2009 CFN Big East Team Capsules
Connecticut LB Scott Lutrus
Connecticut LB Scott Lutrus
Posted Jul 27, 2009

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

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T1. Pitt | Offense | Defense
Depth Chart

Predicted Record: 8-4  Conf. Record: 5-2
Best Offensive Player: WR Jonathan Baldwin, Soph.
Best Defensive Player: DE Greg Romeus, Jr.
When new offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti dubbed his move back to Western Pennsylvania a “dream job”, he obviously skipped the 2008 Panther highlight reel. The coach is inheriting a dearth of proven playmakers and a heap of problems that need to be solved. No one was shocked that RB LeSean McCoy left for the NFL after just two years, but it still cut deep into an offense that’s lacked pop for years. Actually, replacing McCoy might be easier than lighting a spark under a feeble passing attack that produced just 10 touchdown passes in 13 games. It’s a good thing Cignetti has a track record of coaching up quarterbacks because he’ll need to tap into his inner-Jeff Tedford in order to elevate the play of Bill Stull. The senior must evolve into a more consistent playmaker in order to maximize the potential of WR Jonathan Baldwin, TE Nate Byham, and a deep receiving corps.   

As the defense goes, so goes the Pittsburgh program. Even after losing All-American LB Scott McKillop to graduation, the Panthers are loaded on this side of the ball, especially up front. With three legitimate All-Big East contenders, they’ll control the line of scrimmage most weekends, making life easier for the linebackers and defensive backs. On the outside, Greg Romeus and Jabaal Sheard form one of the top 10 or so scariest pass rushing tandems in the country. Add in DT Mick Williams, a disruptive force in his own right, and Pitt has a chance to dominate most games at the point of contact. If a suitable replacement can be found for McKillop in the middle, the Panthers will hold opponents to under 20 points a game this fall.

T1. West Virginia | Offense | Defense | Depth Chart

Predicted Record: 9-3  Conf. Record: 5-2
Best Offensive Player: RB Noel Devine, Jr.
Best Defensive Player: LB Reed Williams, Sr.
Offense: After getting mostly negative reviews in his first season as the offensive coordinator, Jeff Mullen begins his second year without the services of QB Pat White. Oh, joy. Actually, there are silver linings for the offense. Jarrett Brown has been one of the nation’s top backup quarterbacks the last two years, and Noel Devine is a dynamic playmaker coming out of the backfield. Plus, without White to bail the offense out of every jam, the days of relying on one player to do most of the heavy lifting are over. The Mountaineers are sticking with the spread, but it’ll be tailored more toward Brown, a taller passer, who won’t have to scramble to improve his line of sight. The program needs him to deliver in a big way after it produced its fewest points in seven years.

Head coach Bill Stewart retained coordinator Jeff Casteel when he was named head coach. Shrewd move. Casteel has perennially done more with less with a unit that doesn’t often attract blue-chip recruits. His 3-3-5 stack relies on undersized, overly-active athletes, who fly to the ball and play to the whistle. The Mountaineers bring back enough talent—eight starters and 19 letterwinners—to again be one of the stingiest defenses in the Big East. At each level, there’s a potential all-star, Scooter Berry up front, Reed Williams and J.T. Thomas at linebacker, and Brandon Hogan and Sidney Glover in the secondary. West Virginia yielded just 17 points a game in 2008, a number it’ll flirt with again in 2009.

T3. Connecticut | Offense | Defense | Depth Chart

Predicted Record: 6-6  Conf. Record: 4-3
Best Offensive Player: OT Mike Hicks, Sr.
Best Defensive Player: LB Scott Lutrus, Jr.
Connecticut is about to enter the 21st century with an up-tempo, no-huddle offense being installed by rookie coordinator Joe Moorhead. While the departure from the vanilla sounds good in theory, there’s considerable doubt that the Huskies have the right personnel to run the system properly. At least not today. For starters, they’ll need much more from a miserable passing game that produced just five touchdowns and 17 interceptions a year ago. All indications are that the keys to the new offense will be given to Zach Frazer, who left Notre Dame a few years ago for this very opportunity. He’ll modest support from the receiving corps, and will be breaking in a new left tackle, center, and feature back. Although it won’t be a breeze replacing 2,000-yard rusher Donald Brown, the program likes what it has in young Jordan Todman and veteran Andre Dixon.
Defese: If you only look at high school rankings, it defies all logic that Connecticut is perennially one of the nation’s stingiest defenses. The Huskies neither bend nor break most weekends, relying on a slew of disciplined, athletic players, who get better the longer they remain in Storrs. Credit Todd Orlando, the architect of this unit, for doing more with less than just about any defensive coordinator in America. The Huskies will face challenges this fall related to the loss of five starters, specifically all-stars and first-day draft choices Cody Brown and Darius Butler. If you’re thinking the bottom is about to fall out, think again. There’s enough talent for the program to endure, even if it can’t match last year’s numbers. Scott Lutrus and the linebackers are fantastic, the secondary will be just fine, and DE Lindsey Witten should blossom now that he’s finally getting a starting gig.

T3. South Florida | Offense | Defense | Depth Chart

Predicted Record: 7-5  Conf. Record: 4-3
Best Offensive Player: QB Matt Grothe, Sr.
Best Defensive Player: DE George Selvie, Sr.
Offense: The revolving door spun again at offensive coordinator, as Mike Canales was hired to replace Greg Gregory. He inherits a lot issues and a stale offense that struggled mightily to produce big plays, despite having a fair amount of skill position talent. He also inherited fourth-year starting QB Matt Grothe, an enigma who can be magical on one play and maddening on the next two. The coach’s primary job will be to coach up his signal-caller, guiding him to the most prolific season of his Bull career. Forget the fact that South Florida led the Big East in total offense and finished second in scoring. It did most of its damage against lesser opponents, while failing to score more than 20 points in the final five regular season games.
While new defensive coordinator Joe Tresey has an impressive résumé of his own, replacing the popular and successful Wally Burnham is a tall order. Fortunately, he’s inheriting a nice mix of talent from a defense that finished 10th nationally in total defense and 24th in scoring defense. He also gets to coach DE George Selvie, who passed on the NFL and will again be one of the country’s premier pass rushers. At Cincinnati, Tresey’s defenses were known for their ability to make game-changing plays, like turnovers and sacks. Hopefully for the Bulls, he’ll rub off on them because despite the lofty rankings, they had problems getting to the quarterback and getting many takeaways. There’s too much speed and experience for that to become a trend in 2009.

Cincinnati | Offense | Defense | Depth Chart

Predicted Record: 6-6  Conf. Record: 3-4
Best Offensive Player: WR Mardy Gilyard, Sr.
Best Defensive Player: DE Curtis Young, Sr.
In stark contrast to the defense, eight starters return to an offense that might have to carry this program for the first month or two of the season. The pitch-and-catch combo of Tony Pike to Mardy Gilyard figures to be one of the most prolific in the country, pairing a couple of next-level talents, who hooked up for 11 touchdowns last fall. Unlike a year ago, Pike has removed the uncertainty at quarterback and brings stability and a big arm to the position. The Bearcats are also set at the skill positions, provided some of the younger players, like RB Isaiah Pead and receivers D.J. Woods and Armon Binns, step up and provide support. The biggest concern revolves around an offensive line that was marginal in 2008, and now must replace both starters to the right of center.
Defense: Change. It’s evident in every nook and cranny of the defense. A whopping 10 starters are gone from last year. Joe Tresey has been replaced by Bob Diaco at defensive coordinator. Oh, and Diaco’s first initiatives is to begin making the switch to a 3-4 alignment that uses a hybrid defensive end, who can shift to outside linebacker. Yeah, this won’t be the same unit that was such a nuisance over the last few years. In place of current pros, like Mike Mickens and Connor Barwin will be a new wave of stoppers, who’ve been itching for bigger spotlights. Up front, Curtis Young finally gets a chance at a starring role, while Derek Wolfe takes his first step toward becoming a household name in league circles. At linebacker, the unit is relying on position-switchers, like Marcus Waugh, Craig Carey, and Demetrius Jones, to pick up some slack. And in the rebuilt secondary, the pressure will be on Drew Frey to stay healthy and Marcus Barnett to adjust after catching 92 passes the last two years.

Louisville | Offense | Defense
| Depth Chart

Predicted Record: 5-7  Conf. Record: 3-4
Best Offensive Player: RB Victor Anderson, Soph.
Best Defensive Player: LB Jon Dempsey, Sr. 
Head coach Steve Kragthorpe took a bold step toward controlling his own fate, taking over the play-calling duties and becoming his own offensive coordinator. Priority No. 1 for the coach and the program will be to find a capable quarterback to replace Hunter Cantwell. There’s an abundance of good arms, but not a lick of experience. The attack will be centered on RB Victor Anderson, who exploded for over 1,000 yards as a freshman and has big-play potential. If WR Scott Long can rebound from last year’s ACL tear and perform like an all-star, it’ll be a windfall for whichever quarterback winds up at the top of the depth chart. The offensive line won’t be the same without C Eric Wood, one of the best linemen to ever play at the school

Defense: At least in the early part of 2008, former defensive coordinator Ron English was doing a real nice job of getting more production from less talent. English’s replacement, Brent Guy, will need to weave the same kind of magic because there’s absolutely no star power on this unit. For the second straight year, the Cardinals will have problems getting to the quarterback and defending the pass. In fact, those weaknesses are likely to feed off each other. The strength of the defense will be at linebacker, where a bunch of familiar faces return, headed by all-star Jon Dempsey.

Rutgers | Offense | Defense | Depth Chart

Predicted Record: 7-5  Conf. Record: 3-4
Best Offensive Player: OT Anthony Davis, Jr.
Best Defensive Player: LB Ryan D'Imperio, Sr.
Offense: Rutgers’ quest for balance is likely to go unfulfilled this fall. The ground game should be fine. The trio of Joe Martinek, Kordell Young, and Jourdan Brooks will be running behind an Anthony Davis-led fortress that returns all five starters and might be the Big East’s best line. The passing game, however, will be a very different story. Gone are the three main components of the league’s best aerial attack, QB Mike Teel and wide receivers Kenny Britt and Tiquan Underwood. In their place steps uncertainty and mediocrity. The new hurler will likely be one of two seniors, Jabu Lovelace or Domenic Natale, who’ve mostly played meaningless minutes throughout their careers. And Tim Brown aside, the receivers are a colossal mystery, with equally limited resumes. The Knights will lean heavily on the backs, while hoping the new quarterback can exceed modest expectations.
Five starters have graduated, leaving Rutgers with a little bit of rebuilding to do, especially at defensive line and in the defensive backfield, which each loses an all-star. The strongest unit will be the linebackers, which features budding star Ryan D’Imperio in the middle and great athleticism surrounding him. The secondary will overcome its losses, thanks to the returns of CB Devin McCourty and SS Joe Lefeged, and a schedule that’s light on prolific passers. The biggest concerns will be to shore up the run defense and start creating more turnovers, which used to be a Greg Schiano trademark. While D’Imperio will do his best to shut down running lanes, the Scarlet Knights have two new starters at defensive tackle, neither of whom weighs more than 265 pounds. 

8. Syracuse | Offense | Defense | Depth Chart

Predicted Record:
3-9  Conf. Record: 1-6
Best Offensive Player: WR Mike Williams, Jr.
Best Defensive Player: NT Arthur Jones, Sr.
It’s been a little over a decade since Donovan McNabb left the Carrier Dome. To Syracuse fans, it feels more like a century. The program hasn’t had a competent quarterback since, parading out a sea of mediocrity that includes names, like Perry Patterson, Troy Nunes, and R.J. Anderson. The new face looking to change the trend of futility is redshirt freshman Ryan Nassib, who was installed as the favorite during spring. While no one is expecting a McNabb reincarnation, new coordinator Rob Spence will ask his quarterback to make a lot more plays than his predecessors. Of course, Nassib will face more competition in the summer from a pair of seniors, incumbent Cameron Dantley and former Duke point guard Greg Paulus. Whoever gets the ball can take comfort in the return of WR Mike Williams, one of the Big East’s best, who sat out the 2008 season. Progress by the league’s worst offense will also require improved blocking from a young and beleaguered offensive line.  

Understanding the problems with the Syracuse defense in recent years is a simple process. The program just doesn’t have enough talent or depth to slow down even mediocre opponents. This year’s Orange will be facing the same dilemma. After NT Arthur Jones, a bona fide next level defender, there’s not a single player that jumps out as a sure-fire all-star or NFL prospect. So when the program finishes 101st nationally in scoring and total defense, like last year, no one should be shocked. Plus, offseason defections have carved deeper into that depth, meaning more unproven players than usual will be asked to contribute right away. New coordinator Scott Shafer would love to attack, but must be careful not to leave an already feeble secondary to fend for itself. The Orange was especially hideous in pass defense last fall, yielding 27 touchdown passes, while picking off just eight balls.