Cincinnati was impressive last season, and almost brought the conference a title, but will the Bearcats be as impressive without Brian Kelly at head coach? On the flip side, bottom-feeders Louisville and Syracuse haven’t really done much to improve either.
Is the Big East doomed to be a below-average conference next season (provided the Big Ten hasn’t stolen all its teams)? Sadly, the answer is probably yes. The Big East isn’t strong as a whole, and it isn’t all that top-heavy either.
Here’s a team-by-team preview, in order of how they finished in the Big East last season.
Sure the Bearcats finished 12-1, 7-0 last season, but things are different now. Cincy and former head coach Brian Kelly had a messy divorce at the end of last season, which landed the skipper in Notre Dame. The move surely had some effect on recruitment, staff, and game philosophy.
The big question is, can Cincy turn it all around in time to make a run like last season? No Brian Kelly, Tony Pike, or Marty Gilyard could spell trouble for Bearcat fans. (Although, they’ll still contend for the Big East title.)
In Pittsburgh they’re singing “In Dion We Trust.” After an outstanding freshman campaign, running back Dion Lewis leads a Panthers team with high aspirations for 2010. Pitt finished last season 10-3, 5-2, and they look like the early favorites to win the Big East this season.
An easy schedule helps too, with tough games being played at home (like West Virginia and Miami) and an easy mid-season stretch (at Syracuse, Rutgers, and Louisville).
Mountaineers offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen finally has pieces in place who have experience with his schemes. One of those pieces is senior running back Noel Devine, who, if he plays his cards right, could land himself an outside shot at the Heisman next year. After finishing 9-4, 5-2 last season, West Virginia will have one big obstacle to overcome: a new quarterback.
Sure Geno Smith got some experience last season, but he’ll still be fresh meat for Big East defenses in 2010. A bowl game loss to Florida State season doesn’t translate for WVU either.
The Mountaineers have some pieces that will keep them competitive, but they’re still far from returning to the success they endured during the Pat White era.
Rutgers was possibly the worst 9-4 team in college football last season. The Scarlet Knights had only one impressive victory in 2009, and that was a 31-0 romping of USF at home. And no, defeating Central Florida in a bowl game hardly counts as impressive. Did I mention they got blown out by Syracuse?
Rutgers hasn’t been the same since Ray Rice left for the NFL. Road games against Pittsburgh, South Florida, Cincinnati, and West Virginia don’t exactly spell out success in 2010.
OK SEC fans, the Big East has ya here. UConn defeated South Carolina to take the PapaJohns.com Bowl 20-7 last December. It was a fitting way for the Huskies to end their season after the passing of Jasper Howard.
The untimely death of Howard midseason sent the Huskies into a season-changing tailspin, in which UConn dropped three straight winnable games, including a nail-biter in West Virginia, a gimme against Rutgers, and a two-point heartbreaker at Cincinnati.
With all that in the past, however, the Huskies look to 2010 to pick up where they left off, with three straight wins. In addition, UConn has a few solid pieces returning, including four-year starting linebacker Lawrence Wilson.
The Bulls went 8-5, 3-4 last season, and then they fired head coach Jim Leavitt, and replaced him with Skip Holtz. While the move may not pay off immediately, the switch will probably pay dividends in the future. Holtz will have redshirt sophomore B.J. Daniels lining up behind center next year, where he’ll look to improve on a decent 2009 season.
The biggest obstacle the Bulls face next season is their schedule. Out of conference, USF goes on the road to in-state rivals Florida and Miami, only to face Big East foes West Virginia and Cincinnati on the road in consecutive weeks in October.
The Cardinals join USF and Cincinnati in welcoming a new head coach to the Big East. Unfortunately for Charlie Strong, however, he’s not inheriting a team with the talent of the Bulls or Bearcats. The Cards’ lone conference came at home against Syracuse, and that was only because the Orange both missed an extra point and turned the ball over in Louisville territory with two minutes left.
Bottom line: it’s going to be another long season in Kentucky for fans of the red and white.
The Orange has an interesting quarterback controversy: what do you do when you have a junior who’s nothing special (Ryan Nassib), a sophomore with no experience (Charlie Loeb), and two potentially good freshmen (Jonny Miller and John Kinder)?
Last season, Syracuse had no quarterback going into 2009, until the Orange got bailed out when hometown-hero-turned-Benedict Arnold Greg Paulus returned to Central New York. The Blue Devils point guard, who set (and still holds) most of the state high school passing records, was an adequate fan attraction, but to whom does SU turn to in 2010?
There are two bright spots for Syracuse, though. The SU’s run defense was very strong last season, and the Orange returns all eleven starters from 2009. Also, Syracuse plays the biggest joke of a schedule next year, with non-conference games against Akron, Maine, Colgate.
Will they win the Big East, no, but they might finally return to a bowl game.