Four Big East teams will take on schools from other BCS conferences in marquee match-ups, including three games against nationally-ranked opponents.
Preseason league favorite Pitt takes on No. 19 Miami on Thursday night at Heinz Field. Two-time defending conference champion Cincinnati, which has struggled to a 1-2 start, gets no respite with No. 8 Oklahoma coming to town on Saturday evening.
And then, of course, Stewart’s WVU football team (3-0) travels to the bayou to take on No. 15 LSU (3-0) in a Saturday night contest at Tiger Stadium.
“This is a big week for notoriety,” said the No. 22 Mountaineers’ third-year head coach. “Us winning some of these games would surely put a bright light on our league, and that’s what we all want to do.”
The Big East could use some positive attention, as the aforementioned Panthers, a squad that topped the preseason media poll by a wide margin, dropped a much-hyped season-opener at Utah.
Connecticut, a sleeper pick by many national pundits to win the conference, lost 30-16 on Saturday to Temple, a team that was relegated to the Mid-American Conference after being kicked out of the Big East in 2004 largely for its inability to field a competitive program.
The Bearcats have struggled out of the gate under new coach Butch Jones after winning the league in each of the last two seasons, including an undefeated regular season last year.
It led to a familiar wave of consternation from the national media, and Stewart knows his team could go a long way towards silencing some of those critics with a road win in one of the most hostile atmospheres in college football.
“I like to see our teams win against out-of-league opponents, particularly the so-called ‘name’ out-of-league opponents,” he said. “I cheer for our guys.”
“We look forward to going down to Louisiana and representing the Big East.”
PREVENTING THE BIG PLAY:
Much of the talk about Saturday’s 31-17 win over Maryland revolved around the Terrapins’ brief comeback, which came largely as the result of a pair of long passes. Wide receiver Torrey Smith hauled in touchdown catches of 60 and 80 yards to make it 28-14 in the third quarter.
That continued a pattern that has the attention of West Virginia defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel, as Marshall receiver Aaron Dobson scored on a 96-yard play in the Mountaineers’ 24-21 overtime win in Huntington.
Stewart said preventing the long bomb would be a continued point of emphasis in practices this week.
“Our defense is playing pretty good, but we can’t continue to give up the big play,” he said. “It’s going to come back and haunt us. It almost got us the second week, and it was, ‘Oh boy, here we go again’ in the third game.”
“The big play can kill you. It’s just a downer for everybody, unless it’s happening for you. You just have to go play long balls and continue to work guys and get them better in athleticism, getting them to jump for those long balls.”
The head coach said it is difficult to work on deep ball situations in practice because the risk of injury on those “jump ball” type of throws is significantly higher. But regardless, at least some time in practice will be spent on further working with cornerbacks on timing their jump to make a proper play on the ball.
“I’m not in a panic mode,” Stewart emphasized. “We know what we have to do. It’s just sometimes youngsters have to make a play, and that didn’t seem to be the case the last couple games on those big plays.”