As if Brian Kelly didn't have enough to worry about heading into Saturday's trip to No. 4 Oklahoma, now the Cincinnati coach has to carry the pride of a wounded conference along with him.
It was a bumpy first weekend for the Big East, as Louisville, Pittsburgh, Rutgers and Syracuse all dropped their season openers, with the Scarlet Knights and the Panthers losing to teams from a non-Bowl Championship Series conference.
Not that the winners were any more impressive, as the Bearcats, No. 8 West Virginia, No. 17 South Florida and Connecticut all opened their season with routs of overmatched Football Championship Subdivision (formerly I-AA) opponents.
``If Cincinnati went out there and got a win, that would do a lot for Cincinnati and a lot for our conference,'' Connecticut head coach Randy Edsall said.
Kelly balks at the idea of playing to restore the Big East's good name, but he knows playing the Sooners will give him a good idea of how far he's brought the program during his brief time on the job.
``This is a huge measuring stick for our program and our football team relative to where we stand in the progression toward the Big East championship,'' Kelly said. ``Certainly we cannot go to Norman, Okla., and lay an egg.''
If they do, the Big East won't get many more opportunities to prove itself against its fellow BCS brethren. Only a few nonconference games against BCS opponents remain before conference play begins. The Big East's best chances at redemption will come next weekend when South Florida hosts No. 14 Kansas and in October when the Mountaineers welcome No. 9 Auburn.
PITT NOT PANICKING: Pittsburgh coach Dave Wannstedt doesn't plan any major changes for the Panthers even after they blew a two-touchdown lead during a 27-17 loss to Bowling Green last weekend.
Instead, Wannstedt would prefer his team find a way to hold onto the ball, a talent that was in short supply during against the Falcons. Pittsburgh fumbled it away three times and quarterback Bill Stull added an interception while trying to rally the Panthers late.
``If we turn the ball over 3-4 times this week, we probably won't win this week either,'' Wannstedt said.
Finding ways to make big plays would help. Pittsburgh's longest gain against the Falcons was a 27-yard run by LaRod Stephens-Howling and Stull needed 29 completions to throw for 264 yards.
``You're not going to score a lot of points doing that,'' said Wannstedt, who pointed to the relative youth on the offensive line and Stull's inexperience as factors. ``We've definitely got to score more than 17 points to beat anybody, in particular with some of these spread teams. Scoring has gone up significantly these last few years. When we get opportunities to score points we have to.''
PASS-HAPPY WHITE: Bill Stewart wasn't kidding when he said he expected Pat White to become just as capable with his arm as he is with his legs.
The West Virginia quarterback completed 25-of-33 passes for 208 yards and a career-high five touchdowns during the Mountaineers' 48-21 win over Villanova. Stewart said throwing that many times wasn't in the game plan, but added that Villanova's decision to stack nine men near the line of scrimmage and dare White to throw forced his hand.
``We just kept telling them 'Guys, they're loading the box so we're going to keep throwing,''' Stewart said. ``I thought (the offensive line) played well. We played a lot of people because we know it's going to be a long season.''
White may have to go to the air again on Saturday when the Mountaineers play at East Carolina. West Virginia had to slog its way to victory in a 27-10 win on the road in 2006.
``It was a very tough day because the Pirates played so well and we were very fortunate to get out of there with a win, very, very fortunate,'' he said. ``Patrick didn't play his best game. He couldn't break free. After a while you get tired if you don't break tackles and things.''
SILVER LINING FOR LOUISVILLE: As bad as Louisville's offense looked during a dismal 27-2 loss to Kentucky, coach Steve Kragthorpe said he was encouraged by the play of his defense.
One of the worst units in the country a year ago, the Cardinals gave up just 210 yards against the Wildcats and the linebacking trio of Antwon Canady, Dexter Heyman and Jon Dempsey won high praise from their coach.
``The way they stepped up, we put linebackers on the field that had never taken a snap here and the three starters weren't even here for spring practice,'' Kragthorpe said. ``Overall I think the young guys did a pretty good job and performed pretty well.''
HONORS: Cincinnati quarterback Dustin Grutza looks ready to pick up where Ben Mauk left off.
The senior was named Big East offensive player of the week after throwing for a career-high 296 yards and three touchdowns in Cincinnati's 40-7 win over Eastern Kentucky. He added 33 yards rushing and a touchdown on the ground. The game marked Grutza's return to the starting lineup after giving up his spot to Ben Mauk last season.
West Virginia linebacker Mortty Ivy was named defensive player of the week after returning an interception 29 yards for a score and adding a 30-yard fumble return in the win over Villanova. Ivy also recorded five tackles and one sack.
West Virginia kicker Pat McAfee was special teams player of the week after nailing two field goals - including a 52-yarder - and averaging 42.5 yards on two punts.

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