2012 Spring Preview
Big East - Rutgers to Temple
2012 Big East Pre-Spring Preview
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- Big East Spring
Preview & Thoughts - Cincinnati to Pitt
The upcoming season will mark the end of an era in Piscataway. And the beginning of a new one. On Jan. 26, 11-year head coach Greg Schiano announced that he'd be leaving Rutgers to take the head job with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Less than a week later, longtime assistant Kyle Flood was named the 29th coach of the Scarlet Knights. All he'll be asked to do is maintain the unprecedented level of success that once seemed unattainable before Schiano was hired. Flood is off to a fast start, at least in terms of recruiting. He and his staff did a laudable job of keeping a terrific collection of commitments from bolting once the news about Schiano broke. Flood inherits a defense that might be talented enough to make the new regime look brilliant. The offense, on the other hand, remains a work-in-progress, especially after the early departure of WR Mohamed Sanu to the NFL.
- Flood's first really big decision will be deciding on whether to give the ball to Chas Dodd or Gary Nova. Both quarterbacks started games in 2011, but neither performed with much sustained consistency.
- Adequately replacing Sanu will be next to impossible. Still, the Knights do boast some imposing athletes at wide receiver, including 6-6, 220-pound Brandon Coleman, 6-3, 230-pound Mark Harrison and 6-4, 220-pound Tim Wright.
- Rutgers is loaded with defensive talent, particularly if LB Khaseem Greene can make a seamless return from the nasty ankle injury suffered in the bowl game. None, though, has a brighter future than junior CB Logan Ryan who'll be a starter in the NFL someday.
- The Knights harbor a budding star up front in OT Kaleb Johnson. He started 10 games in his first season removed from high school, developing like a time-lapse video over the course of the year.
- Jawan Jamison or Savon Huggins? Rutgers has a couple of decent choices at running back this fall, respectively, either the surprise 897-yard rusher or the five-star gem from 2011 who struggled with injuries and fumbles.
Now that the Bulls have veered off course, head coach Skip Holtz and his reconfigured staff plan to work overtime this offseason to make sure that they get back on track. The program was clearly pointing north when the 2011 season began, and then hit the tarmac with a 4-0 start that included an opening day upset of Notre Dame. Unfortunately, South Florida proved unable to handle the prosperity and growing expectations, winning just one of its final eight games to miss the postseason for the first time since 2004. Encouraging news, though, comes from the return of a slew of starters, more starters in fact than any other team in the Big East. With the league's automatic bid to a BCS bowl game coming under increasing and intense scrutiny, USF will need to strike now while the opportunity is at its absolute peak.
- The pieces are in place for the D to be fantastic in 2012. DE Ryan Giddins, linebackers DeDe Lattimore and Sam Barrington and CB Kayvon Webster will all be getting long looks from NFL scouts this fall.
- Is this the year B.J. Daniels takes much-needed steps toward becoming a more complete quarterback? He's running out of time, and the program is running out of patience with a passer who's been painfully inconsistent when he doesn't leave the pocket.
- Daniels will be aided by a vastly improved receiving corps. Top pass-catcher Sterling Griffin is back from an injury, Florida transfer Chris Dunkley has an enormous ceiling and Deonte Welch and Andre Davis earned valuable reps as rookies in 2011.
- Mark Joyce is poised to become the successor to all-star Jerrell Young at free safety. The coaches love the junior's intensity, wrap-up tackling and knack for delivering the knockout blow.
- The special teams ought to get special attention this offseason. Last year's unit tanked, missing seven field goals while ranking 100th nationally in net punting, 83rd in punt returns and 80th in kickoff returns.
This is a crossroads year for the Orange. No, it wasn't a catastrophe that the team went 5-7 in 2011. However, at an unabashed basketball school, such as Syracuse, failing to build on the eight-win campaign of a year earlier qualified as a lost opportunity in Upstate New York. Another losing season will stifle the progress the program has made under fourth-year head coach Doug Marrone, while squelching some of the excitement and optimism running within the fan base. Making matters worse, the Orange has significant holes to fill on both sides of the ball, heaping pressure on veteran QB Ryan Nassib to do a fair amount of the heavy lifting. Syracuse will need to begin bracing now for an upgrade in competition if it's going to join the ACC as early as 2013.
- The Orange could be facing a crisis in the running game. Not only has Antwon Bailey graduated, but there's no obvious successor to the 1,000-yarder waiting in the wings.
- Although he'll get zero notoriety outside of the Big East, Justin Pugh is one of the most underrated left tackles in the country. He has two years left to make his case for a spot in the NFL.
- Syracuse figures to be in great shape at linebacker for the next few seasons. Marquis Spruill and Dyshawn Davis excelled as underclassmen, leaving only Dan Vaughan's strongside job left to be filled.
- Collapsing the pocket ought to be a major impediment to success this fall. The untimely exit of star DE Chandler Jones means no returning player with more than two sacks in 2011 is back on the roster.
- Nassib to Alec Lemon will be a sneaky good pitch-and-catch combo this season. The pair has played together for three years, and really started locating a groove last fall.
These are heady times for the Owls, a program not long ago on the college football scrap heap. Temple has played in two bowl games over the last three years, marking a resurgence that began with Al Golden, and has been continued by Steve Addazio. Last year's squad went 9-4, capping a season-ending four-game winning streak with its first bowl victory since 1979. And then, the exclamation point occurred in early March, when the Owls were invited back to the same Big East that had exiled them almost a decade ago. Temple is on an uptick, which will continue to bleed into the fan base, boosters and prospective recruits. Obviously, the school wants to leave no doubts in Year 1 of its return that it belongs in a more formidable conference that sends its champion to a BCS bowl game.
- No one in Philadelphia was happy to see Bernard Pierce leave early for the NFL. No one except Matt Brown, that is, the mighty mite who has rushed for 2,275 yards and 18 touchdowns over the last three seasons.
- Competition will be the buzzword this offseason at Temple. With less than half of last year's starters back, wholesale auditions will be held on both sides of the ball.
- The Owls could have an old-fashioned donnybrook brewing at quarterback this year. Junior Chris Coyer proved to be more than just a dangerous runner late last year, but Penn State Kevin Newsome arrives determined to make good on his second chance to be a playmaker.
- It's a good thing that Addazio's roots are as an offensive line coach. The Owls are going to need every ounce of his expertise as they attempt to replace five seniors who started games in 2011.
- LB Ahkeem Smith has a chance to blossom into a defensive cornerstone. He showed hints last fall, his first on defense after shifting from running back, and has the athleticism to cause havoc from weakside.
- Big East Spring
Preview & Thoughts - Cincinnati to Pitt