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What to watch in the Big East: Week 7

1. Conference play in full swing: Last week, half the league got started in Big East play. This week, the other half gets going, and the slate features two pretty good rivalry games -- South Florida vs. West Virginia and Cincinnati vs. Louisville in the Keg of Nails battle. By Saturday night, we'll have better understanding of who the real contenders are for the conference crown.

2. Is Syracuse for real?: I had the Orange at No. 2 in my Big East power rankings this week but did so hesitatingly. They are 4-1 with a conference road win, but there is still some doubt about Syracuse because of its schedule. This week's home game against preseason favorite Pittsburgh should answer those questions. If the Orange can win this game, then they likely will be a factor in the race all season.

3. Can Pittsburgh get going?: The Panthers showed small signs of progress in a loss at Notre Dame, but the fact remains that they are 2-3 and haven't put together a complete game against a good opponent. Pitt fans hold out hope this team can figure things out and still make a run in the conference after playing a very difficult out-of-league schedule. We'll see just how possible that idea is when the Panthers open up Big East play in what figures to be a pretty hostile work environment.

4. Louisville's running game vs. the Cincinnati defense: Which seemed less likely before the season: that Louisville would be leading the league in rushing at this point, or that the Bearcats would have the top rushing defense? Odds were heavily stacked against both, but both are true. The Cardinals have the nation's No. 8 rusher in Bilal Powell, plus another star tailback in Victor Anderson. Cincinnati has greatly improved at the point of attack and is allowing fewer than 85 rushing yards per game. This Keg of Nails will be decided in the trenches.

5. Louisville's defense vs. Cincinnati's offense: The Cardinals are coming off a shutout of Memphis, but they allowed 35 points to Oregon State and 24 to Arkansas State. The Louisville defensive line is small and can get overpowered by the running game, while Cincinnati's Isaiah Pead is averaging 9.8 yards per carry. The Bearcats will also try to wear the Cardinals down with their high-tempo, no-huddle attack and go after the inexperienced Louisville secondary with D.J. Woods and Armon Binns. This will be a major test for Charlie Strong's defense.

6. Can West Virginia figure out USF?: The Bulls have been the biggest thorn in the Mountaineers' side of late, winning three of the last four meetings and usually shutting down the powerful West Virginia offense. This is a new South Florida coaching staff -- and a new-look Mountaineers team with a more productive passing game behind quarterback Geno Smith. Will that be enough to loosen up a defense that has loaded the box and used its speed to slow down the West Virginia rushing game?

7. Which B.J. Daniels shows up?: The South Florida quarterback almost single-handedly beat West Virginia last year, but he's almost single-handedly holding his team's offense back this season. Daniels made way too many mistakes again in the loss to Syracuse last week, and now he's facing a Mountaineers defense that's leading the Big East in points and yards allowed. He has to play much better than he has so far this season for USF to have a chance, and expect West Virginia to pressure him and hope he messes up like he did against the Orange.

8. The Great Chas?: Chas Dodd was brilliant in his first career start, burning UConn for 322 yards and two touchdowns. Can he do the same in his second start against an Army defense that will throw all kinds of different looks and stunts at him? It's doubtful that Dodd saw anything like the Black Knights' "double-eagle flex" defense in high school, and with just a week to prepare it will be interesting to see how Dodd responds.

9. Stopping the Army ground assault: The Army defense is difficult to prepare for, and so is its offense. The so-called spread triple-option has produced the nation's No. 9 rushing attack at 274 yards per game. The Black Knights ran for 312 yards last week against Tulane -- yes, the same Tulane team that beat Rutgers two weeks ago. The Scarlet Knights have the nation's No. 10 rushing defense, but they'll have to be disciplined and smart against the option.