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Friday Big East mailbag

Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett

Wasn't it great seeing real college football last night? Won't it be even better to see Big East games tomorrow?

I'll be at Rutgers-Cincinnati on Monday, and as hard as it is to believe, this is my first trip to Piscataway since joining ESPN (I made two trips in a previous job, but both were quick jaunts). If any Scarlet Knights fans who want to suggest good places to hang out around campus or the best tailgate spots, I'm all ears.

There was one burning question in the mailbag this week: Where did all the blog posts go last week? Well, we had some technical issues with all the blogs, stuff that's too complicated for me to understand, but I'm assured everything should be (knock on wood) back up now. If you missed something or can't find a post, let me know.

On to your gameday-eve questions:

Jim from Highland Park, N.J., writes: What are your thoughts on the most important matchup in the Rutgers / Cincy game? It seems that the defensive line of Rutgers vs the offensive line of Cincy will be the match up that will determine the game. Can Pike be protected and can Cincy find running lanes. Rutgers has a strange streak going. I believe they have knocked the starting QB out of the game in 5 of the last 6 games to end the season. I don't wish any injuries but Rutgers will make it a point to put Pike on the ground. If they can't get pressure it will be a long day in Piscataway.

Brian Bennett: I think you hit the nail on the head, Jim. We all know, and so does Cincinnati, that Greg Schiano is going to bring the blitz. Can the Bearcats pick it up, and if so, can they exploit it with their passing game? That may well determine the outcome. Rutgers was brutal on quarterbacks last year, as you say, and Tony Pike is not the sturdiest guy in the world even with a few added pounds this offseason. It's not just on the O-line but on Pike to make the right checks and for the running backs to pick up the stampede. Brian Kelly has had the upper hand on Schiano the last two years, and it will be fascinating to watch the chess match this time.


Matthew from Acworth, Ga., writes: Should Mountaineer Nation be concerned that these allegations regarding RichRod's practice schedule might prompt an investigation into his time at WVU?

Brian Bennett: I think it's going to be very hard to prove the allegations at Michigan if the players did in fact sign the paperwork saying they fell under the NCAA guidelines for time restrictions. And it would be even harder to make any kind of case against West Virginia, as school officials say they have documentation proving they were compliant. So far, no former Mountaineers have come out with any allegations about their time under Rodriguez. So I would say as a West Virginia fan, you have nothing to worry about at this point.


Nathan H. from Cincinnati writes: You seem pretty set on the notion that the Big East has no chance of getting into the national championship game, with the basis being you think Rutgers will win the Big East and their nonconference schedule is so weak even a undefeated season would get overlooked for a one-loss SEC or Big 12 team. Now we all know your predictions are never wrong, but let's assume this one is for argument's sake. Based on nonconference opposition, would you agree that both Cincinnati and West Virginia have valid arguments for making the national championship over a one-loss team from another conference if they run the gauntlet and come out clean on the other side?

Brian Bennett: Valid arguments? Sure. I think any undefeated major conference champion has a valid argument for being in the title game. Heck, Utah had a valid argument last year. But that's not the same as a realistic chance. Even though Cincinnati and West Virginia have decent nonconference schedules -- decent is the best I can muster, since the only ranked team among them is No. 25 (in the coaches' poll) Oregon State -- their schedules wouldn't impress a lot of pollsters.

Remember, this is a beauty contest at the end of the day, and right now the SEC and Big 12 (and USC) are the prettiest girls in the room, even if they have a few blemishes at the end of the season. That's just the way it is.


Steve from Syracuse writes: Another great ranking. You rank Cincinnati ahead of The 'Cuse (in the defensive line position rankings). Cincy has NOBODY returning, and is switching schemes. Meanwhile, The 'Cuse returns "The Best D-lineman in the league" and that doesn't beat Cincy out? Granted we have nobody else, but it would seem that one is better than NONE!

Brian Bennett: Well, Steve, you answered your own question there. Yes, Arthur Jones is the best interior lineman in the league. But the position rankings were based on the group as a whole, and I'm not sure Syracuse has any other defensive linemen who would start for about five or six other Big East teams. Sorry, but my rankings took into account the entire position as a whole, not just the best players there. Cincinnati is simply deeper and more skilled up front on defense than Syracuse, in my humble opinion.


Jay from Parkersburg, W.Va., writes: I know I'm a shill for WVU, but I'd like to remind you that Cincy's high-flying offense was shut out in the second half last season in Morgantown. Add into the equation the seven points they put up in the Orange Bowl and it's easy to see why I can't buy all the hype that's out there for that offense this season. Didn't they lose three guys from their OL in Jurek, Kelce and Linkenbach?

Brian Bennett: Actually, those three guys are back; they lost the other two starting linemen. Your point is well taken in that Cincinnati really didn't have an explosive offense last year and had its share of scoring droughts. The Bearcats really relied on their defense and special teams more than people realize.

But there's a mitigating factor here. I really believe that, because of all the quarterback injuries and with Tony Pike being so inexperienced (not to mention hurt even when he was playing), Brian Kelly kept the reins pretty tight on his offense. With Pike back, Kelly feels a lot more comfortable, and I think you'll see a lot more chances being taken and a lot more intricate plays. The talent is there. Will Cincinnati score 40 a game? I'm not saying that, but I think it will have one of the best offenses in the Big East.


Jason from Charleston, W. Va., writes: All offseason your mantra concerning WVU has been their inexperienced offensive line. OK, I don't disagree with you and would like to have a team back full of 5th-year seniors that were All-Big East across the board and have four years of starting experience each. I have a couple things though conerning your constant mentioning of the WVU line. First, you voted Oklahoma fourth in your ESPN poll, and they only return one offensive lineman as does WVU. Keep in mind this is the same Bradford-led Sooner team that Noel Devine and Reed Williams stomped just 14 games ago. I don't care how many Heismans Bradford wins, he can't throw if he is on his back. Second, your posting of the article questioning how inexperienced Cincy's defense really is. Jenkins, Jobe, Barclay and Capers all saw considerable playing time last season and all will be starters this year.

Brian Bennett: I agree with you up to a point, Jason. Here's a couple of areas where I disagree, though. Yes, Oklahoma is replacing most of its line. The difference is, the Sooners had unquestionably one of the best lines in the country last year, as Bradford hardly got touched all season. On the flip side, West Virginia's line really did not play well last season, despite so many returning guys. So you're talking about replacements who couldn't beat out underperforming players for the Mountaineers.

And the difference between Cincinnati's defense and the West Virginia O-line is that the Bearcats have a lot of juniors and seniors who've been in the program for years. Right now, West Virginia will be starting two sophomores and a redshirt freshman.

With all of that said, I do think this West Virginia line has talent and can be a strong unit. But I think the Mountaineers coaches would even agree that it's a question mark at this point.