2009 Big East Preview and Predictions

Bryan FlynnAnalyst IAugust 25, 2009

RALEIGH, NC - SEPTEMBER 27:  Quarterback Matt Grothe #8 of South Florida Bulls throws a pass in the third quarter of the college football game against North Carolina State Wolfpack at Carter-Finley Stadium on September 27, 2008 in Raleigh, North Carolina. South Florida won the game 41-10. (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)

So we have looked at the ACC in our 2009 preview and predictions. We took Florida State to win the Atlantic and Georgia Tech to win the Coastal.

As we continue our look at the upcoming college football season we now move to the Big East. The 2009 season in the Big East could resemble a traffic jam at rush hour.

After being raided by the ACC the Big East has done everything they can to prove that they still deserve an automatic BCS bid. For the most part it was West Virginia carrying the conference banner.

There was feel good stories like the rise of Rutgers and Cincinnati. Now everyone is watching to see how high Connecticut and South Florida will go.

The 2009 season could see all the Big East work for come crashing down as far as public perception goes. I do not see how this conference can rebound after losing the amount of big name players like the Big East did.

So I will do my best to walk the landmine that is the Big East with my preview and predictions. As always we will look at the teams in alphabetical order.

Cincinnati Bearcats: Prediction 7-5

After winning the Big East last season and going to their first back to back 10 win seasons the Bearcats lost 14 starters. I looked though out the Big East and losing players seems to be a major theme going in to this season.

Ten of those 14 players where on the defensive side of the ball and six moved on to the NFL after April’s draft.  The offense should be solid with starting quarterback Tony Pike returning.

Pike will have some weapons to throw the ball to namely Mardy Gilyard. That could be good thing since they may have to outscore teams to get a lot of wins this season.  

The defense will have to find some replacements and find them fast. That is where I like Cincinnati the best. Head coach Brian Kelly has done more at Cincinnati then I can remember and he does a great job of coaching up the talent he has.

Another theme this season in the Big East will be winning your home games. With what looks like parody up and down the league teams will have to win at home.

Starting with the Bearcats out of conference schedule it looks like they should three of the five. They should not have problems with S. E. Missouri State, Miami (OH), and they get Fresno State at home. The West coast team could have problems coming east.

The non conference losses will come from a road game at Oregon State and a home loss to Illinois. Again if they are not careful Fresno State could trip them up.

In conference they get two sure fire wins against Louisville and Syracuse. They also get home games against Connecticut and West Virginia which should be wins.

The losses could all come on the road against Rutgers, Pittsburgh, and South Florida. Any team to me that can protect the home field and win on the road could steal the Big East this season.

The absolute worse I see the Bearcats going is 5-7. I do think they could be as good as 8-4. So I decided to split the difference and go 7-5.

Connecticut Huskies: Prediction 7-5

One could argue that no one has made the most out of the players they have recruited than Connecticut head coach Randy Edsall. The Huskies have done nothing but improve in every area football wise the last two years.

Still the Huskies have to replace several good players who have moved on to the NFL. The main job will be finding a replacement for Donald Brown.

The offense for Connecticut has not done much in the air so the ground game and namely Andre Dixon will have to carry the load. That is unless quarterback Zack Frazer lives up to the hype that surrounded him out of high school.

The defense looks to be pretty solid for Connecticut and will have to be if the offense cannot get going.  The Huskies have two good defensive tackles to watch this season.

Looking at Connecticut’s schedule it might be one of the toughest out of conference. With games that could be losses against North Carolina and Notre Dame.

Still there are winnable non conference games against Miami (OH), Rhode Island, and a Baylor team I am still not sold on.

The idea in conference is win the easy ones against Louisville and Syracuse and home games. The Huskies get Rutgers and South Florida at home and need to win them.

Connecticut has to win their home games because the in conference away games are going to be tough to win. The away schedule has games at Pittsburgh, West Virginia and Cincinnati.

The Huskies could make a lot of noise in the Big East this season and I cannot see them doing worse than 4-8. If they can get some luck they could be as good as 8-4 or 9-3.

Still I am not sure of a great season this year in Connecticut. I think a 7-5 season is what is truly possible. Still the future looks bright for the Huskies.

Louisville Cardinals: Prediction 3-9

Once, one of the most promising programs in the country when they left C-USA to join the Big East the Cardinals of Louisville have fallen hard fast. Since Bobby Petrino left to test the NFL waters this program has been in a free fall.

That free fall could cost Steve Kragthorpe his job this season if there is not a drastic turn around. The only problem is I do not think the players are there to turn it around.

This is a team that lost to a horrible Syracuse team last season. The quarterback position will have a new starter once again.

The defense lost Ron English as coordinator and only held one team under twenty points last season. If there is not a dramatic improvement defensively it will be another long year.

One thing that has to grate on the Louisville fans it the fact that state rival Kentucky now has the best football program in state and will always get more national pub in basketball.

If Kragthorpe wants to keep his job he does not have to go bowling but a .500 season is a must. Looking at the Schedule I do not see it.

Out of conference the schedule has at least three losses with Kentucky, Utah, and Southern Mississippi all getting wins over the Cardinals. Non conference wins should come from Indiana State and Arkansas State.

Utah and Southern Mississippi could be looking to crash the BCS party and do not sleep on Arkansas State Louisville fans. Still a 2-3 non conference record is not bad.

The only problem is I do not see much chance of more than one win in conference. That win coming against Syracuse, the conference whipping boy.

The rest of the conference games either home or away look to me like losses. The games are Pittsburgh, Connecticut, South Florida, Rutgers, and West Virginia.

The bad thing is the Cardinals do not have any choice but to go up. They cannot afford to lose to any of the three games I think they should win.

They could win more than those three games if a team does not come to play against the Cardinals. The best Louisville can get is a 5-7 season.

More than likely it will be a 3-9 season for Louisville and Kragthorpe. Look for a change after this season as far as the head coach goes for the Cardinals.

Pittsburgh Panthers:  Prediction 9-3

This will be a make or break season for Pitt and coach Dave Wannstedt. In a year when every Big East team has questions Pitt could finally break though to the BCS.

As any Panthers fan will tell you Wannstedt tenure at the school has been plagued by inconstancy and underachieving.  With the best defense returning this year in the Big East Pitt should win several games on defense alone.

The offense has two problems or glaring questions. The first and most pressing will be finding a replacement for running back LeSean McCoy taking his talents to the NFL.

The job of replacing McCoy does not have to fall on one player. Pitt has enough depth to play several players at running back so look for three to four players to try to fill the hole.

The second offensive question is can the Panthers get better play from the quarterback position. The starter will be Bill Stull once again.

If Stull can play better the sky is the limit as far as Big East play goes. The non conference schedule does not look to be too demanding.

With out of conference games against Youngstown State, Buffalo, Navy all of which should be wins. The only non conference loses could come from North Carolina State and a Notre Dame squad I am not sold on.

In conference wins should come from Louisville and Syracuse and home wins against South Florida, West Virginia, Connecticut, and Cincinnati. The real test will come from a win on the road against Rutgers or West Virginia.

On the low end of wins and losses I can only see the Panthers going 7-5. The high end could be 10-2 and a great season in Pitt.

Realistically I believe Pitt will win either the Rutgers game or the West Virginia game on the road. That would make the Panthers 9-3 and my pick to win the Big East.

Still the way Pitt has been under Wannstedt I figure that will not hold up. Every time I think there could be big things at Pittsburgh they always way under perform.

Rutgers Scarlet Knights:  Prediction 8-4

The Knights of Rutgers have entered the national conversation thanks in my opinion to one man. Greg Schiano who built a solid program at a school many thought it would be impossible build a program at.

While you could say it was more like the talent of Ray Rice, Kenny Britt, Mike Teel, and others. I would point out it was Schiano who got them to go to Rutgers over other programs.

After two years of losing a lot of that talent I have to believe that the Knights will fall back to the pack of the Big East. It’s a big pack with the parody of the conference right now.

Still with the Big East not sporting a runaway favorite I still be live Schiano to have this team ready to go in 2009. Plus the non conference schedule is a cake walk.

Out of conference wins should come easy against Howard, Florida International, Texas Southern, and Army. The only non conference loss could be against Maryland out of the ACC.

In conference the schedule is not too demanding. The main thing like every Big East team is that they must win their home games with the parody that surrounds the Big East.

Those in conference home games are Cincinnati, Pitt, South Florida, West Virginia and two gimmie games against Syracuse and Louisville. Road games in conference will be against Connecticut.

I would favor the Knights to win the Big East if not for the loss of talent. Because of that I think they will drop games at home.

I think the home games they could drop will be against Pitt and South Florida. Still a bad season is possible if this team cannot overcome the talent that has left.

 A 5-7 season still is the worse that could happen but is not very likely. The season could better than I think if Pitt and South Florida under perform. The season could also hinge on how good West Virginia is this year.

On the high end I will give the Knights a shot at a 10-2 season if everything bounces their way. More than likely Rutgers will go bowling with an 8-4 record and I like the future for the knights.

South Florida Bulls: Prediction 8-4

I am not sure what to think about this team. They climb so high so fast then it looks like they could be crashing back to earth just as fast.

The Bulls stunned a very good West Virginia team and reached as high as number 2 in the national polls. What did that get South Florida? Zip, Zero, nada as far conference titles or BCS bids.

So with all the teams in the Big East coming back to earth I am so tempted to pick them as my Big East Favorites.  So I was torn between which under achiever I would pick from either Pitt or South Florida.

So I went with the defense returning for Pitt. Even though the Bulls return Matt Grothe at quarterback and a solid defense themselves. I believe if you looking for a dark horse to win the Big East take South Florida.

Trust me no team from the Big East will challenge for a national title but just about all will challenge for the conference title. Still looking at it Pitt and South Florida are the two best teams in the conference.

The Bulls do have two tough out of conference games against Florida State and Miami. South Florida could lose both games. On the other hand there are three guaranteed wins against Wolford, Western Kentucky, and Charleston Southern.

In conference I believe the Bulls can beat Syracuse, Louisville, Cincinnati and Rutgers. That leaves big in conference games against Pitt, West Virginia and Connecticut.

Away games versus Pitt and Connecticut could end a Big East title run. I believe the worse South Florida will do is 7-5.

Again the best could be as high as 10-2 with the weak non conference schedule that the whole Big East and most of the country has gone too. I think if South Florida does not win the conference title it will be an 8-4 season. Once again it would be back to the drawing board.

Syracuse Orange: Prediction 2-10

Has any 3-9 team gotten more offseason pub then the Orange has this year. With Greg Paulus announcing he would play for Syracuse this offseason and being named the starter it kept the Orange in the news.

This team is trying to complete rebuild its football program. The once proud program has fallen on hard times.

It’s hard to imagine this is the University of Donovan McNabb and Jim Brown. The fall from grace has been placed on former head coach Greg Robinson.

In my mind the down turn came about by the ACC raid on the Big East. The biggest name schools leaving took the recruits with them.

There were not many big games left for the Big East after Miami, Boston College, and Virginia Tech all jumped ship. This hurt Syracuse in my mind and the rest of the Big East as well.

I am sure that Robinson could have done a better job but I cannot place the whole blame on just him or the fact that three teams left as well. Now the rebuilding process falls to Doug Maronne the new first year head coach.

I am sure the talent level is not even close to being ready to complete for a conference title. Paulus is a band aide at quarterback but it does give the program notoriety.

The out of conference schedule is as tough as it gets for a program this far down in the dumps. The Orange will seem to play in the Big-10 for the first three weeks of the season.

Non conference games with Minnesota, Penn State, and Northwestern all should get wins against the Orange. The other two non conference games should be wins against Akron and Maine.

In conference I do not believe that Syracuse will win a game in conference. That is unless a team does not show up to play.

The in conference schedule of South Florida, West Virginia, Cincinnati, Pitt, Rutgers, and Connecticut will be loses. The Louisville game is the best chance at a conference win.

The best this team could do is 4-8 and the worst will be 0-12. I still think that Syracuse will win two games and will finish with a 2-10 record.

The main thing to look for this season is to see if the Orange can make progress that can pay off with better players coming to be a part of this rebuilding effort.

West Virginia Mountaineers: Prediction 6-6

Well if you realize it or not we all learned something last season. The talent level at West Virginia made Rich Rodriguez look good.

No matter what you say the talent level at Michigan is higher than that of the Mountaineers. Rodriguez was able to get that talent to buy in to his system at West Virginia. That has not happened yet at Ann Harbor.

West Virginia’s chance at winning a Big East title will come down to a player no longer there. Pat White the schools best know player.

White last season seemed to will the Mountaineers to victory and that includes the bowl game against North Carolina. Without White behind center I am sure West Virginia will be back in the pack.

Trust me know that Noel Devine is still running the ball and is a great talent. Still White was able to keep focus off of Devine with his ability to pass and run.

This season will rest on Jarrett Brown the man replacing White. If he can have a good season the Mountaineers will be in the hunt all season long. If he cannot then it will be a long season.

The defense is not as likely to be a huge question mark and should be solid. Do not be surprised if the defense has to win games this season.

Still I am not sure if West Virginia is ready for prime time. The non conference has winnable games against Liberty, Colorado, and Marshall. The home game against East Carolina will be huge after the Pirates upset the Mountaineers last season.

The other big non conference game is a road trip to the plains of Auburn. The East Carolina game is winnable but the Tigers will handle West Virginia at home. Colorado could be the sleeper team in the out of conference schedule.

In conference it will be all about winning the home games.  The home games include Connecticut, Louisville, and Pitt.

The only gimmie road game is at Syracuse. The rest of the road schedule has trips to South Florida, Cincinnati, and Rutgers.

My guess is that wins will be hard to come by in year one after White. The Mountaineers could fall as far as 5-7 but I do not believe much more than that.

The best record possible would be 8-4 to 9-3. I just do not think that is possible this season. I think a .500 season at 6-6 is likely.

Still West Virginia will be back in the title hunt because the Big East does not have one dominate team. Since 2004 only West Virginia has repeated as champion. Do not look for that to change.

Well we will take Pitt as a slight favorite to win the Big East but I would not be surprised if the failed to win the title. The next closest team is South Florida who chokes as well.

If they both decide to keep that trend going do not sleep on West Virginia.

With two conferences in the book the 2009 preview and prediction will roll on to Big-10 country next. That conference features a two horse race between Penn State and Ohio State. See who we believe will outlast the other.


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