The Pi-Rate Ratings

August 16, 2010

2010 Big East Conference Preview

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2010 Big East Conference Preview

 

Today, we begin coverage of the BCS Conferences.  The Big East gets little respect from among the “Big Six” leagues, and the last two BCS Bowl seasons have instilled that opinion.  Undefeated Cincinnati fell in the Sugar Bowl to Florida by 27 points last year and by 13 points to Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl the year before.  West Virginia lost to Florida State in the Gator Bowl.  On the bright side, Pittsburgh, Connecticut, South Florida, and Rutgers won their bowl games last year.

The Big East race figures to be exciting this year as five teams could vie for the conference title.  The next two could surprise a few teams.  Only Louisville figures to have no chance of becoming bowl eligible.

Note: The PiRate Ratings are not meant to be used to predict the outcome of future games.  They are usable only as a basis for the current week’s games.  We do not use these ratings to make our selections.  They are only a starting point.  The predictions given below, as for every college conference and NFL division, are not taken from the ratings themselves.

Predictions

Pos Team B E Overall
1 Pittsburgh 6-1 9-3
2 West Virginia 6-1 10-2
3 Connecticut 5-2 9-3
4 Cincinnati 4-3 7-5
5 South Florida 4-3 7-5
6 Rutgers 2-5 6-6
7 Syracuse 1-6 4-8
8 Louisville 0-7 3-9

 

BCS Bowl: Pittsburgh

Champs Sports Bowl: Notre Dame (contractually allowed to take any BE bid)

Meineke Car Care Bowl: West Virginia

Pinstripe Bowl: Connecticut

PapaJohns.com Bowl: South Florida

St. Petersburg Bowl: Cincinnati

 

 

Team By Team Breakdown

 

Team Cincinnati Bearcats
               
Head Coach Butch Jones
               
Colors Red and Black
               
City Cincinnati, OH
               
2009 Record              
Conference 7-0
Overall 12-1
               
PiRate Rating 110.8
               
National Rating 35
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 4-3
Overall 7-5

 

Offense: The Bearcats lost a lot of manpower, most notably their head coach.  Brian Kelly left the Queen City for Notre Dame.  New head man Butch Jones has done this before.  He replaced Kelly at Central Michigan in 2007. 

Jones inherited Dan LeFevour from Kelly at CMU.  He inherits Zach Collaros here.  Collaros replaced Tony Pike in the middle of the season after Pike was injured, and Collaros completed 75% of his passes and gained an amazing 11.6 yards per attempt with 10 touchdowns to just two inteceptions!    Expect him to be one of the leading runners in this offense, as he rushed for better than six yards per attempt.  Collaros will be one of three league quarterbacks competing for 1st Team All-Big East honors.

The receiving corps is missing its leader from a year ago.  Mardy Gilyard will be catching Sam Bradford’s passes this year in St. Louis after grabbing 87 balls for almost 1,200 yards last year.  Look for Armon Binns to top 80 catches this season.  He caught 61 passes for 888 yards and 11 touchdowns.  D.J. Woods had 51 catches as a third option last year, and he should help free up space for Binns.  Tight end Ben Guidugli is a better pass receiver than run blocker, and he should catch at least 30 passes this year.

The running game was not a strength last year.  UC rushed for just 166 yards in their last three games.  Starting tailback Isaiah Pead rushed for over 800 yards, but he is actually more valuable as a pass receiver coming out of the backfield.

The offensive line returns three starters, including a pair of all-conference guards in Alex Hoffman and Jason Kelce.

The Bearcats scored 39 points per game last year.  While they won’t repeat that output, they could still lead the Big East in offense.  We figure they should score about 30-33 points and produce 400-425 yards of offense.

Defense: It was a “Tale of Two Seasons” for UC on this side of the ball in 2009.  After surrendering 15, 3, 18, 20, 13, 17, 10, and 7 points in their first eight games, they gave up 45, 21, 36, 44, and 51 in their final five.  They lost six starters from this side of the ball, so opponents could beat the Bearcats in multiple shootout games.

Three defensive line starters must be replaced.  The lone returnee is tackle Derek Wolfe, who recorded five sacks and three other stops for loss.  Both new starting ends saw a lot of action last year; Brandon Mills and Dan Giordano combined for 15 stops behind the line, so this unit isn’t as inexperienced as it looks.

Two starters return at linebacker.  J.K. Schaffer had 100 tackles, and he proved to be an excellent pass defender.  He had three interceptions and knocked away three other passes.  The loss of leading tackler Andre Revels will hurt.

The secondary could be a liability this year.  UC gave up 63.6% completions and 230 yards last year.  They lose their top pass defender, so teams could pass them silly.

The Bearcats will give up more points and yards this year.  Expect their defensive numbers to fall to 26-30 points and 400-425 yards allowed.

Schedule: UC should equal their 2009 loss total in the first week of the season.  The Bearcats venture to Fresno State.  FSU nearly beat them last year at Nippert Stadium.  Other non-conference games include Indiana State and Miami (Ohio) at home, North Carolina State on the road, and Oklahoma at Paul Brown Stadium (The Cincinnati Bengals’ home stadium). 3-2 is the best they can do in these games.

In the Big East, UC hosts South Florida, Syracuse, Rutgers, and Pittsburgh.  They could force a multiple-team tie at the top at 5-2 if they can upset Pitt or West Virginia, but we believe their defense will be too generous.  Call it another winning season and bowl bid, but the bowl will be before New Year’s Day.

Team Connecticut Huskies
               
Head Coach Randy Edsall
               
Colors Navy and White
               
City Storrs, Ct
               
2009 Record              
Conference 3-4
Overall 8-5
               
PiRate Rating 113.2
               
National Rating 27
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 5-2
Overall 9-3

 

Offense: Connecticut football gets no respect.  They are the Rodney Dangerfield’s of the BCS.  The Huskies are known for their basketball.  They compete in the greater New York City Metro area, where football is all about the Giants and Jets first, Rutgers second, and everybody else third.

Any defense that fails to give UConn respect this season will be licking its wounds on Sunday morning.  The Huskies are loaded on this side of the ball with most of their weapons from 2009 returning plus the addition of a summer transfer escaping the Kiffin Circus.

Coach Randy Edsall has spurned offers to move elsewhere, and he has methodically built the Huskies into a 21st Century version of Woody Hayes’ Ohio State “Three yards and a cloud of dust.”  Connecticut can pound the ball up the middle and slant off-tackle from their shotgun spread offense with the same results Hayes got from his full-house T in the 1950’s and I in the 1960’s and 70’s.

The Huskies had two, 1,000-yard backs last year—Jordan Todman and Andre Dixon.  Dixon departs, but fret not Husky fans; enter Southern Cal transfer D.J. Shoemate, who will not have to sit out a year.  Shoemate is not only a big punishing runner, he is a great pass receiver.  Shoemate and Dixon will give UConn another great tandem and should combine for more than 2,500 total yards and 30+ touchdowns.

Those two cannot do it alone.  They have to have room to run, and the Huskies have an exceptional blocking wall up front, buoyed by the return of four starters.  This unit is the class of the league, and they will provide those holes for UConn to lead the league in rushing.

If any improvement can be made in the passing game, Connecticut could emerge as league champions.  Quarterback Zach Frazer was highly regarded when he signed out of high school with Notre Dame.  The senior should enjoy his best season this year as the full-time starter.  He completed just 53.2% of his passes last year and he was intercepted nine times (4.1%).  Backup Cody Endres is more of a pure passer, but he doesn’t have the wheels Frazer has.

The biggest concern on this side of the ball is an inexperienced receiving corps.  Kashif Moore is the leading returning pass catcher, but he only caught 22 passes.  However, one of those catches was perhaps the top touchdown reception in the country.  He took an off-target pass on the sideline and caught it one-handed, scoring without breaking stride against South Carolina in the PapaJohns.com Bowl.

Connecticut won’t look flashy, but the Green Bay Packers won a lot of championships by not being flashy.  Expect the Huskies to top 200 yards per game on the ground and approach 400 total while topping 30 points per game.

Defense: An offense that churns out rushing yards and eats the clock tends to make an average defense look much better.  With three starters returning to the defensive line and two to the linebacking corps, the Huskies should continue to play well on this side of the ball.

One player missing from the line is 2nd Team All-Big East linebacker, move to end, Greg Lloyd.  A knee injury has forced him to take a medical redshirt.  Trevardo Williams will take his place; he saw action in all 13 games last year.  He’ll join Jesse Joseph, Kendall Reyes, and Twyon Martin to form a formidable, but not spectacular, front line.

The second line of defense returns the team’s number one and three tacklers.  Lawrence Wilson and Scott Lutrus should both earn 1st Team All-Big East honors this year after teaming for 170 tackles, 16 ½ for losses, including 8 ½ sacks.

The weak spot of this defense will be the secondary, as two all-conference players have departed.  Cornerback Blidi Wreh-Wilson had six broken up passes and one interception.

The pass defense will be what keeps the Huskies from winning the conference championship this year.  Still, this is a team capable of topping last year’s 8-5 season.  The five losses came by 2, 3, 4, 4, and 2 points.

Schedule: The opening game will be very interesting, as UConn travels to the Big House to take on Michigan.  That game should be a toss-up.  The other four non-conference games should be wins, as the Huskies host Texas Southern, play at Temple, and then host rebuilding Buffalo and a weak Vanderbilt team.

The Huskies get the top two Big East teams at home, facing West Virginia on Friday, October 29 and Pittsburgh on Veterans’ Day, Thursday, November 11.  The schedule sets up perfectly for Connecticut to win both of these games; they precede West Virginia with lowly Louisville and get a week off to prepare for the Panthers.

If the passing game develops at all, and the secondary gets enough help from the pass rush to be just average, you could be looking at the next Big East champions.  We’ll go with 9-3 and a trip to Yankee Stadium for the first Pinstripe Bowl.

Team Louisville Cardinals
               
Head Coach Charlie Strong
               
Colors Red and Black
               
City Louisville, KY
               
2009 Record              
Conference 1-6
Overall 4-8
               
PiRate Rating 95.1
               
National Rating 74
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 0-7
Overall 3-9

 

Offense: Just a few years ago, Louisville wasn’t far from becoming the next Florida State.  Then Coach Bobby Petrino’s offense was the best in the nation, scoring 50 points per game en route to an 11-1 season in 2004.  Two years later, UL finished 12-1 and won the Orange Bowl.

Things changed in the three years Steve Kragthorpe coached the team.  The once mighty offense crashed and burned, falling all the way to 18 points and 334 yards last year.  Enter a new head coach.  Charlie Strong comes in after serving as Florida’s defensive coordinator.  He will try to institute Urban Meyer’s spread offense here.

Strong made a great move in bringing in former UNLV head coach Mike Sanford to run the offense.  Sanford was Utah’s offensive coordinator when Meyer was there.  Unfortunately, Strong could not bring Alex Smith with him.

Three players are competing for the quarterback job, and if the coaches know who will start, they are not letting on.  Adam Froman, Justin Burke, and Will Stein have been alternating snaps in practice.  True freshman Dominique Brown was an option quarterback in high school, and he could be tried at other positions.  However, for now, he will be in the mix here.  No matter who lines up behind center for the opening game, don’t expect anything Earth-shattering.

The running game has a chance to develop into something with the healthy return of Victor Anderson.  Playing only in eight games and never really fully healthy, he gained 473 yards and scored five times. 

Two of last year’s starting wide outs graduated, leaving lone holdover Doug Beaumont and tight end Cameron Graham as the only two experienced receivers.  Neither will remind anybody of Harry Douglas.  Of the new starters, watch for giant 6-9 wide out Josh Chichester to be utilized in short yardage and goalline situations where he the ball will be tossed in the air for him to jump up and take.

The offensive line is the strength of this offense, as four starters return.  There aren’t any all-stars here, but there is a lot of depth.

Look for Louisville to struggle at times in this new offense.  They will have to rely too much on the running game, and another injury to Anderson would be too much to overcome.  Expect about 16-20 points and 325-350 yards.

Defense: This is the reason Louisville will stay in last place for the third straight season.  The Cardinals actually improved defensively the last two years, but since the offense regressed even more, the won-loss record worsened.  Only four starters return on this side of the ball, and even with the defensive acumen of Coach Strong, he will not be able to mold UL into a fantastic defense this year.

The defensive line lacks talent, but has some experience.  The only quality player up front graduate, so this will be a major liability this year.

Don’t expect much better performance from the linebackers.  Only one of three starters returns, and the two who graduated were the top two tacklers.  It would be a major plus if Southern Cal transfer Jordan Campbell actually showed up on campus before the season began.  He could lead the Cardinals in tackles and form a decent one-two-three punch with Antwon Canady and Dexter Heyman. 

The secondary has a chance to be better than average, especially if former Michigan signee Demar Dorsey can become eligibile.  Dorsey could start from day one.  Returning regular Johnny Patrick and new starter Anthony Conner give the Cards a nice set of cornerbacks.

Louisville has a long road ahead before they rebuild enough to return to the plus side of .500.  Expect baby steps in year one of the Strong administration.  The Cards will give up 28 points and 375+ yards per game.

Schedule: As usual, UL opens with Kentucky for the Governor’s Cup.  The Wildcats have won the last three, and they should make it four in a row.  UL then gets Eastern Kentucky at home, and the Colonels gave both Indiana and Kentucky fits last year.  A road game against Oregon State could get ugly, and then after a week off, a road game against Arkansas State should give the Cards a second chance at a win.  Memphis comes to Papa John’s Stadium the following week, and the Tigers will treat this like a bowl game.  It will be hard fought.  It will also be UL’s last chance at a win this year, as they are clearly the weakest team in the Big East.  They must play at Syracuse and Rutgers, the teams that should finish in 7th and 6th place.

Team Pittsburgh Panthers
               
Head Coach Dave Wannstedt
               
Colors Blue and Gold
               
City Pittsburgh, PA
               
2009 Record              
Conference 5-2
Overall 10-3
               
PiRate Rating 110.5
               
National Rating 37
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 6-1
Overall 10-2

 

Offense: Since returning to his alma mater, Coach Dave Wannstedt has been a recruiting monster.  The Panthers have not signed so many talented players since Jackie Sherrill patrolled the sidelines in the early 1980’s.  Last year, Pitt topped 30 points per game, and even though they lost a majority of their starters, there is enough talent returning to make this another successful season on this side of the ball.

Let’s start with the player that earned 2nd Team All-American honors as a true freshman.  Dion Lewis drew comparisons to the great Tony Dorsett after rushing for 1,799 yards and 17 touchdowns.  He found time to catch 25 passes for another 189 yards.  Backup Ray Graham injured his knee in a scrimmage over the weekend.  If he is okay, expect him to get a few more carries this year.  He rushed for 349 yards, and actually averaged a tad more per carry than Lewis.

The backs may have to shoulder the load this year, because the Panthers will be breaking in a new quarterback after losing Bill Stull to graduation.  Sophomore Tino Sunseri has limited experience, but he’s got a rifle for an arm.

The receiving corps took a minor hit with the departure of the numbers two and three receivers, but top man Jon Baldwin returns after averaging nearly 20 yards on 57 receptions.  Wannstedt likes to throw to his tight ends, and he has two youngsters with a lot of promise in Mike Cruz (6-5, 270) and Brock DeCicco (6-5, 235).

The offensive line is strong at tackle, but the inside blockers are untested.  Lucas Nix and Jason Pinkston could both make all-conference teams (Pinkston was 1st Team All-Big East in 2009), but three new starters must be found at center and guard.

Even with the questions in the blocking wall, we think the Panthers will continue to move the ball with force.  The backs will run the ball off tackle, and the passing game will continue to stretch the defense vertically.  Look for 26-30 points and 375-400 yards.

Defense: The stop side has improved the last three years, and Pitt gave up just 19.8 points per game last year.  The Panthers led the nation in quarterback sacks with 47 and return most of the players who contributed to the great pass rush.

One cause for concern is the status of star end Greg Romeus.  He led the Panthers with eight sacks last year, but as of this writing, he has seen only limited action in practice due to muscle spasms.  He should be okay for the regular season, but this will be a story to follow as September draws near.  Jabal Sheard had five sacks, and he gives Pitt the best pair of ends in the league.

Three outstanding linebackers comprise the second line of defense.  Greg Williams, Max Gruder, and Dan Mason may not be 1st team All-Big East material yet, but any of the three could earn 2nd team honors this year.

The secondary benefits greatly from having the best pass rush in the nation up front.  The only question mark on this side of the ball is at cornerback where two new starters will line up.  Both Antwuan Reed and Ricky Gary saw a goodly amount of action last year, but neither will match the production of Aaron Berry (11 passes defensed).  Safeties Jarred Holley and Dom DeCicco both picked off three passes last year and knocked away three others.

Look for another stellar year on this side of the ball.  The Panthers might give up a few more points and a dozen more yards per game this year, but their schedule is much tougher.  Call it 21-24 points and 325-350 yards allowed.

Schedule: It starts with a road trip to Utah, where the Utes usually win out-of-conference games.  The following week, they host FCS power New Hampshire.  After a week off, they host the Miami Hurricanes.  After a breather at home with Florida International, they travel to Notre Dame.  By this point, Pitt will be out of the national title picture because they will be 3-2 or 2-3 (we say 3-2).  Once conference play begins, Pitt should be 3-0 when they visit Connecticut on Thursday, night, November 11.  We believe they will lose that game, and they will have to sweep their final three games to win the title.  They close with South Florida on the road, West Virginia in the backyard brawl, and Cincinnati on the road.  It is a very tough closing four games, but we believe Pitt has the talent to go 6-1 in the league and earn the BCS Bowl bid.

Team Rutgers Scarlet Knights
               
Head Coach Greg Schiano
               
Colors Scarlet and White
               
City New Brunswick, NJ
               
2009 Record              
Conference 3-4
Overall 9-4
               
PiRate Rating 96.6
               
National Rating 65
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 2-5
Overall 6-6

 

Offense: Last year’s 9-4 season was a bit of a disappointment in New Brunswick.  Rutgers was supposed to contend for the conference title, and they opened the season with a 47-15 loss to Cincinnati when then starting QB Domenic Natale threw three interceptions in the first half.

This year’s offense could take another step backward.  Quarterback Tom Savage returns after taking over the starter’s role in the second half of that awful first game, but he will have a tough time passing this season behind an inexperienced offensive line.

Only two starters return to the offensive line; one of those lost was guard Anthony Davis, the 11th overall player in the NFL Draft.  There is not much experience here either.  Tackle Art Forst is an all-star, but he’s the only star up front.

The receiving corps lost a stud in Tim Brown.  Brown led the Scarlet Knights in receptions, yards, yards per catch, and scored three more touchdowns than the rest of the receivers combined!  There is still talent remaining with Mohammed Sanu.  Sanu caught 51 passes and can get open deep.  He also lines up behind center in the Wildcat Formation, and he was tough to stop.

Rutgers has dropped from 32.8 to 29.0 to 28.8 points per game the last three seasons.  Look for that downward slide to continue.  Call it 24-27 points and 325-350 yards this year.

Defense: The defense was a bright spot for this team after the disastrous opening game.  In the other 12 games, RU gave up less than 16 points and less than 290 yards per game.

Three starters return to the defensive line, including end Alex Silvestro, a 2nd Team All-Big East selection.  Three of the second four return and saw a lot of action, so this unit will once again be strong.

There is room for improvement in the linebacking corps, after the Knights lost their star Mike ‘backer to the NFL.  Antonio Lowery is the best of the group, but he won’t make the 1st or 2nd team all-conference squad.

The secondary loses a first round NFL pick, so it will be tough for this group to match last year’s success.  Opponents passed away from Devin McCourty, and his replacement could be a freshman.

Look for Rutgers to give up 20+ points this year and 320-340 yards.  It will be a weaker defense, but not weak.

Schedule: The Knights will get off to a 2-0 start with games against Norfolk State and Florida International.  After a week off, they host North Carolina, who could have some major issues.  Game four with Tulane should be a breather.  The other non-conference game is against Army at the new Meadowlands Stadium.  Rutgers could go 5-0 outside the league, and they should be no worse than 4-1.  The conference record won’t be as rosy.  Road games with Pittsburgh, South Florida, Cincinnati, and West Virginia are almost sure losses.  Connecticut and Syracuse won’t be easy wins, or wins at all, at home.  The Knights could be 1-6 in league play, but more likely 2-5.  With the easy non-conference schedule, they should squeak into a bowl at 6-6.

Team South Florida Bulls
               
Head Coach Skip Holtz
               
Colors Green and Gold
               
City Tampa, FL
               
2009 Record              
Conference 3-4
Overall 8-5
               
PiRate Rating 106.1
               
National Rating 44
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 4-3
Overall 7-5

 

Offense: Skip Holtz did not have a flashy offense as head coach at East Carolina, so don’t expect the Bulls to look like Cincinnati.  Holtz’s teams played solid, hard-nosed football and rarely beat themselves.

Holtz gets a solid, hard-nosed quarterback in year one in Tampa.  B. J. Daniels is just a sophomore, but he may already be the best quarterback in the league.  He should top 1,000 yards on the ground and 2,000 yards through the air in his first full year as the starter.  If he can grasp the new offense and play to his potential from game one, there is no reason not to think he will be 1st Team All-Big East.

Holtz benefitted from having running backs like Chris Johnson at ECU, but he won’t have a future NFL star on the roster this year.  He’ll have to mold a running game around Daniels and backs Moise Plancher and Demetrius Murray. 

USF will stuggle somewhat at receiver.  A. J. Love might have been a real star this year, but even if he returns from an ACL injury in October, he will not be 100% at any time.  Sterling Griffin may have become the major threat with Love out, but he too is out until October with an ankle injury.  He too won’t be near 100%, and he could redshirt this year.  Dontavia Bogan will have to carry the load, and he is not good enough to catch 80 passes for 1,000 yards.

The offensive line returns all five starters, led by center Sampson Genus.  The opened holes for the running game to average 4.4 yards per carry, but they were not the best pass blockers, giving up 38 sacks.

USF will struggle at times this year, because their offense will be one dimensional, at least until one or both of their star receivers can return.  Look for about 23-26 points and 330-350 yards per game.

Defense: How much weaker will this side of the ball be this year?  They lost four NFL draft picks.  Their top five tacklers are gone.  They lost almost 70% of their sack-makers and 77% of their pass interceptors.

The one bright spot is the hiring of Mark Snyder as defensive coordinator.  He was the head coach at Marshall, and prior to that he was the defensive coordinator for Ohio State (they won their national title during his tenure).

Up front, the Bulls return their starting tackles, but both ends must be replaced.  Those ends were 1st and 7th round draft picks and combined for 10 sacks and 26 stops for loss.  Their replacements have potential, but hardly any experience.

The leading returning tackler starts at Will linebacker.  Sabbath Joseph made 48 tackles and broke up four passes.  Both of the new starters saw considerable action last year, so this unit is in good shape.

The secondary cannot replace Nate Allen and Jerome Murphy, two first day draft choices.  Those two combined for 162 tackles, eight interceptions, and 12 passes broken up.  Expect opposing quarterbacks to throw for as much as 50 yards more per game against USF.

This is going to be a tough first year for Holtz in Tampa.  His familial motivational skills should be good enough to produce a couple of inspired performances, but expect USF to give up 23-27 points and 325-350 yards.

Schedule: Holtz will definitely start his USF career at 1-0, as the Bulls get Stony Brook at home.  He will then endure his first loss the following week at Florida.  After a week off, the Bulls will move to 3-1 with breathers against Western Kentucky and Florida Atlantic.  A November 27 game at Miami will give the Bulls a second out-of-conference loss.  They will need to go 3-4 in the Big East to become bowl eligible for the sixth consecutive year.  We think they will win four league games, and if the two star receivers can return and contribute something close to 100%, they could win an extra game.  At 5-2, they could also end up in a multiple tie for first.

Team Syracuse Orange
               
Head Coach Doug Marrone
               
Colors Orange
               
City Syracuse, NY
               
2009 Record              
Conference 1-6
Overall 4-8
               
PiRate Rating 101.7
               
National Rating 56
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 1-6
Overall 4-8

 

Offense: Second year coach Doug Marrone has the Orange pointed in the right direction.  SU may have to take a detour for one year, because their offense lost six starters. 

Quarterback Ryan Nassib may be better only than whoever starts at Louisville.  The sophomore saw limited action last year behind former Duke basketball star Greg Paulus.  Nassib completed just 52.9% of his passes, many of those being short tosses.

The receiving corps is in the same shape; it is maybe better than one other league team.  Alec Lemon and Marcus Sales both caught fewer than 30 passes last year, and neither has breakaway potential.  Marrone moved defensive back Dorian Graham to receiver, and he plans on using tight ends Nick Provo and David Stevens a lot more this year, possibly going deep over the middle.

The running game returns a familiar face in Delone Carter.  Carter rammed forward for 1,021 yards and 11 touchdowns.  Antwon Brinkley will supplement Carter. 

The offensive line has some reworking to do.  Only two player return to the starting five.  They will be asked to block more for the run, and multiple double team blocks could break the bulldozing backs through for several four and five yard gains.  The ‘Cuse will run the ball between the tackles to force safeties to creep up, and then they will throw deep to the tight ends.  It could be just successful enough to allow the Orange to surprise a team or two.

We believe SU will score about 20-24 points and 325-350 yards a game this year.

Defense: Expect big improvement on this side of the ball, maybe enough to give SU a chance at bowl eligibility.  Nine Starters return after SU improved last year by almost five points per game.

Leading the charges up front is end Chandler Jones, who made 10 stops behind the line.  The entire second unit returns, so there should be some good depth here.

The linebacking corps could have been the best in the league, but Will linebacker E. J. Carter transferred to North Carolina State.  Sam linebacker Doug Hogue and Mike linebacker Derrell Smith return after combining for 154 tackles, 16 sacks, 10 ½ other tackles for loss, and seven passes defended.

Three experienced starters return to the secondary, and two others who saw starting time return as well.  This was a weak spot last year, as the ‘Cuse gave up 65% completions and 235 yards per game.  This group might get burned occasionally by long gains, but they will come up with more big plays this season.

Look for continued improvement overall on this side.  Syracuse will give up 23-26 points and 320-340 yards per game.

Schedule: The Orange won three non-conference games last year, and they should do so again this year (a small chance for four).  They play at Akron and Washington to start the season and host Maine and Colgate the next two weeks.  They close the season at home with Boston College.  They host Louisville in conference play, but it will be difficult (not completely impossible) to find another conference win.  We’ll call for SU to equal last year’s record, but we are not in agreement here.  One of us five believes this is a 7-5 team.

Team West Virginia Mountaineers
               
Head Coach Bill Stewart
               
Colors Navy and Old Gold
               
City Morgantown, WV
               
2009 Record              
Conference 5-2
Overall 9-4
               
PiRate Rating 112.9
               
National Rating 29
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 6-1
Overall 10-2

 

Offense: The Mountaineers’ offense has suffered some since Rich Rodriguez left for Michigan.  Coach Bill Stewart tweaked the offense, and the production dropped by two touchdowns and 90 yards.  Even though he has enjoyed back-to-back 9-4 seasons, WVU fans expected more.  The Mountaineers have a ton of talent, especially on the defensive side this year.  They should contend for the conference championship.

The offense goes through the legs of running back Noel Devine.  Devine should be an early round draft pick next year.  Even though he was banged up last year, he rushed for 1,465 yards and 13 touchdowns, averaging 6.1 yards per carry.  He’s a threat to break one every time he touches the ball.  When WVU needs a crucial yard or two or gets close to the goal line, fullback Ryan Clarke is the man to do the job.  He ran the ball 60 times for 250 yards and scored eight touchdowns. 

The Mountaineers have a new quarterback this year, but Geno Smith should be able to equal the production that last year’s QB, Jarrett Brown, had.  Former star QB Pat White’s younger brother Coley could see some time as well.

The receiving corps needs to find a breakaway threat to stretch the defense for Devine.  Leading receiver Jock Sanders averaged less than 10 yards per catch last year.  Tavon Austin could be the answer.

An experienced offensive line with four starters returning should open holes and protect the new quarterback and provide better rushing and passing numbers.

Look for the Mountaineers to top 30 points per game this year and gain about 400 total yards per game.

Defense: WVU uses a 3-3-5 alignment, and their front three is beefy and experienced, and there is quality depth.  End Julian Miller is a sack machine, picking up nine last season.  He made five other tackles for loss.  The Mountaineers should record 30+ sacks this season.

The top two tacklers return to their linebacking positions.  Pat Lazear and J. T. Thomas combined for 154 tackles, 13 stops behind the line, and eight passes defended.

Four starters return to the secondary, led by two 1st Team All Big-East performers.  Cornerback Brandon Hogan broke up 11 passes and intercepted one last year, while free safety Robert Sands led the team with five picks and eight others broken up.  Rover safety Sidney Glover is equally effective against the run pass.

West Virginia has one of the top two defenses in the league.  Look for the Mountaineers to give up 17-21 points and 300-325 yards per game this year.

Schedule: The schedule is a bit tricky because four of the Mountaineers five non-conference opponents are hard to figure out this year.  There is no mystery to a home game with Coastal Carolina.  A Friday night, 9/10, game at Marshall will be tough.  Marshall coach Doc Holliday knows this team well having been the chief recruiter here.  The following Saturday, WVU hosts Maryland.  Terp coach Ralph Friedgen will more than likely be on a very hot seat at that point, and it could be a must-win game for them.  WVU then goes on the road to LSU.  Les Miles’ seat is even hotter than Friedgen’s, and a loss to WVU will probably seal his fate.  After a week off, the Mountaineers host UNLV, a team in transition with a capable quarterback.  We believe WVU can go 4-1 in these five games.  The Mountaineers have four conference home games, and they could be 5-0 when they go to Pittsburgh on the day after Thanksgiving.  The Backyard Brawl could decide the league title.  We’ll say this team will finish 6-1 but lose the tiebreaker to Pitt.

Coming Tomorrow: The Atlantic Coast Conference has six teams capable of landing in the Top 25.  Could a Memorial Day weekend party in Florida affect the outcome?

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