New offensive system? New head coach? Rebuilding defense? None of those factors kept West Virginia out of the top spot of the 2011 Preseason Football Poll, and including votes from media covering the league. WVU's Backyard Brawl opponent, Pittsburgh, was picked second, while USF was tabbed third.
The Mountaineers received 21 of a possible 24 first-place votes and had 188 points in the preseason voting of media representatives from each of the eight Big East markets. Two first-place votes went to Pittsburgh, while the other went to USF.
West Virginia has proven to be a safe choice as the Big East favorite. The Mountaineers have won or shared the Big East title five times in the last eight years and have placed no lower than second in the standings in nine consecutive seasons. First-year head coach Dana Holgorsen takes on a program that is one of just four schools nationally (along with Boise State, Ohio State and Virginia Tech) that has won at least nine games in each of the last six years.
Holgorsen is armed with quarterback Geno Smith, who threw for 2,763 yards and 24 touchdowns in 2010. The defense is paced by defensive end Bruce Irvin, who registered a BIG EAST-leading 14 sacks and cornerback Keith Tandy, who led the conference with six interceptions.
|1.||West Virginia (21)||188|
USF was picked third in the preseason poll with 151 points. The Bulls and head coach Skip Holtz won five of their last seven games in 2010 to make their sixth straight bowl appearance. The Bulls will have to replace four All-Big East players from last year's defense, but should find the offensive load easier to manage with the return of quarterback B.J. Daniels, who enters his third year as a starter.
Syracuse returned to the Big East title hunt last season under coach Doug Marrone, and the media expects the Orange to be in the picture once again with 98 points in the preseason poll. Syracuse returns starting quarterback Ryan Nassib, its top five receivers and four starters from the offensive line.
Cincinnati was tabbed fifth in the preseason poll with 96 points. Head coach Butch Jones enters his second year with the Bearcats and has the Big East's top retuning passer and runner. Quarterback Zach Collaros threw for 2,902 yards and 26 touchdowns, while tailback Isaiah Pead ran for 1,029 yards and six TDs.
Connecticut, which won a share of its second Big East title in four years and played in a BCS bowl game for the first time in 2010, was picked sixth in the preseason poll with 76 points. Head coach Paul Pasqualoni enters his first year with the Huskies, but holds the distinction of having the most Big East wins of any coach in league history from his 14-year career at Syracuse.
Louisville was picked seventh with 60 points in the preseason poll. Head coach Charlie Strong brought the Cardinals back to the postseason in his first year at Louisville, but will have to replace four All-Big East First Team choices from that group.
Rutgers was picked eighth in the preseason poll after the Scarlet Knights dropped their last six games of the 2010 season. Coach Greg Schiano finds 10 returning offensive starters in the fold, however, suggesting that the slide might be short-lived.