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NATIONAL PREVIEW

Five points

September 01, 2007|Diane Pucin

* Scheduling is everything, that's what they say about the Big East. So it is that a conference built for basketball and that embraces Thursday night games might offer the most-hyped football game of this season. It seems very possible that its top two teams -- West Virginia and Louisville -- will be unbeaten when they play Thursday, Nov. 8, at Morgantown, W.Va. West Virginia has loaded its nonconference schedule with the likes of Western Michigan and Marshall. Louisville has Murray State, Middle Tennessee State and Utah. Still, the last two years the Mountaineers and Cardinals have provided entertaining games. In 2005, West Virginia won in triple overtime, 46-44. Last year, Louisville gave West Virginia its first loss of the season, 44-34.

* But what about Rutgers? Well, the Scarlet Knights have a Heisman Trophy candidate in running back Ray Rice, and that has never happened. The Scarlet Knights are coming off an 11-2 season, and that has never happened. The Scarlet Knights are coming off two consecutive bowl game appearances, and that has never happened, either. Opening with Buffalo, Navy and Norfolk State should give the Scarlet Knights confidence, and having three of their first four conference games at home should give the Scarlet Knights a good running start into their Oct. 27 home game against West Virginia. Rutgers lost, 41-39, in triple overtime at West Virginia in December, a loss that kept the Scarlet Knights out of a Bowl Championship Series game. Payback will be mentioned.

* Bobby Petrino left Louisville for the NFL after having made the Cardinals a hot ticket at home. Petrino left new Coach Steve Kragthorpe with a foaming fan base that has high expectations and a Heisman hopeful in quarterback Brian Brohm, who passed for 3,049 yards and 16 touchdowns last season.

* If three top teams aren't enough, South Florida is looking like a national rankings and bowl game contender. The Bulls have 16 of 22 starters back from a 9-4 team that beat West Virginia and a star in the making in sophomore quarterback Matt Grothe. Coach Jim Leavitt loves running a no-huddle, spread-formation offense that helped lure star high school running back Mike Ford to Tampa.

* Need more proof that the Big East now matters in football? Rutgers Coach Greg Schiano turned down a big-bucks offer from Miami and West Virginia's Rich Rodriguez spurned Alabama, signaling a belief he can win national titles in Morgantown. Rice and Brohm aren't the only Heisman candidates back east, either. Rodriguez has two -- quarterback Pat White and tailback Steve Slaton -- so why leave?

-- Diane Pucin

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Quick facts

* AP preseason top 25: No. 3 West Virginia, No. 10 Louisville, No. 16 Rutgers.

* AP final 2006 rankings: No. 6 Louisville, No. 10 West Virginia, No. 12 Rutgers.

* 2007 conference projection: 1. West Virginia (11-2 overall, 5-2 in the Big East in 2006). 2. Louisville (12-1, 6-1). 3. Rutgers (11-2, 5-2). 4. South Florida (9-4, 4-3). 5. Cincinnati (8-5, 4-3). 6. Pittsburgh (6-6, 2-5). 7. Connecticut (4-8, 1-6). 8. Syracuse (4-8, 1-6).

* 2006-07 bowl record: 5-0.

* Last season vs. Pac-10: no meetings.

* This season vs. Pac-10: Aug. 31, Washington 42, Syracuse 12.

* Fast fact: Before Friday night, Big East teams had a 17-game winning streak in nonconference games. Last season, its record was 37-8 -- the best nonconference winning percentage in the 16-year history of the Big East. Included was a 14-7 mark against teams from other BCS conferences.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

* Brian Brohm, Sr., QB, Louisville, passed for 3,049 yards and will be a Heisman contender if he and the Cardinals match last season's performance.

* Eric Foster, Sr., DT, Rutgers, a first-team All-American, he had 51 tackles, including six sacks, last season.

* Ray Rice, Jr., RB, Rutgers, coming off a season in which he had 1,794 yards rushing and 20 touchdowns.

* Steve Slaton, Jr., RB, West Virginia, ran for 1,744 yards and 16 scores as a sophomore.

* Patrick White, Jr., QB, West Virginia, passed for 1,655 yards and ran for 1,219 yards and 18 touchdowns.

-- Eric Maddy

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