2011 CFN Big East Preview

Posted Aug 2, 2011

Can the Big East finally make a big turn and become bigger, better, and more special? Will the conference put a team in the national title hunt? Check out the unit rankings, All-Big East Team and top 30 players, thoughts on the season, predictions, breakdowns, and more in the 2011 CFN Big East Preview.

Preview 2011

Big East Preview

- 2011 Cincinnati Preview | 2011 Connecticut Preview
- 2011 Louisville Preview | 2011 Pitt Preview 
- 2011 Rutgers Preview | 2011 USF Preview
- 2011 Syracuse Preview | 2011 West Virginia Preview 

- 2011 Big East Preview | 2011 Big East Unit Rankings
- 2011 CFN Big East Schedules & Picks | 2011 Big East Thoughts
- 2011 CFN All-Big East Team & Top 30 Players
- 2011 Big East Team By Team Looks & Predicted Finish 
- 2011 Big East Big Questions2010 Big East Preview

By Richard Cirminiello

There's an ominous wind blowing from Fort Worth that's signaling a change in the air. TCU is headed east in 2012, so the eight current Big East schools better taken advantage before the road to a BCS bowl game gets a whole lot tougher.

The Big East was teetering last fall, with the Big Ten rumored to be sniffing around a few of its remaining programs. If the conference lost anyone, its already tenuous hold on an automatic BCS bowl berth would surely slip away. For now, the league has survived, solidifying its position by adding the Horned Frogs in a clear marriage of convenience. The school will move up a rung on the conference pecking order after playing one more season in the Mountain West. And its new affiliation gets a marquee program as well as a presence in the Texas market.

As the Big East awaits the arrival of a budding powerhouse, the rest of the league is scrambling for a shot at a title and the lucrative bowl payout that comes with it. A favorite? Take your pick. This year's frontrunner depends on the evaluator. The 2010 champion, Connecticut, is expected to drift back to the pack, but how far? New head coach Paul Pasqualoni inherits a Husky team that knows how to win, and is solid at the line of scrimmage.

West Virginia is always in the mix, though the school hasn't played in a major bowl game in four years. The ‘neers hope to be as entertaining on the field as they've been away from it this offseason. Scandal hit Morgantown, as Bill Stewart was forced to resign in June for attempting to sabotage coach-in-waiting Dana Holgorsen. Pitt has a new coach as well, former Tulsa head man Todd Graham. There's enough talent for the Panthers to make the new regime an instant success as long as QB Tino Sunseri adapts to a very different scheme. South Florida is one of the league's rising stars under second-year coach Skip Holtz. Fast out of the gate in 2010, Holtz's Bulls need better efficiency from QB B.J. Daniels in order to creep up the conference ladder.

Can Cincinnati bounce back after a miserable 4-8 season? If returning starters and a gifted quarterback count for anything, the Bearcats could author the Big East's biggest turnaround in 2011. Charlie Strong put down a firm foundation last fall, leading Louisville to an unexpected bowl berth. The Cards are clearly heading north, stockpiling young talent and quality transfers. Syracuse, too, is moving in the right direction after capping an 8-5 season with a bowl win over Kansas State. Doug Marrone is determined to keep the Orange forging ahead this fall. Rutgers has fallen hard and fast, missing the postseason last year for the first time since 2004. A general dearth of talent will make it tough for the Scarlet Knights to join the league's upper echelon overnight.

Apparently, eight is no longer enough for the conference that failed to produce a team that finished in the final BCS Top 25 standings. The addition of TCU will bring more cache and national respect to the league in 2012. In the meantime, everyone else has one more season to dream of a January bowl game without a purple roadblock standing in their path.

Team That'll Surprise
Cincinnati – Yeah, yeah, the only way is up for the Bearcats, which slumped to 4-8 a year ago, but their ceiling is much higher than preseason forecasts. Now that head coach Butch Jones has had a season with his personnel, the offense is set to rock behind the trio of QB Zach Collaros, RB Isaiah Pead, and WR D.J. Woods. The defense loses virtually nothing from a year ago, a sure-fire sign of improvement for a unit that struggled mightily in 2010. Jones realizes his kids have to be more than just older—they've got to be better. There's enough experience and talent in the Queen City for the Bearcats to win their third Big East championship in the last four years.

Team That'll Disappoint
Louisville – This is not an indictment of Charlie Strong, who has been textbook good in just over a year with the Cardinals. However, after turning heads with a winning season and a bowl victory, there's an inclination to assume Louisville is poised to take another step forward in 2011. The more likely scenario has the Cards hitting a temporary plateau as it adapts to the injection of so much youth into the two-deep. In terms of overall talent and depth, this remains a program that's playing catch-up with the Big East's top teams. Strong will begin the year with a 5-10, 185-pound former walk-on at quarterback, four new starters on the offensive line, and a secondary putting out APBs for capable cornerbacks. It's wise to load up on shares of Louisville as long as you don't expect big returns until 2012.

Game of the Year … Pittsburgh at West Virginia, Nov. 25.
There's no Big East rivalry that even approaches the intensity and electricity of the Backyard Brawl. When both schools are in the hunt for a league title, the needle gets dialed up even higher. The new twist for 2011 marks the debut of the school's first-year coaches, Pitt's Todd Graham and West Virginia's Dana Holgorsen. Both staffs are installing up-tempo attacks, with a greater reliance on the passing game. The 104th meeting will answer which program has done a better job of getting its personnel up to speed faster with the suped-up systems.

5 Big-Time Players Who Deserve a Bigger Spotlight ...
1. RB Ray Graham, Jr. Pittsburgh
2. LB Sio Moore, Jr. Connecticut
3. LB DeDe Lattimore, Soph. South Florida
4. DE B.J. Butler, Soph. Louisville
5. LT Don Barclay, Sr. West Virginia

Coach on the Hot Seat
Butch Jones, Cincinnati – Okay, so Jones isn't likely to get pink-slipped after his second season, but he needs a swift rebound more than any other Big East coach. A talented and two-time conference champion Bearcat squad absolutely belly-flopped in 2010, leaving Brian Kelly's successor with no margin for error. Now that a slew of starters, including playmaking QB Zach Collaros, return from last season's 4-8 squad, Cincinnati has even fewer excuses heading into the 2011 campaign. If Jones is unable to deliver with this senior-laden squad, he'll be backed into a do-or-die corner in 2012.

5 Non-Conference Games the Big East had better take very, very seriously
1. Cincinnati at Miami Univ., Oct. 1
2. West Virginia at Maryland, Sept. 17
3. Ohio at Rutgers, Sept. 24
4. Iowa State at Connecticut, Sept. 16
5. Syracuse at Tulane, Oct. 8

Bold Prediction … Randy Edsall won't be missed at Connecticut … at least for this first season. Long-term, the Huskies will have a hard time duplicating their recent success now that Edsall is cashing paychecks at Maryland. However, the coach left his former employer with enough talent to remain in the thick of the Big East race after winning the title in 2010. With a tough act to follow, new head coach Paul Pasqualoni will put his early fate on the shoulders of one of the league's best combos of offensive and defensive lines. In the trenches, he'll have all-star candidates Mike Ryan and Moe Petrus on offense, and Kendall Reyes, Jesse Joseph, and Twyon Martin on D. There's enough quality up front to offset the team's shortcomings, ensuring a smoother-than-expected transition for the new regime.

5 Best Pro Prospects
1. CB Keith Tandy, Sr. West Virginia
2. DE Brandon Lindsey, Sr. Pittsburgh
3. OT Lucas Nix, Sr. Pittsburgh
4. DE Bruce Irvin, Sr. West Virginia
5. RB Isaiah Pead, Sr. Cincinnati

5 Biggest Shoes to Fill
1. RB D.J. Shoemate for Jordan Todman, Connecticut
2. DE Aaron Donald for Jabaal Sheard, Pittsburgh
3. RB Victor Anderson for Bilal Powell, Louisville
4. RB Antwon Bailey for Delone Carter, Syracuse
5. DT Keith McCaskill for Terrell McClain, South Florida

- 2011 Cincinnati Preview | 2011 Connecticut Preview
- 2011 Louisville Preview | 2011 Pitt Preview 
- 2011 Rutgers Preview | 2011 USF Preview
- 2011 Syracuse Preview | 2011 West Virginia Preview 

- 2011 Big East Preview | 2011 Big East Unit Rankings
- 2011 CFN Big East Schedules & Picks | 2011 Big East Thoughts
- 2011 CFN All-Big East Team & Top 30 Players
- 2011 Big East Team By Team Looks & Predicted Finish 
- 2011 Big East Big Questions2010 Big East Preview