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Big East Preview 2006

CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Aug 9, 2006


Preview 2006 CollegeFootballNews.com Big East Preview

 Big East Preview | All-Big East team & top 30 players  | Unit Rankings | Top 5s 
 - Cincinnati Preview | Connecticut Preview | Louisville Preview | Pitt Preview
 -
Rutgers Preview | South Florida Preview | Syracuse Preview | West Virginia Preview

 CONFERENCE OUTLOOK
Will West Virginia and Louisville be worthy of national title talk? Talent-wise, these two will be among the 15 best teams in the country, but they’ll be under the microscope all season long with a weak league schedule to deal with, compared to the other BCS conferences, and only one decent non-conference game each (Miami for Louisville and Maryland for West Virginia). Big East apologists should get some more ammo for their arguments with Pitt, Connecticut, Cincinnati and Syracuse all better than last season, and South Florida and Rutgers to be almost as good as their 2005 bowl-bound teams. Even though the league could use an overall boost in production, it’ll make the most noise if the Cardinals and Mountaineers can stay unbeaten until their November 2nd showdown. Needing more chances to prove itself, the Big East needs its superpowers in the BCS.

3 THINGS TO WATCH FOR
1. Linebackers. You don’t normally think of big-time defenders when you think of the Big East, but it has some of the nation’s best linebackers in Pitt’s H.B. Blades and Clint Session, South Florida’s Stephen Nicholas and Ben Moffitt, West Virginia’s Kevin McLee, Syracuse’s Kelvin Smith, and Louisville’s Nate Harris.

2. South Florida will be 5-0 in Big East play, and then the roof will cave in with road games at Louisville and West Virginia.

3. Pitt will take another step back to take a huge leap forward with several true freshman seeing major playing time. It might pay off late in the year when the more athletic team will upset either West Virginia or Louisville.

GAME OF THE YEAR
Nov. 2 West Virginia at Louisville. Could this be a battle of two unbeaten teams? The Miami game might set the tone for the Cardinals, but they can't win the Big East title if they don't beat the Mountaineers. West Virginia will be the favorite in every other game.

1. Louisville
Predicted record: 11-1  Conf. record: 7-0
Best Player: QB Brian Brohm, Jr.
Offense - Rev up the engine again as the nation's No. 9 offense and No. 3 scoring attack should be just as good again as long as star quarterback Brian Brohm is fully healthy after tearing his ACL late last year. Considering his mobility could be a problem early on, it's not a positive that the Cards have to break in two new tackles. Even so, the line should be fine with several good options and two great returning starters to work around in guard Kurt Quarterman and center Eric Wood. The backfield is one of the best in the nation going three deep with pounder Michael Bush coming back for his senior year and speedsters Kolby Smith and George Stripling as good as any backups in the country. Mario Urrutia leads a big, fast, and very talented receiving corps.
Defense - The offense gets so much attention that few pay attention to how good the Cardinal defense is. It finished a more-than-respectable 23rd in the nation last year and 21st in run defense, and now the expectations should be for even more production with nine starters returning and a slew of depth all over the place. There aren't any obvious all-stars, but there's no weakness to worry about. The secondary is solid, but it needs to make more big plays and force more mistakes. The linebacking corps will be a strength if it's consistent, and the front line, despite the loss of all-stars Elvis Dumervil and Montavious Stanley, should be one of the best in the Big East if the good young ends come through as expected.

This season will be a success if … Louisville wins the Big East title and goes 11-1. Getting to the BCS is a positive no matter what. Yeah, there might be national title talk early in the season, but that requires as much luck as anything else. Take care of the conference title first, and then hope everything else falls into place.

T2. West Virginia
Predicted record: 10-2  Conf. record: 5-2
Best Player: RB Steve Slaton, Soph.
Offense - Outside of an injury to quarterback Pat White, there's no reason the offense should produce any fewer than the 389 yards and 32 points per game it came up with last season. The attack got better as the year went on, and now it should hum on all cylinders with White a better passer and an experienced receiving corps to work with, one of the nation's best groups of running backs, and a line that'll be more than fine even with the loss of both starting tackles. Getting more out of the passing game will be the top priority after finishing 117th in the nation last year. This offense isn't going to turn it over and should be ultra-efficient.
Defense - The defense didn't get nearly the credit the offense received last season, but it was the better of the two finishing 15th in the nation in total D (as opposed to the offense, which finished 50th), and 13th in scoring defense. The only worry is in the secondary where almost everyone needs to be replaced. Eric Wicks is a strong safety to build around, but it's asking a lot to replace last year's all-star group. The front six in the 3-3-5 alignment should be tremendous with one of the Big East's best linebacking corps and enough depth to make wholesale changes.

This season will be a success if … the Mountaineers play for the national title. They’ll be favored in every game but one: at Louisville. Good teams dream about having a schedule like the one they have this season.

T2. South Florida
Predicted record: 8-4  Conf. record: 5-2
Best Player: LB Stephen Nicholas, Sr.
Offense - The offense has athletes and has experience at key positions, but will it go anywhere without all-star back Andre Hall to carry the attack? The receiving corps has the potential to be the second best in the league behind Louisville's fantastic group, but someone has to get them the ball. Pat Julmiste is a long-time starter who can't throw with any consistency, while Carlton Hill has the talent to grow into the star of the team if the coaching staff can live through a season of mistakes to go along with the big plays. This is a spread attack that likes to use four wide receivers, but it was a running team last year. Backs Ricky Ponton and Moise Plancher will combine to try to replace Hall.
Defense - The USF D will be the best in the Big East if the line is merely adequate. This is a fast, fast, fast defense with just enough size to hold up against the stronger power offenses. Stephen Nicholas, Ben Moffitt, and Pat St. Louis form one of the nation's best linebacking corps, while the return of safety Danny Verpaele from a foot injury gives a big boost to an already strong secondary. If Mike Jenkins and Trae Williams don’t form the best corner tandem in the Big East, they're a very close number two.

This season will be a success if … the Bulls win nine games. There will be a few disappointments along the way before playing the Mountaineers and Cardinals, but going to back-to-back bowl games is nothing to sneeze at considering the program didn't exist not that long ago.

4. Pitt
Predicted record: 8-4  Conf. record: 4-3
Best Player: LB H.B. Blades, Sr.
Offense - Running game, running game, running game. Head coach Dave Wannstedt wants to move the ball on the ground more, but he might not have the horses to do it effectively at a high level. The line has the experience with four returning starters, and now it has to push someone around. LaRod Stephens-Howling is a small, quick back who'll need help to stay fresh and healthy. The receiving corps loses top target Greg Lee and now needs Derek Kinder to grow into a number one star and several true freshmen to play like seasoned veterans. QB Tyler Palko has to be a consistent leader who takes the next step up in his production and becomes the type of player who makes everyone around him better.
Defense - The secondary should be among the Big East's most productive thanks to the return of All-America caliber corner Darrelle Revis and Mike Phillips is coming back from an ankle injury. A second corner is needed along with far more production from the front seven against the run. The linebacking corps should do its part with H.B. Blades sure to be one of the nation's top tacklers in the middle and Clint Session and Brian Bennett returning healthy to the outside spots. The line isn't all that big and could be a big problem early on until several sophomores start to play like veterans. More of a pass rush is needed from ends Chris McKillop and Charles Sallet.

This season will be a success if … Pitt wins the Big East title. Crank the expectations up a notch. The team should be an experienced, hardened squad by mid-November. It's not often you get ten games to prepare for your two biggest home games.

5. Rutgers
Predicted record: 6-6  Conf. record: 3-4
Best Player: FB Brian Leonard, Sr.
Offense - The Rutgers attack turned perfectly balanced last season and should be so again with a great backfield led by fullback Brian Leonard and speedy Ray Rice to go along with the potential for a good passing game thanks to the return of tight end Clark Harris. There are question marks from the depth on the offensive line to the lack of a proven number one wide receiver to the need of Mike Teel and/or Jabu Lovelace to emerge at quarterback, but this should still be one of the Big East's most productive attacks.
Defense - Getting in the backfield hasn't been a problem in the Greg Schiano era, and the run defense made great strides last season, but the overall production needs to be better with a big emphasis on improving the pass defense. The line has to replace pass rushing terrors Ryan Neill and Val Barnaby, but Jamal Westerman from the outside and Ramel Meekins on the inside will do fine. The coaching staff isn't afraid to play young players in important spots, and this year won't be any different needing true freshmen to form the bulk of the depth at linebacker. The secondary is experienced and now has to pick off more passes.

This season will be a success if … Rutgers goes back to a bowl game. The program has gone to back-to-back bowls ... never. Considering there have been two bowl appearances in over 130 years of Rutgers football, two straight would be a really big deal.

6. Connecticut
Predicted record: 6-6  Conf. record: 2-5
Best Player: RB Terry Caulley, Sr.
Offense - It's all about the line. Injuries, inexperience, and general problems up front proved to be too much for the rest of the offense to overcome. The starting five should be better this year, but the lack of depth could mean another nightmare if injuries strike again. The receiving corps is fast, Terry Caulley should be a 1,000-yard back with his knee finally back to normal and bruising fullback Deon Anderson back on the team after leaving last year, and the quarterback situation will eventually sort itself out with four decent prospects to choose from.
Defense - The whole is better than the sum of the parts. This isn't an ultra-talented group, but seven starters return to the nation's number seven overall defense led by a deep and productive secondary that finished fourth in the country. 248-pound Danny Lansanah is an emerging star at weakside linebacker with a battle to go on all off-season for the other two spots. The line will be the concern early on without a sure-thing pass rusher and counting on 319-pound career backup Ray Blagman to play a big role, literally, at tackle.

This season will be a success if … the Huskies win eight games. The expectations for the defense have to be sky high after last year, while the offense will have more of a passing game and an even more explosive ground attack. The schedule is average enough where anything less than a winning season will be a big disappointment.

T7. Cincinnati
Predicted record: 4-8  Conf. record: 1-6
Best Player: TE Brent Celek, Sr.
Offense - The Bearcat offense was extremely raw last year, and it showed. This year's offense is still raw and still needs a little more time before it starts to produce. The line is the biggest problem with several backups needing to turn into consistent starters in a big hurry, but the skill players are in place with several good receivers for second-year quarterback Dustin Grutza to work with. There will be a decent rotation of running backs, but they'll need holes to run through.
Defense - Did anyone end up starting more freshmen last season? The D didn't do a horrible job considering it got no consistent support from the offense and there was too much inexperience to do any one thing well. The potential is there for a big improvement with a veteran linebacking corps that should make plays all over the field, a decent line with some good building blocks, and a big-hitting secondary with a rising star in corner Mike Mickens.

This season will be a success if … Cincinnati wins seven games. There are mile-wide holes and several major problems to overcome, but the schedule isn’t all that bad. UC had to build from the bottom up. The patience will pay off by the end of this year and into 2007.

T7. Syracuse
Predicted record: 3-9  Conf. record: 1-6
Best Player: LB Kelvin Smith, Sr.
Offense - The West Coast attack did absolutely nothing last season finishing 117th in the nation in total offense and 116th in scoring averaging 257 yards and 13.8 points per game. Worse yet, things got worse as the season went on. There's hope for immediate improvement with talented sophomores at running back and the line to build around and good young receivers to push starters Tim Lane and Rice Moss. Can one of the quarterbacks get things moving? Perry Patterson is the main man, but he'll be pushed hard by Joe Fields, Cameron Dantley and Matt Hale.
Defense - A defensive coach by nature, head man Greg Robinson improved things last year. Considering there was no help from the offense, the Orange defense did a great job. Now it has to overcome the loss of several top performers like linemen James Wyche and Ryan LaCasse along with defensive backs Anthony Smith and Steve Gregory, but there are some good players to build around. Linebacker Kelvin Smith is one of the best in the nation, and Tanard Jackson is a lock-down corner ready to start receiving national recognition.

This season will be a success if … Syracuse wins six games. It would be a huge turnaround considering how bad the team was last year. There have to be some signs of life. Head coach Greg Robinson's future might depend on it.