Top-25 showdowns, longstanding rivalries, intriguing road trips, new head coaches and a stadium enhancement dot the BIG EAST landscape as the 2010 college football season begins.
If there’s a marquee matchup in Week 1, it takes place Thursday night as Pittsburgh heads to Utah for one of three games nationally between teams in the USA Today preseason top 25. The Panthers, who went 10-3 last season and won the Meineke Car Care Bowl, enter as the No. 15 team in the national poll, while Utah comes in at No. 24, was likewise 10-3 following a Poinsettia Bowl win against California. The 8:30 p.m. Eastern game will be televised on Versus.
Thursday’s other game has Rutgers welcoming Norfolk State to Rutgers Stadium for a 7:30 p.m. kickoff. The Scarlet Knights, who have averaged nine wins in the last four years, begin their quest for a fifth consecutive bowl victory in 2010.
Saturday’s BIG EAST slate begins at 3:30 p.m. Eastern with a pair of ABC telecasts. Connecticut, which won its last four games of 2009, will play in front of the largest crowd it has seen when the Huskies visit Michigan. It will be the first meeting between the schools, though Connecticut has won both of its previous games against Big Ten opponents.
While Connecticut and Michigan meet for the first time, Louisville and Kentucky renew acquaintances for the 22nd time when the Bluegrass State rivals meet for the Governor’s Cup. That game will feature a pair of first-year head coaches in Louisville’s Charlie Strong — the former defensive coordinator at Florida — and Kentucky’s Joker Phillips, who had been an assistant in Lexington. The Governor’s Cup game will mark the debut of the expanded Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium, which now boasts a seating capacity of 56,000.
Cincinnati, which has won 18 consecutive regular-season games, also introduces a new head coach when Butch Jones takes the Bearcats to California to face Fresno State (10 p.m., ESPN2). Cincinnati has won the last two outright BIG EAST titles and looks to become the first team since 2003 (Miami) to win three straight.
Syracuse also hits the road in Week 1 as the Orange visit Akron at 6 p.m. on ESPN3.com. The Orange look to return to the postseason for the first time since 2004 and bring one of the better returning defenses in the BIG EAST into the 2010 season.
West Virginia and USF open at home against Championship Subdivision opponents Saturday as the Mountaineers take on Coastal Carolina and the Bulls welcome Stony Brook to Raymond James Stadium. West Virginia went 7-0 at home in 2009, while USF looks to get out of the gate on a strong note once again. The Bulls have started each of the last three seasons with at least five wins and hope to keep that going under new head coach Skip Holtz.