WVU-Cincinnati

Cincinnati, OH – Backup quarterback Zach Collaros helped set a Cincinnati record for total offense, but he might not get a chance to lead the fifth-ranked Bearcats to the first 10-0 start in school history.

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Despite wavering after Collaros' brilliant performance Saturday, coach Brian Kelly has anointed Tony Pike the starter - as long as he's healthy - as the Bearcats continue their pursuit of a spot in the BCS title game Friday night against visiting West Virginia.

Oddsmakers from online sports book SPORTSBETTING.com have made Cincinnati -9.5 point spread favorites (View College Football odds) for Friday’s game (Game Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 57% of bets for this game have been placed on Cincinnati -9.5 (View College Football bet percentages).

After Pike led Cincinnati to the Big East title and the Orange Bowl last season, the senior threw 15 touchdown passes and just three interceptions in six starts this year to help the Bearcats (9-0, 5-0 Big East) to six relatively comfortable victories.

But after Pike reinjured his previously broken non-throwing forearm against then-No. 21 South Florida on Oct. 15, Collaros added a new dimension to Cincinnati's spread, no-huddle offense by running for 132 yards and two touchdowns on 10 carries in the 34-17 win.

In three starts since then, Collaros has shown he can also throw very effectively, going 66 for 82 for 1,028 yards and eight touchdowns without an interception.

The sophomore keyed Cincinnati racking up a school-record 711 total yards in Saturday's 47-45 win over Connecticut, after which Kelly said he was no longer committed to Pike as a starter. Collaros threw for 480 yards and a touchdown and ran for 75 yards and two scores.

"He's made it hard," Kelly said. "OK, I've changed my mind based on the way he's played the last three games. I think I have to reconsider my decision."

The coach switched his stance again Monday, however, saying Pike still had the job as soon as he's fully healthy.

"I re-examined it," Kelly said. "I was dead serious. I went back and thought about clearly the pluses and minuses - a lot of pluses with both guys. After careful consideration, Tony's our guy."

Pike returned to practice with a new splint last week and is expected to participate again this week, meaning he could return Friday.

"The issue is, this becomes day to day," Kelly said. "There's X-rays and so much that's out of my hands medically. And the risk factor - what's the risk factor in putting him out there?"

The nation's third-ranked offense has been the primary reason why Cincinnati remains in the national championship conversation and has a chance for the best start in the program's history. The 1951 team also began 9-0 but lost its 10th game.

The Bearcats also need to keep winning in order to defend their conference title, as they remain tied with Pittsburgh atop the Big East, but they may need to tighten their defense after the unit's worst performance of the season.

UConn scored more points than Cincinnati's previous three opponents combined, including 21 in the fourth quarter to narrow the deficit. The Huskies ran for 201 yards and four touchdowns.

That could be a problem if West Virginia is able to use star running back Noel Devine, one of 16 players nationally who has topped 1,000 yards rushing.

Devine injured his ankle in a 17-9 win over Louisville on Saturday, forcing the Mountaineers (7-2, 3-1) to rely on defense to outlast the Cardinals. Quarterback Jarrett Brown suffered a similar injury in the game, but West Virginia coach Bill Stewart said he's optimistic both players will play this week.

"They both should be ready," Stewart said. "Jarrett should be ready quicker than Noel; I don't know if Noel will play or not. He should if treatments go well."

The bigger challenge for the Mountaineers, however, will likely be slowing down a Cincinnati offense which Stewart has called a "juggernaut." A pair of opponents have already totaled at least 300 yards through the air against West Virginia, which must win this game to maintain any shot at the conference title.

"There are probably a lot of people that aren't going to give us a chance," Stewart said. "We'll probably be 20-30 point underdogs."

Stewart said Sunday he expected to be facing Collaros, even commending Kelly on the decision after hearing his comments following the UConn game.

"I compliment Brian because that takes a lot of guts," Stewart said. "Right now, I don't know how you can take (Collaros) out. I just think the guy has such a hot hand, it would be difficult to take him out."

The Mountaineers will have some positive history on their side. They were the last team to win at Nippert Stadium, 28-23 over then-No. 21 Cincinnati on Nov. 17, 2007, when West Virginia was ranked fifth.

The Bearcats have won 11 in a row at home, and they won 26-23 at West Virginia last Nov. 8 even though their offense was held to 260 yards - its lowest total in the last two seasons.

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Posted: 11/10/09 1:03PM ET

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