Welcome to The Ciskie Blog's 2008 College Football Preview. As usual, you can expect a rundown of every Division I-A (or "Football Bowl Subdivision", if you prefer) conference, as well as a brief look at the independents. Some of the information used to compile these previews came from various football preview publications that I took the time to review this summer. I give a full endorsement to Phil Steele's College Football Preview (the national edition, as well as his various regional magazines). I also have looked at Sporting News, Athlon Sports, and Blue Ribbon (via ESPN Insider). Information was also gathered from local newspapers and school websites. Please use the comments section or e-mail for feedback, questions, and any corrections you feel need to be noted.
1. West Virginia
2. South Florida
TOP FIVE STORYLINES IN BIG EAST
The Hot Seat in Syracuse. Any coach who goes 7-28 in three years is going to find himself in some trouble. When that coach follows a guy who took the Orange to nine bowl games had just one losing season in 14 years, it spells nothing but trouble. At Syracuse, patience must be a virtue, because Greg Robinson got a fourth year. Despite the improbable upset of Louisville, the Orange weren't exactly improved in 2007. Their win total was sliced in half (from four to two), they were worse running the ball, they scored fewer points, and their defense was the worst it's been under Robinson. Considering Syracuse lost almost half their letterwinners (28 out of 65), Robinson better hope his recruits are good. They dominate the roster now, and they're going to be responsible for securing Robinson a fifth season.
Big D in Tampa. This is not to besmirch the South Florida offense, which should be improved thanks to QB Matt Grothe, a good running game led by Mike Ford, the return of seven of USF's top eight receivers, and an almost intact offensive line. But this might be the best defense in the Big East. All-American DE George Selvie is back, as are solid OLBs Brouce Mompremier and Tyrone McKenzie. Ben Moffitt is gone from the middle, but coach Jim Leavitt brought in a potential replacement in JUCO Kion Wilson. Senior S Carlton Williams leads the secondary. With a more balanced offense that probably won't make as many mistakes, the Bulls look to the defense for even slight improvement this year. If that happens, a run at the Big East title is far from being out of the question.
Life without Ray Rice. It may not be as hard at Rutgers as many anticipate. Sure, it's going to suck not having Rice, a 2000-yard rusher, around. But the Scarlet Knights have the makings of a potent offense in 2008. Triggerman Mike Teel has accomplished receivers in Tiquan Underwood (right) and Kenny Britt, who combined for 127 catches, over 2,300 yards, and 17 scores a year ago. If you want to blame their success on Rice's ability to keep defenses honest at the line of scrimmage, then you may want to know who will run the ball for Rutgers. The answer is uncertain. Sophomores Mason Robinson and Kordell Young appear to be the favorites. That said, Teel's experience and the super receivers he has to throw to should combine for a fine season in Piscataway.
Dave Wannstedt in a pivotal season. The seat might not be as hot as Robinson's, but it's getting there. Wannstedt has disappointed in his first two seasons at Pittsburgh, seasons that came after Pitt ran Walt Harris out of town for having the audacity to take the Panthers to the Fiesta Bowl. That loss to Utah is still the last bowl game this program has seen. Wannstedt is an incredibly average 16-19 in three seasons. The good news for him is that he has continued to recruit well, and this is probably the season he starts to reap the benefits of that recruiting. The Panthers lost just 13 letterwinners, and they return all their skill-position starters on offense. I really like sophomore RB LeSean McCoy, and his numbers should only increase this year as junior QB Bill Stull becomes more and more comfortable with the players around him. Wannstedt has a natural leader and incredible talent in senior MLB Scott McKillop, who had 91 more tackles (151) than any other Panther a year ago. With a relatively easy schedule to start the season, the Panthers should get off to a good start, something that may be enough to propel them to a bowl appearance.
Rich Rodriguez out, Bill Stewart in. After West Virginia's unreal performance in the Fiesta Bowl against Oklahoma, the administration didn't waste any time getting Stewart set up as the new head coach to replace Rodriguez. And why not? The players lobbied hard for Stewart publicly, and their performance in that game validated their lobbying. The offense isn't going to change a ton, continuing to emphasize the run. Pat White (right) will continue to star at QB, and Noel Devine will take over as the feature back for early NFL departure Steve Slaton. If Stewart can find a way to replace seven lost defensive starters, WVU won't miss a beat. The Mountaineers have the offensive tools and defensive talent to win this league again.
BEST OF THE REST
Look for Louisville to rebound from an awful season and at least get back in a bowl game. Steve Kragthorpe isn't incompetent, or he wouldn't have engineered the turnaround he did at Tulsa. QB Hunter Cantwell will make Cardinal fans move on from the Brian Brohm era quickly. Cincinnati's a prime contender to surprise in this league. Brian Kelly's offense is exceptionally tough to defend, and it may actually improve on the 36 points per game it scored a year ago. Connecticut surprised many last year with nine wins, and even though they have a ton of starters back, you can expect a bit of a fall. The Huskies were fortunate to win many of their games last year, and a schedule that includes road trips to Temple, Louisville, North Carolina, Rutgers, and South Florida doesn't look too forgiving.
PRESEASON AWARDS AND NOTABLES
Offensive Player of the Year: Pat White, QB, West Virginia
Defensive Player of the Year: George Selvie, DE, South Florida
Coach of the Year: Dave Wannstedt, Pittsburgh
Coach on the Hot Seat: Greg Robinson, Syracuse
Best Non-Conference Game: Kansas at South Florida, September 13
Worst Non-Conference Game: Tennessee Tech at Louisville, September 6