Big East Football: Coaching Changes and a Conference Title Up for Grabs

Scott PauleyAnalyst IJuly 10, 2011

Every summer sports enthusiasts, reporters, columnists, beat writers and everyone else who wants to be heard, will give their two cents worth concerning college football.

Which team will do the best, which team will go all the way, which teams will win their respective conference, which conference will dominate and which team will blow harder than Bob Huggins and Dana Holgorsen at a roadside sobriety checkpoint?

Therefore, I suppose I should too.

However, I want to concentrate on the conference that seems to have disappeared but is on the verge are stardom.

The Big East Conference has had some amazing teams, players and seasons over the last couple of decades.  However, the Big East has lost its luster. Due in part to the departure of dominate teams, to seemingly bigger and better ventures—Miami, Virginia Tech, Boston College.

There is no doubt in my mind that the champion of the Big East could be any of its current eight members.

At this point, there are no front-runners.

Although many have said that Pitt and West Virginia will be in the running for the crown, there is just no way to know. Many of the teams in the conference have undergone major coaching changes, with all others having at least one new member on staff.

Let’s look at the preseason favorite, West Virginia Mountaineers. 

Over the last few months athletic director Oliver Luck has implemented some major changes. 

By bringing over Dana Holgorsen to assume duties as the offensive coordinator under head coach, Bill Stewart—followed by the dismissal of Stewart and the promotion of Holgorsen to head coach—Luck has created an atmosphere in Morgantown that has some scratching their heads.

The Mountaineers return break out quarterback, Geno Smith who should fit well into Holgorsen’s offensive scheme, while the backfield will showcase some talents that have yet to be proven and a defense that should impress.

However, will the late changes to the coaching staff allow the strengths to outshine the weaknesses?

We just don’t know.

The Pitt Panthers have had two head coaches as well, since the end of the 2010 season.  With the hiring of Mike Heywood and his firing—within a month—the Panthers will begin the season with a new coaching staff led by Todd Graham of Tulsa fame.  Graham formerly coached at West Virginia under Rich Rodriguez as did nearly half of the Panthers staff. 

But, they lost one key member, Frank Cignetti to Big East opponent, Rutgers.

Cignetti will take over as offensive coordinator for the Scarlet Knights, which combined with the knowledge and desire of—the most tenured Big East head coach—Greg Schiano, will only place Rutgers at the top of the watch list.

Nevertheless, we mustn’t stop with these three teams.

Take UCONN for instance.  While sharing the conference championship last season—and a poor performance in the Fiesta Bowl versus Oklahoma—the Huskies will bring back a strong offense but, will have to do it all with a brand new head coach, Paul Pasualoni.  Pasqualoni, was hired in January, 2011—following the departure of Randy Edsall to the University of Maryland to head up the football program for the Terrapins. 

Pasqualoni is known more for his defensive mind, which is why he spent time in the NFL with the Dallas Cowboys and Miami Dolphins.  Oh yeah, you may also recognize his name by way of the Carrier Dome.  Pasqualoni was head coach for Syracuse from 1991 to 2004.

Which brings us to the Orange. 

With a 2010-11 season record of 8-5, Syracuse served as spoiler for teams in the Big East last year, falling only to Pittsburgh, Louisville and Connecticut.  The Orange did, however, manage to obtain one of the Big East’s few post-season wins, defeating Kansas State in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl.

Look for Doug Marrone to enter his third season as head coach with a mission minded playbook.  That mission—win the Big East. The only new coach that Marrone has on his staff is Tim Daoust, who coaches the defensive ends.  Daoust comes to Syracuse from Central Michigan—which incidentally is exactly where Cincinnati’s Butch Jones coached before jumping over to the Big East.

Jones is entering his second season as the head coach for the Bearcats.  After a disappointing first season, the Bearcats look to put their name in the hat for at least a share of the Big East title.  This is not out of the question.  With new wide receivers coach, T. J. Weist on board—Jones will have no problem keeping pace with the other passing teams in the conference. 

Jones himself served as wide receivers coach under Rich Rodriguez at WVU from 2005 to 2006.

The University of Louisville welcomes new quarterback coach, Shawn Watson to the crew.  Watson spent the last few years in the Big 12 as the offensive coordinator at Nebraska.  With Watson’s impressive resume added to an already aggressive offensive strategy, look for head coach, Charlie Strong, to ask for more seats to be added at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium.

Let us not forget the Bulls of South Florida.  Since their arrival to the Big East, USF has had its hands in everyone’s faces.  They seem to be the team that can win but, just can’t win it all—with the attitude that if they can’t win then neither can anyone else.  Skip Holtz in his second season will undoubtedly not take no for an answer. 

Look for the Bulls to contend for the crown. With only one newcomer on the staff—strength and conditioning coach, Mike Golden—look for the South Florida to be big and be near the top of the conference.

It seems we have weaved quite a tangled web.  There is not one team in the Big East that has coaches who have not crossed paths somewhere in their careers.  There is not one Big East team that has not had some sort of coaching change.  There is not one Big East team that does not want to win the title.

However there is only one Big East team that can represent the conference in the BCS.  Which new coach will be on that team? 

We could even be talking about a National Championship.  But let's not get ahead of ourselves.

It is truly up-in-the-air.