NEWPORT, R.I. –
After winning two BIG EAST championships in in the the last three seasons, West Virginia has
once again been picked as the favorite to take the Big East 2008 title. While
the Bulls were picked to finish second in the BIG East's preseason media poll
that was released Tuesday morning. In the Bulls four years in the BE, It's USF's
highest ranking and the first time the Bulls have ever received a first place
vote in the poll.
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The Mountaineers (11-2, 5-2 BIG EAST in 2007) received 22 of a possible 24 first-place votes to finish with 189 points in the poll of media representatives from each of the eight BIG EAST markets. West Virginia, which earned the BIG EAST's Bowl Championship Series berth last season on its way to a 48-28 win against Oklahoma in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, will be led by two-time BIG EAST Offensive Player of the Year Pat White, who enters the 2008 season as a bona fide Heisman Trophy candidate. The Mountaineers are under the direction of new head coach Bill Stewart, who was promoted to the top spot in January after leading West Virginia to the bowl victory against the Sooners.
USF (9-4, 4-3 BIG EAST) received one first-place vote and was second to West Virginia with 149 points in the preseason balloting. The Bulls enjoyed a banner year in 2007, reeling off six straight wins to open the season and ascending to the No. 2 spot in the national rankings midway through the year. Head coach Jim Leavitt has 17 starters returning from that group, including consensus all-America defensive end George Selvie and quarterback Matt Grothe, who ranked third in the BIG EAST in total offense last year.
Pittsburgh (5-7, 3-4 BIG EAST) received the remaining first-place vote and was third in the preseason poll with 128 points. The Panthers closed the 2007 season in fine fashion, scoring a 13-9 road win against West Virginia, which was ranked No. 1 in the USA Today national poll at the time. Pittsburgh and head coach Dave Wannstedt return 15 starters from last year, including linebacker Scott McKillop, who led the nation in tackles in 2007, and running back LeSean McCoy, who set a BIG EAST freshman rushing record with 1,328 yards.
Rutgers (8-5, 3-4 BIG EAST) was projected for fourth in the BIG EAST after a 2007 season in which the Scarlet Knights made their third straight appearance in a bowl game. Head coach Greg Schiano will need to find a way to replace the production of running back Ray Rice (2,012 rushing yards in 2007), but has the benefit of 16 returning starters back for 2008. Wide receivers Kenny Britt and Tiquan Underwood became the first BIG EAST teammates with 1,000 receiving yards in the same season last year.
Cincinnati (10-3, 4-3 BIG EAST) was fifth in the preseason poll after the Bearcats registered their first 10-win season since 1951. The Bearcats were ranked No. 17 in the final Associated Press poll of last season, their first year under head coach Brian Kelly. A veteran secondary, led by unanimous All-BIG EAST First Team cornerback Mike Mickens, highlights a group of 12 returning starters from last year.
Connecticut (9-4, 5-2 BIG EAST) was sixth in the poll, just one point behind Cincinnati in the balloting. The Huskies proved the prognosticators wrong a year ago when they won a share of the BIG EAST championship despite being picked seventh in the 2007 preseason poll. Head coach Randy Edsall has 19 starters back from last year's championship team, including All-BIG EAST Second Team running back Andre Dixon.
Louisville (6-6, 3-4 BIG EAST) was seventh in the preseason poll as the Cardinals look to replace quarterback Brian Brohm, who threw for 10,775 yards in his career. Head coach Steve Kragthorpe will turn to highly regarded senior Hunter Cantwell to run the Louisville offense, which ranked sixth nationally in yards per game a year ago.
Syracuse (2-10, 1-6 BIG EAST) finished eighth in the preseason balloting. Head coach Greg Robinson has 13 returning starters from last year and should get a boost from the return of several players who were sidelined with injuries a year ago. Quarterback Andrew Robinson will be a key player on an offense that should feature better balance with a group of talented running backs in place.
PRESEASON MEDIA POLL
Rank Team Pts.
1. West Virginia (22) 189
2. USF (1) 149
3. Pittsburgh (1) 128
4. Rutgers 110
5. Cincinnati 98
6. Connecticut 97
7. Louisville 69
8. Syracuse 24
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