When folks talk about the Big East Conference these days, most of them are talking about the dominant play from the basketball teams, not the boys on the gridiron. There really are no teams that stand out this year.
Pittsburgh looks good, but needs to replace LeSean McCoy. West Virginia returns Noel Devine and a good defense, but has a new offensive line. Then there are the Bulls from USF.
Can they have that break through year behind the arm of Matt Grothe? All are relevant questions, and who gets the automatic BCS berth is a toss up. So I will try and give you my best guess...
South Florida 2008 Record 8-5 (2-5)
The question in Tampa is when will be our turn? Every year, the Bulls seem primed to take the next step and grab a conference title and BCS berth. This is their year.
Energenic coach Jim Leavitt will have fire power again on offense, led by senior quarterback Matt Grothe. Grothe threw for close to 3000 yards and ran for nearly 600 more.
Back at tailback is Mike Ford, although the word on the street is that he may be splitting time with senior Moise Plancher. Grothe will also have a fine group of receivers to throw to including special teams stud Dontavia Bogan.
The only question is whether the new offensive line can gel, which seems to be a question throughout most Big East locker rooms.
Georger Selvie is an absolute force on the front line. The 6-4 255lbs defensive end racked up 14.5 sacks last year, and should improve on it this year. Kion Wilson stepped up last year and will get the start at MLB, and should make some impact plays.
In the secondary, look for senior safety Nate Allen to have a great season, along with senior corner Jerome Murphy. The big question will be how many new wrinkles new defensive coordinator Joe Tresey throws in?
Quite simply, the Big East will be clogged from fifth place to first. South Florida just looks to have a more explosive offense, and a one man wrecking crew on defense.
I look for them to come up just short at Florida State, lose a close one at Pitt, and barely beat West Virginia the following week. The Bulls go 10-2 (6-1) and head south to Miami for the Orange Bowl.
West Virginia 2008 Record 9-4 (5-2)
The Mountaineers are an interesting team. It seems that if they could be a little more consistent, they would be a favorite to win the conference. Offensively they have Noel Devine at tailback.
Devine ran for nearly 1300 yards as a sophomore and has speed to break one at any time. Pat White is gone at quarterback, but head coach Bill Stewart feels that both senior Jarrett Brown and freshman Coley White can step in and do the job.
Brown offers them a dual threat, with both his feet and arm, which may come in handy for a team that returns only two starters.
The Mountaineer defense may be the best in the conference. Up front big man Chris Nield is a load in the middle. Nield registered 47 tackles a year ago. Reed Williams will anchor the linebacking corps.
Williams was the MVP of the 2008 Fiesta Bowl. At corner both Keith Tandy and Brandon Hogan look to make it tough for opponents to throw the ball. Look for them to have big years.
West Virginia will be good again. However, those little slip ups, and they will have two, will cost them a trip to Miami in January.
Look for them to be 7-0 heading into the South Florida game. But, they will be 7-1 after that, and cough up one more at Cincinnati. Mountaineers go 10-2 (5-2) and head to the Gator Bowl, with an outside chance at a BCS.
Cincinnati 2008 Record 11-3 (6-1)
Last year was a dream season for Brian Kelly and his Bearcats. They won the conference, and fell short 20-7 against a tough Virginia Tech team in the Orange Bowl. Tony Pike looks like a potential all conference quarterback, if he has enough weapons at his disposal, and he does.
The big one is all-conference receiver Mardy Gilyard. The senior had nearly 2300 all purpose yards last year, and provides the deep threat that may allow the running game to get going.
At tailback, look for Isaiah Pead to step up and steal the starting job early in the season.
Defensively, the Bearcats switch over to a 3-4 base. They also will have to retool, losing three all conference selections. Aaron Webster returns at safety, the only returning starter.
Look for a 60 plus tackle season, plus a few picks. New recruits and young players will fill the lineup for the new look defense.
A rebuilt defense normally means not much success, but when you have an offense that can light up a scoreboard, who cares! The 2009 Bearcats will resemble the potent 2007 Bearcats and head to another bowl game.
A tough loss at Oregon State, a loss at South Florida, and a set back at Pitt will be the only blemishes. Cincinnati goes 9-3 (5-2) and will earn a trip to the Meineke Car Care Bowl.
Pittsburgh 2008 Record 8-4 (5-2)
The Panthers look to many people's pick to win the conference, and why not? They return senior quarterback Bill Stull, have one of the best lines in the conference, and have a veteran coach calling the shots.
Let's face it, the quarterback position is a little iffy. Stull was good at times last year, and was worse at times. Back LeSean McCoy carried a lot of the load last year, and he is gone.
In is freshman Dion Lewis. Many feel he will be as good, if not better than McCoy, but only time will tell. On the outside receiver Jonathan Baldwin and all conference tight end Nate Byham will look to move the ball in chunks.
All American Scott McKillop linebacker is gone, but this is still a solid unit. Ends Jabaal Sheard and Greg Romeus look to put opposing QB's in the ground, while linebacker Greg Williams looks to slide over to middle linebacker and fill the shoes of the departed McKillop.
The secondary, which picked off 16 passes in '08 returns. Watch for Aaron Berry to improve on his three INT's from a year ago.
Pitt has an interesting schedule to say the least, with non conference trips to N.C. State and Buffalo.
Look for them to stumble down in Raleigh, fumble one away against Rutgers, lose the West Virginia game, and lose a squeaker against Notre Dame. Panthers go 8-4 (5-2) and we will send them to the Papajohns.com Bowl to face the ACC.
Rutgers 2008 Record 8-5 (5-2)
Greg Schiano continues to put good, homegrown football team out on the field in Piscataway. The Scarlett Knights started 1-5 but would rally to win their last seven. The big question will be how to replace the team leader, in quarterback Mike Teel.
A pair of seniors look to be competing for the job, but watch for freshman D.C. Jefferson to steal the show and end up starting. The Knights also have to replace a pair of wideouts in Kenny Britt and Tiquan Underwood.
Tim Brown is the only returning starter and will look to fill the void the pair leaves behind. The big strength will be the O-line, as they return all five starters, which makes returning tailback Kordell Young a very happy man.
On defense it is yet again another Big East team looking to rebuild. Ryan D'Imperio will have to be the big play guy at linebacker, while the Knights try to find the right combos up front.
In the secondary, safeties Zaire Kitchen and Joe Lefeged will set the tone with jaw breaking hits, and solid tackling.
This may not be as good of a team as last year, but they will be bowling in December. A tough loss to Cincinnati in the opener, followed by a nonconference loss at Maryland, then setbacks to South Florida, West Virginia, and an upset loss at UCONN will leave them just barely in the bowl mix.
Scarlett Knights go 7-5 (3-4) and earn themselves a trip to the St. Petersburg Bowl.
Connecticut 2008 Record 8-5 (3-4)
The Huskies continue to make strides as a young program in the FBS. Back to back bowl seasons have put the program on the map, but this year may not be a three-peat. Gone is the starting quarterback, which means it could be anyone's game once camp starts.
Whomever it may be, there is one thing for sure, he will have receivers to throw to in the new no-huddle look. Leading the way is sophomore Kashif Moore who led the team with 27 receptions.
Also, getting into the fold will be freshman Gerrard Sheppard, the speedster from Baltimore. The running game wasn't a problem last year with Donald Brown, but he NFL bound.
Now the job appears to either Andre Dixons or Jordan Todman. The winner of that battle will have a veteran line to run behind.
The defense will benefit from a rotating system up front. Ends Lindsey Witten and Marcus Campbell will take over as the starters and try to wreak havoc on opposing QB's.
The force in the middle is MLB Scott Lutrus. He recorded 106 tackles last season and earned second team all conference honors. The secondary looks to be in good shape, and will be led by senior safety Robert Vaughn.
It will not be a third straight bowl trip for the Huskies this year. A tough non conference, along with the always tough Big East games will be too much to overcome. They will win games over Ohio, Rhode Island, Louisville, Syracuse, and upset Rutgers on Halloween.
Louisville 2008 Record 5-7 (1-6)
How the times have changed in Louisville. Three or four years ago they were always picked to finish atop the Big East. Now, fans wonder if they will even win a Big East game.
Look for JC All American Adam Froman to take the snaps. Froman threw for nearly 4000 yards last year for Santa Rosa College.
He does have weapons, though. Wideout Scott Long returns from an injury, and Doug Beaumont returns as the leading receiver from a year ago.
The ground game will be in good shape with Big East rookie of the year Victor Anderson taking the handoffs. But when you get down big early, how many times can you give the ball to Anderson?
New coordinator Brent Guy has a lot of work to do on defense, and he has the veterans to do it. Linebackers Jon Dempsey and Antwon Canady look to be big threats as the Cardinals look to add more pressure to the opposing QB.
Other than budding star Johnny Patrick, the Cardinals must replace three starters in the secondary, which could bring the implied attacking defense to a whimper.
Louisville may be better than last year when it is all said and done. They have the weapons offensively, but can the defense mature fast enough. Look for wins over Indiana State, Kentucky, Southern Miss, Arkansas State, and Syracuse.
Syracuse 2008 Record 3-9 (1-6)
The Orange beat Notre Dame in South Bend last year. If that win would have came ten years ago, maybe it would have meant something. New head coach Doug Marrone will have the task of leading the Orange back to respectability, but it won't be easy.
One piece of the puzzle emerged last year in QB Cameron Dantley. At times he was solid, at other times not. But he has starting experience, which will go a long way in this years Big East.
At tailback, if Delone Carter is healthy, he can be a big difference maker in whether the Orange win one game or five. Carter has got speed and quickness to the outside that will be needed behind an offensive line that is sub par.
The highlight on defense is tackle Arthur Jones. The first team all conference tackle is quickly moving up the lists in most defensive categories for all-time school records.
The Orange will also return experience in the secondary and at linebacker. But, again, this has been a defense that has mediocre at best, so how much does experience matter in this situation.
This will not be what Syracuse fans want to hear, but they will be a very bad team, possibly one of the worst in the nation. Maine.
Yes, Maine will be the only team they beat, as the Orange go 1-11 (0-7) and continue the futility in upstate New York.