West Virginia has moved to the Big 12. Temple is back in the league. Pitt and Syracuse head into their finals Big East seasons before moving to the ACC. There should be plenty of storylines this season. Here's one attempt to predict how the league will stand at the end.
1. Louisville:This was the easiest choice in the poll. The Cardinals won five of their last seven games last season and shared first place in the conference with West Virginia and Cincinnati. Sophomore quarterback Teddy Bridgewater returns after earning unanimous Big East Rookie of the Year honors. Safety Hakeem Smith anchors the defense. And coach Charlie Strong is a rising star.
2. South Florida: The Bulls must avoid a repeat of last season when they won their first four games and finished 5-7. Coach Skip Holtz has fourth-year quarterback B.J. Daniels and defensive end Ryne Giddins. If USF gets consistency on both sides of the ball, this could be a memorable season. This was the hardest spot to pick because three or four teams were considered.
3. Rutgers: The Scarlet Knights came to Rentschler Field last November with BCS dreams and the Huskies played spoiler with a 40-22 victory. Coach Greg Schiano departed for the NFL but left the roster in good shape. Can new coach Kyle Flood take Rutgers to the promised land in his first season? Wouldn't that be something?
4. UConn: The Huskies probably won't get this much respect in the official preseason media poll, but after a successful spring I think UConn is confident enough to show major improvement in Paul Pasqualoni's second season. The Huskies will return to special things on defense with Trevardo Williams, Sio Moore and Blidi Wreh-Wilson. If someone steps up at quarterback, the Huskies could move even higher.
5. Pitt: It's really difficult to predict the Panthers. From Dave Wannstedt to Todd Graham and now to Paul Chryst, Pitt has become the land of instability. Wouldn't be surprised if the Panthers finished second or third. Likewise, it could be a struggle. Everyone at media day will be asking about running back Ray Graham's knee.
6. Cincinnati: The Bearcats won a share of their third Big East title in four years in 2011. Now they must replace Big East Offensive Player of the Year Isaiah Pead and co-Defensive Player of the Year Derek Wolfe. Quarterback Zach Collaros must be replaced as well. That's a lot of questions but the Bearcats have built a successful program.
7. Syracuse: The Orange lost five in a row to end 2011. Syracuse – like Pitt – will be playing its final season in the Big East. Let's just say the teams left behind might have some lovely parting gifts for the Orange. And the non-conference schedule includes USC, Minnesota, Northwestern and Missouri. On the bright side, Marcus Sales returns at wide receiver after missing 2011 because of drug charges that were eventually dropped.
8. Temple: The Owls return to the Big East but they won't be flying high for a while. Coach Steve Addazio has a plan but this isn't the MAC. In five seasons playing in the MAC, the Owls never posted a conference win against teams that finished with an overall winning record. Temple will need a little time but, for now, their fans will need patience.