Big East Preview

BIG EAST PREVIEW:

The future of the Big East has been very hard to pin down with all the comings and goings. Luckily, we don't have to worry about that until NEXT year! Things are pretty easy in 2012. West Virginia is gone, having moved on to the Big 12 (see yesterday's Big 12 conference preview in the archives). Temple has moved over from the MAC to replace them...which by itself represents a massive downgrade. That's it. West Virginia out, Temple in.

This will be the last season for Pittsburgh and Syracuse, who will be heading to the ACC next year. It will be interesting to see what kind of bad blood that brings up once league play begins. This has been a fairly stable football conference for awhile, at least in terms of those two longtime members. Things could get testy. Heck, things WILL get testy.

The absence of West Virginia throws the race wide open. Louisville is the consensus favorite because they went 5-2 in the Big East last year and stunned West Virginia on the road. Of course, they also lost at home to Florida International and Marshall, and lost their postseason bowl game to NC State. The best in the Big East are capable of getting occasional results. They're so inconsistent though that handicappers have to be very careful about trusting them with big Las Vegas bets.

Let's see how things look heading into the new season...

BIG EAST

LOUISVILLE
Athlon Ranking: 23rd
2011 Total Offense: 103rd
2011 Total Defense: 23rd
Strength: Rush Defense (10th)
Weakness: Rush Offense (93rd)
Returning Starters: 6 on offense, 6 on defense
Head Coach: Charlie Strong
Notebook: It's hard to get excited about the 103rd ranked offense in the nation, even if the starting QB returns. The Cards played a very weak schedule last year...yet STILL had horrible offensive numbers. Some of last year's league nailbiters could easily go the other way, creating even more of a mess than we already have. That Athlon ranking of 23 is indefensible. The Cardinals might end up ranking that high in the polls by stringing together wins against an easy schedule. Nobody would think of them as top 25 caliber if they played in the SEC, Big 12, or Big 10. That Athlon assessment might be 30 spots too high in terms of real football. Note that if you average Louisville's offensive and defensive ranking from last year, you get 63rd best. Versus a weak schedule! Maybe September results vs. Kentucky and North Carolina will change our minds.

SOUTH FLORIDA
Athlon Ranking: 34th
2011 Total Offense: 30th
2011 Total Defense: 39th
Strength: Rush Defense (15th)
Weakness: Pass Defense (83rd)
Returning Starters: 6 on offense, 7 on defense
Head Coach: Skip Holtz
Notebook: B. J. Daniels is back at quarterback. He hasn't been as good as his hype. But, he's definitely a plus by Big East standards. The concern here is the team has no idea how to play in close games. After a 4-0 start that included a road win at Notre Dame (helped by a lot of ND turnovers), the Bulls were a pathetic 1-6 in conference action. That included close losses to Cincinnati, Rutgers, and West Virginia. South Florida also lost a November non-conference game to Miami by a field goal. Until this coach and quarterback get over the hump at this level of competition, you can't pencil in big things. We do realize that the stage is set for a "take no prisoners" revenge romp through Big East play this year for this group.

PITTSBURGH
Athlon Ranking: 45th
2011 Total Offense: 88th
2011 Total Defense: 35th
Strength: Rush Defense (21st)
Weakness: Pass Offense (77th)
Returning Starters: 9 on offense, 5 on defense
Head Coach: Paul Chryst
Notebook: Chryst is the former offensive coordinator for Wisconsin, which means you're going to see a smash-mouth approach re-installed here after a brief experiement with the run-and-gun of Todd Graham. Graham got out of Dodge as soon as he could when he realized that the state of Pennsylvania just doesn't produce the kind of high school athletes you need for a spread approach. Chryst's style is at least suited to the region. He will have an experienced offense led by senior Tino Sunseri. September tussles with Cincinnati and Virginia Tech will provide early tests. You longtime readers know that we're generally down on this conference every season. We're interested to see if Chryst can make an immediate impact. This is definitely a league where smart people can have a quick impact.

RUTGERS
Athlon Ranking: 46th
2011 Total Offense: 99th
2011 Total Defense: 14th
Strength: Pass Defense (9th)
Weakness: Rush Offense (112th)
Returning Starters: 5 on offense, 8 on defense
Head Coach: Kyle Flood
Notebook: Greg Schiano was a surprise hire by Tampa Bay of the NFL. We can't imagine how anyone could look over Schiano's annually disappointing resume at Rutgers and assume he's ready for pro football! Blowout home September losses for Rutgers had become a staple of the program...which finally stopped ESPN from calling them "the Michigan of New Jersey." This year's group has experience on defense...and they graded out well last year vs. a weak schedule. And, there are two different QB's who have seen some action. If this becomes a "name out of a hat" conference, it wouldn't surprise us to see that critical experience pushing Rutgers over the top. Having a new coach isn't necessarily a negative in the Big East. Should the league race get interesting, Rutgers plays host to Louisville in the season finale.

CINCINNATI
Athlon Ranking: 56th
2011 Total Offense: 61st
2011 Total Defense: 42nd
Strength: Rush Defense (6th)
Weakness: Pass Defense (99th)
Returning Starters: 4 on offense, 7 on defense
Head Coach: Butch Jones
Notebook: We're five teams down on the list before we get to the new quarterback. That's good news for the Big East in general, but bad news for the Bearcats who lost a lot of production at the position last year as well as at running back. Tough to build from scratch on that side of the ball...and that side of the ball only ranked 61st last year nationally anyway! This is why Cincy is seen as a cut below those first four in the Preseason assessments. No dispute from us. We will look at this team in dangerous dog spots, particularly if the offense isn't too big a disaster in early action.

SYRACUSE
Athlon Ranking: 67th
2011 Total Offense: 90th
2011 Total Defense: 64th
Strength: Rush Defense (32nd)
Weakness: Pass Offense (98th)
Returning Starters: 5 on offense, 7 on defense
Head Coach: Doug Marone
Notebook: Seven games into last season, Syracuse was 5-2 and had knocked off West Virginia by a 49-23 margin. Sure, three overtime games in the first half of the campaign had made it clear that Syracuse wasn't going to be dominant each and every week. But, they were a real threat to win the conference and play in a major bowl. Syracuse would lose its last five games, failing to qualify for a bowl of any type! They need to recover from that gut buster before dreaming big dreams in 2012. Quarterback Ryan Nassib is back, which gives the team a fighting chance whenever they take the field. The defense needs to work on conditioning so they don't disappear in November.

CONNECTICUT
Athlon Ranking: 69th
2011 Total Offense: 108th
2011 Total Defense: 51st
Strength: Rush Defense (3rd)
Weakness: Pass Defense (113th)
Returning Starters: 6 on offense, 8 on defense
Head Coach: Paul Pasqualoni
Notebook: Pasqualoni took over a tough situation, and helped the program grind out a 5-7 season. Nothing pretty. But, then it never is with UCONN given their limited recruiting base and slow home turf. Returning experience on defense should help the grinding continue. We're not optimistic about much changing longterm for the Huskies. Pasqualoni eventually wore out his welcome at Syracuse. He does deserve credit for helping the team avoid what could have been a train wreck season.

TEMPLE
Athlon Ranking: 73rd
2011 Total Offense: 63rd
2011 Total Defense: 12th
Strength: Rush Offense (7th)
Weakness: Pass Offense (116th)
Returning Starters: 2 on offense, 5 on defense
Head Coach: Steve Aldazio
Notebook: Temple was a nice story last year, when they posted a winning record in the MAC then drilled Wyoming in the New Mexico Bowl. We'll get a good read on how the Big East compares to the MAC with this transition. Though, Temple did lose a lot of talent from that 2011 squad. If the Owls fare well over here, it will be REALLY embarrassing for the Big East. We're going to assume the worst at first with only two offensive starters returning for a team that's probably stepping up in class. If newcomers shine vs. Maryland and Penn State in September, there will be a chance to avoid the cellar for sure.

That wraps up a busy weekend, with 10 teams in yesterday's Big 12 breakdown, and eight more today. Our college previews resume NEXT weekend with the Pac 12. We'll look at Oregon, Stanford, and the rest of the North on Saturday. BCS championship threat USC highlights the look at the South on Sunday. The SEC will come the weekend after that. Then, we'll look at the Big Ten just hours before Michigan State plays Boise State and Michigan takes on Alabama in a pair of huge opening week thrillers for that conference.

For you NFL fans, our Divisional previews continue this week with the NFC quartet Monday through Thursday.

After a summer of waiting, it's great that football is finally here! Be sure you take advantage of the early bird rates for seasonal packages. Details are available at 1-800-323-4453. Remember to check on combination packages for football and baseball when you call.

See you Monday with our look at the NFC East. The New York Giants won the Super Bowl last year. The Philadelphia Eagles are the choice of many to go the distance this year. Of course, the Dallas Cowboys aren't going to sit idly by while other teams get all the attention. And, oh...by the way...the electric Robert Griffin III now plays for Washington! Another great year for another great division...helping to set up another great year for the greatest man in handicapping, WORLD CHAMPION JIM HURLEY

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Nov

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