West Virginia, with rekindled hopes of winning a fourth consecutive Big East football championship, hosts charged-up Cincinnati on Saturday.

The 10th-ranked Mountaineers (7-1, 2-1) again can control their own destiny toward that goal in the wake of No. 3 Louisville’s 28-25 stunning setback at No. 14 Rutgers on Thursday night.

While the Scarlet Knights remain undefeated at 9-0, they still must play WVU here on Saturday, Dec. 2, in the regular-season finale. Before then, Rutgers also has games left at Cincinnati and with Syracuse at home.

A sellout crowd of 60,000 is assured for today’s game at Mountaineer Field/Milan Puskar Stadium. The kickoff is set for 12:02 p.m., with ESPN2 televising the action.

Periods of rain are forecast, with a high temperature of 58 degrees. No umbrellas are allowed in the stadium.

With a 5-4 record, including 2-2 in the Big East, Cincinnati needs just one more victory to become bowl-eligible. But it’s an 18-point underdog against WVU.

“This is going to be a tough ballgame,” WVU coach Rich Rodriguez said. “The Bearcats are a very physical team, and they’re playing with a lot of confidence.”

Indeed, UC has won four of its last five games. And it made strong showings against No. 1 Ohio State as well as No. 3 Louisville and No. 20 Virginia Tech.

“So this isn’t going to be any major change for them,” Rodriguez noted. “They’re accustomed to playing in tough environments.”

UC coach Mark Dantonio agrees.

“Our players will go there expecting to win,” he said. “We have got to win one of these away from home. We’ve played very well (on the road).

“I like our attitude. I like where we are going as a team. I can’t say enough about our players in terms of the way in which they respond.”

Vaughn Rivers, WVU cornerback and kick-returner, anticipates “a hard-nosed game” on both sides.

“That’s what the Bearcats pride themselves on, and it’s what we pride ourselves on,” he said. “Coming back home after the disheartening loss at Louisville, we’re not concerned about people jumping off the bandwagon.

“We’re just concerned about getting back on track finishing the season the way we started it — strong.”

The Mountaineers’ potent offense is No. 2 nationally in rushing (318.9 yards per game) and No. 3 in total offense (469.4).

But it’s certain to be severely tested by UC’s defense. In their last five games, the Bearcats have given up an average of just 63.0 yards rushing and 225.4 yards in total offense.

Offensively, they appear to be well-balanced, averaging 142.0 yards per game rushing and 176.7 passing.

Quarterback Dustin Grutza has completed 117 of 190 passes for 1,423 yards and eight touchdowns. He also has rushed for a net 204 yards.

Running back Greg Moore is UC’s leading rusher with 522 yards on 117 carries. Backups Butler Benton has 344 yards on 81 totes and Bradley Glatthaar 221 on 65 attempts.

Tight end Brent Celek is the top pass-catcher with 344 yards on 27 receptions.

Tailback Steve Slaton and quarterback Patrick White continue to lead WVU’s ground game with 1,215 and 744 yards, respectively. The speedy sophomores have combined for 23 touchdowns.

White has connected on 77 of 113 passes for 1,044 yards and six scores.

Wideouts Darius Reynaud (29-377-2) and Brandon Myles (17-234-3) are the top two receivers. Slaton is third (12-161-0).

Five players have 41 or more tackles for UC. Free safety Haruki Nakamura leads with 45. Cornerback Mike Mickens and linebacker Kevin McCullough have 43 each, strong safety Dominic Ross 42 and linebacker Leo Morgan 41.

Free safety Quinton Andrews is WVU’s top tackler with 48. Linebacker Kevin McLee and cornerback Antonio Lewis have 45 each.

WVU leads this series by a 12-1-1 margin, including a 38-0 victory last year in Cincinnati.

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