Pittsburgh was chosen to finish in second place, its highest preseason pick in BIG EAST history. The Panthers bring back a BIG EAST-high 17 starters from a squad that ended the year nationally-ranked for the first time since 1989. Sophomore wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald takes the field again as Pittsburgh's top offensive threat. The 2002 BIG EAST Rookie of the Year, he led the conference with 12 touchdown catches. He also had 1,005 receiving yards, the first freshman in league annals to surpass the 1,000-yard total. Pittsburgh also boasts eight returning starters from a group that was 12th nationally in total defense (296.0 ypg).
Projected to finish third is Virginia Tech. The Hokies will take the field with 16 returning starters, including nine from a defensive squad that led the country with 24 interceptions. In addition, the defense boasts 12 of 13 players who recorded sacks in 2002. On offense, the Hokies have two skilled options at quarterback with returning starter Bryan Randall and sophomore Marcus Vick. Randall completed 63.7 percent of his passes last year, the second-best season mark in BIG EAST history. Three experienced starters are also back up front, led by senior center Jake Grove.
West Virginia was chosen fourth. The Mountaineers were back in bowl play in 2002 after a one-year hiatus. WVU will look to junior quarterback Rasheed Marshall, who set a conference single-season record with 666 rushing yards to go along with 1,616 passing yards. All-BIG EAST First Team linebacker Grant Wiley will lead the defense.
Boston College was picked to finish in fifth place. The Eagles hope to qualify for a fifth straight bowl game behind senior tailback Derrick Knight. He is the top returning rusher in the BIG EAST, having run for 1,432 yards a year ago.
Syracuse was selected sixth. The Orangemen hope to rebound from their first non-winning season since 1986. SU has one of the top running back tandems in the nation in junior Walter Reyes and sophomore Damien Rhodes. The duo combined for 1,703 yards and 24 touchdowns in 2002.
Temple and Rutgers round out the poll at seventh and eighth. The Owls have five players back on defense, a group that led the league in rushing defense by allowing just 108.3 yards per game. Rutgers boasts senior Nate Jones, one of the country's top return specialists. He shared BIG EAST Special Teams Player of the Year accolades, averaging 28.3 yards per kick return. Included in the average were two 100-yard scampers for touchdowns.
2003 BIG EAST Football Preseason Media Poll
(first place votes in parentheses)
1. Miami (21) 188
2. Pittsburgh (1) 159
3. Virginia Tech (2) 156
4. West Virginia 102
5. Boston College 100
6. Syracuse 87
7. Temple 42
8. Rutgers 32