Thursday, September 1, 2011

Big East Preview (updated September 1, 2011)

Big East Projected Standings
West Virginia, 6-1, 9-3
Pittsburgh, 6-1, 9-3
South Florida, 5-2, 9-3
Syracuse, 4-3, 8-4
Connecticut, 2-5, 7-5
Louisville, 2-5, 5-7
Cincinnati, 2-5, 5-7
Rutgers, 1-6, 3-9

Big East Synopsis
The battle for the Big East Title should be a 3-team race.  West Virginia is my pick to win the conference, with offensive guru Dana Holgorsen taking over as coach.  Holgorsen is blessed with QB Geno Smith who led the Big East in passing efficiency a year ago and tossed 24 TD's.  The Mountaineers must replace some defensive parts, but with Pittsburgh visiting Morgantown, the opportunity appears there for West Virginia to secure a BCS bid.

If West Virginia slips, Pittsburgh is in position to take advantage.  Despite a crazy off-season with the coaching change, the Panthers return 8 starters from a defense that ranked #8 nationally in 2010.  On offense Pittsburgh returns the most explosive player in the Big East in Ray Graham, who averaged over 6 yards per carry last year and now steps into more carries with Dion Lewis departing.  The main question for this team will be chemistry with a new coaching staff, but if the players buy-in it may be Pitt returning to the BCS.

South Florida has a legitimate shot at taking the next step toward a conference title, but the offense must be better if that is going to happen.  Quarterback B.J. Daniels is one of four returning starters on an offense that was 105th nationally in total yards a year ago.  They may get a boost from Colorado transfer Darrell Scott at RB and with 6 returning defenders on a defense ranked 17th nationally in 2010, the Bulls could find a way to steal the Big East in 2011.

Syracuse surprised a lot of people in 2010 and now must prove that they are not the Syracuse team of recent history.  The Orange are another team that struggled offensively at times last season, but with 8 returning starters and Antwon Bailey ready to step-in at RB, they should be improved on that side of the ball.  The key will be whether a defense that was #7 nationally in 2010 can replace 6 seniors starters.  The 'Cuse also must be better at home to ensure a 2nd consecutive bowl appearance.

Coming off a Big East title, Connecticut must replace their coach and one of the nation's best RB's in Jordan Todman.  The good news is that the defense returns 9 starters from a unit that was #35 nationally in scoring defense.  The bad news is the offense even with Todman was #96 overall and must also break-in a new quarterback.  The Huskies should ride their defense back to a bowl game, but another BCS berth is far-fetched in 2011.

Louisville made strides under Charlie Strong and won a bowl game in 2010.  Now they must overcome the loss of 8 starters on offense, including a new quarterback and tailback.  Strong is a defensive-minded coach and the Cardinals should once again be formidable on that side of the ball.  A major obstacle between Louisville and a bowl bid is the schedule, which includes non-conference trips to Kentucky and North Carolina and 4 out of 7 conference games on the road.

Cincinnati is tough to figure out.  The offense returns Zach Collaros at quarterback and a major weapon at WR in DJ Woods, but they turned the ball over way too often a year ago.  8 likely starters return on a defense that was last or near last in defense in the Big East a year ago.  That may not be a good thing.

Rutgers figures to improve but that may not translate into a bowl bid yet this year.  One player to watch will be freshman RB Savon Huggins who will be given every opportunity to burst on the scene in his 1st year.

Team most likely to exceed my expectations: Cincinnati.  If the turnover problem gets fixed and experience is what the defense needs, the Bearcats will likely end up in a bowl game.

Team most likely to play below my expectation:  Syracuse.  The Orange have not been a bowl staple in recent history, so two-in-a-row might be pushing it.

Big East Player of the Year
Ray Graham, RB, Pittsburgh

Games to Watch
September 3 - South Florida at Notre Dame
September 17 - West Virginia at Maryland
September 17 - Pittsburgh at Iowa
September 24 - LSU at West Virginia
September 24 - Notre Dame at Pittsburgh
September 29 - South Florida at Pittsburgh
October 21 - West Virginia at Syracuse
November 19 - Miami at South Florida
November 25 - Pittsburgh at West Virginia
December 1 - West Virginia at South Florida

Upset Alert
September 24 - Toledo at Syracuse

Bowl Destinations
Orange Bowl:  West Virginia
Champs Sports Bowl:  Pittsburgh
Belk Bowl:  South Florida
Pinstripe Bowl:  Syracuse
BBVA Compass Bowl:  Connecticut

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