10 Burning Questions for the Big East
Heading into the 2010 college football season, there are many questions to be answered concerning the Big East conference.
The offseason brought a lot of change to a conference looking to solidify itself as a national powerhouse, before potentially being dismantled in the coming years.
Three new head coaches are now in the mix and most of the talent on the offensive side of the ball from a year ago has returned.
With the start of the season now less than four months away, here are 10 burning questions concerning the Big East heading into the 2010 season.
Will Louisville Improve?
Louisville made a big splash this offseason, hiring Florida defensive coordinator Charlie Strong as their head coach. After being at Florida, it is certain this guy knows how to win football games.
The Cardinals are looking to return to their glory days when Bobby Petrino was running the show. Strong can bring that same success back to the Bluegrass state, just not in 2010.
Over the past few years, Louisville along with Syracuse have been the worst teams in the Big East. They have not gotten the talent they were accustomed to getting five years ago and they have not had the coaching to go with that.
With Strong that will all change, but it will take a few seasons to get it turned around.
Louisville was able to sign some pretty big recruits in the offseason, including one of the top receivers in the country in Michaelee Harris along with talent on defense.
Look for the Cardinals to finish 2010 with five wins and return to bowl status in 2011.
Is the Big East Just West Virginia, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and the Rest?
For the past two seasons, three teams have dominated the Big East conference.
Cincinnati has won the conference each of the past two seasons, but has had to go through Pittsburgh and West Virginia to do so.
2010 looks to be no different as these three teams are clearly the cream of the crop in the Big East.
Pittsburgh will have to replace quarterback Bill Stull, but brings back Dion Lewis and James Baldwin along with a strong defensive cast.
West Virginia still has talented running back Noel Devine and new quarterback Geno Smith has impressed.
Cincinnati lost Tony Pike and Mardy Gilyard, but has most of its nucleus intact from a season ago.
I fully expect these three teams to battle it out for the Big East crown. One team that could step in and make some noise is Rutgers.
The Scarlet Knights have a great young quarterback in Tom Savage and a talented receiver in Mohamed Sanu.
When it is all said and done, I would be shocked if West Virginia, Pittsburgh or Cincinnati did not win the conference.
Who Is the Biggest Threat In the Conference?
The biggest threat in the conference, and perhaps the nation, is West Virginia senior Noel Devine.
Devine has the ability to take it to the house every time he touches the ball and is without question one of the most explosive backs in the country.
Last season, he finished with nearly 1,500 yards and averaged 6.1 yards per carry. Couple that with 13 touchdowns, and you have one of the best ball carriers in the nation.
With 2010 being his senior season, Devine will be hungry for a Big East championship and could put up Heisman-like numbers.
He has big-play capability and puts fear in the eyes of opposing defenses, making him the biggest threat in the conference.
Is This a Do-or-Die Year for Dave Wannstedt?
For the Pittsburgh Panthers, the pressure seems to always be placed squarely on head coach Dave Wannstedt. When he arrived at Pittsburgh for the 2005 season, expectations were high.
He has consistently brought in top 20 recruiting classes, but has never been able to get over the proverbial hump and win a Big East championship.
If there was ever a time to do it, 2010 is the year. Many fans in Pittsburgh were calling for his head after the crushing defeat in the season finale last year against Cincinnati.
Entering this season, 2010 is a make or break year for Wannstedt. The school has given him plenty of time to secure a Big East championship and if he fails to do so again in 2010, he might be out the door.
Who Are the Heisman Candidates?
The Big East has not had a Heisman trophy winner in nearly 20 years, and in 2010, there are three potential candidates to take home the trophy.
The obvious top choice is Dion Lewis. Pittsburgh head coach Dave Wannstedt will ride the shoulders of his talented young running back and he will get as many carries as anybody in the nation.
Couple that with a solid defense, and it is not out of the question for Lewis to approach 2,000 yards and 20 touchdowns, which are numbers worthy of Heisman consideration.
Noel Devine is another candidate. Devine's explosiveness and big play ability make him one of biggest game changers at the collegiate level.
While Devine will not get the amount of touches Lewis will, he has the chance to average nearly seven yards per carry and will certainly go over 1,500 yards if he stays healthy.
The final of the three candidates is Cincinnati quarterback Zach Collaros. Collaros is poised to put up some huge numbers in 2010, playing for the high flying offense of the Cincinnati Bearcats.
He has the talent to put up numbers similar to those of Tony Pike last season before his injury, and if he can do so he will certainly be in the Heisman conversation, much like Pike was a season ago.
Will the Big East Be Picked Last Again for a BCS Bowl?
In recent years, the Big East has been the final selection for BCS bowl consideration and this season will more than likely be no different.
While Cincinnati has not faired well in BCS games the past two seasons, the Big East has not always laid an egg when it comes to big bowl games.
In the 2008 Fiesta Bowl, West Virginia dismantled Oklahoma by 20 points, despite losing head coach Rich Rodriguez to Michigan just before the game.
In the 2007 Orange Bowl, Louisville defeated Wake Forest by double digits, and in 2006 West Virginia beat Georgia in the Sugar Bowl.
So, since the Big East was reconfigured they have gone 3-2 in BCS Bowl games.
With that being said, they are likely to be the final selection in the BCS draft process because the teams are not as well known as teams from other conferences.
There is a perception that the Big East doesn't travel well to these bowl games. That is clearly not the case as was evidenced in last season's Sugar Bowl.
Whatever the reason may be and even though it is not always fair, the Big East winner will more than likely be the last team selected for BCS consideration.
Can Skip Holtz Win the Big East in His First Season at South Florida?
The answer to that question is no.
While Skip Holtz is a great young coach, South Florida does not have what it takes to compete for a Big East title in 2010.
Holtz is certainly entering a better situation than Charlie Strong is entering at Louisville, but his Bulls are still a few years away from competing for a Big East championship.
Sophomore quarterback B.J. Daniels returns and should have an outstanding season, but the departure of receiver Carlton Mitchell early to the NFL leaves the Bulls with no big play receivers.
The defense should be solid, but the losses of Jason Pierre-Paul, George Selvie, Nate Allen and Jerome Murphy to the NFL will certainly have an impact in 2010.
If South Florida finishes in the top half of the Big East, I would be shocked. A sixth place finish and bowl berth is likely where they are headed.
Will Syracuse's Recruiting Class Make a Major Impact this Year?
For a few years now, the Syracuse Orange have been at the bottom of the Big East.
Despite having talent, they have been unable to climb out of the cellar of the conference.
In 2010, head coach Doug Marrone brought in a talented recruiting class, particularly on the defensive side of the ball. That class is led by linebacker Marquis Spruill and defensive end Max Beaulieu.
These two have the ability to step in and play right away for a Syracuse team in need of help at all positions.
With a shortage of talent returning, this Syracuse class could have more of an impact than most other classes in the Big East, but this impact will not necessarily mean positive results.
Look for the Orange to finish at the bottom of the Big East again in 2010.
Which Game Will Dictate the Big East Champion?
For the second year in a row, the season finale between Cincinnati and Pittsburgh will decide who represents the Big East in a BCS Bowl game.
In last season's dramatic ending, the Bearcats pulled out the victory in the game's final minutes, 45-44. This season will be much of the same.
On December 4, 2010 Cincinnati and Pittsburgh will battle once more for the Big East title. This time the game will be played in Cincinnati at historic Nippert Stadium.
The result will be similar to last season, with Cincinnati prevailing, in less dramatic fashion, to win their third consecutive Big East crown.
Which Team Will Be the Biggest Surprise in the Big East?
There are two sleeper teams that could make some noise in the Big East in 2010. They are the Rutgers Scarlet Knights and the Connecticut Huskies.
Both teams return a lot from last season and they could surprise some people not only in the Big East, but nationally.
The team that stands out the most is the Connecticut Huskies. The Huskies overcame the death of teammate Jasper Howard last season, and five losses by a combined 15 points to finish the year 8-5 with a bowl victory.
Junior running Jordan Todman is one of the best in college football, and he will carry the load for a Connecticut team poised to make a surprise run at a Big East title.
While Connecticut does not quite have the talent of Cincinnati or Pittsburgh, they play tough and are huge up-front. They will run the ball down your throat if you are not prepared and they are a sleeper team in the Big East in 2010.