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The games finally start to matter

Enough of the preliminaries. The Big East season is about to get serious.

Anyone who was waiting for the conference to show a pulse need look no further than Saturday night's ESPN clash at the Carrier Dome between West Virginia and Syracuse. It will go a long way toward determining the Big East champion, but even then the race will be too early to call.

The standings were thrown out of whack by Virginia Tech's 30-17 loss to West Virginia last week. The loss prevented previously unbeaten Tech from padding its lead. Left are four teams _ Virginia Tech, West Virginia, Syracuse and Pittsburgh _ with one conference loss apiece.

Virginia Tech can gain at least a tie by beating Miami and Pittsburgh. West Virginia also can finish 6-1 by beating Syracuse, Temple and Pittsburgh. The Mountaineers have the upper hand in a tiebreaker because of their win against Tech.

Syracuse appears to be making its annual late-season surge. The Orangemen have won four straight and can earn a share of the league title by beating West Virginia, Boston College, Pittsburgh and Miami.

CONFERENCE CHATTER: Virginia Tech had won eight straight conference games. The loss to West Virginia was just the second in 18 league games for the Hokies. At least Rutgers (0-8, 0-5) found some offense in its 55-48 double-overtime loss to Pittsburgh. The Scarlet Knights scored 99 points and averaged 279 yards in their first seven games. They had 542 yards against Pittsburgh. West Virginia running back Amos Zereoue posted his sixth 100-yard game of the season against Virginia Tech, finishing with 153 yards. Zereoue, a sophomore, has 20 career TDs, fifth in the Big East. Syracuse has scored 50-plus points in each of its past three, tying a school record set in 1904.