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2008 Early Big East Lookaheads
Pitt RB LeSean McCoy
Pitt RB LeSean McCoy
CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Jan 29, 2008


Is the Big East a league on the rise? With LeSean McCoy and Pitt, Cincinnati, Connecticut, South Florida and Rutgers still improving, this could be another wildly unpredictable year. Here's an early look ahead at each Big East team with what needs working on and why to be excited and grouchy.


2008 Big East Team Lookaheads

Cincinnati | Connecticut | Louisville | Pittsburgh
Rutgers | South Florida | Syracuse | West Virginia

2007 Pages
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2007 Big East Season | 2007 Big East Lookbacks & Recaps
Cincinnati | Connecticut | Louisville | Pittsburgh
Rutgers | South Florida | Syracuse | West Virginia

Cincinnati
Why to get excited: Brian Kelly came over from Central Michigan and took what Mark Dantonio started and improved it. There wasn't a big weak link on the rock-solid team that won ten games, and now the wheels are in motion to keep things going. This might not be as good a squad as last year's, but if QB Ben Mauk is granted another year of eligibility, the offense should be fine while Kelly's defense, while worse, won't be a liability.
Why to be grouchy: CB Mike Mickens returned for his senior year, but there are some huge gaping holes to fill at safety and defensive end. The offense has skill players, as long as Mauk is back, but the line loses three starters. This is a good team, but it'll be worse and will need a few mega-breaks to be a Big East title contender.
The number one thing to work on is: Getting a bit more from the defense. That might be a lot to ask for considering five starters are gone, and with the offense likely to take a wee step back, coming up with more key stops will be a must. The secondary made big plays last year with safeties Haruki Nakamura and Anthony Williams doing a little of everything, but it still gave up 254 yards per game.
Biggest offensive loss: WR/TE Earnest Jackson
Biggest defensive loss: FS Haruki Nakamura
Best returning offensive player: QB Ben Mauk, Sr. (if he's not able to return), OG Trevor Canfield, Sr.
Best returning defensive player: DE Terrill Byrd, Sr.

Connecticut
Why to get excited: The defense was fantastic throughout 2007 considering the offense didn't do much, and with eight starters coming back, it should be even better. The offense might have struggled, but with almost everyone returning, it can't help but be improved. The non-conference schedule is manageable playing Hofstra, at Temple, Virginia, Baylor and at North Carolina.
Why to be grouchy: Yeah, the O should be better, but can anyone actually play? Tyler Lorenzen still has to prove he can consistently lead the attack, while a receiver has to emerge as more of a go-to gamebreaker. Terence Jeffers is good, but he has to be great. The D might be loaded with experience, but it has to go on without heart-and-soul all-star MLB Danny Lansanah.
The number one thing to work on is: Winning games on offense. UConn got by on defense, not turning the ball over, and taking advantage of almost every opportunity. While it led the way to a big season, there were times when the O needed to take over and it couldn't. The passing game has to be more explosive.
Biggest offensive loss: OG Donald Thomas
Biggest defensive loss: LB Danny Lansanah
Best returning offensive player: RB Andre Dixon, Jr.
Best returning defensive player: DE Julius Williams, Sr.

Louisville
Why to get excited: It's not necessarily a bad thing when you have a wildly disappointing season and still finish 6-6. Steve Kraghtorpe was hit with a ton of criticism, most of it warranted, but he can coach and his team hardly quit on him. Four of the six losses were very winnable, and there might not be too much tweaking needed to pull off more close wins. The running backs should be among the best in the Big East.
Why to be grouchy: The personnel losses are major. QB Brian Brohm was an all-timer, WRs Harry Douglas and Mario Urrutia were tremendous, and the defense, while awful, will miss top tackler Lamar Myles in the middle along with the rest of the linebacking corps. The D doesn't just need to improve, it needs to find a pass rush, has to stop someone's passing game, and has to make more big plays.
The number one thing to work on is: Getting everyone to rally around Hunter Cantwell. He's no Brohm, but he could be the best senior pro quarterback prospect (which might not be saying much in a horrible year for draftable passers) with great size and a live arm. He's not starting from scratch with a little bit of experience when Brohm was hurt over the last few years, and if he can be a quick decision maker and make the new receivers around him shine, the O should be fine.
Biggest offensive loss: QB Brian Brohm
Biggest defensive loss: LB Lamar Myles
Best returning offensive player: C Eric Wood, Sr.
Best returning defensive player: FS Bobby Buchanan, Sr.

Pitt
Why to get excited: 13-9. Talk about jump-starting a program, Pitt was slogging along in the midst of yet another mediocre season under Dave Wannstedt, and then it screwed up West Virginia's otherwise terrific year with the most important upset in a year of upsets. Now the expectations have skyrocketed with RB LeSean McCoy returning along with most of the key players on both sides of the ball to make this the Big East's "it" team going into 2008. Four of the seven losses were by four points or fewer with all very, very winnable.
Why to be grouchy: 13-9. The win in Morgantown glossed over a slew of major issue that made the Panthers disappointing in the first place. Can Pat Bostick consistently throw? Can the offense score on a consistent basis? Will McCoy have holes to run through with three starters, including possible NFL first round pick Jeff Otah, gone off the line? Can the pass protection improve? Outside of the West Virginia game, Wannstedt hasn't proven he can get his team to play up to its capability. 
The number one thing to work on is: The quarterback situation. Bostick was a big recruit a few years ago and has potential, but he'll have to hold off Bill Stull, who was supposed to be the main man before hurting his thumb, Kevan Smith, and JUCO transfer Greg Cross. They're not all going to be there by the start of the year with at least one certain to transfer. Handing off to McCoy will only go so far; someone has to improve the passing game.
Biggest offensive loss: OT Jeff Otah
Biggest defensive loss: DE Joe Clermond
Best returning offensive player: RB LeSean McCoy, Soph.
Best returning defensive player: LB Scott McKillop, Sr.

Rutgers
Why to get excited: Even with the early departure of RB Ray Rice, the offense should shine if QB Mike Teel makes another step up in his development. After doing nothing in 2006, he had a nice junior season and now gets his top receivers, Kenny Britt and Tiquan Underwood, back. With FS Courtney Greene putting off the NFL for one more year, eight starters return to the nation's 17th best defense.
Why to be grouchy: There's no replacing Rice. All he did was tear off 2,012 yards and 24 touchdowns along with 25 catches for 239 yards and a score. Making things hared for the running game is the loss of three key starters on the line, tackles Pedro Sosa and Jeremy Zuttah along with Mike Fladell. Jeremy Ito might have struggled as a punter, but he was a tremendously clutch placekicker.
The number one thing to work on is: Putting more pressure on Teel. Mason Robinson isn't going to be Ray Rice, and the line will need some retooling, so now Teel has to use all his experience and all his growing abilities to get the offense moving. Without Ito, the special teams will be a concern after finishing 117th in the nation in punting and doing little in the return game.
Biggest offensive loss: RB Ray Rice
Biggest defensive loss: DT Eric Foster
Best returning offensive player: WR Tiquan Underwood, Sr.
Best returning defensive player: FS Courtney Greene, Sr.

South Florida
Why to get excited: OT Walt Walker. He's the only starter gone off the offense that averaged 414 yards and 35 points per game. Matt Grothe should be among the nation's best all-around quarterbacks with a slew of good, unsung weapons to work with. The defense gets pass rushing terror George Selvie back along with just enough talent to not slip too much.  The non-conference schedule is more than manageable against UT Martin, at UCF, Kansas, at FIU, at NC State.
Why to be grouchy: The defense might have a few great players back, but it loses a ton including big tackling/no studying LB Ben Moffitt and, arguably, the best corner pair in America in Trae Williams and Mike Jenkins. For all the good things the Bulls did last year, it got ripped apart in their final two games.
The number one thing to work on is: Playing on the road when it's not warm out. Weather can't necessarily be blamed, but the team didn't play nearly as well out of the tropics of Tampa and the South after September losing at Rutgers and Connecticut, beating Pitt 48-37 and getting blasted by Oregon in the Sun Bowl.
Biggest offensive loss: OT Walt Walker
Biggest defensive loss: CBs Mike Jenkins & Trae Williams
Best returning offensive player: QB Matt Grothe, Jr.
Best returning defensive player: DE George Selvie, Jr.

Syracuse
Why to get excited: Will all the experience finally turn into production? The Greg Robinson era has been an unmitigated disaster, but he's being given one more shot with seven starters returning on offense, eight back on defense, and both kickers. Andrew Robinson is considered a potentially big-time quarterback prospect, and he has a burgeoning star receiver in Mike Williams to throw to. The running game should get a huge boost with Curtis Brinkley (broken leg) and Delone Carter (hip) expected to be back this spring after getting knocked out last year.
Why to be grouchy: Do you really believe in Greg Robinson? The hope and prayer is for a Rich Brooks-like situation at Kentucky where everything comes together at once after years of building, but that's a big hope for a team that rarely showed signs of being competent. Yeah, there were injuries, and several players needed experience, but the offense was still abysmal scoring fewer than 17 points or fewer in eight games.
The number one thing to work on is: Line play. The O line got no push whatsoever for the nation's second-worst running game and allowed 54 sacks, the second most in the country. Robinson is supposed to be a defensive coach, yet the Orange were dead last in the Big East in scoring, passing, rushing and total D. SU was 118th in the nation in sacks generating just nine. Nine.
Biggest offensive loss: WR Taj Smith
Biggest defensive loss: S Joe Fields
Best returning offensive player: WR Mike Williams, Jr.
Best returning defensive player:
NT Arthur Jones, Jr.

West Virginia
Why to get excited: Everyone appears to be excited about Bill Stewart and his ability to keep the momentum going after a huge Fiesta Bowl win over Oklahoma. The proof will come in the recruiting and if he can build on what Rich Rodriguez created, but for now, there's no reason to shoot for anything less than another Big East title with QB Pat White working behind a tremendous O line with all five starters returning.
Why to be grouchy: The Mountaineers did a fantastic job of rebuilding and retooling last year after losing a ton on both sides. this is different. Can Stewart get the job done no that he's expected to succeed? White is a tremendous playmaker, and Noel Devine will take on an expanded role, but losing RB Steve Slaton and WR Darius Reynaud will be painful. The defense has to replace seven starters and four All-Big East performers (NT Keilen Dykes, DE Johnny Dingle, LB Marc Magro and SS Eric Wicks). 
The number one thing to work on is: Getting Stewart firmly entrenched into his new role. He was auditioning in the Fiesta Bowl preparation. Now that the gig is his, he has to show that he can get the job done. At this point, there's no grace period with the expectations at a BCS level; anything less will be considered a disappointment. On the field, the passing game was efficient, and now with White under the helm for yet another year, there should be around 200 yards per game through the air to go along with the phenomenal ground attack.
Biggest offensive loss: RB Steve Slaton
Biggest defensive loss: NT Keilen Dykes
Best returning offensive player: QB Pat White, Sr.
Best returning defensive player: LB Reed Williams, Sr.