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Weeks 3 and 4 could make or break Big East's rep

Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett

How can the Big East, which has no teams in the preseason Top 25, get some respect this season?

The answer is pretty simple: By winning key nonconference games.

Maybe the question should be, when can the Big East gain some respect? My answer would be in Weeks 3 and 4.

There is a plethora of high-profile interconference matchups for the Big East in those two weeks, and September is the time when credibility is usually gained or lost, because attention will turn to conference races in October. The Big East needs to at least hold its own or, ideally, win the majority of these games to regain its national presence.

Here's a look at the key games that week in descending order of importance, along with my totally unscientific percentages for success in each one:

Sept. 19

* West Virginia at Auburn: Auburn is down, but any win in SEC country is worth bragging about. The Mountaineers handled the Tigers easily last season in Morgantown, but the sailing won't be as smooth on the plains.

Chances of Big East victory: 55 percent

* Cincinnati at Oregon State: The Beavers are ranked 25th in the coaches' poll and are coming off a Sun Bowl win over Pitt. If the defending Big East champs can fly across country and take down a good Pac-10 team, that would be a nice scalp. But it won't be easy.

Chances of Big East victory: 35 percent

* Northwestern at Syracuse: The Orange have all sorts of high-profile games to start the season, opening with Minnesota and then going to Penn State. Getting Northwestern in Week 3 at home might be a good chance to spring an upset, if Greg Paulus has settled in by that point.

Chances of Big East victory: 15 percent

* Connecticut at Baylor: Baylor is a trendy pick as a sleeper in the Big 12, and the Bears have supremely talented sophomore Robert Griffin at quarterback. A win here might not turn a lot of heads for the Big East, but as the only road game in Big 12 country, it would be nice to have.

Chances of Big East victory: 50 percent

* Louisville at Kentucky: This is more of an in-state rivalry than anything of interest nationally, but again, any win over the SEC looks good in the books. The Cardinals have lost two straight in this series, however.

Chances of Big East victory: 30 percent

Sept. 26

* South Florida at Florida State: The Seminoles are in the top 20 of both polls, so a Bulls win on the road would be huge for Jim Leavitt's program and the Big East as a whole. ACC-Big East bragging rights are on the line as well.

Chances of Big East victory: 35 percent

* Louisville at Utah: Nothing would help the league more perception-wise than for one of its supposed cellar-dwellers to go out and beat the reigning Mountain West champ and preseason top 20 Utes. It's an awfully tall order for Louisville, however.

Chances of Big East victory: 10 percent

* Pittsburgh at NC State: Both Rutgers and South Florida beat the Wolfpack last year, but NC State is getting some votes in both polls because of Russell Wilson. This is a chance for Pittsburgh to announce itself as a legitimate Top 25 team.

Chances of Big East victory: 60 percent

* Rutgers at Maryland: The Scarlet Knights have only one nonconference game that poses any real challenge, and this is it. For their sake and for the sake of the league, they need to get this win in ACC country against an underwhelming Terrapins squad.

Chances of Big East victory: 65 percent

* Fresno State at Cincinnati: The Bulldogs aren't as strong as they have been in years past but still carry some name value. This game is more about Cincinnati's need to not lose it, especially after Rutgers got blitzed by Fresno in last year's opener.

Chances of Big East victory: 75 percent