Biggest Big East games to watch in 2012

One game at a time. No looking ahead. Yada yada yada. In this space, some games are more important than others, with conference title implications and national perceptions on the line. Let's look at the five most important Big East contests of 2012.

1. Louisville at Rutgers, Nov. 29: Given that this is both teams' regular-season finales, a lot has to happen between now and then for the stakes to be at their highest. But with the No. 1 preseason Big East team traveling to the third-place squad -- in a conference that featured a three-way tie for first place last season, no less -- the opportunity is there for a de-facto conference title game should both teams meet expectations in 2012.

2. Florida State at South Florida, Sept. 29: What's the quickest way for the Big East to regain some national respect? By beating the nation's elite, of course. Many experts peg the Seminoles as a potential national title contender this season, and the Bulls will get them at home. An early-season upset could do wonders for both the conference and USF, so long as the Bulls don't trip over themselves like they did following an upset victory at Notre Dame last season.

3. Rutgers at Arkansas, Sept. 22: The Razorbacks were poised to contend for the national title before the Bobby Petrino mess this offseason. Can they still? They will be coming off a home tilt with defending champion Alabama, and Rutgers, like USF, could do the conference a huge favor by pulling off the upset, especially with this game coming in SEC territory.

4. USF at Louisville, Oct. 20: The conference's top-two preseason teams clash in each school's seventh game of the season. The season-ending date of the Louisville-Rutgers matchup enhances the potential for that game, but it likely won't matter as much if the Cardinals can't get by the Bulls in their first conference home game.

5. Syracuse vs. USC (in East Rutherford, N.J.), Sept. 8: Yes, this is the longest of longshots: A team coming off a 5-7 season taking down the frontrunner for the national title. But hey, nothing would boost the Big East's credibility more than topping the nation's No. 1 team, even if it takes place in the conference's backyard. Recent USC national title contenders have usually tripped up to lesser opponents in early-season road tests. And however unlikely that may look going into Week 2, the mere possibility is enough for this contest to crack the list of most important games for the Big East in 2012.