Louisville received 23 of a possible 24 first-place votes. The Cardinals are coming off an 11-1 season which included a 44-40 victory over Boise State in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl. The U of L's final rankings of sixth in the Associated Press poll and seventh in the ESPN/USA Today poll were the highest in school history. This season, the Cardinals, under coach Bobby Petrino, return 14 starters.
Pittsburgh was picked for second place and received the only other first-place vote. The Panthers, under new head coach Dave Wannstedt, welcome back 16 starters, including nine on offense. Last year, the Panthers were part of a four-way tie for the conference crown and were the BIG EAST's BCS representative in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl. Pitt finished 8-4 overall and 4-2 in league play.
West Virginia, the only team to earn a share of the BIG EAST title in each of the last two seasons, was tabbed for third place. Under coach Rich Rodriguez, the Mountaineers also finished 8-4 overall and 4-2 in the BIG EAST. WVU has appeared in bowl games in eight of the last 11 seasons.
Syracuse was projected for fourth place. The Orange will be led by new head coach Greg Robinson. SU returns nine defensive starters led by defensive end James Wyche and safety Anthony Smith. Offensively, the Orange averaged 36.8 points over the final four games of the regular season.
Connecticut, which will be competing in its second season of BIG EAST football, was picked fifth. The Huskies are led by coach Randy Edsall who directed the Huskies to an 8-4 record last year, which included the school's first bowl appearance and victory, a 39-10 triumph over Toledo in the Motor City Bowl. It was only UConn's third season of Division I competition.
Rutgers, under the direction of fifth-year head coach Greg Schiano, was placed sixth. On offense, the Scarlet Knights boast some of the league's top skill players, including quarterback Ryan Hart, running back Brian Leonard, wideout Tres Moses and tight end Clark Harris. The RU defense led the BIG EAST in sacks last season.
USF, another new member of the BIG EAST, was picked seventh. Head coach Jim Leavitt has been the architect of the Bulls' program which began in 1997. USF has compiled an overall record of 55-33. Running back Andre Hall, who rushed for 1,357 yards and 11 touchdowns last season, figures to be the cornerstone of the offense. Eight of 11 starters return on defense. Last year, the Bulls finished 4-7.
Cincinnati, a third new BIG EAST member, was put in the eighth position, despite the fact that the Bearcats finished 7-5 last season and won the PlainsCapital Fort Worth Bowl under first-year coach Mark Dantonio. This year, the offense will look to tight end Brent Celek who caught eight touchdown passes a year ago. The defense should be anchored by defensive end Adam Roberts.
BIG EAST PRESEASON MEDIA POLL (first-place votes in parentheses)
Rk. Team (First Place Votes), Pts.
1. Louisville (23), 190
2. Pittsburgh (1), 164
3. West Virginia, 145
4. Syracuse, 114
5. Connecticut, 80
6. Rutgers, 72
7. USF, 59
8. Cincinnati, 40