BIG EAST CONFERENCE
Predicted Order of Finish
3. South Florida
6. West Virginia
Top Storylines in the Big East
Odd offseason for coaches. Two league schools had rather unorthodox coaching changes during the offseason. At Pittsburgh, Dave Wannstedt was jettisoned after 26 wins over three years, the most for the school in nearly 30 years. They tried to hire Mike Haywood after a magical season at Miami University, but Haywood's legal issues gave Pitt no choice but to pull the plug on that idea. They then turned to former Tulsa coach Todd Graham, who brings a wide-open offensive attack to Pittsburgh. The Panthers' main rival, West Virginia, had an even more interesting spring. After they announced new offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen and named him the head coach in waiting, reports surfaced that current head coach Bill Stewart -- set to coach in 2011 for one more year before Holgorsen took over -- was trying to undermine his successor. Once that all got out, WVU forced Stewart out immediately, with Holgorsen taking over. It was all very juicy, but does it make the Mountaineers better? This was a upper-tier team before the upheaval, and now they have to maintain it after all the distractions. Missing seven starters on defense won't help. Meanwhile, Graham's quarterback-friendly offense should leave incumbent starter Tino Sunseri very happy. The junior is poised to put up huge numbers for the Panthers.
Rutgers rebound? Greg Schiano's Scarlet Knights went 4-8 last season. They took significant steps back both on defense and offense, where their production dropped by more than a touchdown per game while the run game suffered greatly, averaging just 2.7 yards per attempt. Top recruit Savon Huggins is expected to make an impact, and leading rushers Jordan Thomas and Jeremy Deering return. Huggins averaged over ten yards per carry and is the first consensus No. 1 player from New Jersey to commit to Rutgers. Sophomore quarterback Chas Dodd returns after putting up decent numbers last year, and leading receivers Mark Harrison and Mohamed Sanu are both back. Harrison should become a star as Dodd develops. Only a junior, he tallied nine touchdowns and averaged nearly 19 yards per catch last year. Michigan transfer Anthony La Lota, an athletic tackle, keys the Knights' defense.
Can South Florida make The Leap? The 2009 preseason was full of high hopes for South Florida. Matt Grothe was carrying the offense into the season, but the quarterback tore his ACL less than a third of the way into the season, and while freshman B.J. Daniels performed admirably, he couldn't get the Bulls to the top of the Big East. Now, Daniels is a junior, and the Bulls might be ready to make another run. USF needs to get more out of an offense that averaged just 309 yards per game last season, but their defense should be quite strong. Look out for linebackers Sam Barrington and DeDe Lattimore, and defensive end Ryne Giddins could be special rushing the passer. On the offensive side, it will help that the team has a full year of Skip Holtz' system in, but the key is Daniels, who must become more consistent as a thrower.
The Rest of the Story
I like Cincinnati this season for more reasons than just Zack Collaros, though that's a good place to start. The senior quarterback waited his turn to become the full-time starter, and he did pretty well last year, with turnovers and some bad luck conspiring to help the Bearcats limp home 4-8. Mix in an experienced and talented defense with improvement from Collaros, and the Bearcats could be a threat ... Connecticut will miss Randy Edsall's leadership, and former Syracuse coach Paul Pasqualoni has some big shoes to fill there. It will be interesting to see if D.J. Shoemate can emerge as a top runner, because the Huskies have quietly done a fine job of developing running backs lately, with Donald Brown and Jordan Todman both starring at UConn before going to the NFL. ... While I don't expect much of a dropoff with Syracuse this season, I do think they will struggle a bit, off their first bowl trip (a win at Yankee Stadium) since 2004. Delone Carter was too big a part of the offense not to be sorely missed. It puts a lot of pressure on quarterback Ryan Nassib, who was hot and cold much of last season. If he develops more consistency, the Orange could be a surprise team. ... Charlie Strong did a great job in his first year at Louisville, leading the Cardinals to the Beef O'Brady's Bowl, where they beat Southern Miss. A big reason why was the play of their top quarterbacks, as Adam Froman and Justin Burke were both efficient and took good care of the ball. Inexperienced Will Stein is expected to start this season, and the Cardinals lose seven other offensive starters, so Year 2 could be a bit tougher for Strong.