The BIG EAST race became a bit more interesting this week.
Just a week ago, Pittsburgh held a two-game cushion in the loss column against the other BIG EAST teams. But Connecticut’s 30-28 win against the Panthers Thursday kept championship hopes alive for every member of the conference.
With just one BIG EAST loss, Pittsburgh obviously remains in the best position down the stretch. If the Panthers win their last three BIG EAST games, they would win the outright conference title and play in a Bowl Championship Series game. But USF and West Virginia suddenly have control of their own situations, at least as far as the conference title is concerned. USF and West Virginia can both clinch at least a share of the BIG EAST championship by winning out.
The other five BIG EAST teams would need help from other league members to get a share of the title, but the BIG EAST stands as the only conference in the nation in which every team is mathematically alive for a piece of the champioship.
Connecticut kept the door open for the rest of the BIG EAST with a solid win against Pittsburgh at Rentschler Field. The Huskies were led by a career day from standout RB Jordan Todman, who went for a career-high 222 yards on 37 carries. Todman was instrumental on the Huskies’ last drive of the game, as Connecticut ran out the final 4:29 thanks to a pair of fourth-down conversions.
The Huskies also got a 95-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by WR Nick Williams and two touchdown passes by QB Zach Frazer. Pittsburgh was undone by three turnovers, which offset an otherwise sound effort by QB Tino Sunseri, who threw for 220 yards and a touchdown.
While Pittsburgh was denied in its first bid at bowl eligibility this season, three BIG EAST teams became available for postseason play Saturday. USF scored a 24-21 overtime win at Louisville, West Virginia was a 37-10 winner against Cincinnati and Syracuse edged Rutgers 13-10.
The Bulls trailed Louisville 14-3 late in the second quarter, but got a spark on a 100-yard kickoff return from RB Lindsey Lamar to set the stage for a thrilling finish. Louisville forced overtime on a 10-yard touchdown pass from QB Justin Burke to WR Josh Bellamy, and the Cardinals threatened to take the lead in OT when they advanced to the USF 4-yard line. But USF LB Mike Lanaris came up with a key stop on fourth-and-1 to deny the Cardinals, allowing K Maikon Bonani to win it for the Bulls in overtime.
RB Demetris Murray ran for 106 yards for the Bulls, who have won three straight. Louisville fell despite three touchdown passes from Burke and a 140-yard day from RB Bilal Powell.
West Virginia joined the bowl-eligible ranks as well with a 37-10 win against Cincinnati at Milan Puskar Stadium. The Mountaineers, who had dropped two straight entering the game, reeled off the first 30 points against the Bearcats to win comfortably.
QB Geno Smith threw four first-half touchdown passes — two each to WR Jock Sanders and WR Tavon Austin — while RB Noel Devine ran for 77 yards and a TD on 18 carries. The Mountaineer defense, meanwhile, limited the potent Cincinnati offense to just 10 points and held Bearcat QB Zach Collaros without a touchdown pass for the first time in Collaros’ career as a starter.
Syracuse capped the day by rallying for a 13-10 win at Rutgers, becoming bowl-eligible for the first time since 2004. The Orange, who also clinched their first winning season since 2001, trailed 10-7 late in the third quarter, but got a pair of field goals from K Ross Krautman to win.
Rutgers, which has lost three straight, was led by WR Jeremy Deering, who rushed for 166 yards and a touchdown on 29 carries from the wildcat formation.