Big East Football Season Preview

Tim Stoeckle@@TimStoeckleContributor IIIAugust 20, 2012

Big East Football Season Preview

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    Despite being considered the worst of the BCS conferences, the Big East has a 7-7 record all-time in BCS bowl games, including West Virginia's 70-33 win in last year's Orange Bowl.

    Well, West Virginia, the conference's best team, is now in the Big 12, leaving the Big East in its worst shape in years.

    The race for the conference championship seems to be wide open, with Louisville as the apparent favorite and any of the other seven teams as potential sleepers to make a BCS bowl appearance.

    The Big East may not have a team in the final top-25 poll, but like it or not, they will have a representative in a BCS game.

Louisville Cardinals 10-2 (5-2)

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    Big East Prediction: 1st

    National Rank: 22nd

    Louisville won seven games last year, so why should we think that they'll win 10 this year?

    Well, quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is entering his sophomore year after an impressive freshman campaign. Bridgewater has the potential to be a dark horse Heisman candidate if he can stay healthy.

    Bridgewater has three sophomore receivers to throw to, the biggest playmaker of the bunch being Eli Rogers who had only 454 receiving yards and one touchdown last year; expect much better this year.

    The Cardinals are strong on defense, returning six starters from the 23rd-ranked total defense in the country.

    Louisville's passing defense was the weak spot for the team last year, but all four secondary starters return, and this should be one of the best defenses in the conference.

South Florida Bulls 8-4 (5-2)

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    Big East Prediction: 2nd

    National Rank: 36th

    South Florida has been expected to make a run at a BCS bowl bid for a few years now, but they continue to fall short of expectations.

    Now that they aren't the favorite, this may be their year to win the Big East.

    Dual-threat quarterback B.J. Daniels is back for his senior season, and he has a lot to prove. Daniels threw for 2,585 yards last year, but only 13 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He did, however, run for 601 yards and six touchdowns.

    Luckily for Daniels, he has a strong group of receivers lead by junior Sterling Griffin.

    South Florida's defense was strong last year, but they surrendered late touchdowns in key games that cost them a chance at a bowl game.

    The defense is an experienced unit that returns seven starters and should be able to keep the Bulls in games.

Pittsburgh Panthers 7-5 (4-3)

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    Big East Prediction: 3rd

    National Rank: 46th

    Pittsburgh has one of the most dynamic running backs in the country who, if he can stay healthy, can make the difference between a losing season and competing for a Big East title.

    Ray Graham tore his ACL in Week 8 of last season. At the time, Graham was the nation's second leading rusher with 958 yards. If Graham can stay healthy, he'll easily surpass 1,000 yards.

    The success of Pitt's offense largely depends on quarterback Tino Sunseri. Sunseri threw 11 interceptions last year and only 10 touchdowns. He needs to improve on his accuracy in order for the Panthers to score points.

    Pitt's defense could be a problem this year. Only five starters return, none on the defensive line. The secondary is pretty strong, but if the line can't get pressure on opposing quarterbacks, it could be a long year for defensive coordinator Dave Huxtable.

Rutgers Scarlet Knights 8-4 (4-3)

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    Big East Prediction: 4th

    National Rank: 40th

    If Rutgers can score some points, they will be a serious threat to win the Big East.

    Sophomore Gary Nova will start the year as the quarterback for the Scarlet Knights, but he has three new starters on the offensive line and an inexperienced receiver group.  

    Rutgers has a strong running game with sophomores Jawan Jamison and Savon Huggins splitting carries.

    Defensively, Rutgers is as good as any team in the conference, maybe even the country.

    Eight starters return from the 14th-ranked defense. Linebacker Khaseem Greene is an All-American talent who recorded 141 tackles last year.  

    Also back is linebacker Steve Beauharnais who had five sacks last season.

Connecticut Huskies 5-7 (3-4)

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    Big East Prediction: 5th

    National Rank: 60th

    UConn brought in transfers to try to improve the worst offense in the Big East last year.

    At receiver, Shakim Phillips comes to Storrs from Boston College, and Bryan McNeal transferred from Clemson.  

    The Huskies also brought in junior college transfer Chandler Whitmer to compete for the starting quarterback job, and it looks like he will in fact be the starter for the season opener against UMass.

    A bright spot for the UConn offense is running back Lyle McCombs, who ran for 1,151 yards last year.

    UConn had the third-ranked rushing defense in the country last year, but the team needs to replace both defensive tackles.

    But eight starters return on the defense, including all three linebackers and defensive end Trevardo Williams who sacked opposing quarterbacks 12.5 times last year.

Cincinnati Bearcats 7-5 (3-4)

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    Big East Prediction: 6th

    National Rank: 47th

    Cincinnati quietly won 10 games last year, but this year they have to replace a lot of talent on both sides of the ball.

    Offensively, Big East Offensive Player of the Year Isaiah Pead is gone as is quarterback Zach Collaros.

    Now, junior Munchie Legaux will play quarterback, and George Winn, Jameel Poteat, Ralph David Abernathy IV and Aaron Harris all look to get carries in the running game.

    Cincinnati loses its two best defensive players, but they do return seven starters, including defensive end Walter Stewart who is back for his senior season. Stewart recorded six sacks last year and is the team's leading returner in that category.

    The Bearcats secondary has talent but lacks depth. Safety Drew Frey is the best player on this defense, and he will play a huge role in the pass defense.

Syracuse Orange 3-9 (2-5)

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    Big East Prediction: 7th

    National Rank: 73rd

    Syracuse has a very underrated quarterback, but they lack talent elsewhere.

    Ryan Nassib is back for his senior season. Nassib threw for 2,685 yards and 22 touchdowns last year and should see similar numbers this year.

    Luckily for Nassib, wide receiver Alec Lemon has returned, and he could be a 1,000-yard receiver this season. 

    Unfortunately, the Orange struggled to run the football last year and will see similar struggles this season.

    Syracuse's defense returns seven starters, including Dyshawn Davis, Marquis Spruill and Dan Vaughan at linebacker, but replacing defensive end Chandler Jones will not be easy.

Temple Owls 3-8 (1-6)

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    Big East Prediction: 8th

    National Rank: 78th

    Temple returns to the Big East after a seven-year absence, and the Owls are in much better shape than they were when they last played in a BCS conference.

    Steve Addazio enters his second year as head coach after leading the Owls to a 9-4 record last year.

    The Temple offense returns only two starters, one being right tackle Martin Wallace, but they have quarterback Chris Coyer back. Coyer started in the New Mexico Bowl last year and completed eight of 12 passes for 169 yards and a touchdown.

    The Owls also have running back Matt Brown back as well as Montel Harris, who transferred from Boston College.

    Temple's defense ranked third in the nation in points per game, behind only LSU and Alabama. However, the Owls must replace four All-MAC players as well as their leading tackler.

    The future looks bright for Temple, but in their first year back in the Big East, they may struggle.


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