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Must-win nonconference games

I took a question last week on the Big East chat asking which nonconference games were must-wins to help boost the profile of the league. There are only a handful of games on the nonleague schedule that are going to come with the opportunity to gain national attention:

LSU at West Virginia. The Tigers could be a Top 5 team when they visit Morgantown this season. West Virginia hung with LSU last season in Baton Rouge and had its special teams partly to blame for losing 20-14. The Mountaineers missed a field goal, had another blocked, and gave up a punt return for a touchdown to Patrick Peterson. This year, West Virginia is expected to have a more potent offense under Dana Holgorsen. Remember, defense is supposed to be the LSU strength this season. If West Virginia wins to start the season 4-0, the Mountaineers could be/should be a Top 10 team.

USF vs. Notre Dame. The Irish are expected to be a Top 25 team this year, and USF is expected to make a run at a Big East championship. Coach Skip Holtz is particularly motivated for this game. He played there, and his father is the last coach to win a national championship there.

Pittsburgh vs. Notre Dame. A win here would do wonders for those wondering how the Panthers are going to do under new coach Todd Graham. This also is a difficult game for Pittsburgh, which plays at Iowa the week before. This game is actually sandwiched between a really tough three-game stretch, because the Panthers host USF after playing Notre Dame. But Graham understands the impact a win over Notre Dame can have. Tulsa beat Notre Dame last year and ended the season with five straight wins. When Tulsa got its bowl championship rings, one side featured the score of the win over Notre Dame with a clover and the phrase “Biggest win in school history.”

USF vs. Miami. The Hurricanes might be expected to be a notch down this year, but this game still has big implications. USF has to show last year's win was no fluke as it continues to make inroads in toward its goal of becoming a member of the Big 4.

Cincinnati vs. Tennessee. The Vols might not be as mighty as they have been in years past, but for the Big East to get more respect, it is going to have to win games vs. SEC opponents, even middle-of-the-road ones. Tennessee did go to a bowl game last year, and the Vols are not expected to be bottom dwellers.

Syracuse vs. USC: The Trojans might be a notch down because of NCAA sanctions, but they still have national cache, and are expected to still have a pretty good offense with Matt Barkley returning at quarterback. There is plenty of talent on this team, and a win here would be huge, even if USC is no longer as big and bad as it was five years ago.

Here is how the Big East has stacked up against the other automatic qualifying leagues since 2005:

ACC: 23-26

Big Ten: 6-14

Big 12: 9-6

Pac-10: 3-6

SEC: 10-8

And here are the nonconference games for each league team:

Cincinnati: Austin Peay, Tennessee, Akron, NC State, Miami (Ohio)

UConn: Fordham, Vandy, Iowa State, Buffalo, Western Michigan

Louisville: Murray State, FIU, Kentucky, Marshall, UNC

Pittsburgh: Buffalo, Maine, Iowa, Notre Dame, Utah

Rutgers: NC Central, UNC, Ohio, Navy, Army

USF: Notre Dame, Ball St., FAMU, UTEP, Miami

Syracuse: Wake Forest, Rhode Island, Southern California, Toledo, Tulane

West Virginia: Marshall, Norfolk St, Maryland, LSU, Bowling Green