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Off to a slow start, Big East teams aim for a few big victories against ranked foes

The Big East could use a few big wins this week.

The conference that always seems to be trying to fend off critics and prove it deserves to be a BCS automatic qualifier hasn't done much to bolster its reputation the first three weeks of the season.

Big East teams are 1-6 in nonconference games against the other conferences with automatic BCS bids. Add to that Pittsburgh's loss at Utah, Cincinnati's loss at Fresno State and Connecticut's loss at Temple, and Big East teams have yet to produce an impressive victory.

They have a chance to turn that around this week, starting Thursday night when Pitt (1-1), the league's preseason favorite, hosts No. 19 Miami.

Aside from losing the opener in Salt lake City, the Panthers have also lost their best defensive player, end Greg Romeus, to back surgery and they have a banged up secondary.

"We've had some early season obstacles and adversity, but it's nothing that we can't handle," coach Dave Wannstedt said.

The Hurricanes are looking to rebound from a 36-24 loss at Ohio State.

On Saturday, Cincinnati (1-2), the two-time defending Big East champion, looks to turn around its first season since Brian Kelly left against No. 7 Oklahoma at Paul Brown Stadium in Cleveland.

The Bearcats' offense has struggled under first-year coach Butch Jones, scoring only 33 points against FBS teams, and it will be missing a key player against the Sooners. Tight end Ben Guidugli is out with a sprained ankle.

Saturday night in Death Valley, No. 22 West Virginia (3-0), which has the Big East's only victory against another BCS-conference team (31-17 against Maryland), visits No. 15 LSU. The Mountaineers (3-0) could take a huge jump in profile by beating an LSU team still searching for some offense.

Rutgers isn't ranked, and beating depleted North Carolina (0-2), which has hung tough despite NCAA-related suspensions and absences, shouldn't count as a huge home win for the Scarlet Knights. But a loss to a Tar Heels team that is likely to still be short-handed would be another shot to a conference that has already taken a bunch.

The picks:

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THURSDAY

No. 19 Miami (minus 3½) at Pittsburgh

Both of these teams were expecting big seasons and one will be 1-2 ... MIAMI 28-17.

FRIDAY

No. 4 TCU (minus 17½) at SMU

Frogs have pounded Ponies in last three Iron Skillet games ... TCU 42-21.

SATURDAY

No. 1 Alabama (minus 7½) at No. 10 Arkansas

Beat 'Bama and Mallett is Heisman trophy front-runner ... ALABAMA 34-21.

Eastern Michigan (plus 42½) at No. 2 Ohio State

EMU still winless under second-year coach Ron English ... OHIO STATE 51-7.

No. 24 Oregon State (plus 16½) at No. 3 Boise State

Beavers painted practice field blue to prepare for Smuf Turf ... BOISE STATE 35-21.

No. 5 Oregon (minus 11) at Arizona State

Ducks have won five in a row, averaged 42 points vs. Sun Devils ... OREGON 31-24.

South Dakota State (no line) at No. 6 Nebraska

Jackrabbits hop into Lincoln ... NEBRASKA 50-14.

UCLA (plus 15½) at No. 7 Texas

First meeting since UCLA's Rout 66 victory vs. 'Horns in 1997 ... TEXAS 28-3.

No. 8 Oklahoma (minus 14½) vs. Cincinnati

Unless Bearcats start running triple-option, Sooners should be fine ... OKLAHOMA 42-17.

Kentucky (plus 14) at No. 9 Florida

Joker Phillips is first Kentucky coach to start 3-0 since Bear Bryant ... FLORIDA 35-17.

Austin Peay (no line) at No. 11 Wisconsin

Badgers lost LB Chris Borland (shoulder) for season ... WISCONSIN 42-10.

No. 12 South Carolina (plus 3) at No. 17 Auburn

Gamecocks going for first 4-0 start since 2001 ... AUBURN 27-21.

San Jose State (plus 32½) at No. 13 Utah

Utes struggled to put away Spartans on road last year ... UTAH 48-14.

California (plus 6½) at No. 14 Arizona

Home team has won five straight in series ... ARIZONA 27-14

No. 22 West Virginia (plus 8½) at No. 15 LSU

When Big East makes statement, it's made by Mountaineers ... WEST VIRGINIA 24-21.

No. 16 Stanford (minus 4½) at Notre Dame

Cardinal looking for first 4-0 start since 1986 ... NOTRE DAME 31-24.

Ball State (plus 28) at No. 18 Iowa vs. Ball State

Hawkeyes are 18-2 against current MAC members ... IOWA 45-10

No. 20 Southern California (minus 22) at Washington State

USC leads series 57-8-4 and beat Cougars 69-0 in last trip to Pullman ... USC 55-14.

Bowling Green (plus 25½) at No. 21 Michigan

OK, maybe THIS is week Denard Robinson can get to rest ... MICHIGAN 45-24.

Temple (plus 14) at No. 23 Penn State

JoePa has more victories against Owls, 26, than any opponent ... PENN STATE 31-14.

Northern Colorado (no line) at No. 25 Michigan State

Good week for Mark Dantonio to take a break ... MICHIGAN STATE 47-14.

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Last week: 20-2 (straight); 9-9-1 (points)

Season: 53-7 (straight); 27-24-2 (vs. points).