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Conference Title Races Heat Up

by Mike Mitchell
10/31/06

The Big East game everyone has been waiting for has finally arrived. West Virginia invades Louisville's Papa John's Stadium on Thursday night for a nationally televised showdown on ESPN between two of the nation's six remaining undefeated teams.

Kicked to the curb after Boston College, Miami and Virginia Tech left for the ACC, the Big East has resurrected its stature in a very short time. With Rutgers at 8-0, and Louisville and West Virginia at 7-0, the conference has three of the teams on the unbeaten list. The BCS Standings have Louisville in 5th and West Virginia in 3rd. The CCR Top 119 has Louisville ranked 3rd and West Virginia at No. 4.

The winner of this game clearly has a shot at the national championship. Only Ohio State and Michigan stand above West Virginia and they play each other on November 18.

Last year, West Virginia made up a 17-point fourth-quarter deficit to take Louisville to triple-overtime where the Mountaineers prevailed 46-44 when the Cards failed to convert a two-point conversion. The Mountaineers went on to capture the Big East title, beat Georgia in the Sugar Bowl, and have now won 14 straight games.

Louisville has won 12 straight regular season games since the West Virginia loss with its only defeat coming against Virginia Tech, 35-24 in last year's Gator Bowl. The Cards haven't lost a home game since November 15, 2003 - a string of 15 victories.

Noted for offense, Louisville averaged 46.58 points over the 24 games played in 2004 and 2005. scoring over 50 points 11 times and more than 40 points on 17 occasions. At home, they scored at least 40 points in 10 of their 11 contests played during that span.

This year, they've slipped to 38.71 points per game and have only topped 40 points once in their last four outings. Some of that can be chalked up to stiffer competition. The loss of RB Michael Bush, and the absence of QB Brian Brohm for a couple of games, have also been contributing factors. But even with the return of Brohm at QB, Louisville has scored a total of just 51 points in two games against Cincinnati and Syracuse.

Only one team has scored more than 17 points on West Virginia all year and that was back on September 14 against Maryland. The Mountaineers lead the nation in rushing with 319 yards per game, 120 more than their nearest Big East challenger. Individually, RB Steve Slaton is third in the nation and leads the Big East with 151.3 ypg, giving him a slight edge over Rutgers' Ray Rice. QB Pat White is the teams' second-leading rusher with 88.4 yards per game.

Defensively, Louisville is 7th in the nation in points allowed and West Virginia is 8th.

(Also See: Is It In The Cards?)

The ACC has a major battle this weekend between two of the three Atlantic Division co-leaders as No. 16 Boston College and No. 24 Wake Forest battle it out in Winston-Salem. Each is 3-1 in the conference and 7-1 over-all.

Another important Atlantic Division battle features Maryland at Clemson. The Terrapins are also 3-1 in the conference but 6-2 over-all. The Tigers are 4-2 in the ACC and 7-2 over-all.

Meanwhile, the Coastal Division gives us Virginia Tech (6-2, 3-2) at Miami (5-3, 2-2). The winner needs Georgia Tech (6-2, 4-1) to lose two conference games for either team to even have a shot at a conference title berth. The Hokies and 'Canes are a loss behind the Yellow Jackets which have already defeated both schools.

In the Big 12, North Division co-leaders Missouri (3-2, 7-2) and Nebraska (3-2, 6-3) go toe-to-toe in Lincoln. Both schools are coming off losses last week when the Tigers fell 26-10 to Oklahoma, and Nebraska was upset 41-29 at Oklahoma State. Missouri has won two of the last three meetings after Nebraska won 24 straight from 1979-2002.

The Cowboys (5-3, 2-2) will go for an even bigger upset this week when they travel to Austin to meet Texas (8-1, 5-0) in a key South Division match.

Also in the South Division, No. 20 Oklahoma (6-2, 3-1) visits No. 22 Texas A&M (8-1, 4-1). If the Aggies and Texas keep winning, their season-ending rivalry game would determine the division champ.

The top two teams in CUSA's West Division square-off as Tulsa (4-0, 7-1) visits Houston (4-1, 6-3). A win by the Golden Hurricane would give them a 2-game separation over everyone else in the division. A Houston win would give the Cougars the inside track to the conference title game.

Arkansas (7-1, 4-0 West) puts its perfect SEC record on the line at South Carolina (5-3, 3-3 East).

No. 14 LSU (6-2, 2-2 West) visits No. 18 Tennessee (7-1, 3-1 East) in another major SEC battle. The Vols need a win to keep East Division leader Florida in sight. Tennessee and the Gators each have one conference loss, but Florida holds the tie-breaker between the two schools with its win over the Volunteers earlier in the season. The Tigers are playing for bowl position as they sit two games behind Arkansas in the West Division.

With USC's loss to Oregon State last Saturday, this week's California-UCLA game takes on a whole different meaning. The Golden Bears (7-1, 5-0) control their own destiny to the PAC-10 title as the only school with an unblemished conference record. Cal was co-champ in 1975 with UCLA, but has never won an outright title in the conference's 48-year existence.

The Bruins, meanwhile, are just 4-4 over-all and 2-3 in the conference. They need two more wins just to become bowl-eligible, and that won't be an easy task. UCLA still has Oregon State, Arizona State and USC on the schedule.

USC can get back in the PAC-10 title picture with a win over California at home on November 18. The Trojans visit Stanford this week before hosting Oregon next Saturday.

How did Fresno State (1-6, 1-2) suddenly become so horrible. After beating Boise State on November 10 last year, the Bulldogs were 8-1. The following week, they had USC on the ropes before falling 50-42. Beginning with that defeat, Fresno State has won just 1 of its last 11 games.

The Bulldogs started the year with a victory over WAC heavyweight Nevada, but have now lost six straight games. Their last two losses, to Hawaii and LSU, have been by 31 and 32 points.

Wednesday night, they journey to Boise State (8-0, 4-0) where no WAC team has ever beaten the Broncos. Boise State is one of the remaining six undefeated teams and there is no logical reason to expect that record to get blemished this week.

UNBEATEN TEAMS
Six teams enter the week with unblemished records - Boise State, Louisville, Michigan, Ohio State, Rutgers and West Virginia. There will be at least one casualty as Louisville and West Virginia face-off in Louisville on Thursday night.

Last year, there were five undefeated teams at this point of the season.

Thirteen teams enter this week with just one loss. There were twelve at this point last year.

WINLESS TEAMS
Three schools are still looking for their first win - Duke, FIU, and Stanford.

Four teams were still winless at this time last year.

POISONED CUPCAKES
Only 1 team plays a 1-AA school this week as Mississippi entertains Northwestern State (La.). The Demons, out of Natchitoches, are playing their third 1-A opponent this season. They lost 49-18 to Kansas on opening weekend, and 47-10 to Baylor the following week.

Last week, Cal-Poly beat San Diego State to give 1-AA schools their 7th win of the year against 1-A competition. They are 7-69 on the season. Since the start of the 2003 campaign, 1-A teams hold the upper hand by a huge margin, 233-25 (.903).

Over 75 schools took the opportunity of a 12th game to schedule a cupcake opponent.

STREAKS
Ohio State has won 16 straight games.

West Virginia has won 14 straight games.

Boise State has won 34 consecutive regular season home games. The Broncos have never lost a home game to a WAC opponent (22-0). Boise State has won 10 straight regular season games.

USC has won 30 consecutive home games.

Texas has won 20 straight conference games. The Longhorns have also won 17 straight road games.

Louisville has won 12 straight regular season games.

Duke owns the nation's longest losing streak at 16 games over-all. The Blue Devils have also lost 18 straight to 1-A teams.

Temple had lost 20 straight before beating Bowling Green 28-14 on Saturday.

Stanford has lost 10 straight games over-all.

New Mexico State has lost 19 straight to 1-A teams.

NEW COACHES
The 2006 season introduces 11 coaching changes. We're tracking their progress throughout the season.

Boise State, 8-0 under Chris Petersen, hosts Fresno State.
Wisconsin, 8-1 under Bret Bielema, hosts Penn State.
Middle Tennessee, 5-3 under Rick Stockstill, hosts FAU.
Kansas State, 5-4 under Ron Prince, visits Colorado.
Idaho, 4-5 under Dennis Erickson, hosts Nevada.
Rice, 3-5 under Todd Graham, visits UTEP.
Northwestern, 2-7 under Pat Fitzgerald, visits Iowa.
San Diego State, 1-6 under Chuck Long, visits Wyoming.
Buffalo, 1-7 with Turner Gill, hosts Kent State.
Colorado, 1-8 under Dan Hawkins, hosts Kansas State.
Temple, 1-8 under Al Golden, hosts Central Michigan.