11 June 2008

2008 Preview Series - Big East

Fluctuating programs abound in the changed Big East.

The college football winds of change have swept rapidly through the Big East's ranks, sweeping top teams off to other conferences and depositing fresh new teams to compete. The East Coast's major conference now stretches from the Midwest to the Gulf of Mexico, and The Rivalry couldn't be happier. Although Miami (FL), the last National Champion from the Big East, is gone, the new teams are intriguing and located close to the best recruiting spots in America.

Will UCONN, the returning co-champ, continue its ascent to Big East power? Will Pat White help West Virgina run all over George Selvie and the best defenders the Big East has to offer? The Rivalry doesn't have a great feel for how the Big East will shake up this year, but is intrigued nonetheless.

Esquire Rating: 5/5

Can the Mountaineers forget their historic choke to win the Big East?

WVU and its high flying option spread were one win away from a BCS title game birth when…Pat White’s thumb and LeSean McCoy happened. The 13-9 loss to Pitt ended BCS title hopes but the subsequent 48-28 thumping of Oklahoma restored hope to the insane WVU fans. This program, thanks to the now departed Rich Rodriguez, has now become a perennial top 5 team.

But the year is 2008 and Rodriguez has departed WVU for Ann Arbor and the West Virginia State Court. Stewart inherits lightning quick Pat White, Noel Devine, and a defense that was top 10 in the nation last year. Stewart must figure out how to keep White healthy – everyone knows a quarterback gets hit a lot in an offense that runs 75% of the time. Stewart also must keep his team mentally sharp as they face six easy match ups early, followed by six consecutive challenging games versus Auburn, UCONN, Cinci, Louisville, Pitt, and USF.

Must Win:
@UCONN (11/22). The UCONN student paper occasionally prints a graphic that says”…and West Virginia scores again,” an ongoing joke referring to the 66 points WVU scored on UCONN in their 2007 match up. If WVU grabs another victory versus the Huskies, a Big East title is easily attainable.

Rivalry Comment
: The state’s reaction to Rich Rod leaving for Michigan speaks to the intensity of the West Virginia fans. The Rivalry loves the passion, but would advise West Virginia fans to draw the line at making fun of Rodriguez’s nephews and family members…never mind, that’s great. Keep it up WVU fans.

Predicted Finish: 10-2 (6-1)

Rating: 3/5

Warning: Bulls may be charging.

The Bulls were #2 in the nation at one time in 2007…before blowing 3 games in a row and getting blown out by the Oregon Ducks, sans Dennis Dixon. George Selvie and a surprisingly athletic QB Matt Grothe led USF onto the national stage and 2008 looks to be more of the same.

USF lost its monster DB’s to the NFL, but fortunately the Big East is not a league dominated by passing offenses. Selvie is an All-American and completely dominated games in 2007; he will be double teamed constantly this year. Thanks to a weaker Big East, USF can contend for a BCS bid.

Must Win:
@CINCINNATI (11/30).

Rivalry Comment
: The Rivalry wanted to give the Bulls a 4/5 rating, but couldn’t pull the trigger. Maybe it’s the lack of tradition; maybe it’s the late season swoon of 2007.

Predicted Finish: 9-3 (5-2 conference)

Esquire Rating: 3/5

D1 Newbies to Big East Champs.

Residents of the state of Connecticut and its classic capitol city, Hartford, have traditionally claimed the New England Patriots as their football team of choice. Now these hedge fund managers from New Haven to Greenwich have another football option for their rooting interests: the 2007 Big East Co-Champion Connecticut Huskies. Entering Division 1 in 2000, Randy Edsall and his Huskies have now given their home state a solid football team to root for. The 2007 Huskies snuck up on disappointing Louisville and Rutgers to grab a share of the Big East title.

The 2007 Huskies boasted one of the top 20 defensive teams in the nation, putting on impressive displays against top teams like Louisville, South Florida, and Rutgers. The 2008 Huskies have an easy non-conference schedule and return their QB Tyler Lorenzen and most of their excellent defense. If the Huskies find a consistent passing offense, they can win the Big East. Kudos to Edsall for building a team that contends year in and year out.

Must Win: @LOUISVILLE (9/26). UCONN could be sitting at 7-0 versus Cincinnati, but only if they beat the Cardinals in Kentucky.

Rivalry Comment: The Rivalry thinks UCONN needs new jerseys. The home jerseys are a blue mess and the away jerseys are a mishmash of lines and stripes. Is the Rivalry’s new calling fashion?

Ugly jerseys be damned though; UCONN’s football program has the 3rd best graduation rate of any D1 team that played in a bowl last year. (Courtesy of the Connecticut Prospectus for 2008).

Predicted Finish: 9-3 (5-2)


Esquire Rating: 3/5

No Mauk, no problem?

Spending four years at Miami (OH) allowed me to see Cincinnati in action every year. The Bearcats consistently trotted out talented but erratic teams good for 6 or 7 wins per year. That changed in 2007 when the Bearcats and transfer Ben Mauk won their first 6 games on their way to a 10 win season and a bowl game. Mauk was the sparkplug for the offense and the defense was 12th in the nation in scoring defense. Brian Kelly capped the season by being named Big East Coach of the Year.

With Mauk’s attempt for another year of eligibility denied and a killer 2008 schedule that includes Hawaii and Oklahoma, the Bearcats have little chance of winning 10 games again. But Cincinnati has a solid defensive line and Brian Kelly has recruited top athletes wherever he has gone.

Must Win: MIAMI (OH) (9/20). Win the Victory Bell from their Oxford rivals and enter the Big East conference schedule with a 3-1 record.

Rivalry Comment: The Rivalry believes Cincinnati has the perfect proximity for recruiting in Southern Ohio. Cincinnati is surrounded by high school football powers Elder, St. Xavier, Moeller, and Colerain and also pulls top athletes from all around football rich Ohio.

Predicted Finish: 8-5 (4-3)


Rating: 2/5

Now that Rutgers is short their diminutive star, will they ever reclaim their 2006 form?

Rutgers was mediocre for so long (check out Terry Shea’s 11-44 record from 1996-2000) that their success in 2006 was doubly surprising. Still, Ray Rice and a solid defense gave Rutgers 3 solid years in a row.

The 2008 squad won't have Ray Rice or the best defensive players from 2007. They will however have Mike Teel, a veteran QB who has played huge games against the best teams of the Big East. Rutgers has such an easy non conference schedule makes them a shoe-in for bowl eligibility, but they don't have the firepower or experience to be a 10 win team.

Must Win: @ CINCINNATI. This is a killer match up; two teams with solid defenses and questions on offense.

Rivalry Comment: In the last three years, Rutgers has taken a huge step in bringing their program onto the national spotlight. It’s an important step to take; programs like Illinois, Mississippi State, and Oregon have made similar moves.

On a different note, Rutgers puts on one hell of a night match up in New Brunswick/Piscataway. The Rivalry loves when the lights shine on the big red R at midfield and the whole picture is framed against the dark New Jersey sky.

Predicted Finish: 7-5 (3-4)


Rating: 3/5

LeSean McCoy: the next Reggie Bush...But can he do enough to save Wannstedt’s job?

The first time I watched McCoy, he was running over and through the East Lansing Spartans. After watching him lean inside and then cut so violently outside that a defender fell over, I decided I needed to look him up. Apparently some coaches should have looked him up too; McCoy ran for 1,400 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2007 while the Panthers created good vibes around Coach Wannstedt.

Unfortunately, 2007 might be the last year where Wannstedt can win 5 games and call the season a success. Pittsburgh has a national championship in their past, the location and tradition to recruit top 10 classes every year. Pitt needs to ride McCoy and great wide receivers and hope that two great recruiting classes can effectively fill the lineup. The schedule will not help, with Notre Dame and Iowa appearing as non conference foes.

Must Win: @SOUTH FLORIDA (10/2). Remember that in 2007 South Florida shut down West Virginia’s vicious running attack. Oh, Pitt did the same later in the year.

Rivalry Comment: Bush, 6 ft, 205 lbs. McCoy: 5’ 11’’, 210 lbs. Bush’s highlights. McCoy’s highlights. And oooo! Is that Tony Dorsett?

Predicted Finish: 6-6 (3-4)


Rating: 2/5

Paging Bobby Petrino, paging Bobby Petrino; please report to the Louisville sidelines.

Louisville’s 2007 season was unspeakably bad. It seemed that every ESPN game break involved a Louisville opponent scoring touchdowns and even NFL bound Brian Brohm couldn’t stop the bleeding. The 38-35 upset to Syracuse was, at that time, called one of the greatest upsets in NCAA history.

So how will the Louisville Cardinals of 2008 respond? Hunter Caldwell is being called the top prospect of the 2009 NFL draft class even though he threw all of 14 passes. And Caldwell won’t be blessed with Urrutia and Douglas, the two star wide receivers Brohm was blessed with. On the defensive side of the ball, Ron English (formerly Michigan’s defensive coach - the Rivalry loves his gap tooth and intensity) will not be blessed with experience or overwhelming talent.

The Rivalry loves the Cardinals and knows that Louisville has the potential to be a top 25 team…but not this year.

Must Win: KANSAS ST (9/17). Dreary Old Manhattan…The Cards will run into a good Kansas State team in a notoriously tough stadium.

Rivalry Comment: The Big East’s powers are in constant fluctuation; 2 years ago, the powers were West Virginia, Louisville and Rutgers. Now? UCONN, South Florida, West Virginia, and Cincinnati.

Predicted Finish: 5-7 (2-5)


Rating: 1/5

Maybe the Orange should change their team color to the Red, for embarrassing.

Greg Robinson just hasn’t taken steps here to mix things up. The school of Jim Brown and Donovan McNabb has fallen on a dry period; Paul Pasqauloni is no longer in Syracuse to pull top East Coast recruits. Further, the 2007 Orange had the 118th worst offense in the NCAA.

Can the new Orange channel the spirit of Sam Cooke and bring a change to Syracuse? The Rivalry, and every other blogger, thinks this isn’t the year. To win 5 games they'll have to get production from a horrid offensive line and a defense that got overrun by the semi-decent offense 2007.

Must Win: @NORTHWESTERN (8/30). The Wildcats at home are a tough match up for the Orange, but a win will give hope.

Rivalry Comment: Syracuse Alum’s who succeeded in the NFL: Larry Csonka, Ernie Davis, Jim Brown, Ark Monk, Marvin Harrison, Dwight Freeney, Mcnabb. Yeesh.

Predicted Finish: 2-10 (0-7)

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