Breaking Down the Big East

Michael HardersContributor IAugust 12, 2009

GLENDALE, AZ - JANUARY 02:  Running back Noel Devine #7 of the West Virginia Mountaineers runs for a 65-yard touchdown against the Oklahoma Sooners in the second half at the Tostito's Fiesta Bowl at University of Phoenix Stadium January 2, 2008 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)

There are only a few weeks remaining until college football is officially underway. With that in mind, it is time to break down the Big East and see what team will finish at the top.

Cincinnati Bearcats

Offense: The Bearcats return a load of players on offense this season including senior quarterback Tony Pike and the electrifying Mardy Gilyard. They have three returning starters on the offensive line, which will help Pike buy time to find Gilyard down the field.

Biggest reason for concern: Besides Gilyard, Cincinnati does not return any starters at the wide receiver position so defenses will concentrate on shutting down Gilyard.

Defense: The defense has one returning starter on defense. That's right, one. Not only do they have just one starter returning, but they are changing to a 3-4 scheme, which could be a work in progress as the season goes on.

Biggest reason for concern: Cincinnati does not have any starters on the defensive line or at the linebacker position, so expect their opponents to keep pounding the ball up the middle.

Special Teams: Kevin Huber, two time All-American kicker is gone, replacing him is true freshman Patrick O'Donnell. Good news though, Gilyard will be back returning kickoffs this year, where he took two to the house last year and averaged 27 yards per return.

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Connecticut Huskies

Offense: UConn lost first team all Big East, 2,000 yard rusher, and Big East Offensive Player of the Year Donald Brown. Starting quarterback Tyler Lorenzen has also moved on and will be replaced by Zach Frazer.

Frazer, along with Cody Endres, threw nine interceptions last season in limited action, so don't expect the Huskies to put up Texas Tech type numbers.

Biggest reason for concern: Losing Donald Brown is huge, but losing Tyler Lorenzen could be even worse. With not a lot of big time talent at the wide receiver position and a young running back, it could be a long season for Zach Frazer and the Connecticut offense.

Defense: The strength of the defense will undoubtedly be their linebackers. All three linebackers were starters last year and Lawrence Wilson has been a starter since his freshman year. UConn lost shut down corner Darius Butler to the NFL and must find some way to replace him.

Biggest reason for concern: The UConn defensive line has only one starter returning fromlast years front. Replacing the ends Cody Brown and Julius Williams will be difficult, but expect the upperclassmen Lindsey Williams and Marcus Campbell to contribute early.

Special Teams: This could be a strength for UConn this season. Dave Teggart was 16/16 on extra points last season and went 13/15 on field goals, oh yeah, and he was just a freshman.

Jasper Howard will once again will have the duty of returning punts where he did have a punt return for a touchdown last season. Also returning is punter Desi Cullen who averaged 39 yards per punt, and kick returner Jordan Todman who averaged 24 yards per return last season.

Louisville Cardinals

Offense: Hunter Cantwell was supposed to be the quarterback who replaced Brian Brohm. Well, he replaced him and that was about it. Cantwell threw 16 touchdowns last season but also threw 16 interceptions. Don't except anything much different this season with transfer quarterback Justin Burke under center.

The Cardinals do get their top two receiver back from last season as well as leading rusher Victor Anderson. Louisville also lost offensive lineman Eric Wood, who was a first round draft pick, but they have four lineman who all have experience.

Biggest reason for concern: It has to be the quarterback position. Brian Brohm did not perform well under Steve Kragthrope, neither did Hunter Cantwell. Things only seem to  be getting worse in Louisville with Justin Burke and Adam Froman.

Defense: The Cardinals return all three linebackers from last season but their defensive line is in need of some help. L.D. Scott, the lone returning starter from last seasons defensive line, is not even a first stringer this year.

The starting four for the defensive line this year had a combined, a COMBINED 32 tackles last season. The secondary could use a little help but with Richard Raglin receiving his fifth year of eligibility, the Cardinals have an experienced leader.

Biggest reason for concern: Louisville was dead last in the Big East last season in sacks and not having any returning starters on the line will not help this season.

Also, the Cardinals lost defensive coordinator Ron English and have replaced him with Utah State head coach Brent Guy. This will be Louisville's third defensive coordinator in three seasons.

Special Teams: Louisville returns kick returner Trent Guy, who had a kick return for a touchdown last season, as well as punt returner Doug Beaumont, who averaged almost ten yards per return.

The Cards also return Chris Goettsche as the punter and he averaged 40 yards per punt last season. Chris Philpott will be kicking and he was only 1/3 on field goals last season and missed two out of eight extra points.

Pittsburgh Panthers

Offense: There is no need to tell you who the Panthers lost last season but if you must know he goes by the name of LeSean McCoy. McCoy's backup, LaRod Stephens-Howling is gone as well. All the weight of the offense will be on wide receiver Jonathan Baldwin.

Baldwin averaged 22 yards per reception last season as freshman but don't expect his average to go up any, but I would expect his yards and catches to go up. Pitt returns three starters on the offensive line, but quarterback Bill Stull will need a brick wall to protect him in order to be successful.

Biggest reason for concern: I would say it would be the running back position, but with Dion Lewis enrolling early it will only benefit the offense. I am going to go back to Bill Stull on this one, and it is not just Bill Stull, Pat Bostick is nothing to write home about either.

It will be interesting to see how these two quarterbacks do without the safety net of LeSean McCoy in the backfield.

Defense: Once again, the defense should be the strength of the Pitt Panthers. They did lose All Big East linebacker Scott McKillop, who collected 137 tackles last season, but they do bring back seven starters.

Their front four is very strong, especially with the beast that is Greg Romeus. The secondary looks to be solid as well with three of four defensive backs returning.

Biggest reason for concern: The only question mark I have for this defense is losing Scott McKillop. Greg Williams will be the only starter returning in the linebacker position, but senior Adam Gunn brings leadership to the overall young linebacking crew.

Special Teams: Pitt is relatively young on special teams. Dan Hutchins will be pulling double duty with punting and kickoffs. Hutchins only punted twice last season and did not kickoff at all.

They have a new punt returner in Cameron Saddler but he should be a solid returner. Aundre Wright will return kickoffs, as he did last season, where he averaged 21 yards per return.

Rutgers Scarlet Knights

Offense: The Scarlet Knights will be very deep at running back with Kordell Young, Jourdan Brooks, and Joe Martinek all receiving valuable playing time last season. They also have everyone back on the offensive line, which should buy the inexperienced quarterback Domenic Natale time in the pocket.

Although not very tall, Tim Brown should emerge as the go to receiver for the Scarlet Knights.

Biggest reason for concern: Losing Kenny Britt and Tiquan Underwood is tough, but Rutgers has four upperclassmen ready to step in at wide receiver. Losing Mike Teel will be a lot harder to overcome for the Knights. Last season Domenic Natale appeared in five games but only completed three of eight passes for 36 yards and no touchdowns.

Defense: The Scarlet Knights have six starters returning on defense this year and with Ryan D'Imperio returning, Rutgers should have a stout defense. Everyone on the defense is an upperclassmen so there will be a lot of leadership on defense.

Biggest reason for concern: I honestly do not have much concern for this defense. Every starter this season played in every game last year so they have a ton of experience.

If there is any concern at all it is Alex Silvestro moving from defensive tackle to defensive end, and I do not seem to worried about it.The defense for the Scarlet Knights will be one of the best in the Big East.

Special Teams: Rutgers returns starting kicker San San Te, who made 12-of-17 field goals and 45-of-48 extra points last season, as well as punter Teddy Dellaganna.

Punt returning could be a serious question as Mason Robinson, who only returned two punts for 14 yards last season, will be the starter and Devin McCourty will be returning kickoffs.

South Florida Bulls

Offense: South Florida has only three starters returning on offense, but luckily one of them is quarterback Matt Grothe. Last season Grothe threw for 2,911 yards with 18 touchdowns, while also rushing for 591 yards with four scores.

Mike Ford is a beast at running back, coming in at 6'2" 225 lbs and he is tough to bring down. The Bulls have some depth at wide receiver and USF brings back their leading receiver from last season in Jessie Hester.

Biggest reason for concern: Without question it is their offensive line. South Florida lost four out of five lineman, with the lone returning lineman changing positions. It will be difficult for Grothe to stay in the pocket this season and pass so expect his rushing number to increase, unless he keeps getting sacked.

Defense: Need I say anything else except George Selvie? Selvie is a lock for a first round pick in the NFL Draft in April. He has 25.5 career sacks and 60 tackles for loss. Expect the secondary to have a big season because if the Bulls defensive line can get pressure on the quarterback, expect some interceptions.

Biggest reason for concern: South Florida has two new starters at linebacker, but they did play in all 13 games last season. If the Bulls can get significant contribution out of their linebackers, then expect a great season out of the USF defense.

Special Teams: Field goal kicking for the Bulls last season was not one of their bright spots. Maikon Bonani was only 15/21 on field goals and was 31/32 on extra points. Punting did not improve very much where Delbert Alvarado averaged 39 yards per punt.

Theo Wilson will be returning punts this season and he did return a punt for a touchdown last season. Also, Dontavia Bogan will be returning kicks; he averaged 26 yards per return last season.

Syracuse Orange

Offense: I don't really know where to begin with Syracuse. Greg Paulus could be their starting quarterback, and he hasn't played football in four years. Their leading receiver from last season Donte Davis is back, as is Mike Williams from a year long academic suspension. Junior Delone Carter could provide a spark at the running back position.

Biggest reason for concern: Let's make this short and just get to the point...EVERYTHING!

Defense: The Syracuse defense last season to put lightly was, an embarrassment. The Orange were ranked 102nd in total defense last year, and that most likely will not change this season.

Biggest reason for concern: Scroll up.

Special Teams: Punter Rob Long will probably receive the most playing time, of anyone on the entire team. Last season Long averaged 43.91 yards per punt, but I would expect that to go down with all the punting he will be doing.

Austin Wallis will be the new starting kicker this year, Max Suter will man the kickoff returns and Mike Holmes will be in charge of punt returns.

West Virginia Mountaineers

Offense: The Mountaineers lost the best player in school history, Pat White. Replacing him will be senior Jarrett Brown. As long as Brown does not try to be Pat White he should be fine.

West Virginia is deep at running back and wide receiver but have four new starters on the offensive line. Expect a big year from Noel Devine because if things get rough with Brown, he will be their safety net.

Biggest reason for concern: Jarrett Brown may be a senior but after him West Virginia is very thin at quarterback. Behind him is Bradley Starks, who has thrown one collegiate pass since being at West Virginia.

Not only will he be the number two quarterback, Starks will also line up at receiver on more than one occasion. Also, replacing Ryan Stancheck and Greg Isdaner on the offensive line will not be easy.

Defense: This is West Virginia's strength. The Mountaineers get Reed Williams back, along with six starters from last years defense. West Virginia is talented in the secondary, as well as the defensive line, so expect the Mountaineer to be one of the best, if not the best in the Big East.

Biggest reason for concern: I do not see too many holes in this West Virginia defense. Their starters have a lot of experience, and so do their backups. If I am Jeff Mullen, I do not see any reason for concern.

Special Teams: West Virginia ranked 118th out of 120 teams last season in kickoff return coverage and it is vital for them to improve on that this year. They also lost Pat McAfee who kicked and punted for the Mountaineers.

Replacing McAfee at kicker is freshman Tyler Bitancurt and at punter is senior Scott Kozlowski. Brandon Hogan will be returning punts and kicks but I would not expect him to be there long with freshman phenom Tavon Austin knocking at the door.

Predicted Order of Finish

1. West Virginia
2. Cincinnati
3. South Florida
4. Rutgers
5. Pittsburgh
6. Connecticut
7. Louisville
8. Syracuse