Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Shwag's Annual College Football Preview: The Big East

Many of you may remember my annual college football preview from I have decided to revive this annual fluff article and expound upon you what I really don't know. Ahh, the future, what will it hold? It is time I put on my great Carnac hat and peer into my crystal ball. First up in my series, we'll look at the Big East, a conference I that I may or may not have an affinity for.

Predicted Order of Finish
  1. West Virginia
  2. USF
  3. Cincinnati
  4. Rutgers
  5. Pitt
  6. UConn
  7. Louisville
  8. Syracuse
The era of change. West Virginia has a new head man in Bill Stewart. Ray Rice, Steve Slaton and Brian Brohm have moved on. These were the players that saved the league, but none of them have left the cupboard too bare. Coming off the league's third straight BCS bowl win, the league has let everyone know that it is here to stay and the future looks very bright with some outsanding recruiting classes and major investments into the programs from the schools themselves. Commissioner Mike Tranghese can go out knowing that the league is in such a great shape.

West Virginia
The Rich Rodriguez departure from Morgantown and subsequent court battle, could have been the start of the downfall of the program in Morgantown. A funny thing happened. The players and the coaching staff that was left, made sure to remind everyone, WVU was not going away and in fact may be stronger than last year. Ask Oklahoma, how good they are. Coach Bill Stewart made sure to surround himself with one of the top staffs in the country. He brought in Doc Holliday from Florida, David Lockwood from Minnesota and Notre Dame, Mike Joseph from Notre Dame, Jeff Mullen from Wake Forest and most notably, DC Jeff Casteel, stayed home. With coach Mullen coming in from Wake to install motion and downfield passing into West Virginia's vaunted spread offense, the mounties are no longer one dimensional. West Virginia returns their whole line which was ranked third in the country in rushing last year. Did I mention that Pat White is back? Throw in some Noel Devine and the mountaineer offense will probably be amongst the nation's best again. No more eight in the box. The defenses will have to be honest this year.

The big question will be on defense where the mountaineers need to replace seven starters. The good thing is that Jeff Casteel has an abundance of talent to work with. The mountaineers finally brought in a defensive back coach to properly teach proper techniques, with one of the best in the country in David Lockwood. The DB's for years had been sort of an achilles heel under Rodriguez. Look for an upgrade here. The linebackers are as deep as they have ever have been at WVU. Reed Williams, the Fiesta Bowl defensive MVP, is the big question mark on whether he can return this season after shoulder surgery. The defensive line has some major holes to fill with the departures of Kellien Dykes and Johnny Dingle. Look for newcomer Tevita Finau to push for some time up front.

South Florida
The monster has awoken. No longer is there the big three in Florida. Say hello to our friends with the geographical error in their name. Say hello to South Florida. Jim Leavitt has done an incredible job building the program from scratch in Tampa. With the abundance of talent in Florida, his recruiting travel budget is probably one of the smallest in the NCAA. He can throw a rock from Raymond James stadium and probably hit the homes of ten division one players. Their success has not been a fluke. They are for real and should challenge again for the Big East title. Back again, is one of the Big East's best QB's in Matt Grothe. When he is on the run, he is almost like Houdini at getting out of trouble. RB Mike Ford is as fast is he as he is big. At 6'2" 225 lbs, he reminds me of another former big east back from Louisville named Michael Bush. He is Michael Bush with a legit 4.3 forty. The Bulls only had to replace one man on the line. They look to be very big and strong this year. The big question mark will be at receiver where they led the league last year in dropped balls. They will need an upgrade in performance this year.

The Bulls return probably the best defensive coordinator in the league in Wally Burnham. He is an absolute tactitian on the sidelines. Up front, the Bulls return the top DE in the league in George Selvie. Nobody is quicker off the ball. The linebackers must replace Ben Moffit. If they can, the linebacking corps should be pretty good. Their biggest holes will be the in backfield where they will need to replace the top corners in the league in Mike Jenkins and Trae Williams. Look for the bulls to challenge the Mountaineers for the league title this year. I can guarantee that both teams have December 6th circled on the calendars.

The best young coach in the league is the Bearcat's Brian Kelly. He has been a winner at every stop along the way. Coming off a 10-3 record in his first year, I expect coach Kelly to be right on par or even better this year. This team is centered around its defense and as the old adage goes, defense wins championships. Pre-season All-American DT Terrill Byrd anchors the top returning unit in the league. The senior laden unit is going to be tough especially against the run with two of the three linebacker are returning letterman. Mike Mickens is one of the best returning DB's in the league. They need to however replace both safeties.

The big question is who will be the signal caller this year. If Ben Mauk can get one more year from the NCAA then all is good. If not, the nod will probably go the Notre Dame transfer Demetrius Jones. Coach Kelly has a reputation as being one of the top qb coaches in the land, so I think whoever it is, should be adequate. Their running game has been mediocre at best. If freshman Isiah Pead is as good as his high school press clippings, things may be different in the queen city. Marcus Barnett at receiver is absolutely gifted. The question is, can they get the ball to him? The line must replace the right side. The offensive unit has so many questions , that I can't rank them higher. Coach Kelly is such a tremendous coach, that I think they should end up in the top three by year's end.

Greg Schiano said hell no to Michigan, got a new stadium expansion and lost the best running back in school history. It has been one of those years. RU has had their best run ever under the tutelage of Coach Schiano. It all began his first year when he gathered all the top prospects in New Jersey that year in a room and asked them to stay home and help build something together. Many did. No longer is New Jersey being poached by other schools. With Schiano's ties to south Florida, it is no wonder they have been so successful. The success of this years team rides on the arm of Mike Teel. For all the talent he has, he needs to stop throwing the ball to the opposing team. He does have the league's best wideout tandem in Kenny Britt and Tiquan Underwood. Both will be playing on Sundays in the future. Their line should be outstanding, thanks in no large part to their recruiting efforts. Anthony Davis is an absolute beast. The big hole will be at running back where they will need to replace Ray Rice. It looks to be that they will use a tandem of backs with Jordan Brooks and Kordell Young. Another guy who could get some looks, is a local kid Joe Martinek from my neck of the woods. If Joe Sr. is reading this, he knows that I have felt that Joe would have looked great in the gold and blue.

Rutgers returns five of the starting front seven on defense. That would be great for some teams, but until they learn to stop the run, it could be track meets again for Rutgers. This has been their achilles heel. With the influx of young talent pushing the current starters, maybe this year could be the year. I will believe it when I see it. The DBs are very strong with mostly everybody back, except for strong safety. Courtney Greene's decision to stay should bolster this unit. Now I would have ranked RU higher, but they need to prove to me that they are ready to make that next step.

No loss will ever be more devastating to me than the loss that my beloved Mountaineers had against Pitt. No win was ever more important for one guy's job than Pitt's victory over WVU. Dave Wannstedt got the win he needed to right the ship. On paper, he has been a great recruiter. On the field, for the most part, until the win at WVU, their teams have been a disappointment. Returning this year is one of the league's outstanding backs in Lesean McCoy. He has NFL star written all over him. At receiver, Derek Kinder returns along with incoming stud freshman Jonathan Baldwin. Both have great hands. Both should make great impacts. Jonathan Baldwin should win the league's freshman of the year. The big question marks are at QB and on the line. Who will be the QB, Junior Bill Stuhl or Sophomore Pat Bostick? The line returns only two starters. Will the skill guys be enough?

On defense remember this name, Scott McKillop. He is the best linebacker to play at Pitt since Hugh Green. The whole unit is deep. The line returns almost everybody as well. All of the DB's saw significant playing time on a unit that was in the top five nationally. The big problem is, can they replace DC Paul Rhoades? With Wannstedt in charge, I am not sure. Can he finally learn to develop the talent? I am not sure that he can. If he does, this team may be one for the ages, but I am not holding my breath.

Randy Edsall has been quietly building a strong program at UConn. After last year's success of sharing the Big East title, will they build on this? I am not sold on this program yet. Last year's 66-21 loss to my mountaineers tells me otherwise. QB Tyler Lorenzen has all the skills to make it at the next level. The big question is will he have anyone to throw the rock to? The huskies receiving corps is thin at best. Edsall is looking to basically have warm bodies after his top guy transferred and the other two returners didn't take a snap in spring ball. The line looks so so, with with three returners. They need to protect Lorenzen. He was on his back far too much. The huskies have a nice one two punch at RB with Donald Brown and Andre Dixon. I don't how well the line will hold up.

On defensive, the huskies return six of their starting front seven. They must learn to stop the run or like RU, get out your track shoes boys!. The DB's are young, so expect a big learning curve. Will Lorenzen be enough to get them through? That is the big question.

The makeover in Louisville has begun. It is going to be long year for the Cards as Coach Steve Kragthorpe looks to change the atmosphere and the defense at Papa John's Stadium. For a guy who had all the accolades coming in and all the talent on the field, Steve Kragthorpe's first year was a huge disappointment to the Cardinal faithful. He needs to get the talent to match his quasi-spread offense that he ran at Tulsa. For all the arm strength that QB Hunter Cantwell has, he is not matched for Coach Kragthorpe's system. As well, his top returning running back, transferred. Look for Victor Anderson to step up. Hopefully he can live up to his high school credentials. Who are the receivers going to be? These are the questions that many are asking. The line is being rebuilt as well.

Now to the defense. There is nowhere than to go up from where they are. They couldn't stop the pass. They couldn't stop run, but they were tops in penalties. The defense only returns four starters. Kragthorpe brought in former Michigan DC Ron English to overhaul the unit that was near the league bottom in every statistical category. Can Kragthorpe do it? I hope, but some decisions are making me wonder, like pulling out of Florida to only spot recruit there. He has decided to go the Kansas State route and load up on Jucos. It may be a long couple of years for my friends in da'ville.

At least Louisville can say,Thank God for Syracuse. No coaching tenure has been worse in the history of the Orange than Greg Robinson. He has been 7-28 in three years. From the school that produced so many great stars and has had such a rich history, this has been unacceptable. The only good thing that the Orange have is Mike Williams at WR. He is the best wideout they have had since Marvin Harrison. Laver Lobdell could be great at WR, but without significant coaching, I don't see it happening. Andrew Robinson is a good QB with no line or running back to bail him out. I can't see that many points put up this year by the Orange.

On defense, the line could be its strength. Arthur Jones is a stud at Nose tackle. The other stud is CB Mike Holmes. The problem is that they need nine other guys to show up. I knew Greg Robinson was doomed from the start. In his first year, against Iowa, they were going for the win on their own goal line. The Orange ended up with eight chances to do it thanks to a Hawkeye penalty. They ran the same play eight consecutive times with a hand off to the running back. The problem was that the starting running back at the time was on the sidelines, not even in the game. Coach Robinson had no clue. So as they say, it will be a long year up north. Plenty of good seats will be available.


Next up the SEC....

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