COLLEGE FB NOTEBOOK: Championship chase still murky in crowded Big East Print
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Wednesday, 14 November 2007 12:23
NCAAF Headline News

 Cincinnati coach Brian Kelly said he knew two things about the Big East when he came to the Bearcats last year: that it was the most balanced of the Bowl Championship Series conferences, and that the road to the league title went through West Virginia.
Kelly may be right on both counts - the 21st-ranked Bearcats (8-2, 3-2 Big East) host the fifth-ranked Mountaineers (8-1, 3-1) on Saturday in Cincinnati's biggest game in memory - but the road to the conference crown could take plenty of detours between now and the end of the regular season.
If the Bearcats or No. 25 Connecticut (8-2, 4-1) win the Big East, it would make the fourth league champion in as many years.
It's a far cry from the days when Miami (Fla.) and Virginia Tech ruled the conference before bolting for the ACC after the 2003 season.
``There was a kind of pecking order for people that were up there, people in the middle, and people down below,'' Connecticut coach Randy Edsall said. ``Now we have a bunch of people just grouped in there.
``It's a seven-round championship fight where you have to slug it out. The people who win it are the people who withstand the rigors and punches and body blows.''
Only Connecticut and West Virginia control their own destiny in the title race. The teams meet in Morgantown on Nov. 24.
If both teams stumble down the stretch, however, the conference could find itself with a repeat of 2004. Four teams tied for the league title with a 4-2 conference record that year, with Pittsburgh receiving the BCS bid on a tiebreaker.
The bowl picture, like the championship chase, is equally messy.
Five teams are already bowl eligible, and both Louisville and Pittsburgh could reach the six-win plateau before the season is over.
But six wins won't guarantee a bowl bid. Last year, Pittsburgh stayed home despite finishing 6-6.
Louisville center Eric Wood figures seven is the magic number to ensure the Cardinals make their 10th straight bowl appearance. Louisville (5-5, 2-3) plays at South Florida (7-3, 2-3) on Saturday and hosts Rutgers (6-4, 2-3) to end the season.
``I know personally I don't want to be on the team that breaks the bowl streak,'' Wood said. ``We win seven games this year, we should get a bowl game. We put ourselves in a tough situation. We've got our backs against the wall, but we've just got to come out fighting these last two games, try to salvage the season and put a good spin on the end of the season.''
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NO SCHEDULE REMORSE: West Virginia coach Rich Rodriguez isn't worried that the Mountaineers' out of conference schedule could cost them a shot at the national title.
West Virginia was sixth in the latest BCS standings, trailing undefeated Kansas and four other one-loss teams. Leapfrogging the competition to make it to the national championship game would take more than a little luck, but Rodriguez said he doesn't regret the team's schedule, most of which was made up years in advance.
West Virginia has just two victories over teams from other BCS conferences - Maryland and Mississippi State - and three wins against lesser foes.
``People thought you know, we play Mississippi State, but it turns out they're a good team,'' Rodriguez said. ``They beat Auburn and Alabama and they're going to a bowl. ... A lot of these schedules, you make them four or five years in advance, you're not sure how it's going to shake out.''
Besides, given the unpredictable nature of the season, Rodriguez hasn't counted the Mountaineers out of anything yet.
``When we lost to South Florida, the only goal I told our team we couldn't achieve was an undefeated season,'' he said. ``There's still a lot out there for us.''
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NO KICKS: Cincinnati heads into its biggest game of the season unsure of its kicker.
Freshman Jake Rogers missed an extra-point attempt in the first quarter of a 27-3 victory over Connecticut on Saturday, prompting Kelly to bench him for the rest of the game. Inexperienced junior Brandon Yingling kicked the last two extra points.
Kelly decided to let the two of them compete for the job this week heading into a game against West Virginia that will go a long way toward deciding the Big East title.
It's a little unsettling not to have a reliable kicker heading into a game that could be decided by one try.
``We don't, and we're going to have to live with the circumstances,'' Kelly said.
Rogers was benched during a season-opening win over Southeast Missouri State, when he missed two extra-point attempts. Yingling finished the game, going 4-for-5 on extra-point tries. Rogers also has been inconsistent on field goals, going 8-for-15 with one blocked.
Yingling's lack of experience could be a problem.
``Brandon hasn't been in that situation,'' Kelly said. ``We may have to put him in that situation.''
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HONORS: Pat White's stellar day against the Cardinals helped him win the offensive player of the week award for the second time this season and the seventh time in his career. White had 328 yards of total offense, including a 50-yard touchdown run with 1:36 remaining, in the victory.
West Virginia safety Eric Wicks was the defensive player of the week. Wicks had a 44-yard fumble return for a touchdown in the win over Louisville, and later added an interception.
Rutgers kicker Jeremy Ito was the special teams player of the week after making two field goals and five extra points in a win over Army. Ito became the conference's leader in career points with 374, passing Virginia Tech kicker Shayne Graham, who had 371 points from 1996-99.
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AP Sports Writer Joe Kay in Cincinnati contributed to this report.
 

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