Top of the Mountain

West Virginia has been picked to win the 2006 Big East Conference football title in a preseason poll of media representatives who cover the league teams on a regular basis. The Mountaineers posted a perfect 7-0 mark in the conference last season en route to the outright league crown and the conference's BCS bid. WVU is the only team to have won at least a share of the last three league titles.

West Virginia received 18 of a possible 24 first-place votes in the preseason poll. The Mountaineers registered an 11-1 record in 2005 and capped off the campaign with a 38-35 victory over Georgia in the Nokia Sugar Bowl. WVU finished fifth in the season's final Associated Press Poll and sixth in the final USA Today Poll. In `06, head coach Rich Rodriguez's Mountaineers return 15 starters, including nine on offense.

Louisville was chosen to finish second and received the other six first-place votes. In their first season in the Big East in 2005, head coach Bobby Petrino's Cardinals recorded a 9-3 overall mark and finished second in the league with a 5-2 record, earning an invitation to the Toyota Gator Bowl. The U of L was ranked 19th in the final AP Poll and 20th in the final USA Today Poll. This season, Louisville returns 19 starters - eight on offense and nine on defense.

Pittsburgh was picked to finish third in the league. In Dave Wannstedt's first season at the helm of the Panthers a year ago, Pitt finished 5-6 overall and tied for third in the conference with a 4-3 league mark. The Panthers return six players on both sides of the football this season.

POSTEAM (1st Pl Votes)PTS
1. West Virginia (18) 186
2. Louisville (6) 172
3. Pittsburgh 127
4. Rutgers 125
5. USF 97
6. Connecticut 80
7. Cincinnati 41
8. Syracuse 36
Rutgers was projected to finish in fourth place. Last season, head coach Greg Schiano's Scarlet Knights (7-5, 4-3 Big East) posted seven wins for the first time since 1992 and registered their first winning season in league play. RU also played in the 2005 Insight Bowl - the school's first bowl appearance since 1978. The Scarlet Knights have 16 starters returning as they attempt to reach back-to-back bowl games for the first time.

USF was chosen to finish fifth in the conference. In their inaugural Big East campaign a year ago, the Bulls finished tied for third with a 4-3 league mark. In just its ninth season of existence, head coach Jim Leavitt's program went to its first ever bowl game - the Meineke Car Care Bowl - and finished the season with a 6-6 overall record. The Bulls return 15 starters in 2006.

Connecticut was picked to finish sixth in the league this season. The Huskies posted a 5-6 overall record and a 2-5 conference mark in 2005. Despite a number of critical injuries, UConn went into the final week of the regular season still fighting for a bowl berth. Head coach Randy Edsall's Huskies return 15 starters this season.

Cincinnati was tabbed seventh in the preseason poll. In their first season in the league in 2005, head coach Mark Dantonio's young Bearcat squad registered a 4-7 overall record and a 2-5 mark in the Big East. Cincinnati returns 10 starters on defense and seven on offense. Syracuse was selected to finish eighth in the league. The Orange went 1-10 overall a year ago and were 0-7 in conference play. First-year coach Greg Robinson's SU squad was vastly improved defensively last season, ranking 21st in the nation against the pass. The Orange return 42 letterwinners in 2006, including 12 starters.

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