Although Pittsburgh seems to be the media's preseason favorite to win the Big East, the eight-team football conference is still wide open.
As many as five teams have a chance to win the conference title this year, and the Big East looks to be as it always is: unpredictable.
Instead of just offering everybody my predictions, I decided to add the predictions of two of the top Big East football writers, Dan Kelley and Tim McGhee.
They also made their predictions on who will win Big East Offensive Player of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year, Special Teams Player of the Year, and Rookie of the Year.
Big East Champion
Dan: While I do think that Pittsburgh is the team that’s most likely to win the conference this year, I don’t think they’re a runaway favorite by any means. They have some of the best individual talent (Dion Lewis, Jonathan Baldwin, Greg Romeus, etc.), but there are question marks, including an untested quarterback in Tino Sunseri. So tentatively, I’ll say Pittsburgh wins it, but I don’t think WVU, Cincy, or UConn are far behind.
Tim: A tie between 11-1 (6-1) Connecticut and 10-2 (6-1) West Virginia. UConn has the best schedule in the league in that they host North Carolina, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, and West Virginia. The Huskies face three danger road games at Michigan (Rich Rodriguez is more desperate), at Rutgers, and at South Florida. You can probably count one of those as a loss.
West Virginia will be defeated on the road either by Marshall or LSU and stands a chance to get its only conference loss at the hands of Connecticut.
Josh: West Virginia. The Mountaineers’ offense returns Noel Devine and Jock Sanders as well as four starting offensive linemen that will give new quarterback Geno Smith tons of time in the pocket. Did I mention the defense returns nine starters too?
Offensive Player of the Year
Dan: Easy pick; it’s Dion Lewis again. Noel Devine might actually be a little more dynamic, but Lewis got almost 100 more carries than Devine did last year, and I expect he’ll run it a lot more again this season.
Tim: Tom Savage, QB at Rutgers. For Rutgers to climb back up the Big East flagpole, Savage is going to have to put up some healthy Big East-leading, NCAA-ranking numbers.
As for Noel Devine, the offense will be too balanced to allow for Devine to simply take over games.
Josh: I’m going with Cincinnati quarterback Zach Collaros. Last season in Tony Pike relief duty Collaros threw for 1,434 yards, rushed for 334 yards, and had a video game-like 195.5 quarterback rating.
This season Butch Jones’ offense is perfect for Collaros, who could put up numbers similar to Jones’ quarterback at Central Michigan, Dan LeFevour.
Defensive Player of the Year
Dan: Greg Romeus is the name that pops into my mind first, but honestly I think it’ll be Lawrence Wilson from UConn. The guy had 140 tackles last year, which was 32 more than anyone else in the conference. The five sacks he recorded don’t hurt his résumé either.
Tim: Bruce Irvin, a 6'3", 235 linebacker and pass rusher (LB or DE) junior from West Virginia. From Mt. San Antonio Community College, Bruce was the sixth-rated Juco product in the nation at the end of last season. I don’t know about his temperament off the field, but when he puts the pads on, he can wreak havoc.
A bull rusher and a speed rusher, Irvin will keep the offensive tackles guessing and the blocking backs running. When it’s not third down, he’s a fast, irate linebacker. Don’t look for him on the depth chart...yet.
Josh: I also have to go with Bruce Irvin. Greg Romeus is going to be double-teamed too often to record enough sacks. That’s what happened to George Selvie after his 2007 Big East defensive player of the year season, and his sack total went from 14 to five.
Lawrence Wilson was dominant last year at UConn, but Scott Lutrus was injured for a lot of it, and Wilson had to be the main playmaker. This season Lutrus is back and both should be great, but Wilson won’t be able to amass 140 tackles like last season. Irvin reminds me of a more polished Jason Pierre-Paul.
Special Teams Player of the Year
Dan: Syracuse’s Rob Long can flat-out punt a football, and if his senior year is anything like his first three seasons, he’ll get a lot of opportunity to do just that. He might hit the roof of the Carrier Dome this year.
Tim: Robbie Frey, junior running back and kick returner, Connecticut. Frey returned 21 kickoffs in 2009 for a healthy 29.5-yard per return average with one 100-yard touchdown. His average ranked second in the Big East and eighth in the NCAA FBS. Head coach Randy Edsall has expressed his wish to get Frey in the backfield more often. That serves to keep Frey hot for kickoffs.
Josh: Rutgers punter Teddy Dellaganna placed 26 punts inside the opponent’s 20-yard line last season and averaged 42.2 yards per punt. Dellaganna played quarterback in high school, and from what I’ve heard he has a good arm and could be passing during fake punts this season.
I’m predicting he completes two crucial passes in games that ultimately lead Rutgers to wins.
Rookie of the Year
Dan: If history has taught us anything, it’s that the Rookie of the Year award goes to a running back more often than not. When it doesn’t, though, it generally comes down to a quarterback, a wide receiver, or a linebacker.
All eight Big East schools appear to be fairly settled with their veteran running backs this year, so the award should come down to one of the other three aforementioned positions.
With that said, I’m going to go ahead and use my homer pick here and give it to linebacker Marquis Spruill from Syracuse. He was rated four stars by Rivals.com, he made it to Syracuse early to participate in spring practice, and it sounds like he’s displaced senior Ryan Gillum for the third starting linebacker job alongside Derrell Smith and Doug Hogue.
Tim: Ivan McCartney, wideout at West Virginia. Ivan is Cincinnati Bengal Chad Ochocinco’s cousin, and he’s chosen to wear No. 5, WVU legend Pat White’s numerical moniker. That’s a lot to hang on his 6'3", 185-lb. frame, but Ivan has shown us in fall scrimmages that he has the confidence and the skills to handle it.
With the abdications of recruits/wide receivers Logan Heastie and Deon Long, McCartney can step right in to catch balls from his old high school chum Geno Smith.
Josh: Rutgers wide receiver Jeremy Deering was given the chance to start due to the injuries to Tim Wright, Mark Harrison, and Quron Pratt. One of the surprises of training camp, Deering’s made some great plays and seems to have instant chemistry with quarterback Tom Savage.
Which one of us will be right?
Will any of our predictions come true?
Nobody will know till after the season. Until then, be sure to watch the Big East football teams as they take on some of the best teams in the country and beat them too!
Week one game to watch: UConn at Michigan on September 4th.
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