Monday, August 18, 2008

2008 College Football Conference Predictions: Big East

For all the grief that the Big East used to get back in the early part of the decade, this league has built itself into a legitimate BCS Conference. Take a look at the performances of the top teams in the league in bowl games over the past few years:
2008 Fiesta Bowl: West Virginia 48, Oklahoma 28
2007 Orange Bowl: Louisville 24, Wake Forest 13
2006 Sugar Bowl: West Virginia 38, Georgia 35
2006 Liberty Bowl: Louisville 44, Boise State 40
In addition to the traditional conference powers listed above, South Florida and Rutgers have made a few appearances in the Top 10 over the past couple of seasons. UConn and Cincinnati are no pushovers, and Pittsburgh has themselves ready to push back toward respectability under Dave Wannstedt.

South Florida and West Virginia again appear to be the class of the league. The Bulls return 17 starters (10 on offense) and should be able to carry the momentum through the latter half of the season, which they failed to do in 2007. However, it is the return of the league's best player, QB Pat White, that compels me to select West Virginia to win the Big East this season. The Mountaineers have a new head coach in Bill Stewart, a 9-year assistant in Morgantown. He'll continue to run the same spread that Coach Rich Rodriguez made famous before bolting to Ann Arbor. This should allow White and RB Noel Devine to thrive. West Virginia should win the league thanks to a home date with South Florida to close the season, and will also likely challenge for a National Title. The home date with Auburn in late October may decide their ultimate fate for the BCS.

South Florida might have the best talent in the league top to bottom. Pitt gets a very light non-conference schedule, and Rutgers should be able to carry the momentum of the last few seasons forward. Louisville and UConn will be good enough to be competitive with everyone in the league. Cincinnati will take a step back from last year's 10 win season, and Syracuse will continue to hold down the cellar.

2008 Big East Predictions
1. West Virginia Mountaineers (Predicted Overall Record: 12-0, Predicted Conference Record: 7-0)
Key Non-Conference Game: vs Auburn 10/23
Key Conference Game: vs South Florida 12/6
Key Players: QB Pat White, RB Noel Devine, LB Reed Williams, S Quinton Andrews
The Mountaineers just do everything better than anyone else in the league. Despite the hiccup in Morgantown in the Backyard Brawl to close last season and cost themselves a BCS Title Game bid, they have the best home field advantage in the league. Defensive line and secondary are a concern, but WVU should outscore most everybody they play. The Auburn game on a Thursday night might be the biggest home game in school history. If the Mountaineers get through that one, expect to see them in the National Title discussion in early December.

2. South Florida Bulls (11-1, 6-1)
Key Non-Conference Game: vs Kansas 9/13
Key Conference Game: at West Virginia 12/6
Key Players: QB Matt Grothe, RB Mike Ford, DE George Selvie, LB Tyrone McKenzie
The Bulls are just a little behind West Virginia as far as offense is concerned. Grothe was terrific running and throwing in the first half of the season, but fell off in the 2nd half. If he can be consistent throughout the year, the Bulls could be very good. Defense is the best in the league, anchored by Selvie, a 1st team All-American last season (31.5 tackles for loss in '07.) After the first 6 games of the season, USF gets 3 open dates before they have to go to Morgantown. That game could be the biggest in Big East history.

3. Pittsburgh Panthers (10-2, 5-2)
Key Non-Conference Game: at Notre Dame 11/1
Key Conference Game: vs West Virginia 11/28
Key Players: RB LeSean McCoy, WR Derek Kinder, DE Greg Romeus, LB Scott McKillop
Pitt expects to ride the wave of the monumental upset in Morgantown to close the season, into a strong showing in 2007. McCoy is one of the better RBs in the country, and the defense finally figures to show its potential under Wannstedt (who's forte is that side of the ball.) The Panthers probably aren't quite good enough to beat West Virginia this season, or South Florida, but given that Rutgers and Louisville come to Pittsburgh, I like them to win the rest of their conference games.

4. Rutgers Scarlet Knights (9-3, 4-3)
Key Non-Conference Game: vs Fresno State 9/1
Key Conference Game: at Pittsburgh 10/25
Key Players: WR Kenny Britt, OT Anthony Davis, S Courtney Greene, DE Jamaal Westerman
Rutgers was actually a mild disappointment last season, losing 5 games following a magical 10 win season in 2006. 15 starters return this year, including 8 on defense. With a senior QB in Mike Teel and the best WR corps in the league, I might normally pick Rutgers to do a little better and perhaps challenge for the conference crown. Unfortunately for them, the Scarlet Knights travel to Morgantown and Tampa. Still, it should be another good season for Greg Schiano.

5. Louisville Cardinals (8-4, 3-4)
Key Non-Conference Game: vs Kansas State 9/17
Key Conference Game: at Rutgers 12/4
Key Players: QB Hunter Cantwell, C Eric Wood, DT Earl Heyman, CB Woodny Turenne
2007 was an utter disaster for first-year head coach Steve Kragthorpe. After starting the season in the Top 10, the Cardinals lost to Kentucky early in the year, followed that up with a major embarrassment at home against Syracuse, ended up losing 6 games and missed out on a bowl for the first time in a while. The season ending victory over Rutgers helped ease the pain, but the damage was done. Things should be better this year, but still not up to the standards that Bobby Petrino set. There is some talent to replace on both sides of the ball, but Cantwell and a solid WR corps should be able to put up some points.

6. Connecticut Huskies (6-6, 2-5)
Key Non-Conference Game: at North Carolina 10/4
Key Conference Game: at Louisville 9/26
Key Players: RB Andre Dixon, TE Steve Brouse, PK Tony Ciaravino, CB Darius Butler
The Huskies won 9 games in 2007, and return 17 starters. Normally the formula for a strong showing in 2008, but the schedule is a killer. Non-conference games vs Virginia and at UNC, and road games against all the teams they'd otherwise challenge for conference position (Louisville and Rutgers.) Tyler Lorenzen is back at QB, but the offense may struggle again against the better teams in the league. The defense could be a strength, especially up front.

7. Cincinnatti Bearcats (6-7, 1-6)
Key Non-Conference Game: at Hawaii 12/6
Key Conference Game: vs Rutgers 10/11
Key Players: WR Dominick Goodman, WR Marcus Barnett, DT Terrell Byrd, CB DeAngelo Smith
After the news that QB Ben Mauk would not be allowed eligibility for a 6th year in college, the Bearcats return only 12 starters, including very little RB experience. The defense will be a question mark, although this is a senior laden group that might surprise a few people. Cincinnati was strong against the run last season, and if they can duplicate that in 2007, they could finish higher than I'm expecting. Brian Kelly did a great job in 2007 leading Cincy to 10 wins. Even if he takes a step back this season, he'll have the Bearcats back toward the top of the league again soon.

8. Syracuse Orange (2-10, 0-7)
Key Non-Conference Game: at Northwestern 8/30
Key Conference Game: vs Louisville 11/1
Key Players: WR Mike Williams, RB Averin Collier, DT Arthur Jones, KR Max Suter
The 'Cuse was able to sneak up on Louisville early last season, then promptly lost the remainder of their conference games. They won a single Big East game the year prior, none the year before. This season doesn't figure to be much better, with only 7 starters returning on each side of the ball. Most of the top skill guys are back, led by QB Andrew Robinson. Collier is a freshman that could be very good, eventually. The problem is that this team couldn't really run against anybody last year, thanks largely to a weak offensive line. The best thing Syracuse has going for it is special teams. Suter set an NCAA record as a true freshman in kickoff return yardage. He returned alot of kicks, and probably will again this year.


Anonymous said...

Bookmarked, so i can flame the hell out of you at season's end. ;)

No way WVU goes undefeated and NO WAY IN HELL South Florida only loses 1 game.

But it was a good read.

JJ said...

I knew I'd get some grief about that. Honestly it was hard for me to find a loss on West Virginia's schedule. I'm not sold on Auburn this season, and they get USF up in Morgantown. The most likely spot is at Pittsburgh, but I get the feeling they are going to be ramped up for that one. The likelihood is that they won't win 'em all, but I couldn't find a game to go out on a limb on.

As for USF, same deal. No "tough" road games except for the trip to WVU. They probably do trip up against somebody else in conference though. I think they learned alot from last season's collapse, and Leavitt is a GREAT coach. We'll see.

Thanks for reading and glad you enjoyed it.

Worm said...

I like Rutgers in this league. Like you said, they were dissappointing last year and return a lot of starters. WVU is one of the overrated teams in the country. They are taking a big hit in coaching this season in my opinion. As far as South Florida, I just don't see it. Like you said, the conference is actually respectable and none of these teams are talented enough to run the table.

Otto said...

I'm going out on a limb and taking Pitt to win the BE. The Soph RB and a improving D will get it done.

I think WVU loses to AU, Pitt (revenge blah blah) and one more along the way.

Anonymous said...

Is a reminder of the 2006 Sugar Bowl really necessary?

Otto said...

What does the 06 Sugar bowl have to do with who wins the BE????

I understand it was a huge win for WVU but it seems like it is the only thing the fans know how to type.

Pitt is going to ride L. McCoy and D. Wannstedt's mustache to a BCS bid. I would take McCoy over Devine any day of the week. PW is a stud but has been knocked out of some important games...will he last the season???????

Bop said...

What the heck...I'll pick Cincy.