Every article written about Big East football this summer has seemingly taken one of two tones.
1) The conference is in deep trouble
2) The conference is unpredictable
While both are valid points, they have been beaten into the ground unmercifully. Part of the reason for this is because nobody wants to even attempt to make predictions on such an unpredictable league, it's much easier to just spit out stock analysis.
Since none of the big boys want to take a crack at picking this league, I figured I would enlist some of the finest amateur Big East writers the internet has to offer. Syracuse writer Dan Kelley and UConn writer George Peterson from BleacherReport.com were generous enough to help me out.
Together, the three of us took our best shot at trying to sort through the mess of mediocrity that is the Big East. As you can see by how varied our predictions are, what happens this season is anyone's guess.
Lets not waste any time gents, who wins this thing and why?
Dan: Well after taking a look at each team, I settled on Pitt as my favorite awhile ago, knowing that they’ll probably need a good year from Bill Stull for that to happen. I’ve heard he’s struggled a bit in camp, but while he’s never been an all-Big East type of quarterback, he is a veteran so I think he’ll be fine this year. Having Jonathan Baldwin around should really help him out too, so I’m sticking with the Panthers.
George: With everyone's strengths, weaknesses and schedule under consideration I think Rutgers will take it home.They've got a solid D, the best O-Line in the conference which will only help whoever's taking the snaps and most of their toughest tests are at home. The stars just seem to be in alignment for them this year.
Paul: In my opinion, when the conference is this wide open pick the team with the best athletes. I would say Pitt and USF are the most athletic teams in the league, both teams are filled with freaks of nature on defense and weapons on offense. Yes I know WVU has maybe the most explosive athlete in Noel Divine but I don't think they're as deep with speed as those other teams. At the end of the day I trust Jim Levitt and Matt Grothe more than I trust Wanny and Stull. I'm going with the Bulls.
Now that we've thrown our conference champs out there, who else makes bowl games?
Dan: Picking the bowl teams is probably the only thing about this league that will be even close to easy to predict. There are only eight teams and two of them probably don’t have a very good chance (Louisville and Syracuse, as sad as I am to say). I’m going with Pitt, WVU, USF, Cincinnati and Rutgers, in that order.
George: Rutgers, USF, WVU, Pitt, Cincy, UConn
Paul: I think ND is going to end up somewhere outside of the Gator Bowl, perhaps the Cotton. USF (Fiesta), WVU (Gator), Pitt (Car Care), Cincy (Papa Johns), Rutgers (International). I don't think UConn, Louisville or 'Cuse will qualify and the St. Pete bowl will go outside the conference.
It's hard to have a sleeper in a league where anyone can win but lets all try to pick a sleeper anyway...
Dan: I think it’s got to be Connecticut. They rarely get the respect they deserve, but they exceed expectations every year. I really like their defense, and if they can get a passing game going they could definitely be a contender again. The only thing that kept me from picking them as a bowl team is their tough schedule with out of conference dates with UNC, at Baylor and at Notre Dame.
George: If UConn can pull out wins against UNC, ND, and two of the five Big East leaders, they could move up and out of the stinkin' Int. Bowl. The only other possibility is Louisville, but I'm not a believer in their coach Steve Kragthorpe putting it together this year.
Paul: I don't think Cincy is getting enough credit. Yes I know they lost 10 starters on defense but the Brian Kelly/Tony Pike combo should make them really good. Add in the fact that their freshman class is the best in school history and you have the makings for another really good year. I know I only picked them to go to the Papajohns.com bowl but that pick was based more on the fact that someone has to be the odd man out as opposed to them being only as good as that game.
If we can have a sleeper than we can have a disappointment too. Let's name names...
Dan: I’m going to say Rutgers. They’ve been kind of a trendy pick this year, in part thanks to their schedule, but I just don’t see it. They do have a good looking defense and on paper at least, the best offensive line in the Big East. They lost Mike Teel, Kenny Britt, and Tiquan Underwood though and I just can’t see those guys being replaced overnight. Rutgers also finished near the bottom of the league in rushing last year, so where is the offense going to come from?
George: I'd like to think USF can get past their late season funk of the last few year's. Until they do, with the talent they have at key spots they will be the favorites to rip out the hearts of their fans. If they don't, Pitt could be a close second.
Paul: I know not a whole lot is expected from them but UConn really doesn't scare me. With losses like Daruis Butler, D.J. Hernandez, William Beatty and Donald Brown off a team that wasn't outstandingly talented to begin with, I could see this year going very badly for the Huskies. Like 4-8 bad. UConn has had success by not beating themselves these past few seasons, that's all well and good but eventually your opponents are going to play mistake free football. UConn doesn't have the talent to beat good teams without getting breaks.
Let's shift to individual awards. Who is the Offensive Player of the Year?
Dan: I think its Noel Devine’s year in Morgantown. With no Pat White to steal the show, Devine is going to put up some huge numbers.
George: It's hard not to pick Tony Pike or Matt Grothe, but I like what Noel Devine brings to the table. I think he will be the backbone and catalyst for the Mountaineers offense and put up some gawdy rushing numbers to boot.
Paul: If I'm going to pick USF to win the league then I'm going to pick Grothe to win POY. With the departure of Pat White, Grothe is now the top duel-threat QB in a league short on defensive speed. He's too much of a match up nightmare for me not to pick him.
Defensive Player of the Year...
Dan: I’m going to say Greg Romeus. Pitt’s got a lot of talent on their defensive line with Romeus, Jabaal Sheard and Mick Williams all back. That means opposing offensive lines are going to have trouble double-teaming Romeus and he could improve on his 7.5 sacks from a year ago.
George: I'm going to go with the obvious choice of George Selvie. No other defensive player makes Big East offensive coordinators cringe and gameplan against than the stud DE.
Paul: I think Pitt's defense is going to be dominant this year, the question is who gets the glory. I think Pitt's front four is going to force a lot of poor decisions from QBs leaving CB Aaron Berry will be there to make those QBs pay. Berry drew a lot of ire from the Panther faithful last year and still made the All-Conference team. He was also probably the best player on the field in the Sun Bowl last year. Watch for Berry to build on that Sun Bowl performance and have a monster year.
Special Teams Player of the Year...
Dan: Who else can I even pick? It’s got to be Mardy Gilyard. He’ll be the most dangerous kick returner in the league again this year.
George: Much the like the effect Selvie has on OC's, Mardy Gilyard probably has opposing special teams coaches running to the store at 2 AM for some Ambien CR. The reigning ST POY can take it to the house at any time and may do more for his team, than anyone in the Big East.
Paul: I think teams will kick away from Gilliard to the point of hilarity this season. His presence will give Cincy great field position but it wont be enough for him to win the award. I'm going to go with Rutgers Kicker San San Te just for the sake of typing that name.
Coach of the Year...
Dan: The only scenario I can see where the coach whose team wins the Big East doesn’t win Coach of the Year would be if Syracuse or Louisville came out of nowhere and finished just short of winning it. Assuming that doesn’t happen though, it will go to the conference champ. It could be Dave Wannstedt’s year.
George: To the victor goes the spoils. If Rutgers takes the BE title, Schiano should be a shoo-in.
Paul: I'm going to go with Jim Levitt. He's a charismatic figure and if his team wins he'll get the award.
And finally, Rookie of the Year
Dan: I don’t know all that much about the various freshmen entering the Big East this season. On that note, I’m going to put my homer cap on for a minute and say Greg Paulus. I know a lot of people are skeptical about the move to start him, but Paulus does have some things going for him. He’s already won the starting job, so he’s definitely going to get a chance to put up some numbers, unlike many freshman. He’s got the pedigree as a National Player of the Year in high school and from what they’re saying it sounds like the coaches have been very impressed with how he’s handled himself in camp. He’s also got a big time receiver to bail him out in Mike Williams.
George: I know this is a homer pick, but the buzz in these parts is all about Randy Edsall's prized four star recruit at wideout, Dwayne Difton. The tight-lipped Edsall has been gushing about his disciplined work ethic and route-running, not to mention his speed and hands. UConn Country is probably going to get their wish with Difton being named a starter when the season kicks off at Ohio U. If he doesn't he will still make a big impact in the Huskies new offensive plans.
Paul: Lets make it three for three on homer picks. Dion Lewis averaged 14 yards per carry during his senior year in New Jersey. He is slated as the starting tailback on a Pitt offense that loves to run, this pick makes too much sense.
Finally, if you had to pick one Big East game to attend this season which game would you pick?
Dan: Well being a Syracuse fan, I’d love to take a trip down to Happy Valley to see my Orange take on Penn State. Knowing the odds of victory are roughly the same as a snow cone’s chances in the desert though, I’ll go with the Backyard Brawl. Pitt and West Virginia are my top two teams this year, so this one could be for all the marbles. Besides, you can’t top the excitement of being in the stands for the Big East’s best rivalry. West Virginia and Pitt fans seem to absolutely despise each other, and that always makes for a fun game.
George: As a Husky and college football fan in general, it would have to be UConn's trip to Notre Dame to be able to take in all of the atmosphere. The Backyard Brawl is a close second, though.
Paul: There's only one true rivalry in Big East football, the Backyard Brawl. I've had the pleasure to attend this game and the energy is unlike any other. When Pitt and WVU fans mingle, nothing is off-limits. The stadium is a powder keg ready to explode at any moment. It's a must on any football fans bucket list.
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