2007 CFN Big East Preview

Posted Jul 31, 2007

Everyone knows West Virginia, Louisville, and even Rutgers will be big national players, but the Big East is more than just those three, as Ben Moffitt and South Florida will show throughout the year. Check out the predictions, All-Big East team, unit rankings and more in the 2007 CFN Big East preview.

2007 CFN Big East Preview

Team Previews, Offenses, Defenses & Depth Charts
- Cincinnati | Connecticut | Louisville | Pitt
- Rutgers | South Florida | Syracuse | West Virginia

CFN All-Big East Team & Top 30 Players
- Big East Team-by-Team Capsules

Big East Unit Rankings

- Big East Schedules & Predictions

By Richard Cirminiello  

Last season was a body blow for all the Big East detractors who felt the league had no business getting a highly-coveted automatic BCS bowl berth.  Almost half of the conference’s members finished the season ranked in the top 12 and it left a lasting off-season impression with a 5-0 bowl record.   With the returns of Heisman contenders Brian Brohm, Steve Slaton, Pat White and Ray Rice, prepare for an encore performance.

Forget all the talk about the demise of the Big East.  It’s over, as long as no more schools bolt for greener pastures.  The league has two budding national powers in West Virginia and Louisville, two programs—Rutgers and South Florida—with enormous upsides, a second division that’ll be more competitive and a wicked head of steam.       

The Mountaineers and Cardinals are once again the heavy favorites to win the league and contend as  trendy picks to be the fly in the national title game ointment.  While both offenses will be unstoppable, the development of their defenses will determine just how far they go. 

Rutgers returns most of the roster that won 11 games in 2006 and will prove to be no one-hit wonder.  However, it won’t be as easy playing with a target on its chest.  Quarterback Matt Grothe is one of 16 starters back for South Florida which will continue laying bricks to its foundation.  West Virginia and Louisville must travel to Tampa, so the Bulls will play a key role in the league race.  Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and Syracuse are on the up tick and will be very dangerous in October and November.  Connecticut pulls up the rear.

Playing in the Big East means you have a one-in-eight shot of landing a major bowl bid.  It’s that sort of math that has the league landing top recruits, retaining and attracting big-time coaches and dramatically improving its street cred.

Team That'll Surprise
Pittsburgh – After lowering everyone’s expectations the last two years, Pittsburgh is poised to catch everyone by surprise in 2007.  Yes, quarterback Tyler Palko and the team’s two best defensive players (Darrelle Revis and H.B. Blades) are gone, but all that young talent Dave Wannstedt has recently lured to Steel Town is about to start paying dividends.  In particular, both lines are finally close to where Wanny needs them to be and the secondary will spawn future stars in sophomores Aaron Berry and Elijah Fields.  If the new quarterback is merely competent, the Panthers will finally get out of neutral with a seven or eight-win, building block season.

Team That'll Disappoint
South Florida –  The Bulls will still be running in Tampa, however, the hints that South Florida is about to break new ground for the third consecutive year by winning a Big East title are still premature.  Although the program is clearly headed in the right direction, a schedule that includes trips to Auburn and Rutgers, visits from Louisville and West Virginia, and a nastier-than-expected finale at Heinz Field will equal a 7-5 mark.  While seven wins will be good for a third straight bowl berth, it’ll sell like a plateau season for a school that’s starting to set the bar Big East title high.              

Offensive Player of the Year
RB Steve Slaton, Jr., West Virginia – You also can’t go wrong with Mountaineer quarterback Pat White or Louisville star pass Brian Brohm or Rutgers running back Ray Rice.  The hunch, however, is that Slaton without White would be a tad more explosive than White without Slaton.  A tad. The junior hits the hole quicker than any back in the country and is a threat to go the distance every time there’s a sliver of daylight.  In only two seasons, he’s already rushed for 2,872 yards, scored 37 touchdowns and is expanding his repertoire to include splitting out and catching passes.   

Defensive Player of the Year

DT Eric Foster, Sr., Rutgers – Good players compile stats.  Great players create opportunities for others to put up big numbers.  Foster is that type of disruptive tackle.  A 6-2 and 265-pound predator with unblockable quickness, he regularly commands double teams, forces quarterbacks from their comfort zone and emotionally uplifts the entire Rutgers defense.  An All-American in 2006, Foster had 51 tackles, 14 tackles for loss and six sacks in a prelude of what will be a monster finale with the Knights.    

5 Big-Time Players Who Need a Bigger Spotlight
DE Deantwan Whitehead, Soph., Louisville
LB Ben Moffitt, Sr., South Florida
RB Donald Brown, Soph., UConn
S Courtney Greene, Jr., Rutgers
WR Mike Williams, Soph., Syracuse   

Coach on the Hot Seat
Greg Robinson, Syracuse – Just five wins and a hideous 1-13 conference mark over two seasons have Robinson living on borrowed time this year.  The handpicked choice of athletic director Daryl Gross to rekindle the Orange pride, he can ill-afford another season of poor offensive execution and a dreary product that can’t move the turnstiles.  Ironically, another Robinson, heralded quarterback Andrew, may hold the coach’s fate on his strong right arm.  Syracuse has its best talent, particularly on offense, in years which makes the pressure to show marked improvement that much greater.    

5 Non-Conference Games the Big East had better take very, very seriously
1. Louisville at Kentucky, Sept. 15
2. West Virginia at Maryland, Sept. 13
3. North Carolina at South Florida, Sept. 22
4. Maryland at Rutgers, Sept. 29
5. Pittsburgh at Michigan State, Sept. 15 

5 Best Pro Prospects
1. QB Brian Brohm, Sr., Louisville
2. RB Steve Slaton, Jr., West Virginia
3. WR Mario Urrutia, Jr., Louisville
4. CB Mike Jenkins, Sr., South Florida   
5. DT Keilen Dykes, Sr., West Virginia    

5 Biggest Shoes to Fill
1. Adrian Grady for Amobi Okoye, DT Louisville
2. Bill Stull for Tyler Palko, QB Pittsburgh
3. Mike Dent for Dan Mozes, C West Virginia  
4. Scott McKillop for H.B. Blades, LB Pittsburgh   
5. Steve Kragthorpe for Bobby Petrino, Coach Louisville

5 Bold Predictions

1. Syracuse’s September opponents will be glad they caught the Orange early.  By mid-season, quarterback Andrew Robinson will be comfortable and the offense will be rocking behind the play of the program’s electrifying skill position players.
2. Louisville sophomore Anthony Allen will lead the nation in scoring, rushing for more than 20 touchdowns.  A revelation with a nose for the goal line as a freshman reserve in 2006, he’ll benefit from having an expanded role in a 40-point-a-game offense.

3. South Florida will be one of just a handful of defenses to allow fewer than 10 touchdown passes all year.  With a strong push up front and one of the country’s tightest secondaries, passing downfield on the Bulls is going to be a weekly nightmare. 

4. After being the lone mediocre part of Rutgers’ banner season, quarterback Mike Teel will make a quantum leap in his junior year.  Teel actually finished 2006 with momentum and now has the experience and speedy  receivers to make his sophomore season a distant memory. 

5. By November, Cincinnati fans and quarterback Ben Mauk will be thrilled Mark Dantonio left for Michigan State and Brian Kelly was hired as his successor.  More than just a proven winner, Kelly’s spread attack will be a welcome change at Nippert Stadium from Dantonio’s stodgy ground game. 

What Will Happen
- It’ll be a battle right up until the end with Pitt at West Virginia deciding the Big East BCS representative. Louisville will lose at West Virginia, West Virginia will lose at Rutgers, and Rutgers will be upset by South Florida and lose on the road to Louisville. In the end, the Mountaineers will get the nod because of their head-to-head victory over the Cardinals.
- Pitt will be better. The November 24th date with South Florida will determine the number four team in the overall pecking order behind West Virginia, Louisville and Rutgers.
- Cincinnati will pull off at least one major upset like it did last year over Rutgers. The best bet? November 17th vs. West Virginia.
- Syracuse and Connecticut will each have losing seasons, but will do just enough, and be competitive enough, to keep their head coaches around for another year.


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