MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) -Preparing for Cincinnati meant No. 20 West Virginia had to figure out which of four Bearcats' quarterbacks might be on the field the longest.
Cincinnati isn't exactly sure, either.
Still-mending Tony Pike is expected to get his third straight start for the Bearcats (6-2, 2-1 Big East) against first-place West Virginia (6-2, 3-0) on Saturday night. How long he'll stick around will be the latest turn on Cincinnati's QB carousel.
Pike hasn't played a full game since returning from injury on Oct. 25. With a plate and six screws in his surgically repaired left forearm, still can't take direct snaps and might not last long if he takes a pounding.
Yet he's the starter on the depth chart because Dustin Grutza isn't ready to return from a broken leg. Grutza has missed two months and resumed practicing last week, but coach Brian Kelly believes Grutza might be a week away from playing.
Numbness in his left hand sent Pike to the sidelines after one half in a loss at Connecticut two weeks ago. In a 24-10 win over South Florida, he remained in the game until the middle of the fourth quarter.
``We feel as though we are moving in the right direction,'' Kelly said. ``Obviously, this becomes a good situation if we have both Grutza and Pike healthy. Then I have a lot easier decisions to make.''
Starter No. 3 Chazz Anderson, who led Cincinnati to wins over Marshall and Rutgers when Pike was out, has a sore knee and is available only in an emergency. That leaves fourth stringer Zach Collaros as Pike's likely backup. Collaros finished out the South Florida win after Pike's left arm was jarred by a direct snap.
West Virginia coach Bill Stewart pities Kelly's predicament.
``I don't know what I'd do,'' Stewart said, adding, ``I don't know who's going to play.''
Stewart concedes that Cincinnati is still ``going to be very difficult to contain.''
Since returning, Pike has completed 30-of-55 passes for 417 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions. The Bearcats have two of the Big East's top receivers in Mardy Gilyard and Dominick Goodman and lead the conference at 261 passing yards per game.
alf interceptions and recovered a fumble, part of five takeaways by the Mountaineers.
``He's a tenacious little man and if the ball is in the air, he goes and gets it,'' Stewart said.
While West Virginia is unsure what to expect from Cincinnati's offense, the Bearcats know what's coming.
A year ago Pat White ran a career-high 27 times for 155 yards and threw for 140 more as the Mountaineers knocked Cincinnati out of the conference race, 28-23. He is looking to go 4-0 against the Bearcats.
First, he'll have to get off to a better start. West Virginia has trailed at halftime the last two games.
``Yeah, I'd definitely like to see us become explosive in the first half like we have been doing in the second half,'' White said.
The Mountaineers, seeking their third BCS bowl berth in four seasons, can take a two-game lead in the standings with a win combined with a Pittsburgh loss to Louisville. Cincinnati can forge a first-place tie with West Virginia with a win.
Special teams should help decide the outcome.
West Virginia ranks last in the 119-team FBS, allowing nearly 30 yards per kick return. Both team's punters are in the top 10 nationally in punt average. And Cincinnati has the league's top kick return team.
``Field position this week will be absolutely colossal,'' Stewart said.

NCAAF Team Pages

Recent NCAAF Discussions