2009 CFN Big East Preview

Posted Jul 27, 2009

2009 CollegeFootballNews.com Preview - Big East Preview

2009 CFN Big East Preview

Team Previews & Predictions
Cincinnati | Connecticut | Louisville | Pitt
Rutgers | South Florida | Syracuse | West Virginia

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- 2008 CFN Big East Preview

By Richard Cirminiello

Parity is about to put the Big East in a headlock. It remains to be seen whether that’s good news or bad news for the conference.

Now that West Virginia is drifting back to the pack, the Big East is losing its fringe national title contender and its best ambassador for widespread respect. Insert a Mountain West Conference gripe here. Although that lack of a sure-fire top 15 member will not be good for the league on a macro level, all eight members believe they’re that much closer to becoming this year’s Cincinnati, landing a BCS bowl berth and the fat paycheck that comes with it.

Even with some regression and attrition, West Virginia will enter the season as the slight favorite. Naturally, White is impossible to replace, but Jarrett Brown was not your typical backup, and he’ll get plenty of help from speedy RB Noel Devine and one of the league’s toughest defenses.

In order to repeat, the Bearcats will need to quickly navigate the loss of ten defensive starters. Look for Brian Kelly to lean on his offense, specifically the Tony Pike to Mardy Gilyard connection, to keep the program from falling too far from its perch.

Is this the year that Rutgers cashes in on its recent success and trades up from a second-tier bowl game to the Orange Bowl? The schedule certainly breaks in the Knights’ favor, bringing the Big East’s toughest contenders to Piscataway. If they can find a way to rebuild the passing game, the ceiling for the program is higher than it’s ever been.

If South Florida is going to take its rags-to-riches story to a new level, this would be the year to do it. Matt Grothe has just one season of eligibility left behind center, and the defense is well-stocked with speed and experience. If the Bulls flop, like a year ago, the bloom could be completely off head coach Jim Leavitt’s rose.

Connecticut just keeps signing marginal players and coaching them into wealthy pros. Even after four Huskies were chosen on the first day of April’s NFL Draft, Randy Edsall will continue to lean on a blue-collar formula that’s led to consecutive bowl games. The Huskies will again run the ball and be stingy on D, but will also be implementing a more up-tempo attack that tries to kick start one of the league’s worst offenses.

Pittsburgh will be without RB LeSean McCoy and LB Scott McKillop, its best offensive and defensive players, respectively. Now what? The Panthers plan to be in the hunt behind a nasty defense and opportunistic special teams unit. It won’t happen, however, unless the offense can somehow locate a spark with one of the league’s worst backfields.

Everyone is in contention, with the exception of Louisville and Syracuse. The Cards are a shell of the team that went to the Orange Bowl two years ago, needing to fix the defense and find a capable quarterback before even thinking about bowl eligibility. After mercifully pulling the plug on Greg Robinson, the Orange will begin building from the ground up under Doug Marrone.

A BCS bid is up for grabs, like never before in the Big East. The rest of the country will scoff. Just don’t expect to hear much complaining out of the eight league members looking to capitalize on this golden opportunity.      

Team That'll Surprise
South Florida – Yes, the Bulls have been a letdown since rising like a bullet up the rankings in October of 2007. No, it has not been because of a lack of talent. Despite going 11-9 since elevating to No. 2 in the country and finishing a dismal sixth in the league last year, South Florida still has as many playmakers as anyone in the Big East. As long as the program’s best offensive and defensive players, Matt Grothe and George Selvie, respectively, are back, this remains a very dangerous program that’s capable of recapturing that magic from two years ago.

Team That'll Disappoint
West Virginia – Those living in the past are going to be disappointed by this Mountaineer squad. Over the last two years, the program has lost head coach Rich Rodriguez, star QB Pat White, and RB Steve Slaton, three of the pillars that helped win 42 games over the last four years. There were signs of erosion last year, as the team produced a disappointing four losses and its lowest point total since 2001. Expect more problems now that White is a Miami Dolphin and the offensive line is undergoing a makeover.

Game of the Year … West Virginia at South Florida, Oct. 30. Although no single game is going to decide the conference championship in 2009, this meeting in Tampa could be a significant barometer for the season’s second half. Purely in terms of talent, the Mountaineers and Bulls are two of the best teams in the league, showcasing loads of speed and athleticism on both sidelines. No two schools are better equipped to sell the Big East brand than West Virginia and South Florida, who’ve played nail-biters in their last three meetings.      

5 Big-Time Players Who Deserve a Bigger Spotlight ...
1. WR Jonathan Baldwin, Soph. Pittsburgh
2. RB Victor Anderson, Soph. Louisville
3. CB Jerome Murphy, Sr. South Florida
4. LB Scott Lutrus, Jr. Connecticut
5. LB Ryan D’Imperio, Sr. Rutgers

Coach on the Hot Seat
Steve Kragthorpe, Louisville – What a mess. In two years, Kragthorpe has taken a Big East champion and turned it into an also-ran in the league. Not only has the coach gone 11-13, but the grumblings coming out of the locker room have not been flattering. He cleaned house in the coaching staff during the offseason in an effort to create a better vibe. If it doesn’t have a positive impact, Kragthorpe could be the biggest name in yet another purge this December.

5 Non-Conference Games the Big East had better take very, very seriously
1. East Carolina at West Virginia, Sept. 12
2. Connecticut at Baylor, Sept. 19
3. Rutgers at Maryland, Sept. 26
4. Southern Miss at Louisville, Oct. 10
5. Pittsburgh at Buffalo, Sept. 12

Bold Prediction
… Cincinnati won’t slip as much as many are anticipating. Call it a blind faith in head coach Brian Kelly, who seems incapable of putting a bad product on the field. Okay, so the defense has been gutted like a Thanksgiving bird. That’ll just mean Kelly will have to dig a little deeper into his offensive bag of tricks. Remember, that was his primary strength in stints with Grand Valley State and Central Michigan. Look for the Bearcats to turn loose QB Tony Pike, who has next-level potential and a dangerous receiving corps led by Mardy Gilyard. Somehow, this staff will find a way to once again surpass expectations.

5 Best Pro Prospects
1. OT Anthony Davis, Jr. Rutgers
2. DT Arthur Jones, Sr. Syracuse
3. WR Mardy Gilyard, Sr. Cincinnati
4. DE George Selvie, Sr. South Florida
5. DE Greg Romeus, Jr. Pittsburgh

5 Biggest Shoes to Fill
1. QB Jarrett Brown for Pat White, West Virginia
2. RB Jordan Todman for Donald Brown, Connecticut
3. RB Dion Lewis for LeSean McCoy, Pittsburgh
4. WR Tim Brown for Kenny Britt, Rutgers
5. DE Derek Wolfe for Connor Barwin, Cincinnati