The Sports Debates created a stir with a debate verdict, written by me, that suggested the BCS kick out the Big East. The verdict was clear (since I wrote it, of course) that the Big East’s body of work in the BCS was unimpressive, and that its best programs were now in the ACC. The furor created by that commentary came from Big East fans who said on a number of websites, on the radio, and in a few newspapers that, well, the ACC sucks, too. So, it is impossible to blame the Big East for sucking because the ACC also sucks.
This argument is a non-starter for me. The two conference’s poor performance on the national stage has nothing to do with each other. However, here we are in early December approaching championship weekend and one of those conferences is sprinting to the finish, and the other is downtrodden, wounded, and limping to the regular season’s finish. The ACC has a four loss Clemson team facing a two loss Georgia Tech team. Both are coming off of emotional losses to an archrival. The Big East, on the other hand, features one team coming off of a loss to a rival in Pittsburgh, and an undefeated top five team in Cincinnati. The Big East certainly features the better game. In fact, it is the best game of THIS weekend.
Maybe TSD will get more fodder with a Big East-ACC champion BCS bowl matchup. That would help generate a new debate. I’ll put in a word.
So, the team matchup is a good one, but so is the coaching matchup. Everyone in the world has now heard the rumors about Brian Kelly’s affair with Tiger Woods. Er, rather, Brian Kelly’s possible departure to South Bend to coach the Fighting Irish next season. A win is good for Cincinnati and good for Kelly. The winner of this game wins the championship in the Big East and is awarded a BCS berth and the hefty pay check that goes along with it. That would be a nice present to leave Cincinnati, should Brian Kelly be moving along to greener – and “golder” – pastures.
Once the BCS selection show occurs on Sunday – depending on what happens with Florida, Alabama, and Texas – Cincinnati may also back its way in to the national title game, as well. It is not a lock, but it is not unreasonable, either. Ask another team from Ohio, Ohio State. A Big East win from Pitt over highly ranked West Virginia late in the season helped secure a spot in the title game for the Buckeyes just a few seasons ago.
Cincinnati has a lot riding on this game. But, after all of this ancillary stuff, there is also an actual GAME to be played between two teams that are both excellent and that both create matchup problems for the other.
Pitt has been tough to figure out this season. Wins over solid teams (not great, but solid) like Navy, Notre Dame, Connecticut, and South Florida are nice. But, a close win over a mercurial team like Rutgers is perplexing, as is the loss to one of the more awful teams in the ACC at North Carolina State, and the vaunted defense giving up 27 points to Buffalo. Not to mention the team is coming off of a tough, emotional loss to its rival in the Backyard Brawl. Plus, Pitt has yet to play a ranked team this season. On the surface it appears as though the Panthers are going to get clobbered by the unbeaten Cincinnati.
But, Pitt does seem to have a good defense. The Panthers’ defense is second in conference allowing less than 18 points per game and a second-best 208 yards per game passing. The Panthers will need those defensive numbers to remain solid, too. They face a Cincinnati team that leads the Big East in just about every offensive category.
The best matchup of the game is Pitt’s defense against Cincinnati’s vaunted passing offense, which is led by healthy quarterback Tony Pike and AFCA First Team All-American receiver Mardy Ginyard. Pike, despite missing three entire games, is still second in the Big East in passing yards. Ginyard is second in the conference with over 1,000 yards receiving already and nearly 100 yards per game along with being one of only two pass catchers in the conference with 10 touchdowns.
Pitt has a good offense, and Cincinnati has suspect defense, ranking near the bottom of the conference thanks to giving up nearly 350 yards of offense per game.
Bottom line, if you like offense you will like this game (are you reading this Loyal Homer?). Defenses may make a couple of big plays here and there, but the main story of the game revolves around which team will get the ball last.
Oh, and it is supposed to snow. Bonus! It will be interesting to see if the conditions will slow either team down. My seasoned gut says no.
This game has plenty going on the field and off it. It is also on at 12n, so it doesn’t conflict with the other more talked about games my colleagues are putting pen to paper about. As far as dramatic sports stories, it is hard to top all of the craziness and drama around this game. For on and off the field reasons, this is the best game of THIS weekend.