Key stretch: West Virginia

Time to continue our look at the most crucial stretches of the schedule for each Big East team. We're going in order of finish from 2009, so second on the list is West Virginia, which tied Pitt for second in the league last year but won the head-to-head meeting against the Panthers.

Key stretch: at Connecticut (Oct. 29), Cincinnati (Nov. 13), at Louisville (Nov. 20), at Pittsburgh (Nov. 26)

Breakdown: West Virginia has more starters back than any other Big East team, and the schedule sets up nicely as well. The Mountaineers have only three Big East road games, and even this most crucial stretch is manageable.

First up is a trip to UConn, a team against whom West Virginia has never lost, and it's early enough that weather shouldn't be a factor. Then the Mountaineers get 14 days off until a showdown at home against Cincinnati, who has won the past two meetings on the way to consecutive Big East crowns. The Milan Puskar Stadium crowd should be worked into a pretty good lather by the time that game rolls around. In fact, you'd worry about a letdown after that game, but luckily the Mountaineers then go to Louisville, which will have a hard time measuring up talent-wise.

Assuming West Virginia can hold court at home against South Florida and Syracuse to start the Big East schedule, its conference title hopes could hinge on that Backyard Brawl trip to Pitt. Which only seems appropriate.

Prediction: By the time this portion of the schedule arrives, new starting quarterback Geno Smith should have fully grown accustomed to leading the team. Barring injuries or other misfortune, West Virginia looks very prepared to take on this challenge. I see the Mountaineers doing no worse than 3-1 in this stretch and putting themselves in position for title contention.

Previous key stretches: