The Big East conference is going to look a lot different in 2009.
With the exodus of established stars like Pat White, LeSean McCoy, Donald Brown and Mike Teel to the NFL, nearly every team in the league is going to be scrambling to find their stars of tomorrow.
Thanks in part to this mass departure of talent; the Big East looks to be as wide open as ever this season. Whoever is able to fill the voids left by some of the greatest players to ever play in this league will have the best chance to win the Big East championship. Here’s how I think things will shake out this year.
1) 1) Pittsburgh—They return as much talent as anybody, including some quality running backs which should ease the loss of LeSean McCoy. If they get a strong senior season from quarterback Bill Stull, the Panthers will be very tough to beat.
2) 2) West Virginia—The Mountaineers will be tough again in 2009 even without Pat White. Senior Jarrett Brown should be solid at quarterback, they have the best running back in the league and one of the top defenses. The question for West Virginia will be replacing four members of last year’s starting offensive line.
3) 3) South Florida—They’ve been a trendy pick to win the league for the last couple years, and thus far, they’ve disappointed. They have a solid defense, and Matt Grothe is back, but if the Bulls have to rely on Grothe as much as they have the past few years, they may disappoint again.
4) 4) Rutgers—The Knights will boast the best offensive line in the league this year, as well as a good looking defense. However, the loss of quarterback Mike Teel as well as receivers Kenny Britt and Tiquan Underwood might be too much for Rutgers to handle.
5) 5) Cincinnati —The defending champs could find themselves in a lot of shootouts this year, with the best quarterback/receiver combo in the league, Tony Pike and Mardy Gilyard. However, they also have to replace 10 of last year’s 11 starters on defense and they had the worst running game in the league last year. Unless the defense really surprises, the Bearcats probably won’t be repeating.
6) 6) Connecticut—They’ve got a new offense and a new quarterback in former Notre Dame transfer Zach Frazer. The Huskies lose the leading rusher in the nation, Donald Brown, but have some solid backs that will look to replace him. They’ll need to improve on last year’s anemic passing game though, and if they don’t, they’re going to have a hard time competing this year.
7) 7) Syracuse—New head coach Doug Marrone has done all the right things since arriving in Syracuse, but the Orange are probably at least two or three years away from competing for Big East titles again. A third straight win over Louisville, and stealing another conference game, could be enough to keep the Orange out of the league’s cellar, though, which will be an improvement for the downtrodden Orange.
8) 8)Louisville—In his third year at Louisville, head coach Steve Kragthorpe could be coaching for his job. Unfortunately, other than sophomore running back Victor Anderson, there doesn’t appear to be enough talent left in Louisville for the Cardinals to avoid another disappointing season. Another last-place finish and it could mean the end of the Kragthorpe era in Louisville.
Despite the loss of so many great players, the Big East is still going to be able to boast a decent amount of star power. Players like Matt Grothe, Noel Devine, Mardy Gilyard and George Selvie are among the best and most exciting players in the country at their positions.
With established stars and plenty of talented young players still looking to make names for themselves on every team, the Big East is going to have plenty of exciting games to watch this season.
Here’s my preseason all-Big East team:
QB—Matt Grothe—Southern Florida
RB—Noel Devine—West Virginia
DE—George Selvie—Southern Florida
DT—Scooter Berry—West Virginia
LB—Reed Williams—West Virginia
LB—Ryan D’ Imperio—Rutgers
S—Nate Allen—Southern Florida
CB—Brandon Hogan—West Virginia
A few other notes:
I selected Mike Williams as the second receiver because although he didn’t play last year, with the exception of Mardy Gilyard, no returning wide receiver put up numbers last year that could touch the ones Williams compiled in 2007. As a sophomore Williams had 837 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns. He also has the longest current streak in the nation—nine straight games with a touchdown reception.
I listed UConn’s Moe Petrus at guard, due to his outstanding job at that spot last season. This upcoming season though, Petrus could end up at center for the Huskies.
I initially had Tony Pike from Cincinnati as the quarterback on this list. He’s probably a better passer than Grothe is and his game could translate better to the next level, but after considering Grothe’s production the past three seasons, his running ability and how much his team relies on him, I had to put him on the list.
For more info, including the league's top ten NFL prospects, top out of conference games and top Big East games, check out part two of my preview: