Rutgers and Cincinnati look like the teams Louisville needs to beat to win the Big East.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – An Orange Bowl scout was parked in a Big East football press box last weekend – and Papa John's Cardinal Stadium was closed for blocking and tackling.
Consider it another sign that the way the league was supposed to line up in August is not same formation everybody sees today. In August, the University of Louisville earned 24 of 28 first-place votes in a media poll. South Florida bragged getting about the other four.
If you arranged a follow-up poll today, my sense is Louisville, Cincinnati and Rutgers would split the first-place love, which explains why Michael Chavies, chairman of the Orange Bowl selection committee as well as a man with two degrees from Rutgers, was spotted at the Rutgers-Connecticut game Saturday, along with representatives of the Russell Athletic (don't ask me) and Liberty Bowls.
South Florida? Never mind South Florida. The Bulls have taken their annual November sabbatical several weeks early this season.
Why the mixed messages?
Part of it is a function of the Big East standings, parts a function of the scoreboard and parts a function of the schedule.
When U of L packs its alarm clocks and treks to Pittsburgh for its 11 a.m. game against the Panthers Saturday, the Cardinals will become the last of the 68 teams in a Bowl Championship Series league to play a conference game. Some SEC teams have played four league games. Louisville hasn't played any.
Unbeaten Rutgers has played a pair – and won them with gusto against USF and Connecticut. The Scarlet Knights rank in the Top 10 in five NCAA statistical categories, including rushing defense where they sit second at less than 61 yards per game.
No team has rushed for 100 yards against Rutgers this season. Jawan Jamison, Rutgers' sophomore halfback, has run for at least 110 yards every game.
No need to look it up. Nick Carparelli, Big East senior associate commissioner who cooks up the schedule, ensured his Christmas bonus check by arranging for Louisville to play at Rutgers Nov. 29, the final Thursday night of the Big East regular season.
Unlike two years ago when Charlie Strong took him team to Piscataway, N.J. and earned a bowl bid, this time the place should be packed. It nearly was Saturday when 50,870 showed up dressed in black to watch the Scarlet Knights stuff UConn, 19-3.
U of L vs. Rutgers will be the final game of the Rutgers, Cincinnati, Louisville round robin – with each program getting a home game as well as a road game in the series. Rutgers visits Cincinnati Nov. 17.
The Bearcats come to Louisville Friday Oct. 26. That will be the Big East's first prime-time moment – as long as Cincinnati survives (wink) Fordham and Toledo and Louisville dispatches Pitt and USF.
If Rutgers looks like the class of the Big East defensively, Cincinnati is the team you have to outscore. The Bearcats overtook Louisville as the league's top scoring offense by hanging 52 on Miami (Ohio) Saturday. They also rank first in rushing and total offense.
Cincinnati, not Rutgers, is ranked the best team in the Big East by Jeff Sagarin's computer formula, which lists the trio this way:
Cincinnati (29th in the nation), Rutgers (34th) and Louisville (44th).
"We lost to a better team," Miami coach Don Treadwell told Bill Koch of the Cincinnati Enquirer after the Bearcats' 52-14 victory. "They are very fast and very physical."
And very excited. Just like the folks at Rutgers, including Mr. Chavies, chairman of the Orange Bowl selection committee, who earned his undergraduate degree from Rutgers in 1971 and a law degree there three years later.
Steve Politi, columnist at the Star-Ledger newspaper in Newark, spotted Chavies on the Rutgers' sideline in his orange blazer after the UConn game and asked him the obvious question:
Would you enjoy returning in several months to hand Rutgers its first Orange Bowl invitation?
"Are you kidding me?" Chavies said. "A Rutgers' grad, in the year that I'm chair of the committee, to come here and give the bid to Rutgers?"
Apparently he wasn't kidding. In the second week of October, the Big East football race doesn't look the way it looked in August.