Bulls-Bearcats a big one in the Big East

Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett

As the Big East's associate commissioner for football, Nick Carparelli is responsible for helping put together the league's showcase TV matchups.

"We make a conscious effort to put what we feel are the best games where the most people will see it," he said. "It takes a lot of good planning and a little bit of luck."

Whether it was preparation and or just good fortune, the Big East hit a home run with this week's schedule. A pair of 5-0, ranked teams will square off Thursday night when No. 8 Cincinnati travels to No. 21 South Florida (7:30, ESPN).

Not since 2007, when No. 18 South Florida beat No. 5 West Virginia on a Friday night, and Rutgers later upset the then second-ranked Bulls on a Thursday, has the Big East had such a prominent spotlight. This is the latest in the season that two undefeated, ranked Big East teams have played since those back-to-back Thursday night tilts in 2006 between Louisville and West Virginia, followed by the Cardinals and Rutgers.

While the 2006 showdowns each featured a pair of Top 10 teams gunning for a spot in the BCS title game late in the season, this mid-October face-off is just as intriguing for a number of reasons.

Both teams have outside shots at reaching the BCS title game. Cincinnati is already in the Top 10 and, with its upcoming schedule (Louisville, Syracuse and Connecticut), could easily be 9-0 if it gets past the Bulls.

South Florida has more rungs on the ladder to climb, but it has already beaten Florida State and gets No. 9 Miami at home on Nov. 28 in a potential BCS talking-point game.

The Bearcats have one of the nation's most prolific offenses, ranking third in the nation in scoring (42 points per game), sixth in passing (329 yards per game) and 11th in total offense (468.2 yards per game). They have a legitimate Heisman Trophy contender in quarterback Tony Pike, a first-team All-American candidate in receiver Mardy Gilyard and a quick-strike attack that is averaging a little more than two minutes per scoring drive.

"When you have athletes like they have who get in out in space and a guy pulling the trigger like Pike, you've got a lot of things going for you," South Florida defensive coordinator Joe Tresey said. "You put the tape on, and shoot, they're covering 60 yards in three or four plays."

South Florida is known for its defense, and the Bulls rank fifth in the FBS in points allowed (9.4 per game) and ninth in passing defense. They have two of the best pass-rushing defensive ends anywhere in George Selvie and Jason Pierre-Paul.

"It will be a great matchup between offense and defense," Cincinnati center Chris Jurek said.

But don't sell the others sides of the ball short for each team. The Bearcats, despite replacing 10 defensive starters from last year's Orange Bowl team, rank 10th in scoring defense (13.8 points allowed per game) and are tied with USC for the national lead in sacks. They're also third in the country in turnover margin.

Meanwhile, the Bulls -- despite losing star quarterback Matt Grothe for the season with a knee injury -- are scoring 37 points a game and have the second-best passing efficiency rating in the FBS behind redshirt freshman B.J. Daniels. They're also eighth in turnover margin.

"How can you not be excited about this, really?" South Florida coach Jim Leavitt said.

The buzz is evident in Tampa. The Bulls have purchased a billboard near I-4 and I-275 encouraging fans to "Go Green," while the top of the SunTrust Financial Centre downtown will be lit green and gold Thursday. Players and coaches held breakfasts around town this week with local schools, businesses and media outlets to promote the game.

Really, though, this game promotes itself.

"This is why you sign up for this," Cincinnati coach Brian Kelly said. "This is why kids come to their respective schools, because they want to play big games like this on national TV."