WVU, Cincinnati Picked Second

For the second straight season, Pittsburgh is the favorite to win the Big East Conference's football championship. After picking up 22 of a possible 24 first-place votes, the Panthers were well ahead of the rest of the pack in the league's preseason media poll, released Tuesday morning at Big East media day in Newport, R.I.

The Panthers were 10-3 overall in 2009, including a 5-2 mark in conference play. A 45-44 loss to Cincinnati in the last week of the regular season was all that kept head coach Dave Wannstedt and company from justifying their perch at the top of the preseason media poll last year.

They will attempt to finish the job this year, with 12 returning starters from that team, which lost its conference games by a combined four points.

Wannstedt will again have the services of running back Dion Lewis, the league's reigning Offensive Player of the Year, and defensive end Greg Romeus, who was a co-Defensive Player of the Year pick last season.

The league's two-time defending champions, the Bearcats from UC, earned a tie for second in the media poll.

Former WVU assistant coach Butch Jones takes over in Cincinnati this fall, and will attempt to continue to build upon the foundation left by his predecessor Brian Kelly.

Under Kelly, who left southern Ohio to take over as head coach at Notre Dame, the Bearcats won their last 18 regular season games and finished the 2009 campaign with a 12-1 record.

Jones has the help of returning quarterback Zach Collaros, who made waves a season ago with his spectacular play when he was called upon to take over for the injured Tony Pike. UC will need solid play from Collaros as it attempts to replace six starters on defense.

West Virginia tied the Bearcats for second in the media poll and earned a single first-place vote, after sharing second place in the league last season with Pittsburgh at 5-2 in Big East play, part of a 9-4 overall record.

Head coach Bill Stewart's squad returns 19 starters, including star running back Noel Devine. Devine may be asked to carry much of the load offensively early in the season, as the Mountaineers will attempt to groom a new starting quarterback to take over for the departed Jarrett Brown.

True sophomore Geno Smith is the favorite to win that job, but a pair of talented true freshmen (Barry Brunetti and Jeremy Johnson) will have a chance to compete for the signal-caller spot as well in fall training camp.

Just a few points behind WVU and Cincinnati in the preseason poll is Connecticut. The Huskies picked up the final first-place vote, and with their fourth-place finish in the poll are a more lofty preseason pick than they have ever been since joining the Big East.

Head coach Randy Edsall and the 17 starters he has back will hope to have learned lessons from a trying season in 2009. UConn went 8-5 overall and 3-4 in the Big East, but its five losses came by a combined 15 points. The Huskies rallied to win their final four games of the season.

Rutgers was fifth, as head coach Greg Schiano will have the benefit of a year's experience for quarterback Tom Savage and wide receiver Mohamed Sanu, each of whom made waves as true freshmen a season ago.

South Florida and new head coach Skip Holtz were picked sixth after an 8-5 finish in 2009. Holtz will have to find replacements for five players who were named to the All-Big East team on defense.

Syracuse was seventh in the preseason poll, and new Louisville coach Charlie Strong won't have to do much to meet expectations in his first season, as the Cardinals were picked to finish last.

2010 BIG EAST FOOTBALL PRESEASON MEDIA POLL

1. Pittsburgh (22) 190

2. Cincinnati 142

West Virginia (1) 142

4. Connecticut (1) 131

5. Rutgers 99

6. USF 79

7. Syracuse 41

8. Louisville 40

**First place votes are in parentheses, and total points are listed beside each team. A first-place vote is worth eight points, a second-place vote worth seven, and so on.**


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