Preseason Lookaheads - Big East
Posted Jan 28, 2007

The return of Brian Brohm to Louisville boosts the Big East in what should be another huge season for the league. Check out why each team should be excited, grouchy, and what each team needs to work on in the Preseason Lookaheads.

The numbers are the CFN pre-preseason national rankings. 

11. West Virginia   2006 Record: 11-2  
Why to get excited: Rich Rodriguez isn't the head coach of the Alabama Crimson Tide. After two unbelievable seasons, West Virginia has proved its an elite team and thanks to Rodriguez, a top-notch program. As long as Pat White and Steve Slaton are healthy and rolling, along with underappreciated WR Darius Reynaud, this will be one of the most nation's most dangerous teams. Eight starters return on defense, while super-solid P/PK Pat McAfee is also back.
Why to be grouchy: West Virginia might be a factory when it comes to cranking out offensive linemen who fit the system, but losing C Dan Mozes, the quarterback up front, and guard Jeremy Sheffey, will be a problem. Reynaud is the all-around star receiver, but Brandon Myles led the team in touchdown catches and receiving yards, and Rayshawn Bolden was a decent option.
The number one thing to work on is: Making more plays in the backfield. The pass rush wasn't all that bad, but the defensive front didn't make enough tackles for loss and didn't generate enough overall pressure to help out the secondary. The defensive backs are good, not great, and they need as much help as possible after allowing 243 yards per game.
Biggest offensive loss: C Dan Mozes
Biggest defensive loss: LB Kevin McLee

21. Rutgers   2006 Record: 11-2  
Why to get excited: Greg Schiano isn't the head coach of the Miami Hurricanes. It was considered by many to be a foregone conclusion that Schiano would by gone after his breakthrough year with the Scarlet Knights, but instead of leaving for a bigger program, he appears to have made Rutgers one of those top programs. He's keeping many of the star local players in-state to restock the shelves behind a team with just enough returning talent to keep the momentum rolling. PK Jeremy Ito will be one of the nation's best.
Why to be grouchy: Just enough top players are gone off the nation's No. 4 defense to expect a bit of a drop-off. While last year was certainly special, it's not like the D stopped a who's who of offenses. The losses on the front seven will take at least a game or three to overcome.
All-star punter Joe Radigan is gone.
The number one thing to work on is: Getting Mike Teel rolling right off the bat. The junior-to-be quarterback showed against Kansas State in the Texas Bowl that he can be more than just a guy who hands it off to Rice, and he now needs to take the next step up and be a playmaker to open up the attack a bit more. If he's on, there might be no stopping the offense.
Biggest offensive loss: TE Clark Harris
Biggest defensive loss: DT Ramel Meekins 

26. South Florida   2006 Record: 9-4
Why to get excited: Talk about a program on the verge of exploding, USF has gone from non-existent to a player in a major conference with its first bowl win, a dominant victory over West Virginia, and a nine-win campaign. Only six players are gone off the Bowl two-deep depth chart with sophomore-to-be QB Matt Grothe a star to build rally around and the defense certain to be among the best in the country.
Why to be grouchy: There might not be many personnel losses, but they're relatively big ones. Starting receivers Ean Randolph and S.J. Green, along with TE Will Bleakley, are gone from the offense, while star linebackers Stephen Nicholas and Pat Green, along with SS Jerramy Burnett, are off the D. USF can't sneak up on anyone anymore; this is now the type of team everyone will bring its A game for.
The number one thing to work on is: Punting and kickoff returns. Sophomore Justin Teachey had a rough year, but the punt coverage team didn't help him out much as the Bulls netted an abysmal 30.03 yards per punt. Taurus Johnson has to give the kickoff return game some more pop after USF averaged just 17.58 yards per try.
Biggest offensive loss: WR Ean Randolph
Biggest defensive loss: LB Stephen Nicholas 

28. Louisville   2006 Record: 12-1
Why to get excited: Brian Brohm. Likely the the third quarterback taken in the draft, and a possible top 15 pick, had he come out, Brohm provides steady leadership and a Heisman-caliber playmaker to a team that needs to get through the transition from Bobby Petrino to Steve Kragthorpe in a hurry. All the top receivers are back meaning the nation's No. 7 passing attack should still shine, while getting All-America PK Art Carmody back for another year will mean all the attack has to do is get around the 35 to get points.
Why to be grouchy: Kragthorpe is a good one, and Brohm is special, but there can't help but be a little bit of a slip after losing a star like Petrino. The departure of six starters off the defense, including CB William Gay and top 15 overall-caliber DT Amobi Okoye won't help. George Stripling is a great back, but the running game will be worse without Kolby Smith.
The number one thing to work on is: The entire punting game. Louisville's only real weaknesses last year were punting the ball (averaging 33.48 yards per kick) and returning punts (averaging 6.79 yards per return) relying on two freshmen to handle the work. Punter Corey Goettsche has a year of experience now, as does punt returner Trent Guy, and now they have to do more.
Biggest offensive loss: OT Renardo Foster
Biggest defensive loss: DT Amobi Okoye

44. Cincinnati   2006 Record: 8-5
Why to get excited: Brian Kelly. The loss of Mark Dantonio to Michigan State would've really hurt if UC didn't pick up one of the hotter coaching prospects out there. While Kelly is a high-riser and might be a bit of a rent-a-coach, he should keep the momentum going after a strong eight win season finished off by a bowl win. Eight starters return to the offense and eight to the defense with Dustin Grutza a veteran, if erratic, quarterback to work around, but ...
Why to be grouchy: ... can Grutza be the type of passer who can make the offense sing? It was Nick Davila's show in the bowl win over Western Michigan, and the new coaching staff might want to play around a little bit with its options. Safety valve tight end Brent Celek won't be around to rely on. Strong PK Kevin Lovell is also gone.
The number one thing to work on is: Protecting the quarterback. The sack numbers might not mean too much since quarterbacks are required to run in Kelly's offense, but the offensive line has to do a much better job in pass protection. The more time Grutza gets, the more effective he is.
Biggest offensive loss: TE Brent Celek
Biggest defensive loss: SS Dominic Ross 

56. Pitt   2006 Record: 6-6
Why to get excited: Alright Dave, time to kick it in. The Wannstedt era should now be ready to roll after two years of upgrading the overall team speed and athleticism, but it has to get past the five game losing streak it ended last year on. Enough starters return on defense to be far better than last year when the Panthers gave up 363 yards per game, while the offense should be solid with a slew of good receivers and RB LaRod Stephens-Howling to work with. However ...
Why to be grouchy: ... the leadership losses are gaping. QB Tyler Palko came up with a fantastic 2006, while LB H.B. Blades was one of the nation's best tacklers. While the coaching staff has brought in more athletic talent on defense, losing Blades, LB Clint Session, DE Vernon Botts, and CB Darrelle Revis, who took off a year early for the NFL, stings. The defense might need another year of transitioning.
The number one thing to work on is: Stop the run. Wannstedt's a defensive coach, but his teams haven't been able to slow down good running games in two years and was torched over the final three games of last year. You can't win in the Big East if you're not consistent against the run with backs like Steve Slaton, Ray Rice, and Donald Brown to worry about.
Biggest offensive loss: QB Tyler Palko
Biggest defensive loss: LB H.B. Blades

68. Connecticut   2006 Record: 4-8
Why to get excited: Call 2006 a transition year. UConn had to break in several new starters in key spots and was erratic all season long with an unsettled quarterback situation, a spotty run defense, and not overall consistency. Veteran teams tend to get past the little problems, and the Huskies have experience with 17 starters returning. Donald Brown would be getting national attention as one of the nation's better backs if he wasn't in the same league as Steve Slaton and Ray Rice.
Why to be grouchy: And the quarterback will be ... ? D.J. Hernandez struggled too much when he got his chance to finally show what he could do, Matt Bonislawski is gone, Darius Butler is a question mark, and JUCO transfer Tyler Lorenzen is unproven. The rest of the Big East is too strong to not get steady quarterback play. The run defense was awful throughout last year, and it won't help to lose starting defensive tackles Ray Blagman and Rhema Fuller. .
The number one thing to work on is: Passing efficiency. With Brown in the backfield and the way the Huskies have run under head coach Randy Edsall, the passing attack doesn't have to be Texas Tech's, but it has to be effective. UConn was last in the Big East, and 104th in the nation, in passing efficiency and averaged a mere 141 yards per game.
Biggest offensive loss: FB Deon Anderson
Biggest defensive loss: DT Rhema Fuller

77. Syracuse   2006 Record: 4-8
Why to get excited: Things can't get any worse. After finishing at the bottom, or second-to-last, of the Big East in just about every major category. The attack gets a boost with WR Taj Smith returning from injury, while RBs Curtis Brinkley and Delone Carter appear to be the type of backs to revolve the offense around. After two years, now Greg Robinson has to show the program is on the right track.
Why to be grouchy: Just enough starters are gone to leave open several question marks going into the year. The linebacking corps takes the biggest hit hurt most by the loss of Kelvin Smith, both corners are gone, and for good and bad, QB Perry Patterson is done. One of the team's few bright spots, punter Brendan Carney, is also gone.
The number one thing to work on is: The offensive line. Patterson took most of the blame for the team's problems, but he rarely had time to operate behind a porous offensive lint that allowed a whopping 45 sacks.
The receivers should be in place to make the passing attack a major plus, but the new quarterback, possible Andrew Robinson, needs a chance. The ground game rarely got room to get moving.
Biggest offensive loss: QB Perry Patterson
Biggest defensive loss: LB Kelvin Smith