th on defense, vs. the 40th ranked schedule

It's hard to judge these two because Cincinnati has played an absolutely pathetic schedule so far. If your average stat rank is in the mid 30's against the 144th ranked schedule...then what's going to happen when you step up in class? Maybe the Bearcats will be a force in the Big East. Maybe they won't. They've only played one league game so far...and that was a 9-point win as a 13-point favorite over Louisville.

Pittsburgh looks like they should be good when you watch them on the field. They hung tough with a Notre Dame team that's grading out very well in a variety of computer metrics. Then, they beat up South Florida. Yet...a 34-10 loss to Rutgers sure cast some doubt on the abilities of this team. They didn't bounce back at all from that in a home loss to Utah last week.

We'll say it this way. Pittsburgh at its best can compete with anyone in the Big East. They need to figure out how to bring their best to the field more often than once a month. 

Rutgers: 97th on offense, 16th on defense, vs. the 92nd ranked schedule
Louisville: 99th on offense, 18th on defense, vs. the 88th ranked schedule
Syracuse: 96th on offense, 71st on defense, vs. the 77th ranked schedule
Connecticut: 104th on offense, 45th on defense, vs. the 70th ranked schedule

These last four teams have very similar offenses and schedule strengths...which makes it easy to lump them together. There's no clear doormat. These teams are well behind West Virginia at the very top of the standings...but they can certainly score victories over everyone else. Hey, if Rutgers can beat Pittsburgh 34-10, anything can happen in the Big East!

Don't overrate those two best defenses above. It's possible to be top 20 against a crap schedule...but then get exposed as something closer to 45-60 when you finally step up in class. Maybe the Big East is so bad this year that nobody's going to step up in class very often. At least remember that come bowl time. This is a conference with bad offenses (outside of West Virginia)...and defenses that are going to be vulnerable against anyone who knows what they're doing.

Now, let's use those numbers in a matchup format for Friday Night's games...

Rutgers: 97th on offense, 16th on defense, vs. the 92nd ranked schedule
Louisville: 99th on offense, 18th on defense, vs. the 88th ranked schedule
Vegas Line: Louisville by 2, total of 39.5

These are virtual clones so far...about as evenly matched as you can possibly get in a sport with 120 board teams. Louisville gets credit for home field, which makes them a small favorite. The money is giving Rutgers respect for that win over Pittsburgh though...which is why this game is at -2 instead of -3. True equality would have put Louisville at -3 after home field was factored in.

We have probably been the biggest Rutgers bashers in all of cyberspace during the Schiano era. ESPN kept trying to sell you on the idea that Schiano was turning Piscataway, New Jersey into Ann Arbor, Michigan....and that Rutgers was going to be a national power because they could recruit the best athletes in the Northeast to a New York-area market. That was hogwash out the outset, and looked dumber with each passing season. But...this year's team has been getting some things credit is due.

Beating Pitt by a big margin is an accomplishment
Beating Navy is an accomplishment
Losing a nailbiter at North Carolina as a 10-point dog is an accomplishment

This team has offered value this season. Call JIM HURLEY to see if the Scarlet Knights will offer value tonight!

West Virginia: 11th on offense, 17th on defense, vs. the 72nd ranked schedule
Syracuse: 96th on offense, 71st on defense, vs. the 77th ranked schedule
Vegas Line: West Virginia by 14, total of 59

These teams have played very similar schedules, so the big stat differences are meaningful. Maybe West Virginia isn't truly a top 15 or top 20 team when you compare them out of conference. But...they're MUCH better than Syracuse because they've accomplished so much more against a similar challenge level.

Of course...that's why West Virginia is a two-touchdown favorite! Do the stat differences above justify that? What about the supposedly great home field advantage Syracuse has because of the dome? There's about one game a year where opponents get rattled...and the announcers act like it happens in every game. Will this be the one game where an opponent gets rattled?

This is a toughie because TV home dogs sometimes play their best games of the year in the spotlight. But, West Virginia's new offense under coach Dana Holgorsen is ideally suited to a fast indoor track. NETWORK is working with its sources very closely to make sure we're on the right side here.

Friday's best bet(s) in the Big East will be available in the afternoon right here at the website. Sign up for the day or the whole weekend. More details are available in our office at 1-800-323-4453. Be sure to check on World Series prices too. You can add the Fall Classic to any package for a nominal adjustment.

We have a BLOCKBUSTER play on tap for Saturday in the colleges, along with our popular TV Triple Crown that might include Wisconsin-Michigan State (look for our preview of this game Saturday morning right here in the NOTEBOOK), USC-Notre Dame, or Auburn-LSU. We're also looking at Oklahoma State at Missouri, Air Force at Boise State, Maryland at Florida State, Penn State at Northwestern, and Washington at Stanford.

Sunday brings another big day in the NFL...where the whole world seems to be wondering why San Diego is a 2-point road favorite over the New York Jets. Maybe that game will be featured in our much anticipated NFL Triple Crown.

Tonight...the focus is on the Big East...and the BEAST OF THE BIG EAST and ALL COLLEGE CONFERENCES is none other than JIM HURLEY!

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