The Big East may be a basketball
super conference, but it is perhaps the weakest
major conference when it comes to the gridiron.
However, we will still hear plenty about West
Virginia this season and Louisville could make
some noise again as well.
The Mountaineers finished a perfect 7-0 in
Big East play a season ago and 11-1 overall
on the season and I’m expecting them to
waltz through conference play again this year
although Louisville and even Rutgers could potentially
be tough games. Quarterback Pat White makes
this team sensational with his ability to run
the football keeping the defense off balance.
In fact, he rushed for 952 yards last season
(7.3 yds/carry) which was over 100 yards more
than he passed for. Throw 1,000 yard rusher
Steve Slaton into the mix, who has a nose for
the end zone with 17 TD’s, and you’ll
see this Mountaineer squad be among the nation’s
leaders in rushing offense.
Louisville finished the 2005-06 season with
a 5-2 Big East record and 9-3 overall. The Cardinal
is 19th in the country in the AP poll and I’m
really looking forward to their September 16th
matchup with Miami. If they can get past the
Hurricanes, and I think they have a legitimate
shot at home, you’ll see the buzz about
this team grow and the Cardinal’s confidence
will grow as well. One advantage that Louisville
could have when facing the Mountaineers head
to head is that they have a more balanced attack.
They can beat you though the air with Brain
Brohm, who nearly threw for 3000 yards last
season, or on the ground with the other Bush,
I’m looking for improvement out of Rutgers
as well. If some of these middle of the road
Big East schools such as Rutgers can take it
to some teams from major football conferences,
this conference’s status will skyrocket.
Last season, defense was their weakness, but
this year you will see a more experienced, disciplined
secondary which will be able to contain teams
and come up with some big game breaking plays.
However, they will still be inexperienced at
linebacker and I expect West Virginia, among
other teams, to run all over these guys. To
end on a positive note, tailback Ray Rice and
fullback Brian Leonard will once again be a
dynamic back field duo. They will help Rutgers
control the clock and wear teams down, which
will keep their defense off the field and will
help Rutgers improve a game or 2 in conference
If South Florida wants to get into the thick
of things with last season’s top 3 teams
all improving, they’ll have to make up
the difference on the defensive side of the
ball. I think they could once again be a problematic
matchup for Louisville as they have arguably
the best line backing corps in the conference
and they will force the Scarlet Knights to beat
them through the air. Consistency at QB will
still be an issue for this team, but tailback
Ricky Ponton and receiver Amp Hill should deliver
big play ability.
The only place for Syracuse to go is up, right?
The Orange lost a school record 10 games last
season, and they are hoping new coordinator
Brian White’s simplified West Coast offense
can help send them in the right direction. However,
any offensive improvement will be negated by
the severe losses they suffered on the defensive
side of the ball losing ends Wyche and LaCasse,
cornerback Gregory, and speedy safety Anthony
Smith. QB Perry Patterson is a senior and if
he can get the new offense running smoothly,
maybe the ’cuse can sneak up on a couple
teams in Big East play, but I wouldn’t
bet on it.
I like a lot of Pittsburgh’s position
players including QB Tyler Palko, but the Panthers
have too many question marks on their offensive
and defensive fronts. And that’s why I
think you’ll see just another mediocre
season out of this team. They brought in some
talented freshman to help with their air attack
in wide out Dorin Dickerson and tight end Nate
Byham, but having too much inexperience at critical
positions will keep this team out of the mix
for a conference title.
Connecticut is going to have a chance to move
up in the Big East standings in 2006-07 just
because of their schedule. The Huskies will
have 7 home games and no back-to-back road games.
However, as favorable as this sounds, their
speedy running back, Terry Caulley, will have
to run behind the weakest O-line in the conference.
Also, get ready for a QB merry-go-round.
Cincinnati, with 47 returning letter winners
and 17 returning starters, will have experience
on their side. Last year’s 2-5 conference
record was no big surprise as the Bearcats were
playing 10 true freshman. Those freshman will
have to grow up in a hurry, however, as they
will make road trips to non conference powers
Ohio State and Virginia Tech as well as conference
powerhouses Louisville and West Virginia. Like
Uconn, Cincy still doesn’t have a solidified
number 1 QB as Dustin Grutza didn’t have
the best spring. Teams without good leaders
under center never do much.
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