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College Football Preview 2008College Football Free Pick'Em Contest 2008
SCS.COM COLLEGE FOOTBALL PREVIEW 2008: BIG EAST
July 28, 2008

SCS.comBefore writing this preview, I was under the impression that the Big East was going to be the weakest BCS conference in 2008. Forgive me, for I have sinned. The Big East is one of the deepest conferences in college football. West Virginia is a national title contender and conference favorite. Who has the ability to knock off the perennial giant? USF, a veteran team that is going to be better than they were last year when they climbed the rankings to number two, can. George Selvie and Matt Grothe are going to give WVU everything they can handle. The Big East title is probably going to be decided on December 6th when WVU hosts USF.

SCS.com Pick'Em Contest

Five teams are log jammed behind USF and WVU. Connecticut, who surprised the nation by finishing in a tie for first with West Virginia, returns the most starters in the conference. Will they have the same success they had in 2007 without the ability to sneak up on opponents? Cincinnati loses star quarterback Ben Mauk, but they have one of the deepest teams in the conference. If the Bearcats get strong quarterback play, anything can happen. Pittsburgh is a dangerous team. They have the league’s best player, LeSean McCoy. If the offense can consistently score around 30 points, there will be no stopping the Panthers from finishing 2nd or 3rd. Rutgers will begin life without Ray Rice. Luckily, they have veteran quarterback Mike Teel and the best receivers in the conference lining up on offense. Greg Schiano’s Scarlet Knights are aiming for a conference title. Slightly behind these four teams is Louisville. Louisville, after a run of Big East dominance, struggled last year. Steve Kragthorpe is in his 2nd year and is already feeling the heat to make a bowl game. Louisville, who returns only eight starters, is a wildcard in 2008. Syracuse will likely find themselves at the bottom of the standings, again. A losing season will send head coach Greg Robinson packing.

Three Keys | Team-by-Team Analysis
Projected Standings | All-Conference Teams

THREE KEYS

1. Will USF and UCONN be able to continue to have success in 2008? Last year, these teams were overlooked by opponents, and they paid the price. Are these teams good enough to win while being respected? I think so. Both of these teams return most of their starters, including their starting quarterbacks and running backs.
2. Will Cincinnati and Rutgers be able to compete for the conference title while rebuilding? Although Cincinnati and Rutgers lose some important players, I think that both programs have enough stability and depth to stay competitive in the Big East. If one of these two is not in the running for the conference title heading into the last week or two of the season, I would be very surprised. Rutgers will have to rely on the passing game more, but that does not mean they will take a step back. If Cincinnati can find a solid quarterback, they should have no trouble hanging with USF and WVU.
3. How will WVU handle life without Rich Rodriguez? Not that Rodriguez had left for Michigan, the head coaching duties have been passed onto Bill Stewart. Stewart, who has over 30 years of coaching experience, led the Mountaineers to a Fiesta Bowl victory over Oklahoma. He inherited the most talented team in the conference and one of the best in the country. The team responded well to him during their bowl game, and I expect the same during the season.

TEAM-BY-TEAM ANALYSIS

Cincinnati

OFFENSE: If Ben Mauk is not granted a sixth year, then the Bearcats will have a new starting quarterback in 2008. Who will that be? My guess is Demetrius Jones, the transfer from Notre Dame. With less scrutiny and pressure, Jones should flourish in Cincinnati. If he does become the starting quarterback, he will have a great group of receivers to throw to. Dominick Goodman and Marcus Barnett are a stellar duo at wideout. In 2007, these two combined for 130 catches, 1731 yards, and 21 touchdowns. Marshawn Gilyard and Charley Howard round up a dangerous group of receivers. Last season, the Bearcats ran the ball by committee (four running backs had over 48 carries). Jacob Ramsey will carry most of the load, while John Goebel will get some carries as well. The offensive line returns four starters. The only question mark is at right guard, Jason Kelce, who lacked consistency while playing center at times in 2007.
DEFENSE: The defense will again be one of the best in the Big East. They return six starters, including defensive tackle Terrill Byrd. Byrd had eight sacks a year ago. He also made 17 tackles for loss, which led the team. The defensive ends will need to step up and create a stronger pass rush. Connor Barwin is a former tight end who has moved to defensive end to sure up the position. The Bearcats return three solid linebackers in Ryan Manalac, Andre Revels, and Corey Smith. Energetic Corey Smith, who made 80 tackles last season, will likely be the teams leading tackler. The corners are the strength of the defense. Mike Mickens and DeAngelo Smith combined for 14 interceptions in 2007. The only problem is that the Bearcats lose two solid starting safeties. Brad Jones, Cedric Tolbert, and Drew Frey will see the most time at safety. If the safeties can solidify quickly, the Bearcats will have the ability to shut down their opponents’ passing attack.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Cincinnati has the nations best punter, Kevin Huber. Huber averaged nearly 47 yards per punt last season. The kicking duties are up for grabs. Jake Rogers went 11-19 last season. He will have to fight to keep his job. DeAngelo Smith will be dealing with kick and punt returns.
COACHING: Brian Kelly had the best first season in Bearcat history, going 10-3 and winning the Papajohns.com Bowl. Kelly, who won a MAC championship with Central Michigan in 2006, is building a team capable of winning a Big East title.
SCHEDULE: Cincinnati travels to Oklahoma in week two. An upset would catapult the Bearcats into the top 25 and instill some serious confidence for a team that lacks certainty at quarterback. They get Connecticut and West Virginia on the road, and South Florida and Pittsburgh at home.
IMPACT/BREAKOUT PLAYER.... Charley Howard had a great spring and will likely start on opening day for the Bearcats. If he continues to progress and becomes another receiving threat, Cincinnati will have one of the best receiving cores in the nation.
IF EVERYTHING GOES WELL.... Cincinnati could sneak up and win the Big East. All this team is missing is a starting quarterback. If Ben Mauk was returning to this team, they would be in everyone’s top 20. Another 10-win season is a possibility.
IF THINGS DON'T GO SO WELL.... The quarterback situation is troubling. There are so many possibilities and options that it might poison the locker room. However, Kelly is a top notch coach with one of the Big East’s best defenses. The receivers are too strong to let the offense fall too far. I expect, at worst, a bowl game for Cincinnati. .
MAKE OR BREAK: Quarterback play will shape the Bearcat’s season. Mauk’s 31 touchdown passes will be hard to replace, but if they want to win the Big East, they will have to find someone who can get the ball to their talented receivers.

Connecticut

OFFENSE: Connecticut’s offense ranked 90th in total offense in 2007. However, they scored 30 or more points six times. They are not going to light up the stat sheet, but they will be very efficient. UConn’s offense returns nine starters, including quarterback Tyler Lorenzen. Lorenzen was good last year, throwing for 13 touchdowns and only six interceptions. I would call for him to have bigger numbers, but I have questions about UConn’s receivers. Returning starters D.J. Hernandez and Brad Kanuch combined for only three touchdowns in 2007. Their most reliable pass catcher is tight end Steve Brouse. An average passing game means that UConn will rely heavily on their potent rushing attack. Andre Dixon and Donald Brown both rushed for over 800 yards last season. These two juniors are a solid 1-2 punch. They will run behind a line returning four starters. However, the line is getting shaken up and will look very different from last year. Moe Petrus (left guard) and Zach Hurd (right guard) won spots in the spring. If these two are as good as people have been saying, UConn’s rushing attack will be hard to stop.
DEFENSE: UConn’s defense ranked 14th in the nation in scoring defense, giving up just 19 points per game. They return eight starters. The strength is the defensive line. Cody Brown and Julius Williams are a great pair of defensive ends. They combined for 16 sacks and 28.5 tackles for loss. Three starting linebackers return, Dahna Deleston, Scott Lutrus, and Lawrence Wilson. They all had over 100 tackles in 2007. The linebacker unit is the best in the Big East. Free safety Robert Vaughn returns after making seven interceptions last season. Darius Butler, who might play at wide receiver, is a shutdown corner who will likely be untested because the other team will be throwing away from him.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Punter Desi Cullen averaged over 40 yards per punt last season. Tony Ciaravino nailed 22 out of 27 field goals a year ago. The Huskies lose Larry Taylor and Tyvon Branch, so there is some uncertainty in the return game. Look for Darius Butler to step up and be dangerous on kick returns. The kick coverage must improve.
COACHING: Randy Edsall arrived at UConn in 1999. He did not have a winning season until 2003. Coming into the 2007 season, he only had two winning season under his belt. But after leading UConn to a share of the Big East, he is looking like one of the conference’s best coaches. He is building a contender that will be competing year in and year out until he leaves.
SCHEDULE: The Huskies host Virginia and Baylor in week 3 and 4. Winning these games will be very important if UConn wants to reach double digit wins in 2008. They travel to Louisville, Rutgers, and South Florida.
IMPACT/BREAKOUT PLAYER.... Darius Butler, a shutdown corner, will likely see some time at wide receiver. The Huskies need some help at wideout, and Butler might be the answer. He will not be a full time starter, but he will likely play around 10 snaps per game on offense.
IF EVERYTHING GOES WELL.... Connecticut returns nearly the same team that won a share of the Big East in 2007. I could see this team repeating last year’s performance. The front seven is the best in the conference. The running game is only second to West Virginia.
IF THINGS DON'T GO SO WELL.... Connecticut will not be sneaking up on anyone this year. Their defense will be dominant, but the passing offense needs work. UConn should make a 2nd straight trip to a bowl game.
MAKE OR BREAK: There is no reason the Huskies should not win all five of their out of conference games. They play Virginia, Baylor, and North Carolina. Virginia will be tough, but going 5-0 will lock up a bowl bid. The Huskies will use ball control to their advantage to beat these teams. Run the ball, force three and outs, repeat.

Louisville

OFFENSE: Louisville loses Brian Brohm, their star quarterback. Oh, and seven other starters. 6-4 236 lbs. Hunter Caldwell will be more than competent at quarterback this year. He has playing experience and is built like an NFL quarterback. Although Brock Bolen and Bilal Powell will see a lot of carries, I predict that redshirt freshman Victor Anderson is going to have a big year at running back. He is a small speed back that will flourish in Louisville’s offense. Louisville loses its top four receivers. Scott Long returns after making 27 catches in 2007. JaJuan Spillman, who was suspended during last season, is a tiny 165 lbs. He will give Louisville a much needed playmaker at receiver. The offensive line returns two starters, including All-Big East candidates center Eric Wood and left tackle George Bussey. Although they have three positions to fill, Louisville’s offensive line will be a strength due to the playing experience the new starters have.
DEFENSE: Louisville returns four starters to a defense that gave up over 30 points eight times. The star of the defense is defensive tackle Earl Heyman. He made 40 tackles and four sacks last season. His partner at defensive tackle, Adrian Grady, is a solid run-stuffer. The defensive ends need to get better at getting pressure on the quarterback. They ranked 101st in sacks last season. Three new players will start at linebacker. James Bryant, a transfer from Miami, will be the leader of the group. Stephen Garr, Patrick Grant, Brandon Heath, and Darius Mann will share time at the other linebacker spots. Safety Bobby Buchanan is the leader of a secondary that was very weak against the pass last year. Cornerback Chaz Thompson is going to be called upon to fill in the nickel back position, currently a very weak position for Louisville.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Cory Goettsche returns after averaging 39 yards per punt in 2007. Tim Dougherty will likely take over the kicking duties for departed Art Carmody. However, he will have to fight for the job. The return game will be strong with Trent Guy and JaJuan Spillman handling the returns.
COACHING: Bobby Petrino left for the NFL, and then left that for Arkansas. Steve Kragthorpe was hired as his replacement. He poorly handled a solid team in 2007. This team is not much better, if at all. Another season without a bowl bid will put him on the hot seat. Former Michigan assistant Ron English will try to work magic with Louisville’s defense.
SCHEDULE: Louisville hosts rival Kentucky and Kansas State early in the season. They get South Florida and West Virginia at home. They will be looking to play spoiler and shake up the top of the Big East standings.
IMPACT/BREAKOUT PLAYER.... Louisville needs a running back to step up and take the lead. I expect that to be redshirt freshman Victor Anderson. His quickness will be a nice balance to the other runners’ power.
IF EVERYTHING GOES WELL.... Louisville will have a good offense, even with a lot of graduating players. Louisville will probably do no better than a seven win season, but that would get them to a bowl. Their fans cannot expect much more in 2008. This team is rebuilding.
IF THINGS DON'T GO SO WELL.... A losing season is not out of the question. The defense is going to have a hard time stopping the Big East’s top offenses like WVU and USF. Things might get worse before they get better at Louisville.
MAKE OR BREAK: The defense has to get better. Giving up over 400 yards a game is not going to get them to seven wins. Ron English is a great defensive coordinator. If he can improve Louisville’s defense, they might be able to pull off some Big East upsets.

Pittsburgh

OFFENSE: Pittsburgh is on the verge of something great. It starts with their offense. LeSean McCoy had an amazing freshman year, rushing for 1328 yards and 14 touchdowns. He is the cornerstone of the Panther offense. Junior Bill Stull will start in 2008, after injuring his thumb in 2007. If he gets hurt again, Pat Bostick will be ready to take over after starting eight games last season. Pitt returns its top two receivers, T.J. Porter and Oderick Turner. Derek Kinder returns after missing all of 2007 with an ACL injury. His return makes Pittsburgh’s passing offense just as strong as its rushing attack. Nate Byham is a very solid tight end who made 15 catches as a backup last year. The offensive line loses three starters. C.J. Davis will anchor the line at left guard. Center Robb Houser is a JUCO transfer who is quick and needs to have a big year. The offensive line has to excel to open holes for McCoy.
DEFENSE: The defense returns seven starters, including linebacker Scott McKillop. He led the nation in tackles last year. His 151 tackles was best on the team by 91 tackles. He is the leader of a strong linebacker core that returns all three starters. The front four is led by the defensive tackles. Rashaad Duncan and Mick Williams are solid run-stuffers. The defensive ends are good too. Greg Romeus made 11.5 tackles for loss without making a start. Pitt finished 3rd in the nation in pass defense last season. They will not be as good, but Pitt will not fall too far. Aaron Berry is a solid corner who broke up five passes last season. Eric Thatcher is a sure tackler at free safety. Elijah Fields and Dom DeCicco will share time at strong safety.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Conor Lee made 18 out of 22 field goals last season. Dave Brytus averaged 39.58 yards per punt. He also placed 18 punts inside the 20. Aaron Berry returns as a good punt returner. Pittsburgh has to get better at covering punts, ranking 91st in the nation.
COACHING: Pittsburgh has a solid team, but Dave Wannstedt might not be the coach to lead them to a 10-win season. If he fails to lead the Panthers to a bowl game, he is gone.
SCHEDULE: Out of conference, Pittsburgh hosts Iowa and travels to Notre Dame. In Big East play, they host West Virginia and Rutgers. They get South Florida, Cincinnati, Connecticut, and Louisville on the road.
IMPACT/BREAKOUT PLAYER.... Derek Kinder missed all of last season with an injury. The Panther’s badly missed him. If he plays like he did in 2006, Pittsburgh’s passing game is going to be very dangerous.
IF EVERYTHING GOES WELL.... Pittsburgh has a solid offense and one of the best defenses in the conference. If they perform up to their potential, they could win the Big East. McCoy could be Pittsburgh’s first Heisman winner since Tony Dorsett in 1976.
IF THINGS DON'T GO SO WELL.... The offensive line might struggle early in the season. If they fail to open holes for McCoy, Pittsburgh’s offense will be in trouble. I doubt that Pittsburgh will fail to make a bowl game, but they do have a tough conference schedule consisting of five road games.
MAKE OR BREAK: The offensive line will make or break the offense. Another injury to Bill Stull is not something Panther fans want to see. They have to protect the quarterback better than they did last season. The line struggled last season with seniors that had NFL talent. Now that they have left, the line is a huge question mark.

Rutgers

OFFENSE: Rutgers, who has just recently become a perennial contender in the Big East, is ready to begin life without Ray Rice. Their offense will shift from a consistent rushing attack to a pass-oriented offense. Quarterback Mike Teel has to step up and be an offensive threat. He threw an interceptions against every Big East team except against USF and Louisville. He will have one of the best group of receivers in the nation to throw to. Kenny Britt (1232) and Tiquan Underwood (1100) combined for 2332 yards and 15 touchdowns. Tight end Kevin Brock made 23 catches last season . I expect him to be used a lot more in 2008. The offensive line is led by 6-6 325 lbs. sophomore Anthony Davis, who started eight games last season. The running game will likely be by committee. Speedy Kordell Young will be Rice’s replacement after tearing his ACL last year. Mason Robinson, Joe Martinek, and Jourdan Brooks will all see carries throughout the season. The offense will be totally different from 2007, but might be better after all is said and done.
DEFENSE: The Scarlet Knight defense returns eight starters. Jamaal Westerman makes the move from defensive end to defensive tackle to replace departed Eric Foster. George Johnson and Gary Watts return to hold down the ends. They combined for eight sacks and 13 tackles for loss a year ago. Kevin Malast, who made 92 tackles last season, returns to lead the linebackers. Linebackers Ryan D’Imperio and Manny Abreu are poised for breakout years. The strength of the defense is the secondary. Hard-hitting free Safety Courtney Greene led the team with 101 tackles in 2007. Twins Jason McCourty and Devin McCourty return as starting corners. Last season, Rutgers’ pass defense was ranked 5th in the nation.
SPECIAL TEAMS: The Judge, Jeremy Ito, has graduated. He handled both punting and kicking duties in 2007. Redshirt freshman San San Te is going to be a very solid placekicker for the Scarlet Knights. Teddy Dellaganna is the likely new punter. Rutgers has very good speed and whoever they put back on returns will almost certainly have success.
COACHING: Greg Schiano is one of the best coaches in college football. Schools like Michigan and Miami might have been better off if they managed to hire Schiano, but he is dedicated to his current school. In the past three years at Rutgers, he is 26-12.
SCHEDULE: Rutgers opens with Fresno State, the best team out of the WAC. They have to travel to WVU, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, and USF.
IMPACT/BREAKOUT PLAYER.... Ryan D’Imperio made 14 tackles in limited time in 2007. Now that he is the starter, 6-3 235 lbs. D’Imperio is ready to have a breakout year. He will be one of Rutgers’ best defensive players for the next two seasons.
IF EVERYTHING GOES WELL.... Rutgers could win the Big East. More realistically, an 8 or 9 win season is a good goal for a team that will dearly miss Ray Rice. The receivers and defense are very good. Schiano is too good of a coach to let this team fall too far.
IF THINGS DON'T GO SO WELL.... Rutgers could fall to .500 without Ray Rice. Their offensive line is full of question marks and they need stronger quarterback play from the veteran Teel. Rutgers is one of the Big East’s biggest unknown.
MAKE OR BREAK: Mike Teel has to have a better year. His twenty touchdowns was good, but he also threw 13 interceptions last season. He has to play better in big games, especially now that Ray Rice has graduated. The pressure falls on him. Can he handle it?

South Florida

OFFENSE: The USF offense returns nearly everyone from last year’s team that was ranked 21st in the nation in scoring offense. Quarterback Matt Grothe returns after a very successful sophomore year. He threw 14 touchdowns and ran for 10. However, he threw 14 interceptions. If he wants to make the next step as a quarterback, he needs to make better choices when throwing the ball. Running back Mike Ford scored 12 touchdowns in 2007. He averaged 4.7 yards a carry on 138 carries. Ben Williams is a solid backup with soft hands. The offensive line returns four starters, including senior Ryan Schmidt. USF returns their top four receivers. Carlton Mitchell had a great freshman year, making 37 catches for 537 yards and four touchdowns. The top three returning receivers combined for 106 catches, 12 touchdowns, and 1362 yards.
DEFENSE: USF’s defense returns six starters. The 2007 defense finished 27th nationally in total defense. Heisman candidate defensive end George Selvie returns after having one of the best defensive seasons in college football history. He had an eye-popping 31.5 tackles for loss and 14.5 sacks. If the other defensive end, Jarriet Buie, can step his play up, USF will have opposing quarterbacks shaking before the ball is snapped. Defensive tackle Aaron Harris had a solid sophomore year with 24 tackles and 5.5 sacks. The linebackers lose All-Big East performer Ben Moffitt. Alonzo McQueen and Kion Wilson will compete for Moffitt’s job. Tyrone McKenzie, who was the team’s leading tackler in 2007, returns. The safeties will be strong for the Bulls. Free safety Nate Allen made four interceptions in 2007. Strong safety Carlton Williams made 69 tackles last season. Jerome Murphy and Tyller Roberts will attempt to replace Mike Jenkins and Trae Williams at cornerback. Both Jenkins and Williams were drafted.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Delbert Alvarado made 19 out of 29 field goals in 2007. He also handled the punts, averaging over 41 yards per punt. Marcus Edwards and Jerome Murphy are strong returners. Murphy averaged over 24 yards per kick return last year.
COACHING: Jim Leavitt is South Florida. He has been with the program since it was created, in 1997. He has only had one losing season since USF made the jump to FBS (in 2001). In a conference full of great coaches, he might be the best of the bunch. Unless you coached in the early 1900s, not many coaches can claim what Leavitt has done.
SCHEDULE: USF hosts Kansas in week two in an interesting top 25 battle. They also have to travel to NC State in week five. In conference play, they get Pittsburgh, Rutgers, and Connecticut at home. However, they get the Mountaineers on the road.
IMPACT/BREAKOUT PLAYER.... Carlton Mitchell was a pleasant surprise leading the team in receptions as a freshman. Now that he is going to start from game one, I expect that he is going to put up even bigger numbers. He will grow as Grothe grows, and vice versa.
IF EVERYTHING GOES WELL.... If anyone is going to take down West Virginia and win the Big East, it is USF. Yes, they get WVU on the road, but USF returns nearly everyone on offense. The special teams is great and the defense will be a solid unit by the time conference play rolls around.
IF THINGS DON'T GO SO WELL.... Losing two NFL-caliber cornerbacks is going to hurt USF’s defense early on. Grothe has to cut down on the interceptions if he wants to lead USF to a Big East title. I am not sure if he is ready to make that leap. Anything less than 3rd place with be a disappointment.
MAKE OR BREAK: The game at West Virginia on December 6th will likely be for all the marbles. It is going to be cold. It will be loud. The Big East title will be on the line. It will be a great game to watch that will perfectly wrap up the college football regular season. USF is shooting for a BCS bowl in 2008. A win here will help them achieve that goal.

Syracuse

OFFENSE: Syracuse’s offense goes from good to average with the loss of wide receiver Mike Williams. Williams caught 60 balls for 837 yards and 10 touchdowns as a sophomore. He has been suspended from the university for academic reasons. He may very well return next year, but he will likely miss this season. That leaves quarterback Andrew Robinson with very little offensive weapons. Robinson had a strong 2007 season, throwing for 13 touchdowns and seven interceptions. The running attack will be led by Curtis Brinkley, who was injured for most of last season. If he can stay healthy, he is a solid leading rusher. His backup, Delone Carter is also nursing an injury that kept him from playing in 2007. He ran for over 700 yards as a freshman. Syracuse loses the left side of their offensive line. Tucker Baum Bach (left tackle) and Ryan Bartholomew (left guard) will likely start. They need to perform well to improve a line that gave up 54 sacks last season, second only to Notre Dame. At receiver, Donte Davis and Lavar Lobdell will be one-two. Davis sat out most of last season with a hand injury. He has to have a big season to replace Williams.
DEFENSE: The defense was the worst in the Big East in 2007. Five starters return, including nose tackle Arthur Jones. He mad 51 tackles and 17.5 tackles for loss in a All-Big East-type season. The rest of the line is average. The other starters, Nick Santiago, Vincenzo Giruzzi, and Brandon Gilbeaux will have to play well to keep their jobs. Jake Flaherty is the only returning linebacker. He ranked 10th in the Big East in tackles with 95. He is the leader of the defense. Mike Mele is a quick linebacker who will likely be used to help the defensive ends get pressure on the opposing quarterback. The only returning starter in the secondary is Mike Holmes, who made 64 tackles as a freshman. He is going to be a special player. The rest of the back four is questionable and inexperienced. The loss of top safeties Joe Fields and Dowayne Davis is going to hurt Syracuse’s secondary.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Syracuse’s return game is undoubtedly their main strength. Max Suter and Mike Holmes are both dangerous kick returners. Suter took one to the house against Louisville, Syracuse’s only conference win. Punter Rob Long returns after averaging 41.86 yards per punt. Senior Patrick Shadle made 10 out of 14 field goals last season. He made a 50-yard field goal in a loss to South Florida.
COACHING: Greg Robinson is in a tough spot. He took over in 2005. He has gone 7-28 in three seasons. If Syracuse does not improve, athletic director Daryl Gross has promised to kick Robinson to the curb. Syracuse football, once a proud program, might need a new coach to fix up the problems Robinson has ignored and created.
SCHEDULE: Syracuse has winnable games at Akron and Northeastern. Syracuse beat Louisville on the road in 2007. I think Louisville will be ready for this game more than any other in 2008. Unless Syracuse can sneak up on someone, I doubt they will get a conference win. They have five conference road games.
IMPACT/BREAKOUT PLAYER.... Jim Flaherty is one of the best linebackers in the Big East. He is the uncontested leader of the defense. He is a good run-stopper. He can only do so much, but I expect him to do a lot. I predict several double-digit tackle games.
IF EVERYTHING GOES WELL.... Syracuse snuck in a conference win in 2007, so it could happen again. They need to win as many out of conference games to build confidence for conference play. The running game has potential and Andrew Robinson is a top-notch quarterback.
IF THINGS DON'T GO SO WELL.... If Mike Williams was returning I would predict a conference win or two. Without him, I expect a winless conference record. This team will be scrappy, but they are just not good enough to hang with the other seven teams in the Big East on a regular basis.
MAKE OR BREAK: Make or break defines Syracuse’s season for head coach Greg Robinson. Anything less than five wins will likely send him packing. The running backs have to stay healthy, or Syracuse’s offense will rely exclusively on Andrew Robinson and a weak receiving core.

West Virginia

OFFENSE: WVU has one of the nation’s best offenses. Pat White is a dynamic quarterback. You could argue that he is the team’s best running back. He rushed for 1335 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2007. He threw for 14 touchdowns and four interceptions. Running back Steve Slaton has moved on to the NFL, but sophomore sensation Noel Devine is ready to step into a starting role. In limited play, Devine for 627 yards and six touchdowns. He averaged over eight yards per carry last season. He might have a better season in 2008 than Slaton did in 2007. The offensive line returns everyone. Ryan Stanchek, Mike Dent, Greg Isdaner all have the ability to make the All-Big East 1st team. The receivers are the weak point of a run-first offense. Losing Darius Reynaud hurts. Dorrell Jalloh is the teams returning leading receiver. However, Jock Sanders and Brandon Hogan are the real threats at receiver. They are inexperienced, but have amazing speed.
DEFENSE: Most would never guess that WVU had the nations 7th best defense last season. Only one opponent, Louisville, scored over 30 points on WVU’s defense. The West Virginia defense only returns four starters. Defensive tackle Scooter Berry returns after making 27 tackles in 2007. The loss of nose tackle Keilen Dykes will hurt WVU’s ability to stop the run. It will be Chris Neild’s job to replace him. Last season’s leading tackler, Reed Williams, returns at linebacker. He made 5.5 tackles for loss and forced three fumbles. Mortty Ivy also returns after making 89 tackles and six sacks last season. Safety Quinton Andrews is the only returner in the five-man secondary. He made 51 tackles and only one interception. Charles Pugh (who has lots of playing experience) and Boogie Allen (awesome name) will likely be the other starting safeties. The lack of playing experience at corner might hurt the Mountaineers.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Pat McAfee was great last year, doubling as a kicker and a punter. He averaged 42.7 yards per punt in 2007. He also nailed 13 out of 19 field goal attempts. Noel Devine is a dangerous returner, but will probably be used less now that he is the starting running back and depth at that position is low.
COACHING: Most people remember Bill Stewart for his racially insensitive remarks that forced his resignation at VMI. He is attempting to erase those memories with success at WVU. His bowl win against Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl is a pretty good start. The former associate head coach has the respect of his players (Respect is something Rich Rodriguez is struggling to gain at Michigan). Stewart will try to live off of Rodriguez’s recruits for the next few years.
SCHEDULE: West Virginia has a huge out of conference game against SEC giant Auburn on October 23rd. WVU will likely be unbeaten heading into this game. WVU has to travel to Pittsburgh right before ending the season at home against USF.
IMPACT/BREAKOUT PLAYER.... Noel Devine is about to have a monster season. I think everyone can feel it. Steve Slaton was great, but Devine is going to be better. As long as he stays eligible (he had a rough childhood, moving constantly), he will go down as one of the best running backs in WVU history before all is said and done.
IF EVERYTHING GOES WELL.... WVU is a national title contender. Their offense is going to be nearly impossible to stop. White is a Heisman candidate that is a better passer than most give him credit for. The front seven is very strong.
IF THINGS DON'T GO SO WELL.... Although everything went great in the Fiesta Bowl, you have to wonder if the team is going to be as sharp under Stewart throughout a whole season. I am not bashing Stewart or the team, it is just an unknown. The secondary has to come together quickly to sure up the 3-3-5 defense that was so good last season. Anything under double-digit wins would be a huge disappointment.
MAKE OR BREAK: Lets step aside from the Big East race for a moment. WVU always strives for a Big East title, but this year they have their eye on a national championship, something they were so close to achieving in 2007. The October 23rd meeting against Auburn will be just as big as Ohio State vs. Southern California when the season is over.

PROJECTED STANDINGS

TEAM CONFERENCE OVERALL
South Florida 6-1 10-2
West Virginia 6-1 11-1
Connecticut 4-3 9-3
Pittsburgh 4-3 8-4
Rutgers 3-4 7-5
Cincinatti 3-4 8-5
Louisville 2-5 6-6
Syracuse 0-7 2-10

PRESEASON ALL-CONFERENCE

OFFENSE
QB Pat White West Virginia
RB Noel Devine West Virginia
RB LeSean McCoy Pittsburgh
WR Marcus Barnett Cincinatti
WR Kenny Britt Rutgers
TE Steve Brouse Connecticut
OL Ryan Schmidt South Florida
OL Greg Isdaner West Virginia
OL Ryan Stanchek West Virginia
OL Anthony Davis Rutgers
OL George Bussey Louisville
Honorable Mention Offense: Matt Grothe (South Florida), Mike Teel (Rutgers), Mike Ford (South Florida), Andre Dixon (Connecticut), Ticuan Underwood (Rutgers), Derek Kinder (Pittsburgh), Dominick Goodman (Cincinnati), Nate Byham (Pittsburgh), Kevin Brock (Rutgers), Eric Wood (Louisville), C.J. Davis (Pittsburgh), Mike Dent (West Virginia)
DEFENSE
DL Julius Williams Connecticut
DL Terrill Byrd Cincinatti
DL George Selvie South Florida
DL Arthur Jones Syracuse
LB Scott McKillop Pittsburgh
LB Tyrone McKenzie South Florida
LB Reed Williams West Virginia
DB DeAngelo Smith Cincinatti
DB Robert Vaughn Connecticut
DB Mike Mickens Cincinnati
DB Courtney Greene Rutgers
Honorable Mention Defense: Cody Brown (Connecticut), Jamaal Westerman (Rutgers), Greg Romeus (Pittsburgh), Earl Heyman (Louisville), Corey Smith (Cincinnati), Scott Lutrus (Connecticut), Jake Flaherty (Syracuse), Quinton Andrews (West Virginia), Jason McCourty (Rutgers), Daris Butler (Connecticut), Nate Allen (South Florida)
SPECIAL TEAMS
K Tony Ciravino Connecticut
P Kevin Huber Cincinnati
KR Max Suter Syracuse
PR Aaron Berry Pittsburgh
Pat McAfee (West Virginia), Conor Lee (Pittsburgh), Rob Long (Syracuse), Noel Devine (West Virginia), Ryan Howard (Syracuse)
Preseason Offensive Player of the Year:
LeSean McCoy, Pittsburgh
Preseason Defensive Player of the Year:
George Selvie, South Florida
Preseason Special Teams Player of the Year:
Kevin Huber, Cincinnati
Preseason Newcomer of the Year:
Victor Anderson, Louisville

FINAL THOUGHTS

I predict that West Virginia will beat Auburn at home on October 23rd. I think they will go unbeaten in conference play heading into the final week with a shot at a national championship birth and Big East title. However, I feel that WVU’s bad luck will continue and USF will pull off the upset and win the Big East (I realize this will be very unpopular). By then, their defense will have had time to gel and Grothe will have had another year under his belt. That being said, WVU could easily win and send themselves to the national championship game. They are that good. These two will battle it out, and it will be fun to watch.

I think Connecticut and Pittsburgh are slightly better than Cincinnati, Rutgers, and Louisville. They return more starters and are solid on both sides of the ball. The other three have lots of question marks, but all of them could have winning seasons and go bowling. Rutgers and Cincinnati have great playmakers at receiver, but their running games are questionable. Louisville is a wildcard that will be tough to read until they play their first few games. Syracuse is going to struggle and probably lose their head coach before the season is officially over. Losing Mike Williams is a crushing blow to a team that has finished last in the Big East for the past three years.

The Big East is a deep conference with two teams that could easily reach ten wins. I am hesitant to call USF a national championship contender, although they were ranked number two at one point last season. However, they are a very good team that is going to get stronger as the season goes on. West Virginia’s rushing attack is going to be fun to watch. The December 6th game between these two is going to be a perfect way to end the regular season. Rutgers, Louisville, Connecticut, Pittsburgh, and Cincinnati solidify the Big East as a strong conference. All these programs are either on the rise or just rebuilding because of a departed star/coach. The battle for spots 3-7 is going to be something to keep an eye on, especially as it gets closer to bowl season. The conference is also full of All-American and Heisman candidates (LeSean McCoy, George Selvie, and Pat White). I would not be surprised if the Big East is represented in New York City when the Heisman winner is announced.

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