Bearcats go for 10-0 Friday

BY foxsports • November 9, 2009

By Mike Lipka, STATS Writer

Backup quarterback Zach Collaros helped set a Cincinnati record for
total offense, but he might not get a chance to lead the fifth-ranked
Bearcats to the first 10-0 start in school history.

Despite wavering after Collaros' brilliant performance Saturday, coach
Brian Kelly has anointed Tony Pike the starter - as long as he's
healthy - as the Bearcats continue their pursuit of a spot in the BCS
title game Friday night against visiting West Virginia.

After Pike led Cincinnati to the Big East title and the Orange Bowl
last season, the senior threw 15 touchdown passes and just three
interceptions in six starts this year to help the Bearcats (9-0, 5-0
Big East) to six relatively comfortable victories.

But after Pike reinjured his previously broken non-throwing forearm
against then-No. 21 South Florida on Oct. 15, Collaros added a new
dimension to Cincinnati's spread, no-huddle offense by running for 132
yards and two touchdowns on 10 carries in the 34-17 win.

In three starts since then, Collaros has shown he can also throw very
effectively, going 66 for 82 for 1,028 yards and eight touchdowns
without an interception.

The sophomore
keyed Cincinnati racking up a school-record 711 total yards in
Saturday's 47-45 win over Connecticut, after which Kelly said he was no
longer committed to Pike as a starter. Collaros threw for 480 yards and
a touchdown and ran for 75 yards and two scores.

"He's made it hard," Kelly said. "OK, I've changed my mind based on the
way he's played the last three games. I think I have to reconsider my

The coach switched his stance again Monday, however, saying Pike still had the job as soon as he's fully healthy.

"I re-examined it," Kelly said. "I was dead serious. I went back and
thought about clearly the pluses and minuses - a lot of pluses with
both guys. After careful consideration, Tony's our guy."

Pike returned to practice with a new splint last week and is expected
to participate again this week, meaning he could return Friday.

"The issue is, this becomes day to day," Kelly said. "There's X-rays
and so much that's out of my hands medically. And the risk factor -
what's the risk factor in putting him out there?"

The nation's third-ranked offense has been the primary reason why
Cincinnati remains in the national championship conversation and has a
chance for the best start in the program's history. The 1951 team also
began 9-0 but lost its 10th game.

Bearcats also need to keep winning in order to defend their conference
title, as they remain tied with Pittsburgh atop the Big East, but they
may need to tighten their defense after the unit's worst performance of
the season.

UConn scored more points than
Cincinnati's previous three opponents combined, including 21 in the
fourth quarter to narrow the deficit. The Huskies ran for 201 yards and
four touchdowns.

That could be a problem
if West Virginia is able to use star running back Noel Devine, one of
16 players nationally who has topped 1,000 yards rushing.

Devine injured his ankle in a 17-9 win over Louisville on Saturday,
forcing the Mountaineers (7-2, 3-1) to rely on defense to outlast the
Cardinals. Quarterback Jarrett Brown suffered a similar injury in the
game, but West Virginia coach Bill Stewart said he's optimistic both
players will play this week.

"They both
should be ready," Stewart said. "Jarrett should be ready quicker than
Noel; I don't know if Noel will play or not. He should if treatments go

The bigger challenge for the
Mountaineers, however, will likely be slowing down a Cincinnati offense
which Stewart has called a "juggernaut." A pair of opponents have
already totaled at least 300 yards through the air against West
Virginia, which must win this game to maintain any shot at the
conference title.

"There are probably a
lot of people that aren't going to give us a chance," Stewart said.
"We'll probably be 20-30 point underdogs."

Stewart said Sunday he expected to be facing Collaros, even commending
Kelly on the decision after hearing his comments following the UConn

"I compliment Brian because that
takes a lot of guts," Stewart said. "Right now, I don't know how you
can take (Collaros) out. I just think the guy has such a hot hand, it
would be difficult to take him out."

Mountaineers will have some positive history on their side. They were
the last team to win at Nippert Stadium, 28-23 over then-No. 21
Cincinnati on Nov. 17, 2007, when West Virginia was ranked fifth.

The Bearcats have won 11 in a row at home, and they won 26-23 at West
Virginia last Nov. 8 even though their offense was held to 260 yards -
its lowest total in the last two seasons.

Received 11/09/09 03:35 pm ET