Crucial conference battles over weekend

By Jay Huerbin

The No. 24 Pittsburgh Panthers are off this week as they prepare to take on Navy next Saturday… The No. 24 Pittsburgh Panthers are off this week as they prepare to take on Navy next Saturday afternoon in Annapolis. No. 19 South Florida and Connecticut also have byes this week. That means only five Big East teams are on the gridiron this weekend, including two conference games. With Big East play in full swing, this is the time for programs to jockey for wins and conference positioning. Here are some previews for the Big East games over the weekend. Louisville at Memphis The first Big East team to see action this weekend will be the Louisville Cardinals (2-2, 0-1 Big East), as they travel to Memphis tonight to take on Conference USA opponent Memphis (3-3, 1-2 C-USA). Senior quarterback Hunter Cantwell powers the Cardinals’ offense, which looks to rebound following its 26-21 loss to Connecticut two weeks ago. For the Tigers, junior running back Curtis Steele, whose 578 yards put him third in the conference in rushing yards, should see most of the action. Memphis started the season 0-3 but has since found success, winning three in a row. Louisville will play Middle Tennessee next week, before finishing off the season with six consecutive games against Big East opponents. Syracuse at West Virginia In the first of two Big East matches this weekend, West Virginia (3-2, 1-0 Big East) will host a struggling Syracuse team (1-4, 0-1 Big East) on Saturday at noon. The Mountaineers, who suffered two consecutive losses a few weeks into the season, have rebounded with two wins in a row. Senior quarterback Pat White, who leads the conference in rushing yards by a quarterback, is responsible for much of the turnaround. White has 428 rushing yards through five games, only 26 behind running back Noel Devine for the team lead. White suffered a head injury in last week’s 24-17 victory over Rutgers, but coach Bill Stewart said he should be fine for this game. For Syracuse, defensive problems have plagued a team that has given up an average of more than 30 points per game. Tailback Curtis Brinkley paces the Orange offensive attack, with 477 yards on the ground. Rutgers at Cincinnati The Rutgers Scarlet Knights (1-4, 0-1 Big East) travel to Cincinnati on Saturday to take on a Bearcats (4-1, 0-0 Big East) team that is looking to kick off Big East play with a win. Cincinnati has lost only one game this year: a 52-26 defeat to then No. 4 Oklahoma, now the top team in the country. It bounced back to win three straight contests after that loss and is the last team to start conference play. After suffering injuries to the quarterbacks Dustin Grutza and Tony Pike so far this year, the Bearcats have turned to redshirt freshman Chazz Anderson to lead the team. Anderson started the last game against Marshall and threw two touchdowns and ran for another. Rutgers is still searching for an identity. Senior quarterback Mike Teel still anchors the offense for the Scarlet Knights, who have gotten off to a poor start in 2008. Receiver Kenny Britt already has 33 catches this season but has yet to record a touchdown.