MORGANTOWN?- West Virginia University football coach Bill Stewart has long praised the Big East Conference and its ability to match up on the football field with any team in the country. But he admits to be continuously mystified as to why others don't see things the same way.
"The Big East, for whatever reason, has a basketball image," Stewart said Monday during the weekly Big East Conference coaches' call. "We (football coaches) don't sit around and talk about it."
This week's slate of games for the football-playing schools will go a long way to garnering respect for the conference in the eyes of the so-called experts of college football. Big East schools have only one victory this season against major conference opponents, that being WVU's win over Atlantic Coast Conference representative Maryland last weekend. The Big East is 1-1 against the ACC, 0-1 against the Big 10, and 0-2 against both the PAC-10 and Southeastern Conference.
But on tap for the Big East this weekend is Stewart's WVU squad traveling to Baton Rouge, La., to play nationally ranked Louisana State University. That game will be televised by ESPN2 at 9 p.m. Saturday. Pittsburgh takes on Miami (Fla.) on Thursday night, while Rutgers takes on North Carolina and Cincinnati plays Oklahoma on Saturday.
"I'm pulling for these guys," said Stewart. "Just because one day a year I want to whip them good, it doesn't mean we're not friends."
The Mountaineers, 3-0, also received some individual acclaim Monday when it was announced that quarterback Geno Smith and defensive end Bruce Irvin were named the conference's Offensive and Defensive Players of the Week. Smith completed 19 of 29 passes for 268 yards and four touchdowns in the victory over Maryland. Irvin recorded three sacks and four tackles, forced a fumble and broke up a pass. Prior to the Maryland game, the Mountaineers had not sacked an opposing quarterback in the first two games. Against Maryland, WVU got to the quarterback eight times.
After three games, WVU ranks eighth nationally in rushing defense, allowing opponents just 63 yards on the ground; ninth in scoring defense, limiting them to just 12 points per game; and 10th in total defense, allowing opponents just 255 yards per game.