2008 Big East Football Preview
Last year's Big East season concluded with a bang, featuring many surprises and shocking happenings. Connecticut finished tied with West Virginia for the Big East title, after the Mountaineers were denied a shot in the BCS title game by lowly Pittsburgh. Soon after, West Virginia coach Rich Rodriguez bolted for the comfy confines of the Big House and interim coach Bill Stewart was surprisingly named the Mountaineers' next coach. Meanwhile, South Florida rose to college football prominence, attaining the #2 ranking in the country before nose diving to a 9-4 finish. While we might not see quite as many surprises this season in the Big East, they still should be plentiful.
West Virginia, a team that trounced Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl last season, should once again be among the best teams in the Big East and even the entire nation. Quarterback Pat White returns along with a splendid supporting cast on offense. Though Darius Reynaud and Steve Slaton moved on, Noel Devine, Jock Sanders and Tito Gonzales should step in to fill the void. The Mountaineers also boast a confident defense, with an excellent blend of experience and athleticism. The biggest hurdles in the way of another BCS berth will come in the form of home games against Auburn and South Florida, two top 20 teams.
The Bulls of South Florida, meanwhile, return much of their offensive firepower for 2008. Matt Grothe, a multi-dimensional QB, will lead this unit, but Mike Ford and Benjamin Williams will do much of the heavy lifting. Together, the two combined for nearly 1,100 yards on the ground last season. The Bulls also return their top four receivers from last season. The key for the Bulls this season will lie in the defense. Their offense will score points, but the question remains if they will wilt in the national spotlight like they did a year ago. The Bulls' toughest tests should come on the road against West Virginia and in a home matchup with Todd Reesing and Kansas. South Florida also has intriguing matchups on the road against North Carolina State and Pittsburgh.
The Pittsburgh Panthers look to be the early choice for surprise team in the Big East this season. Dave Wannstedt's club features one of the best running backs in the country, LeSean McCoy. McCoy rambled for nearly 1,500 yards in 2007, his freshman season. LaRod Stephens-Howling will serve as a capable backup to spell McCoy. Quarterback Pat Bostick loses his top receiver from a season ago, but should mature in his sophomore year, serving as mostly a caretaker of this offense. The Panthers have a very young team, with just 17 seniors, and should improve greatly throughout the season. Their toughest test should come in the Backyard Brawl, when they host West Virginia. Pitt also has two road games against Notre Dame and South Florida that should prove to be close contests.
Rutgers will miss Ray Rice, but head coach Greg Schiano has returned and will still find himself with many offensive weapons to play with. Kenny Britt and Tiquan Underwood both return and should form the best receiving duo in the Big East. And quarterback Mike Teel is certainly adept enough to get the ball their way. The running game will be a point of concern that they will look to address early. The defense, while not spectacular, is certainly solid enough to keep Rutgers in any game. A tough schedule, featuring road games against West Virginia, South Florida and Pittsburgh, will prove to be their undoing, relegating them to a middle-of-the-pack finish this season.
The Cincinnati Bearcats may end up relying on their defense extensively this season, but that isn't to say that they lack weapons on the other side of the ball. Dustin Grutza will guide the offense, assuming that Ben Mauk's final appeal for an additional year is rejected by the NCAA board. John Goebel, a sophomore, will handle the majority of the load running the ball. The offense may not need to score often, with a defense featuring studs at linebacker and a secondary filled with ball hawks. Cincinnati's defense finished last season with 42 takeaways (16 fumble recoveries and 26 interceptions), tied with South Florida for the nation's best. However, the Bearcats face an exceedingly difficult schedule, including road games at two top 10 teams, Oklahoma and West Virginia.
While the Connecticut Huskies finished in a tie with West Virginia for the Big East title in 2007, that team was just 2-4 in games on a road or neutral field. They do return Tyler Lorenzen at QB and Donald Brown at RB, but also finished last season with three of their nine wins coming by seven points or less, including a controversial win against Louisville. This year, the rest of the Big East should catch back up to them and put them back towards the bottom of the conference. Road games with North Carolina and South Florida highlight their schedule, while home affairs with West Virginia and Virginia will also test this team.
The Syracuse Orange remains on ‘Greg Robinson alert' until further notice, waiting for the fateful day when the other shoe drops and G-Rob is fired. The running game will anchor the offense, led by Curtis Brinkley and Delone Carter. Highly-touted freshman Averin Collier could also see time, if either one above him on the depth chart is injured. Andrew Robinson is an enigma at quarterback, showing flashes of brilliance. These will likely be few and far between this season, as he will have a new cast of young, inexperienced wide receivers. Syracuse's schedule highlights include home games with Penn State and Pittsburgh. But the Orange must also travel to South Bend, Morgantown and Tampa.
My how the mighty have fallen! Louisville, just two years removed from seriously contending for the national title, will be hard-pressed to replace the loss of Brian Brohm and both its top receiver and rusher. Meanwhile, last year's putrid defense that surrendered 31.4 ppg can't be expected to improve drastically overnight. The Cardinals' schedule features early home dates with out-of-conference foes Kentucky and Kansas State, while it appears they dodged a bullet on the road. Their toughest challenges away from home should be against Pittsburgh and Rutgers.
And without further ado, your 2008 Big East predictions:
WVU 6-1 (10-2)
USF 5-2 (9-3)
Pitt 5-2 (9-3)
RU 4-3 (8-4)
SU 3-4 (5-7)
Cinn 3-4 (8-5)
UConn 2-5 (5-7)
Lville (0-7) 4-8
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