Two weeks remain in the regular season and six teams still retain hopes of at least a share of the BIG EAST championship, setting the stage for a figurative sprint for the conference title in the days ahead.
Pittsburgh finds itself in the best shape of the BIG EAST contenders. The Panthers could clinch no worse than a tie for the championship with a win against West Virginia Friday and would secure the outright title with two wins. But Connecticut and West Virginia still hold hopes of gaining the outright title as well, while those two join Syracuse, USF and Cincinnati as teams still in the championship picture should Pittsburgh stumble.
Pittsburgh maintained its lead with a 17-10 win against USF in Tampa as a 22-yard touchdown run by RB Dion Lewis in the fourth quarter made the difference. Lewis ran for 105 yards and a score, while QB Tino Sunseri was an efficient 11-for-16 for 142 yards and a touchdown to secure bowl eligibility for the Panthers.
The Bulls, who saw a three-game winning streak end, got a 45-yard touchdown run on a reverse by WR Terrence Mitchell.
Connecticut did the most to help its cause Saturday as the Huskies jumped ahead of Syracuse in the standings with a 23-6 win at the Carrier Dome. Connecticut got two touchdown runs from RB Jordan Todman and three feld goals by K Dave Teggart to pull away from Syracuse, which was unable to find the end zone. The Orange kept pace early thanks to a pair of field goals by K Ross Krautman, but Syracuse was able to reach the red zone just twice against a sturdy Connecticut defense.
The win put Connecticut a game behind Pittsburgh in the BIG EAST standings, while Syracuse completed the conference portion of its schedule. Syracuse became the first team in BIG EAST history to win all of its conference road games, but lose all of its BIG EAST home games in the same season.
West Virginia also moved into a share of second place with a 17-10 win against Louisville at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium. The Mountaineer defense was solid from start to finish as West Virginia limited the Cardinals to just nine first downs, 26 rushing yards and 171 total yards and did not allow an offensive touchdown. West Virginia remains the only team in the nation that has held every opponent to 21 points or fewer.
Cincinnati and Rutgers combined for a record-setting day at Nippert Stadium that saw the Bearcats stay alive for a piece of the BIG EAST championship. RB Isaiah Pead scored five touchdowns (four rushing, one receiving) to lead Cincinnati to a 69-38 win in the highest-scoring game in BIG EAST history.
The Bearcats held a 41-24 lead at halftime and held a 10-point lead after Rutgers scored on the first play of the second half. But Rutgers wasn’t able to keep pace with a Cincinnati offense that reeled off 661 yards and scored 10 touchdowns.
Pead rushed for 213 yards and four TDs on 31 carries and had two receptions for 36 yards and a touchdown. QB Zach Collaros completed 23 of 39 passes for 366 yards and four touchdowns.
Not to be outdone, Rutgers WR Mark Harrison had 10 receptions for 240 yards and a BIG EAST record-tying four touchdowns. QB Chas Dodd completed 19 of 29 passes for 335 yards and four TDs of his own.
This week’s schedule has two BIG EAST games Friday as Louisville visits Rutgers at 11 a.m. on ESPN2 as the Cardinals look to become bowl-eligible for the first time since 2006. West Virginia visits Pittsburgh at noon in the 103rd edition of the Backyard Brawl on ABC.
Saturday’s ledger has Cincinnati at Connecticut in the BIG EAST Network Game of the Week at noon. Syracuse will host Boston College and USF visits Miami (Fla.) at noon to complete the regular-season nonconference schedule.