2009 Early Big East Lookaheads
South Florida QB Matt Grothe
South Florida QB Matt Grothe
Posted Feb 16, 2009

The Big East is better than you think, at least it will be. It should all come together for Matt Grothe and South Florida in what could be a big season, while West Virginia, Pitt, and Cincinnati will be strong. Here's an early look ahead at each Big East team with what needs working on and why to be excited, and why to be grouchy.

2009 Big East Team Lookaheads

2009 Pages
Cincinnati | Connecticut | Louisville | Pittsburgh
Rutgers | South Florida | Syracuse | West Virginia

2008 Pages
Cincinnati | Connecticut | Louisville | Pittsburgh
Rutgers | South Florida | Syracuse | West Virginia
- 2008 CFN All-Big East Team | 2008 CFN Preseason All-Big East Team
- 2007 Big East Lookbacks & Recaps | 2008 Big East Lookaheads

 - 2008 Big East Lookbacks/Recaps

Cincinnati Bearcats

CFN Preseason Prediction: 9-4  Final Record: 11-3

Why to get excited
: The situation at quarterback will be far more stable than a year ago. Unlike the 2008 season, when three different hurlers started games, the Bearcats will enter 2009 with Tony Pike firmly entrenched as the starter. He really came on in his first season of action, and has the size and passing skills to parlay a strong senior year into a spot on an NFL roster. 

Why to be grouchy: The defense is being ravaged by graduation. If Cincinnati is to defend its Big East championship, it’ll need to cope with the loss of 10 defensive starters, including four named to the all-conference squad. Oh, and if things couldn’t get any tougher for the rebuilt unit, All-America P Kevin Huber, one of the unsung heroes of the team, has also exhausted his eligibility. 

The number one thing to work on is: The running game. The Bearcats would like to have a little more balance on offense after finishing last in the league in rushing and averaging less than four yards a carry. Plus, while the defense adapts to a slew of new faces in important places, controlling the clock and extending drives will take on a greater priority.

Biggest offensive loss: G Trevor Canfield
Biggest defensive loss: CB Mike Mickens
Best returning offensive player: WR Mardy Gilyard, Jr.
Best returning defensive player: S Aaron Webster, Sr.

Connecticut Huskies

CFN Preseason Prediction: 6-6  Final Record: 8-5

Why to get excited
: Randy Edsall is still employed by the university. Although he and his agent field offers regularly, Edsall has resisted the temptation to leave Storrs. That’s terrific news for a program that never attracts top-flight talent to the campus, yet has gone bowling in each of the last two seasons. The reason? No one in the Big East is doing a better job of coaching up kids than Edsall and his staff.

Why to be grouchy: RB Donald Brown is leaving early for the NFL Draft. Geez, does that sting for an offense that lacks punch or anything resembling a passing game. After leading the nation in rushing, Brown decided to capitalize on his success, leaving the program with Jordan Todman and Andre Dixon to pick up the slack. Now that Tyler Lorenzen has graduated, Connecticut will also be searching for a quarterback in the new-look backfield. 

The number one thing to work on is
: The passing attack. Connecticut doesn’t aspire to be Oklahoma, but it needs to do better than five touchdown passes in a season. While Zach Frazer and Cody Endres have live arms, it won’t matter if someone doesn’t step up from a receiving corps that intimidates no one.

Biggest offensive loss
: RB Donald Brown
Biggest defensive loss: DE Cody Brown
Best returning offensive player: T Mike Hicks, Sr.
Best returning defensive player: LB Scott Lutrus, Jr.

Louisville Cardinals

CFN Preseason Prediction: 7-5  Final Record: 5-7

Why to get excited
: Most of last year’s top skill position talent is back to support whoever’s under center. Victor Anderson was a 1,000-yard rusher in his first season, and Bilal Powell was underutilized in a reserve role. At wide receiver, the Cards’ top four pass-catchers return. Doug Beaumont enjoyed a breakthrough year with a team-high 62 receptions. Josh Chichester is a 6-8 mismatch on the outside. Scott Long has the biggest upside once he’s healthy for an entire year.  

Why to be grouchy: Everywhere else warrants a question mark. The new quarterback will have no relevant experience. The offensive line loses All-Big East first teamers, Eric Wood and George Bussey. And an already flimsy defense needs to replace all four starters along the front wall and popular coordinator Ron English. A lack of depth will be a season-long problem for this group. 

The number one thing to work on is: Protecting the ball. The Cardinals don’t have enough talent to overcome another 30-turnover season. Few schools do. If Louisville is going to do better than 110th nationally in turnover margin, untested quarterbacks Tyler Wolfe, Justin Burke, Zac Stoudt and Adam Froman better grow up in a hurry.

Biggest offensive loss: C Eric Wood
Biggest defensive loss: NT Earl Heyman
Best returning offensive player: RB Victor Anderson, Soph.
Best returning defensive player: LB Jon Dempsey, Sr.

Pitt Panthers

CFN Preseason Prediction: 10-2  Final Record: 8-4

Why to get excited
: The defensive line will be the best of the Dave Wannstedt era. On the outside, juniors-to-be Jabaal Sheard and Greg Romeus formed a dynamite bookend in 2008, combining for 26 tackles for loss and 13 sacks. While Rashaad Duncan will be missed at the nose, Mick Williams, Tommie Duhart, and Gus Mustakas form a capable rotation of seniors, who all started at least one game last fall.

Why to be grouchy: LeSean is LeGone. After saying for months that he planned to return for his junior year, star RB LeSean McCoy has bolted for the NFL after all. The one bright light in an otherwise dreary Panther offense, he leaves a gaping hole in the backfield that’ll likely be filled by unproven Kevin Collier and Shariff Harris.

The number one thing to work on is
: Lighting a fire under the passing attack. Yeah, Wannstedt is all about the power running game, but you can’t throw 10 touchdown passes all year and expect to win a Big East championship. The Panthers need increased production from the quarterback in order to get budding talents, such as WR Jonathan Baldwin and TE Nate Byham, more involved in the gameplan.

Biggest offensive loss: RB LeSean McCoy
Biggest defensive loss: LB Scott McKillop
Best returning offensive player: WR Jonathan Baldwin, Soph.
Best returning defensive player: DE Greg Romeus, Jr.

Rutgers Scarlet Knights

CFN Preseason Prediction: 7-5  Final Record: 7-6

Why to get excited
: The offensive line has the potential to be among the best in school history. Of the seven blockers who started games in 2008, six return next fall. All-star Anthony Davis is a next-level player at left tackle, and Caleb Ruch and Art Forst exceeded expectations as freshmen. If this group keeps gelling, it’s good news for a backfield-by-committee welcoming back last year’s top four rushers.

Why to be grouchy: The passing game will be impotent. Yeah, QB Mike Teel could drive you nuts with his decision-making, but he’ll be missed next fall by the fans in Piscataway. The favorite to succeed him is Jabu Lovelace, who’s a better athlete than a passer, and top receivers Kenny Britt and Tiquan Underwood are moving on to careers in the NFL. The ground game better produce because the Knights will be suspect through the air. 

The number one thing to work on is: Running the ball with more authority. The Scarlet Knights sputtered in their first year without Ray Rice, which was no surprise. Next year? No excuses. The offensive line will be a team strength and there are a number of complimentary options out of the backfield. Jourdan Brooks and Joe Martinek are the meat-and-potatoes backs, who can pick up yards between the tackles. Kordell Young and Mason Robinson provide the dash and the speed to get outside.

Biggest offensive loss: WR Kenny Britt
Biggest defensive loss: S Courtney Greene
Best returning offensive player: T Anthony Davis, Jr.
Best returning defensive player: LB Ryan D’Imperio, Sr.

South Florida Bulls

CFN Preseason Prediction: 7-5  Final Record: 8-5

Why to get excited: The Bulls’ most important offensive and defensive player return for one more season. DE George Selvie put off the NFL, opting to try and recapture his All-America form of 2007. Assuming the ankle injury that bothered him throughout 2008 doesn’t flare up, he’s poised to go on a 12-game salary run. Although QB Matt Grothe still makes too many costly mistakes, he remains the multi-dimensional heartbeat of the offense and begins his fourth season as the starter, a luxury for any head coach.  

Why to be grouchy: The offensive line will be going through an overhaul. Four starters with extensive experience are gone, including captain Jake Griffin and a pair of all-stars on the right side, Matt Huners and Marc Dile. The offense has had enough problems running the ball consistently and keeping Grothe off his back. With so much turnover up front, moving the ball is about to get a whole lot tougher.

The number one thing to work on is: Creating more takeaways. Isn’t South Florida supposed to harbor some of the Big East’s best athletes? It didn’t look that way last fall from a defense that lacked explosiveness or a penchant for causing mistakes. The Bulls forced just 17 turnovers, which was 97th nationally and better than only Syracuse in the conference.

Biggest offensive loss: G Matt Huners
Biggest defensive loss: LB Tyrone McKenzie
Best returning offensive player: QB Matt Grothe, Sr.
Best returning defensive player: DE George Selvie, Sr.

Syracuse Orange

CFN Preseason Prediction: 3-9  Final Record: 3-9

Why to get excited
: WR Mike Williams is back in classes. While it’ll take a lot more than just one player to turn this vessel around, Williams was the closest thing Syracuse had to a star before he was lost for academic reasons. Well, he has re-enrolled in spring classes, meaning he’ll have a chance in the fall to extend his streak of nine straight games with a touchdown reception. 

Why to be grouchy: The Orange failed to make a splash when searching for head coach Greg Robinson’s replacement. With more accomplished candidates, such as Turner Gill and Skip Holtz, in the mix, the program settled on Doug Marrone, a relative unknown from the New Orleans Saints. Hey, maybe Marrone is the next big thing in young coaches, but considering the depths of Syracuse’s problems, he’s a risky hire.

The number one thing to work on is
: Pass defense. The way the Orange gave up big plays through the air, you’d think it was a member of the Big 12. After allowing 27 touchdown passes and picking off just eight in a weak league for passers, Syracuse needs more than just CB Mike Holmes to step up and make stops.

Biggest offensive loss
: RB Curtis Brinkley
Biggest defensive loss: LB Jake Flaherty
Best returning offensive player: WR Mike Williams, Jr.
Best returning defensive player: DT Arthur Jones, Sr.

West Virginia Mountaineers

CFN Preseason Prediction: 10-2  Final Record: 9-4

Why to get excited
: The defense will be outstanding. Only three regulars are gone from a unit that led the Big East in scoring D and was 16th nationally in pass efficiency defense. The lineup was littered with sophomores, such as DT Scooter Berry, LB J.T. Thomas, and CB Brandon Hogan, who’ll only get better with more reps. As an added bonus, top LB Reed Williams is expected back from shoulder surgery that forced him to redshirt in 2008.

Why to be grouchy: The Pat White era is over. The transition period after an all-timer graduates is never easy, especially when he touched the ball 60 times a game. He carried the Mountaineers to a lot of wins over the last four years with his arm, legs, and knack for making plays late in close games. Although you could do a lot worse than rising senior Jarrett Brown, no one is capable of adequately replacing White.

The number one thing to work on is: Rebuilding the offensive line. This will be almost as tough as replacing White. All five starters are gone, including junior G Greg Isdaner, who has declared for the NFL Draft, and perennial all-star Ryan Stanchek. The new veteran is sophomore C Eric Jobe, who started the final five games after Mike Dent was injured.

Biggest offensive loss
: QB Pat White
Biggest defensive loss: LB Mortty Ivy
Best returning offensive player: RB Noel Devine, Jr.
Best returning defensive player: DT Scooter Berry, Jr.