The Pi-Rate Ratings

August 15, 2018

2018 American Athletic Conference Preview

Note: The preseason ratings you see in the previews may not be the same as the ratings you see for the first game. We update every team’s rating based on player injuries, changes to the depth charts, and other factors that may change during preseason practice.

Some of our Group of 5 Conference won-loss predictions were figured before the beginning of August preseason practices. Thus, it could be that a player or players on some teams have already suffered season-ending or multiple game injuries or have left their teams, and these won-loss predictions no longer accurately reflect our ratings. We hope that by the time we preview the Power 5 conferences, we will know who is not going to be available (players and head coaches).

This American Athletic Conference believes the number one team in the nation played within its jurisdiction last year. No, Alabama did not have some type of adjunct relationship with the league. Central Florida was the lone unbeaten team in the nation in 2017. In addition, the Knights did something Alabama was unable to do–beat Auburn.
The PiRate Ratings not only said that UCF was not the top team in the nation, we believed there were four better teams last year. UCF’s running the table reminded us a lot of Penn State in 1968, when the Nittany Lions went 11-0 and beat Kansas in the Orange Bowl. So what did that Penn State team do for an encore in 1969? They merely went 11-0 again with one of the most aggressive defenses and special teams in college football history.
UCF just might run the table again this year, just like that great Penn State team.

However, they will have an extra impediment that Penn State did not have in 1969. Coach Scott Frost took his marbles and went home to alma mater Nebraska. The Knights will try to become the first team since Toledo in 1970 and 1971 to go undefeated in back-to-back seasons with different head coaches. That Toledo team actually ran the table for three consecutive years.
UCF returns a talented quarterback in McKenzie Milton, two talented running backs in Adrian Killins and Otis Anderson, and two highly-skilled receivers Dredrick Snelson and Gabriel Davis that helped team up for 530+ yards and 48+ points per game. The Knights should continue to pile up yards and points again this year, and if the defense can hold serve and put up similar numbers to last year, UCF has a chance to repeat at 13-0. The toughest roadblocks will be road games with North Carolina and Memphis and a home game with Pittsburgh. The regular season finale at South Florida could be a trap game.

Speaking of South Florida, the Bulls are not quite up to UCF’s talent level, and they undergo a slight rebuilding project this year. A splendid offensive team in 2017, USF must break in a new quarterback, a new running back or backs to replace two highly talented backs, and their leading receiver. Things are not all that rosy on the defensive side of the ball, but the Bulls had a lot of talented depth and should be okay on this side of the ball, especially with a defensive mastermind like Charlie Strong as head coach.

Temple continued to win with new coach Geoff Collins taking over for Matt Rhule last year. Collins might have a hard time topping last year’s seven wins, but the rest of the division is not ready to move up, so the Owls might have a shot at another bowl-eligible season. Temple has some stars on both sides of the ball, foremost being rush end Quincy Roche, who recorded seven sacks as a freshman. He’ll join the finest trio of linebackers in the league, and Temple should hold opponents to 21 to 24 points per game this year. If the offense can take a small move forward, Temple can contend with South Florida for second in the division.

The bottom three teams in the East Division fall far short of the top three. Cincinnati appears to be nearing the end of the Luke Fickell era. After a 4-8 season in 2017, the Bearcats look like a team that will find it hard to even equal that mark this year. Pass defense will be a major issue, and even if the pass rush improves this year, UC may take a backward turn against the run. The result should be another year where opponents average north of 30 points per game.

East Carolina and Connecticut face major rebuilding projects and should both win fewer games than a year ago. That’s not an easy task, as they both won just three times in 2017.

Memphis lost just twice in the regular season last year, but both times, it was to Central Florida. The Tigers host UCF in the middle of the season, and the game could match a pair of ranked and undefeated teams. The only reason why Memphis may not top the Knights is the breaking in of a new quarterback. David Moore can run and pass with talent, but he lacks the experience that Milton has at UCF. The Tigers should have a better defense this year with most of the key players back, but the offense is going to backtrack, and with it will go the Tigers’ conference championship hopes in 2018.

When Major Applewhite became Houston’s head coach last year, he heard an edict from the school’s president that 8-4 will get a coach fired there. Applewhite only mustered seven wins in his first year, and 8-4 may be about what to expect in year two. The question is: will 8-4 be good enough in year two? The Cougars lost too much talent on both sides of the ball to make a legitimate move forward. Every full-time starting skill position player at one set position on offense must be replaced. The one exception is D’Eriq King, who began the season as one of the leading receivers on the team and then moved to quarterback in the second half.

Navy has been to 14 bowls in the last 15 years, and with an experienced quarterback returning to run the double slot option offense, the Midshipmen will make it 15 in 16 years. Coach Ken Niumatalolo’s teams usually improve by a couple of games when his quarterback returns, so look for Navy to challenge for double-digit wins this year.

Unlike the East, the bottom three teams in the West could all contend for bowl eligibility this year. Tulane and SMU played a bowl-qualifier in the regular season’s final week last year. Tulane appeared to have the game won at the end, but an incorrect referee’s call gave the game and the Frisco Bowl bid to the Mustangs. The PiRate Ratings don’t call for it, but we believe Coach Willie Fritz will build on this near-miss and push Tulane to bowl eligibility. Expect quarterback Jonathan Banks to increase the Green Wave’s passing efficiency, especially since his starting receiving corps returns in full. While at Georgia Southern, Fritz’s offenses averaged better than 425 yards and 35 points per game, and if TU can match that amount this year, Fritz will be coaching in December.

SMU must start all over with a new coach and new offensive system. The Mustangs should be okay on offense, but their defense is still a mess, and the new offense may force it to stay on the field a tad more this year. It may take 40 points per game for the Mustangs to win six games and make a bowl game again.

Tulsa has the least chance of the three bottom-half teams to make a bowl this year, and a reduction in their athletic budget could signal some lean times in the near future. Last year, the Golden Hurricane could not move the football through the air, and it led to a sub 30 points per game output, and a year after winning 10 games, Tulsa lost 10 games.

Here is how the American Athletic Conference Media voted in the preseason poll.

American Athletic
East 1st Place Points
1. Central Florida 25 175
2. South Florida 5 140
3. Temple 0 132
4. Cincinnati 0 91
5. Connecticut 0 51
6. East Carolina 0 41
West 1st Place Points
1. Memphis 23 171
2. Houston 4 146
3. Navy 3 129
4. SMU 0 72
5. Tulane 0 68
6. Tulsa 0 44
Championship Game Winner Points
Central Florida 19
Memphis 7
South Florida 3
Houston 1

The PiRate Ratings agree almost completely with the media experts with the exception of flip-flopping Tulane and SMU

American Athletic Conference
East Division
Team AAC Overall PiRate Mean Bias Average
Central Florida 0-0 0-0 110.8 110.4 110.7 110.6
South Florida 0-0 0-0 96.0 99.3 96.9 97.4
Temple 0-0 0-0 95.8 95.8 96.2 95.9
Cincinnati 0-0 0-0 87.1 88.5 86.5 87.3
Connecticut 0-0 0-0 84.1 84.4 82.8 83.8
East Carolina 0-0 0-0 83.1 82.2 82.0 82.4
West Division
Team AAC Overall PiRate Mean Bias Average
Memphis 0-0 0-0 104.2 106.3 105.7 105.4
Houston 0-0 0-0 99.9 101.4 101.0 100.8
Navy 0-0 0-0 98.7 101.7 98.5 99.7
Tulane 0-0 0-0 94.4 94.6 94.0 94.3
SMU 0-0 0-0 95.1 93.8 94.0 94.3
Tulsa 0-0 0-0 91.8 90.3 92.3 91.5
AAC Averages 95.1 95.7 95.1 95.3

New Coaches
The biggest coaching change in all of Group of 5 football is at Central Florida, where former Oklahoma passing phenom Josh Heupel takes over for former Nebraska star Scott Frost. Heupel comes from the spread passing philosophy of Bob Stoops and Mike Leach. Heupel most recently served as offensive coordinator at Missouri, where Drew Lock routinely topped 300 yards passing. What a lot of fans might not know is that Heupel’s Missouri offense also finished in the top half of the SEC’s rushing statistics. UCF will most likely continue to average more than 40 points and 500 yards per game.

SMU welcomes former Louisiana Tech and California head coach Sonny Dykes, as he too brings the same offense to Dallas that Heupel will bring to Orlando. Dykes was a special offensive assistant at TCU last year, and the Horned Frogs averaged 33.6 points and 419 yards per game.

Predicted Won-Loss Records
Note: These predicted won-loss records are strictly mechanical based on the initial PiRate Ratings. No upsets are factored in these predictions. Additionally, our PiRate Ratings are only useful for the next week of games and cannot really be used to forecast past that point. Part of our weekly adjustment to our ratings includes a factor where depth issues or non-issues have been pre-set. In other words, a team without talented second stringers may lose ratings points as the season progresses even if they win games by the predicted margin, whereas a team with exceptional depth (like Alabama) will improve during the season and see its rating rise even if they win games by a little less than the predicted margin. What we’re saying is: don’t take these numbers with anything more than a grain of salt.

Team Conference Overall
East
Central Florida 8-0 13-0 *
South Florida 5-3 8-4
Temple 5-3 7-5
Cincinnati 2-6 3-9
East Carolina 1-7 2-10
Connecticut 0-8 1-11
West Conference Overall
Memphis 7-1 10-3
Navy 6-2 10-3
Houston 6-2 8-4
Tulsa 3-5 5-7
Tulane 3-5 4-8
SMU 2-6 3-9
* Central Florida picked to win AAC Champ. Game

Bowl Tie-ins
The American Athletic Conference has contracts to fill seven bowls with no set pecking order.

Armed Forces Bowl in Fort Worth, TX
Bahamas Bowl in Nassau, Bahamas
Birmingham Bowl in Birmingham, AL
Cure Bowl in Orlando, FL
Frisco Bowl in Frisco, TX (The Home Soccer Stadium for FC Dallas of the MLS).
Gasparilla Bowl in St. Petersburg, FL
Military Bowl in Annapolis, MD

Coming Tomorrow–We begin previewing the Power 5 Conferences. First up is the Big 12.

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August 19, 2017

2017 American Athletic Conference Preview

As it did the previous two years, The American Athletic Conference once again heads the Group of 5 leagues as the top overall to begin the 2017 college football season. However, that does not mean that you can automatically place the league’s champion in a New Year’s 6 Bowl game. Last year, Houston was the favorite to win the league and certainly receive a bid to the Cotton Bowl, and after the Cougars tore Oklahoma’s defense apart, it looked like they could even get into the Playoff picture.

Alas, the league proved to be just balanced enough that UH could not run the table, and the Cougars actually finished in a third place tie in the West, after Navy, SMU, and Memphis beat them in the second half of the season. The race in the East was quite interesting, as South Florida looked to be the early equal of Houston. The Bulls gave Florida State all they could handle, and it looked like USF would go 11-1 from that point on. However, Temple played a brilliant defensive game, and the Owls pulled off the mild upset, leading the men from Philly to the Eastern Crown.
Instead of USF and UH, it was Temple and Navy in the AAC Championship Game, with the Owls solving the Midshipmen multiple option offense.

 

This year brings a lot of change to the league. The AAC Champion Owls, as well as USF and Houston break in new coaches. Former Temple coach Matt Rhule went to Baylor. Former USF coach Willie Taggart took the big pay day to go to Oregon, while Houston’s ex-coach Tom Herman took over the job he supposedly has coveted for years–at Texas.

 

The three powers brought in masterminds to replace the departed successes. Temple hired Geoff Collins, who had been Florida’s defensive coordinator the last two years. The Gators won the SEC East with very little offensive contribution after injuries riddled the attack side.
USF hopes that Charlie Strong can do what he did at Louisville and not Texas. Strong has a successful history recruiting in the Sunshine State, and it should help USF stay atop or near the top of the AAC standings in the future.
Houston stayed in-house and hired offensive coordinator Major Applewhite to become its next head coach. Applewhite will be under the gun to produce immediate results, and his honeymoon will be short.

 

Here’s how the media predicted the AAC for 2017.

American Athletic Conference–East Division
# Team 1st Pl. Total Champ.
1 South Florida 30 180 26
2 Central Florida 0 126 0
3 Temple 0 119 0
4 Cincinnati 0 100 0
5 East Carolina 0 63 0
6 Connecticut 0 42 0
         
American Athletic Conference–West Division
# Team 1st Pl. Total Champ.
1 Memphis 22 169 1
2 Houston 6 137 2
3 Navy 1 128 1
4 Tulsa 1 102 0
5 SMU 0 64 0
6 Tulane 0 30 0

 

The PiRate, Mean, and Bias ratings are very similar, matching the East predictions exactly.

American Athletic Conference
East Division        
Team PiRate Mean Bias Average
South Florida 111.1 109.0 112.3 110.8
Central Florida 99.1 101.5 99.8 100.2
Temple 97.5 98.2 97.8 97.8
Cincinnati 90.2 93.0 91.7 91.6
East Carolina 88.3 89.6 88.3 88.7
Connecticut 87.4 90.6 88.0 88.7
         
West Division        
Team PiRate Mean Bias Average
Memphis 107.4 106.1 108.1 107.2
Tulsa 105.3 104.1 105.3 104.9
Houston 104.1 102.9 104.0 103.7
Navy 98.0 98.9 97.7 98.2
SMU 96.3 96.6 96.7 96.5
Tulane 93.9 94.3 94.3 94.2
         
AAC Averages 98.2 98.7 98.7 98.5

 

And, here are our not-so-scientific predictions and bowl projections for this season.

American Athletic Conference Projected Standings
Team Conference Overall Bowl
East Division      
South Florida 7-1 12-1 Peach
Temple 5-3 7-5 Cure
Central Florida 4-4 6-6 St. Petersburg
Cincinnati 3-5 5-7  
East Carolina 1-7 2-10  
Connecticut 1-7 2-10  
       
Team Conference Overall Bowl
West Division      
Memphis 6-2 9-4 Hawaii
Houston 5-3 9-3 Boca Raton
Tulsa 5-3 7-5 Birmingham
SMU 4-4 7-5 Frisco
Navy 4-4 6-6 [Independence]
Tulane 3-5 5-7  
       
South Florida to win AAC Title and automatic NY 6 Bowl Bid

Navy’s Independence Bowl Bid is an at-large bid

 

Trivia: In 1918, Georgia Tech beat North Carolina State 118-0. For half a century no Division 1 team scored 100 points on another Division 1 team. In 1949 San Jose State beat New Mexico 103-0, but the Spartans would not become a major college participant until the following season, so this one doesn’t count. The last time a Division 1 team scored 100 points on another Division 1 team was in 1968, when current AAC West member Houston beat current AAC West member Tulsa 100-6.

Here are your three trivia questions today. A Houston wide receiver caught a 25-yard pass for a touchdown in that 100-6 game that made the score 93-6. He later went on to fame in the music business.

1. Name the Wide Receiver that would become a famous music celebrity.
2. Explain how this person once performed the National Anthem for a sporting event that was postponed soon after he performed, and there was no rain or lightning.
3. Name the Tulsa lineman that became a famous TV celebrity and has used this game as a means to help advance his career.

Coming Tomorrow–We are down to just Power 5 conferences remaining to be previewed. We start with the Big Ten. Ohio State, Penn State, and Wisconsin have the look of potential playoff teams. Which one do we think might run the table in the regular season? Can Michigan continue to impress with the biggest rebuilding job in the nation (only one starter returns on defense)? Can Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota, or Northwestern challenge the Badgers? How will new coach Jeff Brohm improve Purdue, and can he lead the Boilermakers back into contention for the first time since Drew Brees led the PU attack?

August 21, 2016

2016 Big 12 Conference Football Preview

The Big 12 has been teetering on the brink of unplanned obsolescence for the last couple of years. As the only Power 5 Conference without a postseason Conference Championship Game, the league powers have been a little paranoid that other predators from the West Coast, the Deep South, and the Upper Midwest, might pillage them and leave them without a job. The Pac-12 is anxious to change its name to the Pac-16. The SEC and Big Ten realize that it is easier to work with 16 rather than 14 teams. The ACC has 15 in all sports except football, but even in football, Notre Dame plays basically five conference games per year.

What does a league do with just 10 members? It cannot play a conference title game until it has 12. Obviously, the league must expand by two to six teams, or else, their members will be searching for greener futures and high payouts.

In the meantime, the Big 12 continues to provide some of the most exciting football on the planet. The quasi-renegade league provides the alternative to the SEC’s and Big Ten’s blood and guts play, just like the old American Football League of the 1960’s sold itself as the more entertaining league to the NFL. The AFL had all the razzle dazzle stars like Joe Namath, Len Dawson, Daryle Lamonica, John Hadl, Cookie Gilchrist, Lance Alworth, and others, while the NFL was all about bruising fullbacks running between the tackles and halfbacks running power sweeps behind pulling guards.

The Big 12 is the pass-happy league with wide open offenses, blitzing and gambling defenses, and no game secure even if a team has scored over 50 points. Who can forget the day in 2014 when undefeated TCU led undefeated Baylor by 18 points in the fourth quarter and lost 61-58? You could have watched Alabama beat Arkansas 14-13 that day. Michigan beat Penn State 18-13.

2016 promises to be an interesting season in the Southwest. Oklahoma represented the league in the NCAA Playoffs, after two 11-1 teams failed to earn a spot the year before. The Sooners quickly bowed out in a semifinal loss to Clemson, but OU is loaded this season and in contention for the top overall spot.

The Sooners will not receive a free pass to the playoffs this year. Their schedule is tricky with a pre-conference matchups with Houston at NRG Stadium to start the season and Ohio State on September 17. Then following a bye week, OU has a road game with TCU, and the annual Red River Shootout with Texas the following Saturday. If Coach Bob Stoops can guide his squad to a 5-0 start, a 7-0 finish is very likely.

A group of four teams figure to be the main challengers to the Sooners, or in a probable case, a quartet fighting for a Sugar Bowl berth as the league runnerup. Oklahoma State, TCU, and Baylor figure to be on most pundits’ lists, but the PiRates believe that Coach Charlie Strong will bring the Texas Longhorns back to near the top of the standings this year and even give Oklahoma a run for its money. If he doesn’t, the UT alumni may be advertising for a new coach in 2017.

For the Longhorns, the season kicks off with a Sunday tilt at home against Notre Dame, and a win in the opener could give the burnt orange a shot in the arm. A road game against Oklahoma State precedes the fight with the Sooners at the Texas State Fair the following week, and pulling off back-to-back wins over their rivals to the north is most unlikely. Thus, we believe that Texas can win 10 games and vie for the Sugar Bowl bid, but they cannot win 11 or 12 and contend for a playoff spot.

TCU begins the season ranked ahead of Texas in our ratings and actually within shouting distance of Oklahoma, but the Horned Frogs have to rebuild on offense due to heavy losses, including their star quarterback, running back, and wideout. The defense is still solid, but they may be on the field for too many plays in crucial games. Road games at Baylor and Texas could eliminate any gain made by possibly upsetting Oklahoma ar Amon G. Carter Stadium.

Oklahoma State is flying a little under the radar to begin the season. The Cowboys were 10-0 last year, before losing to Baylor, Oklahoma, and Ole Miss to end the year at 10-3. Their offense could top 42 points per game this year with experience and depth returning, while the defense should be on par with last year’s defense. OSU wins games by outscoring opponents, so scores like 45-31 are frequent happenings, and this team can win double digit games again while giving up 30+ points per game.

Baylor faced a minor rebuilding project heading into this season, but off the field events have wounded the Bears enough to where second half of the season depth issues could cause a minor fold. We do not expect BU to contend for the Big 12 crown, and we would not be shocked if the losses began to mount beginning with a trip to Austin on October 29.

Kansas State, West Virginia, and Texas Tech represent the next wave. In most years, KSU plays one of the softest non-conference slates, guaranteeing themselves of three wins before taking the field, and thus needing just a 3-6 conference mark to earn a bowl bid. However, the Wildcats will begin the season 0-1 with a Friday night game at the Farm against Stanford. The likely 3-6 conference record will leave the guys from the Little Apple home for the holidays.

Texas Tech faces a similar situation. The Red Raiders are looking at 3-6 or even 2-7 in league play, as they must play Kansas State and Iowa State on the road. Playing at Arizona State in September could prevent TTU from going bowling as well.

West Virginia may actually be a tad weaker than the previous two teams, but the Mountaineers have the favorable schedule that could give them the three wins they need to pair with a 3-6 conference mark and finish 6-6.

Iowa State is not ready to compete for bowl eligibility this year, but the Cyclones are moving upwards slowly. They could even sneak into a tie for 7th if the ball bounces their way, but they should win more than one conference game this year.

Kansas still has basketball season to await. The Jayhawks are likely destined for yet another last place finish, but this year KU should at least win a game after finishing 0-12 in 2015. The season opener with Rhode Island is the only for sure winnable game, but the Jayhawks might be confident enough to pull off the mild upset over Ohio the following week. It looks like another 0-9 league mark for the Jayhawks, but then by the time they host Texas on November 19, all will be okay with the Rock Chalkers at Allen Fieldhouse.

Here is how the Big 12 Media predicted the 2016 order of finish.

2016 Big 12 Conference Media Poll
# Team 1st Pl. Total
1 Oklahoma 24 258
2 TCU 2 222
3 Oklahoma St. 0 202
4 Baylor 0 156
5 Texas 0 151
6 Texas Tech 0 141
7 West Virginia 0 126
8 Kansas St. 0 88
9 Iowa St. 0 59
10 Kansas 0 27

Here are the initial 2016 PiRate Ratings for the league.

Big 12 Conference
Team PiRate Mean Bias Average
Oklahoma 125.6 122.1 125.6 124.4
Oklahoma St. 117.5 118.8 117.5 117.9
Texas 114.4 118.0 114.4 115.6
TCU 113.3 115.6 113.2 114.0
Baylor 109.4 109.7 110.6 109.9
West Virginia 106.6 106.1 106.0 106.2
Kansas St. 103.1 107.5 102.5 104.4
Texas Tech 104.9 102.3 102.7 103.3
Iowa St. 99.8 99.2 98.7 99.2
Kansas 88.3 96.1 85.9 90.1

The PiRate Ratings are meant to be used only to predict the outcomes of the next week of games, and are not best used to predict beyond that point. Because we use algorithms that include automatic adjustments by each team based on depth and experience, two different teams can win by the exact score we predict, and their new ratings might change differently.

Thus, using our ratings to predict won-loss records and bowl projections is a bit comical, but then we all need some laughs every now and then. So, laugh away at our projected standings and bowls, and notice that this league will not provide the needed number to fill all of its obligations, thus benefiting other leagues like the Big Ten and Pac-12, who both may have extra bowl eligible teams this year.

Big 12 Conference Projected Standings
Team Conference Overall Bowl
Oklahoma 9-0 12-0 Playoffs/Fiesta
Oklahoma St. 7-2 10-2 Alamo
Texas 7-2 10-2 Sugar
TCU 6-3 9-3 Russell Athletic
Baylor 6-3 9-3 Texas
West Virginia 3-6 6-6 Liberty
Kansas St. 3-6 5-7  
Texas Tech 2-7 4-8  
Iowa St. 2-7 4-8  
Kansas 0-9 2-10

Coming Monday, August 22: The Pac-12 Conference with wide open races in both divisions.  Is there a surprise team ready to emerge as the new league beast, or is it more of the same old fare?

August 19, 2013

2013 American Athletic Conference Preview

2013 American Athletic Conference Preview

 

Say hello to the newest FBS conference.  The AAC formed when the Catholic, non-scholarship football schools from the Big East and the schools that play football divided into two leagues.  For just one season, this conference will still field a somewhat decent roster of teams, but two of the most prestigious schools will leave for greener pastures at the end of this season.  With three more teams joining this league from Conference USA next year, it will basically make this new league the original Conference USA with a new name.

 

For this one season, the last that really matters for receiving a bid to a big bowl with the maximum payout, there is a team capable of challenging for the national championship.

 

Louisville should be favored to win all 12 games, and the Cardinals will not be required to play in a conference championship game to advance to the national title game should a 12-0 record earn them one of the top two spots in the final BCS National Championship Game.

 

If any school is capable of upsetting the Cardinals, it would be Cincinnati.  The Bearcats change coaches this season, as Butch Jones left for Tennessee.  He is replaced by journeyman coach Tommy Tuberville, who has piloted the likes of Ole Miss, Auburn, and Texas Tech.

 

Rutgers returns a significant amount of talent from last season’s 9-4 campaign, and the Scarlet Knights should compete with a trio of other teams for the third spot in the league.  Central Florida, South Florida, and SMU will compete with RU for the third spot.

 

Connecticut and Houston should be considered dark horses in the AAC race, while Memphis and Temple will bring up the rear.

 

 

New Teams: The members of the AAC played in either the Big East or CUSA last year.

 

Central Florida   CUSA
Cincinnati   Big East
Connecticut   Big East
Houston   CUSA
Louisville   Big East
Memphis   CUSA
Rutgers   Big East
S M U     CUSA
South Florida   Big East
Temple   Big East

 

 

Departed Teams: None, since this is the first season

 

2014 Additions: East Carolina, Tulane, and Tulsa move from CUSA, giving the AAC nine former CUSA members (Cincinnati and South Florida were once in CUSA).

 

2014 Departures: Louisville leaves for the ACC, while Rutgers heads to the Big Ten, leaving this league with no team that played in every Big East season and leaving just Connecticut and Temple that did not play in CUSA.

 

Pre-season PiRate Ratings

American Athletic Conference

Team

Conf.

Overall

PiRate

Mean

Bias

Louisville

0-0

0-0

115.3

113.4

116.5

Cincinnati

0-0

0-0

105.5

105.9

105.9

Rutgers

0-0

0-0

99.3

104.2

100.1

Central Florida

0-0

0-0

98.2

97.5

99.2

South Florida

0-0

0-0

94.5

92.9

93.5

S M U

0-0

0-0

94.1

101.9

94.6

Connecticut

0-0

0-0

93.6

101.3

94.2

Houston

0-0

0-0

89.4

101.0

90.9

Memphis

0-0

0-0

88.7

98.4

89.7

Temple

0-0

0-0

87.6

85.1

85.6

 

 

 

 

 

 

League Averages

 

 

96.6

100.2

97.0

 

 

Official AAC Media Poll

Pos

Team

Points

1st Place

 

1

Louisville

298

28

 

2

Cincinnati

257

2

 

3

Rutgers

240

0

 

4

Central Florida

210

0

 

5

South Florida

155

0

 

6

Houston

134

0

 

7

Connecticut

131

0

 

8

S M U

118

0

 

9

Temple

60

0

 

10

Memphis

47

0

 

 

The AAC has not released an official preseason all-conference team.  Here is a list of key players for each of the members:

 

Central Florida

Blake Bortles—QB (62.9% comp/7.7 ypa/25 TD/7 Int)

Storm Johnson—RB (507 rush/4.5 avg)

J. J. Worton—WR (44-594/5 TD)

Breshad Perriman—WR (26-388/3 TD)

Justin McCray and Torrian Wilson—OL

Thomas Niles—DL (5 sacks/7 QB hurries)

Terrance Plummer—LB (108 tackles/7 TFL)

Clayton Geathers—DB (117 tackles)

 

Cincinnati

Brendon Kay—QB (63.0%/9.4 ypa/10 TD/2 Int—as co-starter)

Dan Sprague, Sam Longo, Austen Bujnoch, and Eric Lefeld—OL

Jordan Stepp—DL (4 TFL)

Greg Blair—LB (138 tackles/9 TFL/4 QB Hurries/8 Passes Defended)

Deven Drane—DB (43 tackles/9 Passes Defended)

Arryn Chenault—DB (3 Int/6 Passes Defended)

Tony Miliano—K (17-22 FG)

 

Connecticut

Lyle McCombs—RB (860 rush/6 TD)

Geremy Davis—WR (44-613)

Shamar Stephen—DL (26 tackles)

Yawin Smallwood—LB (120 tackles/15 TFL/4 Passes Defended)

Byron Jones—DB (88 tackles)

Chad Kristen—K (14-21 FG Strong Leg)

 

Houston

Daniel Spencer—WR (41-579)

Deontay Greenberry—WR (47-564)

Bryce Redman and Rowdy Harper—OL

Derrick Matthews—LB (126 tackles/6 sacks/17 TFL/9 QB Hurries)

Zach McMillian—DB (5 Int./11 Passes Defended)

Trevon Stewart—DB (126 tackles/8 Passes Defended)

Richie Leone—P (45.5 avg./39.7 net)

 

Louisville

Teddy Bridgewater—QB (68.5% comp./8.9 ypa/27 TD/8 Int. Heisman Candidate)

Michael Dyer—RB (former 1,242 yard rusher for Auburn in 2010)

DeVante Parker—WR (40-744/10 TD)

Damian Copeland—WR (50-628)

Jake Smith and John Miller—OL

Marcus Smith—DL (29 tackles/4 sacks/ 7 TFL)

Preston Brown—LB (109 tackles/5 Passes Defended)

Calvin Pryor—DB (100 tackles/7 Passes Defended)

Terrell Floyd—DB (3 Int./8 Passes Defended)

 

Memphis

Jacob Karam—QB (64.2% comp./14 TD/3 Int.—Formerly at Texas Tech)

Keiwone Malone—WR (44-476)

Alan Cross—TE (23-301/5 TD)

Al Bond—OL

Martin Ifedi—DL (7.5 sacks/11 TFL/4 QB Hurries)

Johnnie Farms—DL (9.5 TFL)

Charles Harris—LB (79 tackles)

Anthony Brown—LB (71 tackles)

Lonnie Ballentine—DB (3 Int./8 Passes Defended)

Tom Hornsey—P (43.4 avg./38.9 net/41.7% inside the 20)

 

Rutgers

Gary Nova—QB (57.0% comp./22 TD/16 Int.)

Brandon Coleman—WR (43-718/ 10 TD)

Betim Bujari, Antwan Lowery, and Kaleb Johnson—OL

Jamil Merrell—DL (40 tackles/10.5 TFL/5 QB Hurries)

Jamal Merrell—LB (83 tackles/8.5 TFL

Lorenzo Waters—DB (68 tackles/6.5 TFL)

 

S M U

Garrett Gilbert—QB (2932 yards/15 TD/15 Int./8 rush TD)

Traylon Shead—RB (Juco star should take pressure off passing game)

Jeremy Johnson—WR (67-679)

Der’Rikk Thompson—WR (41-535)

Randall Joyner—LB (93 tackles/8 Passes Defended)

Jay Scott—DB (76 tackles/11 Passes Defended)

Kenneth Acker—DB (50 tackles/3 Int./15 Passes Defended)

 

South Florida

Andre Davis—WR (46-534/6 TD)

Sean Price—TE (21-209)

Austin Reiter and Quinterrius Eatmon—OL

Aaron Lynch—DL (Former Starter at Notre Dame)

DeDe Lattimore—LB (76 tackles/7.5 TFL)

JaQuez Jenkins—DB (53 tackles)

Mark Joyce—DB (74 tackles)

 

Temple

Chris Coyer—RB (444 rush/4.0 avg)

Jalen Fitzpatrick—WR (30-363)

Tyler Matakevich—LB (101 tackles)

Anthony Robey—DB (41 tackles/6 Passes Defended)

 

 

PiRate Ratings Summary

 

About Grades

93-100         A+

86-92           A

79-85           A-

72-78           B+

65-71           B

58-64           B-

51-57           C+

44-50           C

37-43           C-

30-36           D

0-29             F

 

About Predictions

Predictions are based on the PiRate Ratings with home field advantage factored in.  The PiRate Ratings use different home field advantages for every game, since the opponent factors into the equation.

 

Team

Central Florida Knights

               
Head Coach

George O’Leary

               
Colors

Black and Gold

               
City

Orlando

               
2012 Record              
Conference

7-1 (in CUSA)

Overall

10-4

               
Grades              
Run Offense

58

Pass Offense

73

Run Defense

57

Pass Defense

62

               
Ratings              
PiRate

98.2

Mean

97.5

Bias

99.2

               
Rankings              
PiRate

68

Mean

71

Bias

63

               
Prediction              
Conference

7-1

Overall

9-3

 

 

Team

Cincinnati Bearcats

               
Head Coach

Tommy Tuberville

               
Colors

Red and Black

               
City

Cincinnati

               
2012 Record              
Conference

5-2 (in Big East)

Overall

10-3

               
Grades              
Run Offense

69

Pass Offense

70

Run Defense

76

Pass Defense

68

               
Ratings              
PiRate

105.5

Mean

105.9

Bias

105.9

               
Rankings              
PiRate

42

Mean

40

Bias

42

               
Prediction              
Conference

6-2

Overall

10-2

 

 

Team

Connecticut Huskies

               
Head Coach

Paul Pasqualoni

               
Colors

Navy and White

               
City

Storrs, CT

               
2012 Record              
Conference

2-5 (in Big East)

Overall

5-7

               
Grades              
Run Offense

48

Pass Offense

58

Run Defense

68

Pass Defense

60

               
Ratings              
PiRate

93.6

Mean

101.3

Bias

94.2

               
Rankings              
PiRate

84

Mean

57

Bias

81

               
Prediction              
Conference

3-5

Overall

5-7

 

 

Team

Houston Cougars

               
Head Coach

Tony Levine

               
Colors

Scarlet and White

               
City

 

               
2012 Record              
Conference

4-4 (in CUSA)

Overall

5-7

               
Grades              
Run Offense

53

Pass Offense

75

Run Defense

45

Pass Defense

42

               
Ratings              
PiRate

89.4

Mean

101.0

Bias

90.9

               
Rankings              
PiRate

95

Mean

58

Bias

90

               
Prediction              
Conference

2-6

Overall

4-8

 

 

Team

Louisville Cardinals

               
Head Coach

Charlie Strong

               
Colors

Cardinal and Black

               
City

 

               
2012 Record              
Conference

5-2 (in Big East)

Overall

11-2

               
Grades              
Run Offense

70

Pass Offense

94

Run Defense

78

Pass Defense

76

               
Ratings              
PiRate

115.3

Mean

113.4

Bias

116.5

               
Rankings              
PiRate

25

Mean

17

Bias

18

               
Prediction              
Conference

8-0

Overall

12-0

 

 

Team

Memphis Tigers

               
Head Coach

Justin Fuente

               
Colors

Royal Blue and Gray

               
City

Memphis

               
2012 Record              
Conference

1-7 (in CUSA)

Overall

4-8

               
Grades              
Run Offense

49

Pass Offense

58

Run Defense

51

Pass Defense

55

               
Ratings              
PiRate

88.7

Mean

98.4

Bias

89.7

               
Rankings              
PiRate

96

Mean

64

Bias

95

               
Prediction              
Conference

1-7

Overall

2-10

 

 

Team

Rutgers Scarlet Knights

               
Head Coach

Kyle Flood

               
Colors

Scarlet and White

               
City

New Brunswick, NJ

               
2012 Record              
Conference

5-2 (in Big East)

Overall

9-4

               
Grades              
Run Offense

65

Pass Offense

64

Run Defense

71

Pass Defense

59

               
Ratings              
PiRate

99.3

Mean

104.2

Bias

100.1

               
Rankings              
PiRate

61

Mean

43

Bias

57

               
Prediction              
Conference

4-4

Overall

6-6

 

 

Team

S M U Mustangs

               
Head Coach

June Jones

               
Colors

Red and Blue

               
City

Dallas

               
2012 Record              
Conference

5-3 (in CUSA)

Overall

7-6

               
Grades              
Run Offense

35

Pass Offense

75

Run Defense

58

Pass Defense

62

               
Ratings              
PiRate

94.1

Mean

101.9

Bias

94.6

               
Rankings              
PiRate

80

Mean

51

Bias

79

               
Prediction              
Conference

5-3

Overall

6-6

 

 

Team

South Florida Bulls

               
Head Coach

Willie Taggart

               
Colors

Green and Gold

               
City

Tampa

               
2012 Record              
Conference

1-6 (in Big East)

Overall

3-9

               
Grades              
Run Offense

62

Pass Offense

67

Run Defense

65

Pass Defense

46

               
Ratings              
PiRate

94.5

Mean

92.9

Bias

93.5

               
Rankings              
PiRate

79

Mean

91

Bias

83

               
Prediction              
Conference

3-5

Overall

5-7

 

 

Team

Temple Owls

               
Head Coach

Matt Rhule

               
Colors

Cherry and White

               
City

Philadelphia

               
2012 Record              
Conference

2-5 (in Big East)

Overall

4-7

               
Grades              
Run Offense

52

Pass Offense

64

Run Defense

51

Pass Defense

43

               
Ratings              
PiRate

87.6

Mean

85.1

Bias

85.6

               
Rankings              
PiRate

98

Mean

115

Bias

106

               
Prediction              
Conference

1-7

Overall

4-8

 

August 22, 2012

2012 Big East Conference Preview

The BCS survives for two more seasons.  Starting in 2014, there will be a four-team playoff to decide the national championship.  So, for two more seasons, the Big East champion will be assured of a BCS Bowl Game.  This league is not only the weakest of the BCS conferences, the initial PiRate Ratings reveal that the conference rates below the Independents for the first time.

 

The best program has left for the Big 12, and a former team that was kicked out of the league in 2004 was invited back.  In baseball equivalency, replacing West Virginia with Temple would be like the American League Central Division replacing the Chicago White Sox with the Houston Astros.

 

Syracuse and Pittsburgh leave for the ACC next year, and the Big East was forced to “jump the shark” and invite Boise State and San Diego State for 2013.  SMU, Houston, Central Florida, and Memphis will also join from Conference USA. 

 

Even though this league is down, it should be an interesting year.  There is no real clear-cut favorite.  The media and the PiRate Vintage Ratings agree that Louisville is the class of the league, while the regular PiRate Ratings believe South Florida begins the year at the top.

 

Media Poll

 

Big East

Votes

Rank

Team

1st Place

Total

1

Louisville

24

219

2

South Florida

4

176

3

Rutgers

0

155

4

Cincinnati

0

139

5

Pittsburgh

0

131

6

Connecticut

0

77

7

Syracuse

0

70

8

Temple

0

41

 

PiRate Ratings

Rank

Big East

PiRate

1

South Florida

108.0

2

Pittsburgh

107.1

3

Rutgers

106.5

4

Louisville

105.3

5

Connecticut

100.3

6

Cincinnati

100.2

7

Syracuse

96.5

8

Temple

88.0

 

Vintage Ratings

Rank

Big East

Vintage

1

Louisville

109

2

Pittsburgh

107

3

South Florida

106

4

Rutgers

104

5

Cincinnati

102

6

Connecticut

99

7

Syracuse

97

8

Temple

91

 

 

Team

Cincinnati Bearcats

               
Head Coach

Butch Jones

               
Colors

Red and Black

               
City

Cincinnati, OH

               
2011 Record              
Conference

5-2

Overall

10-3

               
PiRate Rating

100.2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

61

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

102

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

57

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

4-3

Overall

7-5

 

After suffering through a 4-8 season following the departure of Brian Kelly, Butch Jones pulled off a surprise 10-3 season in year two at the helm of the Bobcats.  UC took a hit on graduation day, and Jones will have to pull a rabbit out of his coaching hat to guide Cinti to another double-digit win season.

 

The first priority is finding a quarterback to replace Zach Collaros; the second priority is finding a replacement for back Isaiah Pead.  Collaros missed the last four regular season games, and the Bearcats split those games.  He returned for the Liberty Bowl game and led UC to a win.

 

Munchie Legaux took over when Collaros was hurt last year.  He proved to be a better runner than passer, and Jones will change the offensive philosophy to better utilize his skills.

 

George Winn and Jameel Poteat will see the bulk of the rushing attempts.  Winn is more of a power back, while Poteat has some speed.  Neither has proven he can replace Pead.

 

Top receivers Anthony McClung (49 rec. 683 yds. 6 TD) and Kenbrell Thompkins (44 rec. 536 yds. 2 TD) will give Legaux two talented targets.  Tight end Travis Kelce caught 13 passes in a reserve role, and he should see more passes come his way this year.

 

Three starters are missing from the offensive line, leaving returning guard Austen Bujnoch and tackle Sean Hooey as the only holdovers.  Tackle Eric Lefeld started over half the games last year, so this unit is not in dire straits.

 

Cinti averaged 33+ points per game last year, but the Bearcats will not match that number in 2012.  Expect the Bearcats to score about 22-26 points per game this year.  That should be enough to keep UC in line for a bowl, because the defense should be one of the best in the league.

 

The defensive line is as good as any in this league.  Ends Dan Giordano and Walter Stewart teamed up for 20 tackles for loss with 11 sacks.  Stewart proved to be tough in pass coverage, knocking away eight passes. 

 

Two starters return at linebacker, led by Maalik Bomar.  Nick Temple should be improved after starting as a freshman.

 

Three starters return to the secondary, while the new starter played in all 13 games.  Cornerbacks Deven Drane and Cameron Cheatham teamed up for 22 passes defended. 

 

The UC kicking game is in good shape with the return of kicker Tony Milano and punter Pat O’Donnell.

 

Cincinnati’s schedule includes two non-conference games against FCS schools (Delaware State and Fordham).  The Bearcats play Virginia Tech at a neutral site and face MAC members Toledo and Miami (O).  UC has a good chance to go 4-1 and should win at least three of these games.  While we don’t see the Bearcats going 5-2 in league play again, they could win four conference games. 

 

 

 

Team

Connecticut Huskies

               
Head Coach

Paul Pasqualoni

               
Colors

Navy and White

               
City

Storrs, Ct

               
2011 Record              
Conference

3-4

Overall

5-7

               
PiRate Rating

100.3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

60

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

99

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

68

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

3-4

Overall

6-6

 

Paul Pasqualoni inherited a tough position when he took the UConn job just after the Huskies won the Big East championship and played in the Fiesta Bowl.  UC practically duplicated their offensive yardage gained and yardage given up by the defense.  They scored two points per game less and gave up two points per game more, yet their record dropped from eight wins to five.

 

The Huskies have enough returning talent and an infusion of new talent, and Pasqualoni should have the team in contention for a bowl game this year.

 

UConn used three different quarterbacks last year, but it appears that a junior college transfer has beaten all three of them out for the starting job, forcing one of the three, Michael Nebrich, to transfer.  Chandler Whitmer passed for more than 3,000 yards with 25 touchdowns at Butler Community College in Kansas.

 

The receiving corps is solid, and combined with Whitmer’s passing, the UConn should surpass last year’s mark of 195 yards per game.  Ryan Griffin is one of the top tight ends in the league, and at 6-6, he is hard to miss.  Michael Smith returns after missing all of last year due to being academically ineligible, and he could be the top pass catcher on the team this year.

 

The one area where UConn did not measure up to their 2010 standard was at running back.  Lyle McCombs rushed for 1,151 yards and seven touchdowns, but that was 500 fewer yards than Jordan Todman had in 2010.  McCombs may average more per attempt this year, but he may not top last year’s yardage because there will be a greater emphasis on the passing game.

 

Expect the defense to improve enough to give the Huskies a decent chance at bowl eligibility.  A strong defensive line features two potential All-Big East ends.  Jesse Joseph and Trevardo Williams.  Williams finished second nationally with 12 ½ sacks.

 

The linebacker unit is almost as tough as the front line.  All three starters return, and the trio were the top three tacklers on the team.  Jory Johnson, Yawin Smallwood, and Sio Moore each recorded more than 80 tackles, teaming for 277 total.  Moore produced 6 ½ sacks and 16 tackles for loss, while intercepting three passes and knocking away six others.

 

If Cornerback Blidi Wreh-Wilson can return to his pre-injury form, the secondary should be in good shape.  Wreh-Wilson missed three games, but he averaged one pass defended per game.  Dwayne Gratz tied for the team lead with three interceptions, and he will start opposite Wreh-Wilson.

 

Connecticut opens with UMass, a former arch-rival from the old Yankee Conference.  Other non-conference games include North Carolina State, Maryland, Western Michigan, and Buffalo.  UConn should win at least three and maybe four of these games.  They should win three more in league play, so the Huskies will more than likely be bowl eligible this year.

 

 

Team

Louisville Cardinals

               
Head Coach

Charlie Strong

               
Colors

Red and Black

               
City

Louisville, KY

               
2011 Record              
Conference

5-2

Overall

7-6

               
PiRate Rating

105.3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

48

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

109

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

29

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

5-2

Overall

9-3

 

Charlie Strong’s days at Louisville could be numbered.  No, it isn’t due to lack of success; it’s due to loads of success.  Another big year at UL could send some big-time school after him with a vault full of money.

 

The Cardinals have finished 7-6 both years under Strong, but UL will top that number this season.  Strong is a defensive guru, and his 2012 edition will be his best yet.  His secondary returns three starters, all of whom could make one of the all-conference teams.  Safeties Hakeem Smith and Calvin Pryor combined for 17 defended passes and 127 tackles.  Cornerback Adrian Bushell earned 1st Team All-BE honors.

 

Middle linebacker Preston Brown registered 84 tackles last year, and he leads a unit that brings in three highly-rated true freshmen that could contribute immediately.

 

Three starters return up front, but UL rotates players in the line.  So, there are six players available with good experience.  The strong point in this unit is on the inside, where Jamaine Brooks, Roy Philon, and Brandon Dunn all played well at tackle. 

 

If the offense improves as much as we expect, the Cardinals are going to live up to their preseason hype.  UL scored less than 22 points per game last year, but prospects are looking brighter on this side of the ball.

 

Teddy Bridgewater ascended to the starting quarterback position as a true freshman last year.  He ended up completing 64.5% of his tosses for 2,100+ yards.  While he won’t remind Cardinal fans of Brian Brohm or Dave Ragone, he will top 2,500 passing yards this season.  If he can cut down on his interceptions, UL will be scoring a lot more this season.

 

The Cardinals lost their best receiver to a torn ACL.  Michaelee Harris will be missed, but his absence won’t doom the Cards.  Eli Rogers and Devante Parker will have to step up and catch more passes this year.  Parker is a threat to score any time he catches a pass.

 

Dominique Brown becomes the new starter at running back after he rushed for 533 yards as the top reserve last year.  Brown is a former quarterback, and he can be used in the wildcat formation.

 

The offensive line returns four starters with center Mario Benavides being the best of an outstanding unit.

 

The schedule sets UL up for a potential breakout season.  A Sunday opener against rival Kentucky at Papa John’s Stadium should be a win.  Missouri State in week two will be an easy win.  Game three is at home against North Carolina, and the winner of that game, and that should be one of the best games of that weekend.  A road trip to Florida International could be a trap game, but FIU upset the Cards last year, and UL will be primed for revenge.  UL then plays at Southern Miss before enjoying a week off and starting the conference schedule.  The key game is a home tilt against USF in mid-October, and the winner of that game should be in the driver’s seat in the Big East race.

 

 

Team

Pittsburgh Panthers

               
Head Coach

Paul Chryst

               
Colors

Blue and Gold

               
City

Pittsburgh, PA

               
2011 Record              
Conference

4-3

Overall

6-7

               
PiRate Rating

107.1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

40

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

107

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

36

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

4-3

Overall

7-5

 

The Panthers have their third head coach in three years, and that usually does not bode well.  Paul Chryst worked wonders as Wisconsin’s offensive coordinator, and he inherits an already formidable, albeit underachieving offense. 

 

Tino Sunseri struggled in former coach Todd Graham’s offense, and now he must learn the third different offense in three years.  Chryst’s pro-set offense should be more to his liking, and he should cut down on interceptions, while increasing yardage and touchdowns.

 

Devin Street, Mike Shanahan, and Cameron Sadler all return as starting receivers after they joined forces to grab 111 passes for 1,454 yards and seven touchdowns.  Tight end Hubie Graham added 28 catches for 325 yards and three scores, and in Chryst’s system, the tight end is usually the primary option on many pass plays.  Drew Carswell was the backup, and he could see the field more this season in two tight end formations.  Look for the two tight ends to catch at least 50 passes between them this year.

 

There is a question at running back this season.  When healthy, Ray Graham is the best running back in the league, but Graham cannot stay healthy.  He sustained a knee injury that prevented him from rushing for 1,000 yards last year.  As practice entered the third week, Graham was still being held out of live action and still had a noticeable limp, so he may not be ready to return in September.  Isaac Bennett will step in and start, and while Bennett is talented, he is not as good as a healthy Graham.

 

Center Ryan Turley and guard Chris Jacobson highlight a good but not great offensive line.  This area took a hit when expected starting tackle Juantez Hollins was suspended for the season.

 

Chryst brought along Wisconsin linebacker coach Dave Huxtable to be his defensive coordinator.  Huxtable was the DC at Central Florida for three years, and UCF had some stellar defenses.  That may not be the case at Heinz Field this season, as Pitt lost their top tackler, two big-time pass rushers, and one of their top ball hawks. 

 

If Pitt had to choose which one defensive lineman to return, it would be tackle Arnold Donald, the lone returning starter up front.  Donald finished second in the BE with 11 sacks, and he recorded another 11 QB hurries.  End T. J. Clemmings should emerge as a future star this season.

 

Will linebacker Todd Thomas is the lone starter returning to the second unit.  Thomas has been nursing an injury in August practice, so he may not be 100% by the first game.  The Panthers have many options, so depth will not be the problem.

 

There is quality talent and outstanding depth on the back line, and safety Jared Holley is one of the best defenders in the league.  Cornerback K’Waun Williams teamed with Holley last year to register 131 tackles, but the duo intercepted just one pass each.

 

The schedule provides some easy non-conference wins (Youngstown State, Gardner-Webb, Temple, and Bufalo) and some probable losses (Virginia Tech and Notre Dame).  We feel like the Panthers can win enough games to return to a bowl.

 

 

 

Team

Rutgers Scarlet Knights

               
Head Coach

Kyle Flood

               
Colors

Scarlet and White

               
City

New Brunswick, NJ

               
2011 Record              
Conference

4-3

Overall

9-4

               
PiRate Rating

106.5

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

41

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

104

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

49

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

4-3

Overall

8-4

 

Greg Schiano turned down the chance to become the Miami Hurricanes’ head coach, and Rutgers’ fans took that as a show of loyalty by the New Jersey native.  It turned out that Schiano was just looking for a better job in the Sunshine State; he took the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ job.

 

Schiano took multiple RU assistants with him, but Kyle Flood was not one of them.  The offesnsive line coach is now the head coach.

 

Flood is a pro-set proponent, and Rutgers has tried that offense in recent years, but Schiano always went back to the spread.  It will be interesting to see if the Scarlet Knights can move the ball using just a pro-set.

 

Gary Nova has been named the starting quarterback after a tough competition with 2011 co-starter Chas Dodd.  Nova completed just 51% of his passes last year, and he threw an interception every 25 times he threw a pass.

 

If Nova, or eventually Dodd, can prove he can run an offense, then RU should move the ball and score a lot of points, because the rest of the attack side is in very good shape. 

 

The receiving corps must replace the league’s top pass catcher, but the returning talent is big and quick, so this will still be a huge asset.  RU has the best group of receivers in the league.  Quron Pratt caught 32 passes as a possession receiver.  He doesn’t have the size or speed of his compatriots, but he knows where to be and how to get open.  Brandon Coleman and Mark Harrison do have the size and speed to be big play specialists.  Coleman averaged a whopping 32.5 yards on his 17 receptions scoring six touchdowns.  Harrison averaged 19.6 yards on 14 receptions.  Jeremy Deering is so athletic, he could play both ways this year.  Watch out for multitalented Miles Shuler.  Tight end D.C. Jefferson will see more balls thrown his way in the new offense.

 

Jawan Jamison and Savon Huggins returns at running back.  Jamison led RU with 897 rushing yards. Huggins gained just 2.6 yards per attempt.  The RU running game churned out just 98 yards per game and averaged 2.8 yards per attempt, and without considerable improvement, the offense will bog down against the better defenses.

 

Three starters return to the offensive line, but the two lost starters were the best two blockers.  This is an area of concern.

 

There are few concerns on the defensive side of the ball, as the Knights have the best stop troops in the league, including one of the best trio of linebackers in all of college football.  Khaseem Greene ran away with the Big East tackle race, recording 141 (25 more than any other BE defender).  Greene recorded 14 tackles for loss.  Steve Beauharnais finished second with 77 tackles, and he made 16 for loss. He also picked off three passes as part of one of the best pass defenses in the nation. 

 

The back line of defense features two potential future NFL players.  Cornerback Logan Ryan led the league with 16 passes defended, three of which were interceptions.  Safety Duron Harmon picked off five passes.

 

The only possible question on this side of the ball is in the interior.  Justin Francis will be a hard player to replace, as the end led the team with 6 ½ sacks.  Tackle Scott Vallone has All-BE potential.  He made 8 ½ stops for loss and batted away two passes.

 

The Scarlet Knights will contend for the conference title if Nova can force defenses to drop an extra man into pass coverage, opening up running lanes.  In a wide-open race, the Knights’ defense is strong enough to hold off the better offenses.

 

Rutgers should go 4-1 out of league play with games against Tulane, Howard, Kent State, and Army plus a tough contest at Arkansas.  An early Thursday night game in Tampa against South Florida should be exciting, and the winner will be the early leader in the race.  RU finishes the season at Cincinnati, at Pitt, and at home against Louisville on Thursday, November 29.  No team appears dominant enough to run the table, so Rutgers has to be considered a legitimate contender.

 

 

Team

South Florida Bulls

               
Head Coach

Skip Holtz

               
Colors

Green and Gold

               
City

Tampa, FL

               
2011 Record              
Conference

1-6

Overall

5-7

               
PiRate Rating

108.0

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

38

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

106

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

41

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

5-2

Overall

8-4

 

How does a last place team in the Big East end the season with a large statistical surplus?  That’s easy; they obviously run all over their non-conference competition.  USF upset Notre Dame to start the season, and then they slaughtered Ball State, FAMU, and UTEP by a combined 159-48 and outgaining the three 1839 to 745 (613-248 average).

 

Once conference play began, USF lost six of seven contests.  They blew Syracuse off the Carrier Dome field.  However, in their six conference losses, the Bulls actually outgained their conquerors by 10 yards.  They were -5 in turnover margin in those six losses, and that cannot totally explain how they finished in last place in the league after climbing into the top 20 for three weeks.

 

Coach Skip Holtz made a change on defense, after the Bulls blew five fourth quarter leads.  He brought in Kansas State defensive coordinator Chris Cosh to take over the defense in Tampa.

 

Cosh inherits an exceptional defensive line with room for more improvement.  Nose tackle Cory Grissom is agile for a 320-pound athlete.  He can penetrate the inside gaps and disrupt inside running plays.  End Ryne Giddins recorded 11 tackles for loss and earned 2nd team All-BE honors.  Texas transfer Devin Mims takes over at the other terminal spot, and he will shore up the loss of sack leader Claude Davis.

 

The three-man linebacker unit challenges Rutgers for conference supremacy.  Will linebacker DeDe Lattimore led USF with 94 tackles, seven sacks, and 13 total tackles for loss.  Sam Barrington switches from the strong-side to the middle, while Reshard Cliett moves into the starting lineup at the Sam.  Former starting Mike linebacker Mike Lanaris, who finished second on the team with 87 stops, has been dropped to the second team as of now. 

 

The secondary was the sore point last season.  USF was too generous against enemy quarterbacks.  Kayvon Webster is set at one cornerback spot after intercepting two passes and knocking away seven others.  The other cornerback spot won’t be decided until the eve of the first game, as George Baker and Kenneth Durdin are running neck and neck.

 

USF should improve somewhat on the defensive side of the ball, yielding about 20-21 points and 325 yards per game this year.  Those numbers will be good enough to be the key competition for Louisville, but only if the offense can be more consistent this year.

 

B. J. Daniels could prove to be the best quarterback in the league if he improves as much this year as he did last year.  Daniels completed 59% of his passes for 2,585 yards and 13 touchdowns and cut his interceptions from 13 in 2010 to seven last year.

 

The Bulls’ receiving corps is a close second to Rutgers in talent and depth.  All three starters from last year are back, but it is not a guarantee that the same three will still start this year.  Reserve Andre Davis appears to have moved up to the first team with an impressive spring and August work ethic.  Davis caught 22 passes as a true freshman last year.  Last year’s leading receiver, Sterling Griffin (43 rec. 530 yds), is listed as a co-starter with diminutive speedster Terrance Mitchell.  Chris Dunkley was supposed to be a sure superstar when he signed with Florida, but the 5-star talent has yet to live up to his press credentials.  He will be a 5-star reserve this season.

 

Marcus Shaw leads in the battle to replace Darrell Scott at running back.  In limited action last year, Shaw rushed for 38 yards on 20 attempts, after averaging close to nine yards per attempt in limited action the year before.

 

Darrell Williams improved significantly in the offseason, and Holtz has installed him as his starter at the all-important left tackle position.  He moved Mark Popek to left guard, and Daniels should feel comfortable in the pocket knowing his blind side is in ample hands.  This unit is loaded with talent, and the Bulls should move the ball at will on their lesser opponents and have some success against the stronger teams.

 

USF has an interesting schedule this season.  A “gimme” opener at home against FCS opponent Chattanooga precedes a tough road trip to Nevada.  The Bulls host Florida State and play at Miami.  Somehow, they have to play Ball State in Muncie.  They should win three of the five non-conference games, but the Miami game will not be as easy as it seems (Miami won 6-3 last year).

 

The key games come in before November.  The Bulls host Rutgers on September 13, just five days after playing Nevada in Reno.  They go to Louisville on October 20, but they get an extra week to prepare for the game, while Louisville plays at Pitt. 

 

We think 5-2 gets any team a piece of the conference title this year (as it has for the last two seasons), so USF figures to be one of the top contenders.

 

 

Team

Syracuse Orange

               
Head Coach

Doug Marrone

               
Colors

Orange

               
City

Syracuse, NY

               
2011 Record              
Conference

1-6

Overall

5-7

               
PiRate Rating

96.5

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

73

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

97

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

73

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

3-4

Overall

5-7

 

Syracuse appeared to be on their way to a second consecutive bowl following a 5-2 start last year.  They had just demolished #11 West Virginia 49-23.  Then, the roof collapsed, and the Orange dropped their final five games by an average of 15 points per game.

 

Fourth year coach Doug Marrone saw his defense take a major step backward, giving up nine more points and 85 more yards per game in 2011 than it did in 2010.  We believe the defense underachieved and has enough talent to improve this season, just maybe not enough to lead SU back over .500.

 

Marrone has not been happy in August practices to date.  Ends Deon Goggins and Markus Pierce-Brewster have not improved the way he hoped.  Tackle Jay Bromley, the best interior lineman, has been nursing a sore ankle and will not be at 100% when the season begins.  No other tackle on the roster has been impressive.

 

The one bright spot on this side of the ball is the return of all three starting linebackers.  Dan Vaughn, Marquis Spruill, and Dyshawn Davis teamed for 177 tackles (25 ½ for losses).

 

There is talent in the secondary, but SU was too generous against the pass last year, finishing dead last in completion percentage allowed at 62.4%.  Shamarko Thomas is a decent strong safety against the run, but he only broke up one pass last year. 

 

The offense has almost as many unanswered questions as the defense, but quarterback is not an issue.  Ryan Nassib returns and could vie for top passing marks in the league.  He finished 2011 with 2,685 passing yards and 22 touchdowns, which is tops among returning BE quarterbacks.

 

A big concern is the health of receiver Alec Lemon, who led SU with 68 receptions and 834 yards.  Lemon is recovering from shoulder surgery, and he recently sustained an ankle injury.  If Lemon is not 100% healthy for the season opener, the ‘Cuse is going to be hurting.  Nobody else on this roster caught 20 passes last year.  Another receiver expected to become more important in the passing game is also nursing an injury.  Jarrod West has the potential to become a key cog, but he greatly underperformed as a freshman.

 

Marrone likes to control the clock with a strong running game, but he has been overly disappointed so far in August practices, because no running back has moved to the forefront.  There is a four-man logjam of mediocrity, and the top contenders have contracted “fumblitis.”  This does not bode well for Nassib, because his offensive line has some holes as the season begins.

 

Left tackle Justin Pugh may be a first team All-American lobster-eater (along with guard Zack Chabane), but he may miss the start of the season with an upper body injury.  Pugh was the top blocker on this team last year and a 1st Team All-BE player.

 

SU went 4-1 outside the league last year, but it will be hard to duplicate that mark in 2012.  An opening home game against Northwestern would be a tossup if SU were 100% healthy.  With all the injuries, NU figures to be the favorite.  The Orange next take on top-ranked Southern Cal at Metlife Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ.  After a home game with Stony Brook, the Orange visit Minneapolis to take on Minnesota.  A mid-November trip to Missouri could leave the Orange at 1-4 outside of Big East play and probably no better than 2-3.  It adds up to another losing season at the Carrier Dome.

 

 

Team

Temple Owls

               
Head Coach

Steve Addazio

               
Colors

Cherry and White

               
City

Philadelphia

               
2011 Record              
Conference

5-3 (MAC)

Overall

9-4

               
PiRate Rating

88.0

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

101

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

91

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

97

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

0-7

Overall

2-9

 

Eight years ago, the Big East Conference fired Temple.  They kicked them out of the league for not being competitive on the field or at the box office.  TU’s first season as an independent was its most forgettable ever.  The Owls went 0-11 with an average score of 10-45!  Al Golden came to Philly and slowly rebuilt the program.  During his last two seasons, TU finished 9-4 and 8-4.  Golden departed to Miami, and Steve Addazio took over last year.  The Owls continued to impress, going 9-4 including an impressive 22-point win over Wyoming.

 

With all the defections in the Big East, the conference turned to the team they banished and invited the Owls back to the league.  Unfortunately for the Owls, it comes at a time when they face their biggest rebuilding effort in six years.  Temple faces an almost assured 0-7 mark in league play.

 

It’s not often that this school produces a consensus star like Bernard Pierce.  Pierce led the MAC with 1,481 rushing yards and lapped the field with 27 touchdowns.  Unfortunately, he is now wearing a Baltimore Raven jersey, but Temple has another star back in its fold.  Former Boston College standout Montel Harris rushed for 3,735 yards in three seasons, before a knee injury and a dismissal led to him matriculating to TU.  He is not built like Pierce, but he has more tactical speed and excellent peripheral vision.  Harris could easily top 1,000 yards rushing if his knee is 100% healthy.  Matt Brown was the best reserve back in the MAC last year, rushing for 916 yards.  However, Brown is nowhere near as durable as Pierce or Harris.  A half-pint at 5-5 and 180 pounds, he will break down if he has to carry the ball more than 15 times per game.  The Owls rushing numbers will drop some from the 257 per game of last year, but Temple will still have a strong ground game.

 

Quarterback Chris Coyer started four games late in 2011 and proved to be an adept runner and passer.  Coyer rushed for 562 yards and completed 60% of his passes with a TD/Int ratio of 6/0.  He averaged 9.3 yards per pass attempt.  Normally, this type of performance would call for even better numbers this year, but instead of playing against Bowling Green, Ohio U, and Miami (O), he will be facing South Florida, Rutgers, and Louisville.  His numbers will not be as good—by a quite a bit.

 

Temple was not a passing juggernaut in the MAC, as the Owls gained just 127 air yards per game.  The top three receivers are gone, and one player expected to contribute to the passing game recently left the team.  Deon Miller is the leading returnee, but he caught just 18 passes for 253 yards.  Ryan Alderman starts at one wideout after catching just two passes last year.  C. J. Hammond finally cracks the starting lineup, but he has been injured for practically his entire collegiate career.  Ryan Alderman is the surprise here, as he jumped over multiple receivers to crack the starting lineup.  Jalen Fitzpatrick will be utilized as a utility player.  Overall, this is not a unit that will play at Big East standards (maybe near the bottom if TU were still in the MAC).

 

The offensive line is in the same boat with the receivers.  There just isn’t enough talent or depth to compete this year in a BCS conference, even the weakest one.  Tackle Martin Wallace is the only holdover from last year, and he will not be confused for Justin Pugh.

 

The TU defense shares rebuilding concerns with the offense.  The Owls gave up just 14 points and 312 yards per game last year, but because of an outstanding ability to control the clock, the defense was on the field for less than 64 scrimmage plays last year.  The top four tacklers are missing, and the Owls will face a much tougher slate of enemy offenses this year, so it isn’t long odds that TU could give up twice as many points per game this year.

 

Marcus Green is a decent talent at end, but he must replace Adrian Robinson who led the owls in sacks and tackles for loss.  John Youboty slides over from tackle to end, and he is more of a run-stopper than pass rusher.  Levi Brown is adequate as a nose tackle.

 

Freshman Nate Smith takes over at middle linebacker, flanked by Blake Caponegro and Ahkeem Smith, both of whom have starting experience.  Still, this is the weakest trio in the league.

 

The back line of defense has one possible all-conference player.  Safety Justin Gildea tied for the TU lead with three interceptions.  TU is weak at cornerback, and all the passing quarterbacks in this league will exploit that weakness. 

 

One place where the Owls are Big East caliber is the kicking game.  Brandon McManus is the top kicker in the league.  Last year, he was perfect in PATs and 16-22 in field goals, while he led the MAC at almost 46 yards per punt.

 

The season kicks off with the Mayor’s Cup game against FCS rival Villanova.  This is not a given win for the Owls.  A home game against Maryland gives them a chance for a 2-0 start.  Game three comes following an off week, and the Owls play in-state rival Penn State.  Normally, this would be a sure loss, but we all know that the Lions could be headed toward their worst season since WWII.  After another week off, the Owls play six conference games in a row before heading north to Army and finishing at home against Syracuse.  There are opportunities for wins, maybe as many as five, but more than likely, the Owls will get weaker as the season progresses due to a lack of quality depth.  Because of the late move to the Big East, Temple could only schedule 11 games this year.

 

Coming Friday, August 23: A look at the four FBS Independents.  Can Notre Dame finally return to a BCS Bowl for the first time in six year?  Can BYU get into the BCS at-large discussion?  What about Army and Navy?  Have defenses caught up with their 21st Century version of the wishbone?

August 23, 2011

2011 Big East Conference Preview

2011 Big East Conference Preview

To some football analysts (so-called experts), the Big East Conference does not deserve and automatic bid to a BCS Bowl game.  Not since Louisville in 2006 has a team from this league won a BCS Bowl and finished in the top 5 in the same season.  It has been four seasons since the league champion won a bowl game (West Virginia over Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl when they had Pat White, Steve Slaton, and Noel Devine).  Cincinnati ran the table in 2009, but they showed they were not up to top tier standards when Florida blew them out 51-24 in the Sugar Bowl.

 

2011 does not look like the season where a Big East team challenges for a national title.  Things should change in 2012 when TCU joins the circuit.  For now, this season should be an excellent one for competition in the middle of the standings.  Last year, three teams finished tied for first at 5-2, and a fourth finished 4-3.  While we believe that one team may win the title going away this year, it isn’t impossible that another logjam at the top of the standings could be in the offing again this season.

 

Pittsburgh

Todd Graham takes over as head coach after winning at both Rice and Tulsa.  In Graham’s five years as a head coach, his teams have averaged more than 37 points per game, 287 passing yards per game, and 475 total yards per game.  In the last five years, Pitt has averaged less than 28 points per game, 208 passing yards per game, and 358 total yards per game.  To say that Panther fans are hyped is an understatement.

 

Graham’s first year at Heinz Field may not be as “offensive” as the fans expect, but there is enough talent to grab a piece of the Big East crown, especially since Pitt’s defense is going to be as good or better as last year’s stellar stop unit.

 

The offense will change from a multiple pro look to more of a spread look similar to that run by Auburn.  Piloting the new no-huddle, hurry-up attack is Tino Sunseri.  Sunseri completed 64.5% of his passes for 2,572 yards and 16 touchdowns last year, but those numbers will look like beginner’s numbers compared to what he should do this season.  He worked hard over the summer and now has better arm strength to go with a little more muscular frame.  Expect big things from Sunseri—maybe 3,500 yards passing and 25 touchdowns, as well as the possibility of national recognition.

 

The Panthers have to replace their leading receiver from last year, but this area is not much of a concern this year.  Mike Shanahan finished second with 49 receptions and 589 yards, while sophomore Devin Street proved to be a breakaway threat while grabbing 25 passes.  He started four times and played some at H-Back and some at wideout.  Hubie Graham will be the H-Back this year now that he is eligible after transferring from Illinois.

 

The running game will not suffer in the new offense.  Graham’s Tulsa teams averaged more than 200 yards rushing per game in his four years there.  Even with the loss of Dion Lewis, Pitt is in good shape here with the return of Ray Graham, who gained 922 yards while averaging better than six yards per try.  The one big question mark on this side of the ball is the depth at this position.

 

The Panthers are in good shape in the offensive trenches with seven quality players capable of starting.  Chris Jacobson is solid at one guard spot with Jordan Gibbs flanked outside him at tackle.  Ryan Turnley will move into the starting spot at center, while Lucas Nix will line up at either right guard or right tackle.  Depending on where Nix goes, either guard Corey King or tackle Greg Gaskin will fill out the line.

 

This offense might have a slight adjustment period getting used to the new offense, but once it gels, Pitt fans will get exactly what they were hoping for.  Pitt has averaged 35 points per game exactly one time in its entire history—1977.  We think this team is capable of achieving that mark in year one of the Graham regime.

 

We are even more optimistic on the stop side of the ball.  Not only is Pitt talented, all three units have quality depth.  This is hands down the best defense in the league, and the only reason Pitt may give up a few more yards and points per game this year is because the new offense will cause an extra 10 plays per game on average, about five more for the defense to be on the field.

 

The Panthers run a hybrid 3-4 defense that looks a lot like the old Oklahoma 5-2 defense of the 1970’s.  Pitt’s second team defensive line may be the second best D-line in the conference.  The first team line is composed of ends Aaron Donald and Chas Alecxih and nose tackle Myles Caragein.  Alecxih produced nine tackles for loss including 7 ½ sacks.  Donald played sparingly as a true freshman and proved to be a very capable pass rusher.  Caragein plugged the middle, allowing the inside linebackers to roam freely.

 

The four-man linebacker crew is without a doubt the best in the league.  Panther linebacker (a glorified term for a walkaway end) Brandon Lindsey could emerge as a Butkus and Bednarik Award contender.  Last year, he recorded 10 sacks and 17 ½ stops behind the line, the latter leading the Big East.  Inside linebacker Max Gruder finished second on the squad with 84 tackles.  His sidekick at the other inside linebacker position is Tristan Roberts, but he is being pushed hard by Shane Gordon.  Look for the two to split time here.  Spur linebackers (a combo linebacker and safety) Todd Thomas and Greg Williams will platoon the position.

 

More riches abound at the cornerback position.  Graham considers three players as regulars, even though just two can start.  Antwuan Reed, K’Waun Williams, and Buddy Jackson should force quarterbacks to look away from the sidelines or throw short.  Safety Jarred Holley led Pitt with five interceptions last year, and he will be joined by bandit safety (a hybrid safety/cornerback) Jason Hendricks.

 

Pitt gave up 19 points and 305 yards per game last year.  We believe those numbers will suffer slightly in the new up-tempo style, but don’t fret Panther fans; your team still has the top defense in the Big East.

 

If the offense can gel and play up to its potential in September, Pitt could actually contend for national honors.  We think the Panthers are a strong favorite to win the Big East with a decent shot at running the table in conference play.  Can the Panthers go 12-0?  It is a slight possibility.  There are four possible roadblocks.  A road game at Iowa could be tough on September 17.  The Hawkeyes are rebuilding, but they are always tough at Kinnick Stadium.  A week later, Notre Dame comes to Steeltown.  It should be the game of the week.  On October 15, Pitt entertains Utah, which is always dangerous.  Then, of course, there is the backyard brawl, and this year, Pitt travels to Morgantown to face West Virginia.  The Mountaineers could be in line to win the Big East with a win in this game, so it should be a great renewal of the rivalry with two teams capable of scoring a lot of points.

 

Cincinnati

We must admit that we were a bit surprised when our computer ratings spat out the Bearcats as the second best Big East team at the start of the 2011 season.  Coming off a 4-8 season under first year coach Butch Jones, the Bearcats will be much stronger on defense, but a rebuilding offensive line will make it hard to duplicate the offensive effectiveness of recent years.

 

The Bearcats are well-equipped at the offensive skill positions.  Quarterback Zach Collaros is one of four or five highly accomplished passers in the league.  Collaros passed for 2,902 yards and 26 touchdowns last year while finishing second on the team in rushing.

 

Isaiah Pead returns to his running back spot after gaining 1,029 yards at a 6.6 yards per attempt rate.  He did not start every game, so he could push that number over 1,200 yards this season.  True freshman Jameel Poteat could see extensive action in a backup role.

 

Bearcat receivers finished one-two in receptions in the Big East last year, and number two is back for an encore.  D. J. Woods was good for 57 catches and 898 yards with eight touchdowns.  Junior college transfer Kenbrell Thompkins should inherit the spot vacated by Armon Binns.

 

It is the blocking corps that worries us and makes us wonder if our computer didn’t byte on a bad bit when it calculated Cinti’s rating.  Only two starters return to the line.  One of those is tackle Alex Hoffman, a 2nd Team All-Big East selection last year.

 

UC averaged 27 points and 417 yards per game last year.  We expect those numbers to drop a little bit this year.  Look for 24-25 points and 375 yards.

 

After Pittsburgh, the Bearcats may have the best defense this season (West Virginia may have something to say about that).  The top 11 tacklers and 17 of the top 18 from 2010 are back.  15 players that started at some point will contend for the 11 starting positions.

 

The four-man defensive line will be strong.  Tackles Derek Wolfe and John Hughes will be tough to run on, while end Brandon Mills will contend for the conference lead in sacks and tackles for loss.

 

J. K. Schaffer and Maalik Bomar led the team with 111 and 70 tackles respectively.  The two linebackers combined for 17 ½ tackles for loss.

 

In the backfield, UC is stocked with depth albeit not quite up to par with the secondary at Pitt.  The Bearcats did not stop many passes last year, and if they are to live up to this rating, they must improve on their 2010 showing.  The entire two-deep returns and adds juco star Maclcolm Murray, who could crack the starting lineup by the season opener.  True freshman Trenier Orr is working his way up the depth chart.

 

The Bearcats gave up 28 points and 370 yards per game last year.  It should be easy besting those numbers this year with all the experience and depth.  If UC can shave a touchdown and 50 yards off those numbers, they might be able to live up to our lofty expectations.

 

Cinti’s non-conference schedule features two very winnable games, one possible trap game, and two games against teams that should be favored to beat the Bearcats.  All five of these games precede the Big East schedule.  If UC is 4-1 headed into the off week of October 8, the rest of the league better beware.  The Bearcats host West Virginia, but they must face Pittsburgh and South Florida on the road.  A 5-2 league mark is possible.

 

West Virginia

Welcome back to our prime time soap opera.  In today’s episode, Bill tries to go behind Dana’s back to spread nasty rumors and get him fired, but he gets caught and Bill loses his job.

 

Yes, that soap opera was no fantasy story.  Former coach Bill Stewart really did try to get his future replacement, Dana Holgorsen, fired by feeding a media source information to try to slander his offensive coordinator.  Instead, it was Stewart that was sent packing.  Holgorsen now ascends to head coach a year earlier than expected.

 

Holgorsen authored the offensive revival at Oklahoma State, after tutoring Case Keenum as OC at Houston and serving on Mike Leach’s Texas Tech staff.  The explosive spread offense used by the Mountaineers during the Rich Rodriguez era will return in spades this year.  However, WVU’s defense will take a major step backward.

 

Geno Smith may not be the running threat that Pat White was, but he has a better arm.  Smith tossed for 2,763 yards and 24 touchdowns while completing 65% of his passes in 2010.  Those numbers led the league in passing efficiency.  WV averaged about 32 passes per game last year; that number could top 40 this year.  Smith could easily top 3,500 yards passing.

 

Smith has three excellent options to fire his passes to this year.  Tavon Austin, Brad Starks, and Stedman Bailey teamed for 101 receptions 1,421 yards, and 16 touchdowns last year.  Starks could lose his starting spot to Ryan Nehlen, and we could see this trio topping 150 receptions, 2,000 yards, and 20 touchdowns this year.

 

Noel Devine is no longer around in the Mountaineer backfield after it seemed like he was there for a decade.  His replacement will be a three-headed monster known as Andrew Buie, Dustin Garrison, and Vernard Roberts.  All three are true freshmen, so there will be a decline at this position.

 

The offensive line had to do some shuffling following the Spring Game injury of 2nd Team All-Big East guard Josh Jenkins.  The best center in the league returns in Joe Madsen.  Don Barclay returns at left tackle after earning 1st Team All-Big East accolades in 2010.

 

The Mountaineers’ offense ground to a near halt at times last year.  In a period of four weeks, WVU scored just 14, 13, and 17 points against three conference opponents.  Expect a dramatic increase in offensive production this year.  The Mountaineers could top 30 points and 425 yards per game in year one of the Holgorsen era.

 

Now, to the defense:  West Virginia’s stop troops were almost as tough as TCU’s last year.  The Mountaineers gave up just 13.5 points, 86 rushing yards, and 261 total yards last year.  This year’s defense is missing five all-conference players and seven starters overall.  Factoring into the equation the real possibility that the new offense will not produce long, time-consuming drives (WVU ran 105 more scrimmage plays than their opponents) and cause this team to defend as much as a dozen more scrimmage plays this year, WVU will not come close to matching their 2010 numbers.

 

One starter returns to the front line of the 3-3-5 defense, but the designated pass rusher from last year gives WVU the equivalent of two starting ends returning.  Julian Miller earned a spot on the 2nd Team All-Big East list after coming up with 14 tackles for loss and nine sacks.  Bruce Irvin led the league with 14 sacks and also made the 2nd Team All-Big East list.

 

The biggest rebuilding will take place in the second line of defense, as middle linebacker Najee Goode is the only holdover.  Goode contributed 8 ½ tackles for loss.

 

The back line is the strength of this side of the ball.  Safety Terence Garvin led the team with 76 tackles.  Cornerback Keith Tandy finished tied for first in the league with 17 passes defended.  Six of those were interceptions, and it earned him a 1st Team All-Big East Selection.

 

How much the defense regresses will determine how far WVU falls in the standings.  They tied for first last year.  We could see them challenging for first again this year, but we believe they will probably come in two games back and in third.  The Mountaineers will pick up three or four non-conference wins (LSU and Maryland on the schedule), so Holgorsen will guide his forces back to a bowl game.

 

Connecticut

2010 was the cherry on top season for the Huskies, as Randy Edsall guided UConn to the conference title and a berth in the Fiesta Bowl.  Edsall left for Maryland, and the new man is former Syracuse coach Paul Pasqualoni.  Pasqualoni won 107 games in 14 years at Syracuse, including four Big East Championships.  The ‘Cuse went to bowl games nine times in the 14 seasons.

 

The cupboard is not bare in Huskietown, but there is quite a bit of rebuilding to do, especially on offense where five starters have departed and one unit has been decimated with the loss of four key parts.

 

That one unit comes on the offensive side of the ball, where UConn already faced some major losses.  Starting Wide receiver Michael Smith led the Huskies last year with 46 receptions and 615 yards.  He was declared academically ineligible.  Three more receivers expected to figure in the mix all quit.  Gone are Malik Generett, Gerrard Sheppard, and Leon Kinnard.  That leaves just six receivers on the roster, and two of those six are nursing minor injuries.  Kashif Moore and Isiah Moore are capable second and third options, but now they will have to become the feature receivers.

 

Just who will throw the passes is still a mystery.  As late as mid-August, Pasqualoni had not settled on a starting quarterback.  True freshman Michael Nebrich appears to have a slight edge over redshirt freshman Scott McCummings, but sophomore Michael Box and junior Johnny McEntee are also in the mix.  Nebrich will probably be under center when Connecticut hosts Fordham on September 1.  Last year’s co-quarterbacks did not produce bang-up numbers, so the eventual starter will not be that far behind what they had and could even be a little better.

 

The news is not as good at the running back position.  Jordan Todman has used of his eligibility after rushing for a conference-leading 1,695 yards with 14 touchdowns.  Number two rusher Robbie Frey is also missing.  Former Southern Cal fullback D. J. Shoemate takes over as the starter after rushing for 115 yards in limited action last year.  Shoemate had a problem holding onto the ball and was relegated to the bench.

 

The brightest spot of the offense is a talented and experienced offensive line.  Center Moe Petrus has been a 1st Team All-Big East pick in the past.  Tackle Mike Ryan made the 1st Team all-conference squad last year.

 

Connecticut will make a lot more mistakes on this side of the ball this season.  The Huskies limited mistakes last year, finishing the season +12 in turnover margin.  Don’t expect a repeat, even with a defense that could be just as good or even better than last year.  Look for about 20-24 points and 275-300 total yards out of this offense.

 

If the Huskies can plug some holes at linebacker, the defense could be a major plus in 2011.  UConn gave up 22 points and 367 yards per game last year, but it was a hit or miss season.  Against the weaker teams, the defense shut them down.  Against the stronger teams, the defense faltered.  Oklahoma, Michigan, Rutgers, and West Virginia combined to gain 1,864 yards (466/g), while the other nine opponents totaled 2,904 yards (323/g).

 

In the trenches, tackles Kendall Reyes and Twyon Martin return as starters.  They combined for 15 stops for loss.  Reyes was able to intercept two passes and knock away four others.  End Jesse Joseph returns after leading the team with 8 ½ sacks and 12 tackles for loss.

 

The secondary returns intact with cornerbacks Blidi Wreh-Wilson and Dwayne Gratz looking to top their production of 2010 when they teamed for 20 passes defended.  Safeties Jerome Junior and Harris Agbor round out the secondary.

 

Only one experienced player returns at linebacker, and a freshman could actually become one of the new starters.  Sio Moore is the lone holdover from last year.  He was selected to the All-Big East 2nd Team after he recorded 110 tackles with 11 ½ stops for loss.

 

It is hard to predict what we believe the defense will allow this season.  It all hinges on what the offense does.  If Shoemate can hang onto the ball and produce a year similar to what Todman produced, Connecticut could control the clock, and the defense could be okay.  If the offense never gets untracked and cannot keep the defense off the field, the defense could take a step backward even with all the returning players.  We believe in finding a happy medium and will call for numbers just a little weaker than last season.

 

UConn benefitted from having a lot of scoring punch in their special teams last year.  Kicker Dave Teggart connected on all 36 of his point after attempts as well as 25 of 31 field goal attempts.  He was two for two beyond 50 yards.  Kick Returner Nick Williams averaged an eye-popping 35+ yards per return with two touchdowns.  Both specialists return and could be a major factor once again.

 

The schedule will save the Huskies this year.  The non-conference slate includes games with Fordham, Vanderbilt, Iowa State, Buffalo, and Western Michigan.  The Huskies will do no worse than 4-1 in these games.  With Syracuse, Rutgers, and Louisville visiting Rentschler Field, UConn will win the two conference games they need to return to a bowl game.  It will not be a BCS Bowl this year.

 

South Florida

The Bulls finished 3-4 in league play last year, 3-4 in 2009, and 2-5 in 2008.  They have finished with winning records the past three years thanks to a non-conference record of 16-2.  Second year coach Skip Holtz lost half of his 2010 starters, but his main returnee is causing him sleepless nights.

 

Quarterback B. J. Daniels is nursing an injured hamstring.  The third year starter does not have much depth backing him up.  Without him, USF is not going to move the ball through the air and will be less predictable on the ground.  Daniels did not have a stellar sophomore year after having a breakout year as a redshirt freshman.  If he cannot go at the start of the season, backup Bobby Eveld will get the nod.  Eveld completed 56% of his 75 passes, but behind him are a couple of true freshmen who are not ready to play at the BCS level.

 

Holtz’s top receiver from last year has used up his eligibility.  Dontavia Bogan led the team with 47 receptions, 19 more than the next guy.  That guy was Evan Landi, who returns after averaging close to 14 yards on his 28 receptions.  Former starter Sterling Griffin missed all of last year, and he should give Daniels or Eveld a decent second option.  Griffin caught 14 passes in 2009.

 

The backfield shows promise even if it does not return its starter from last year.  Demetrius Murray returns after rushing for 542 yards and four scores, but he could be supplanted by former Colorado Buffalo top recruit Darrell Scott.  Scott is eligible after sitting out last year.

 

The offensive line has to replace three starters.  The two returning starters are guards Chaz Hine and Jeremiah Warren. 

 

USF averaged 24 points and just over 300 yards per game last year.  It was considered a major underachievement.  Even with the loss of personnel and the injury to Daniels, we have to believe that the Bulls will be able to better those stats.  Look for 25-28 points and 325-350 total yards in 2011.

 

The defense has some holes to fill as well.  Gone are last year’s top tackler and tackler for lost yardage, co-top sack producer, and top passes defender.  Six starters return, and defensive coordinator Mark Snyder should find enough talent to mold a decent stop unit.

 

The biggest rebuilding job is in the trenches where three of four defensive linemen must be replaced.  Nose tackle Cory Grissom is the lone returnee.  At about 320 pounds, he can control two gaps on the line, but he will not make many tackles.  The true star of this unit is likely to be end Ryne Giddins.  In limited action as a redshirt freshman last year, he made six tackles for loss with 3 ½ sacks.

 

Linebackers Sam Barrington and DeDe Lattimore return after combining for 134 stops.  At the Sam Linebacker position, Reshard Cliett and Curtis Weatherspoon are likely to share reps this year.

 

The secondary is in good hands with the return of three starters, but none of the trio can be considered a game-changer.  Cornerback Quenton Washington recorded 59 tackles last year, but he only intercepted one pass.  Free safety Jerrell Young intercepted three passes to lead the team in 2010.

 

The Bulls don’t open the season with a cupcake like other teams.  They face Notre Dame in South Bend.  Other non-league tilts include three cupcakes—Ball State, Florida A&M, and UTEP.  The Bulls host Miami in November, and who knows how the Hurricanes will be playing by this point of the season.  They could even be facing the “death penalty” and players could be jumping off ship by this time.  Even if USF finishes below .500 in the league this year, they can return to bowl eligibility once again.

 

Syracuse

Coach Doug Marrone pulled off the biggest surprise of the league last year.  His Orangemen beat South Florida, West Virginia, Cincinnati, and Rutgers to finish with SU’s first winning Big East record since 2004.  The Orangemen played in their first bowl since that season and defeated Kansas State in the most exciting bowl game of the season—the inaugural Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium.

 

SU won with their defense in 2010, but that defense was decimated by graduation losses.  Only five starters return, and one of those will miss the first game and maybe more.  All is not gloom and doom, because they get back two key players that missed most of last year.

 

It is the secondary where all this good and bad news resides.  Free safety Phillip Thomas suffered a broken jaw and will miss at least the season opener.  Thomas is the leading returning tackler with 92.  Shamarko Thomas returns to the strong safety position.  He finished fourth with 67 tackles last year.  The two players returning from injuries should be the starting cornerbacks.  Kevyn Scott has 17 starts under his belt, while Ri’Shard Anderson saw action in seven games two years ago as a freshman.

 

Two new starters will open up at linebacker, one of whom could be a true freshman.  Marquis Spruill is the lone returning starter; he registered nine tackles for loss in 2010.

 

Up front, two defensive linemen return.  End Mikhail Marinovich recorded just three sacks and needs to improve on that number.  His counterpart, Chandler Jones, is the star of the stop side.  Jones earned 2nd team all-conference honors after recording four sacks, 9 ½ total tackles for loss, and five additional QB hurries.  He also knocked away four passes.

 

After giving up just 19 points and 300 yards last year, look for those numbers to head south in 2011.  We foresee the ‘Cuse giving up 23-28 points and about 340 yards per game.

 

The offense really did not improve much upon 2009’s production, increasing scoring by just a point per game while actually gaining fewer yards.  This year, The Orangemen should produce the most points and yards in at least seven years. 

 

There is one big distraction as this team enters fall drills.  Speedy receiver Marcus Sales is suspended indefinitely following a drug arrest.  His trial does not begin until February of 2012, so he could play the 2011 season.  Whether or not Marrone allows him to participate is another question.  Sales had 26 receptions with a 16 yard average per catch.  Syracuse still has some quality receivers on hand.  Van Chew led the team with 41 receptions.  Alec Lemon caught 32 passes.  Both players should add to their totals this season.  Tight end Nick Provo is a proven option in the middle, and he should see more passes come his way this year after grabbing 33 receptions.

 

Quarterback Ryan Nassib returns for his junior season, his second as a starter.  Nassib passed for 2,300+ yards with 19 touchdowns.  Nassib will throw more passes this season, and he should top 2,500 yards.

 

The running game will miss star back Delone Carter, who departs after rushing for more than 1,200 yards last year.  Antwon Bailey rushed for 554 yards and a couple of scores with a 4.9 yard per carry average.  He is strictly a speed back, so when SU needs to pound the ball and convert short yardage situations, expect true freshman Adonis Ameen-Moore to see a lot of action.

 

Four starters return to the offensive line, led by tackle Justin Pugh.  Pugh earned 2nd Team All-Big East accolades last year.  Guard Andrew Tiller could be on the cusp of making an all-conference team.

 

Syracuse is known for having great place kickers.  Ross Krautman is the current top kicker in the Big East.  He nailed 18 of 19 field goal attempts last year, including 6 of 7 from beyond 40 yards.

 

We see the ‘Cuse averaging about 24-27 points and 325-350 yards per game this year.  They will fall in the conference standings, but there is still a chance the Orangemen can become bowl eligible for the second consecutive season.  Four of five non-conference games are winnable, with Wake Forest, Rhode Island, and Toledo visiting the Carrier Dome.  A visit to Tulane is winnable as well, while the trip to Southern Cal should be a losing proposition.  The Orangemen should only need two conference wins to get to six.  Rutgers, USF, and Cincinnati visit the Carrier Dome.  SU could win two of those games.

 

Rutgers

After five consecutive winning seasons and four consecutive bowl wins, the Scarlet Knights took a step backward last year, finishing with just four wins.  RU coach Greg Schiano made some changes, gutting the Spread Formation and bringing in former Pitt offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti.  The Knights will switch back to a pro-style offense this year.

 

Rutgers’ biggest problem on offense last year was pass protection.  The offensive line gave up an unbelievable 61 sacks!  That is no typo.  Louisville dumped RU QBs nine times.  Army’s double eagle flex did the trick eight times.  The number was seven for both Pitt and Cincinnati.

 

Cignetti was a quarterback coach with the Saints and 49ers, and he will spend extra time tutoring RU quarterback Chas Dodd.  The sophomore started the final eight games and passed for 1,637 yards and 11 touchdowns.  Should Dodd need to be replaced, two freshmen could be in line as the next two options. 

 

If Dodd can get adequate pass protection, he will have a stable of quality receivers to choose from.  Mark Harrison, Mohamed Sanu, Brandon Coleman, Quron Pratt, and Tim Wright and tight end D. C. Jefferson make the receiving corps as strong as any in the league.  Harrison showed breakaway ability last year when he caught 44 passes for 829 yards and nine touchdowns.  Sanu was more of a possession receiver, and he also caught 44 passses.

 

On paper, the running game appeared to be weak, but it was not so.  Factoring out sacks, the backs averaged 4.2 yards per rush.  Fullback Joe Martinek could be an important key this season.  In the new offense, he will block for a quartet of excellent backs.  Jeremy Deering may miss the start of the season with a head injury, after he averaged 4.6 yards per carry last year.  However, a true freshman may be the featured back this year.  Savon Huggins rushed for 1,891 yards and 35 touchdowns as a high school senior.  Jawan Jamison and De’Antwan Williams will see action.

 

The offensive line has nowhere to go but up, and with four starters returning, it will be improved.  Guard Desmond Wynn is the best of the bunch; his counterpart could be former prized recruit Antwan Lowery over returning starter Art Forst.  Desmond Stapleton and Andre Civil will man the tackle positions, while David Osei will be the new center.

 

Rutgers’ offense should make strides toward becoming powerful this year, but there will be some adjusting with the new offense.  Look for about 25-30 points and 375-400 yards per game.

 

Rutgers will need to outscore opponents to win, because their defense is going to resemble Swiss cheese at times.  The Scarlet Knights gave up 27 points and 375 yards per game last year, and with six key players gone, that number could weaken in 2011.

 

The strongest unit on defense will be at linebacker.  Steve Beauharnais and Khaseem Greene return after teaming for 156 tackles with 8 ½ for losses. 

 

Up front, Rutgers uses a 4-man line, but one of the ends is more of a linebacker than a true end.  Marvin Booker and Ka’Lial Glaud will probably alternate at that hybrid position.  At the other end position, Manny Abreu has a leg up on Marcus Thompson and Micheal Larrow, but as of this writing, Larrow is the only healthy player of the three. 

 

The secondary is deep with average talent.  Cornerbacks Logan Ryan and Brandon Jones will be challenged by Mason Robinson and Marcus Cooper.  Safeties Duron Harmon and David Rowe make this unit deep albeit not outstanding.

 

With an offense that might hold onto the ball a little longer, RU could improve a little bit on the defensive side.  Still, this defense is anything but dominating, and the Scarlet Knights will have weeks where opponents torch them for 30-40 points.

 

The schedule is manageable, and RU could actually eke out enough wins to become bowl eligible.  Non-conference tilts with North Carolina Central, Ohio U, Navy, Army, and North Carolina are all winnable, but four of those opponents are dangerous. 

 

Louisville

Charlie Strong’s first year at UL was a success; he guided the Cardinals to a 7-6 record and bowl win.  If he repeats that effort in 2011, he should receive votes for National Coach of the Year!

 

UL has endured major losses on both sides of the ball, and it looks to us as though the Cards are headed back to the basement this year.

 

Just three starters return to an offense that was credible but not spectacular a year ago.  The Cards’ two-man quarterback tandem both moved on, and the new quarterback figures to be Will Stein.  Stein threw a grand total of 14 passes last year, completing nine for just 72 yards.  True freshman Teddy Bridgewater is the QB of the future.

 

Stein has some talent at the receiver position.  Josh Bellamy is an All-American trash-talker, but he may be able to back it up.  He snatched 29 passes and scored five touchdowns last year.  Andrell Smith and Michaelee Harris will be aided by promising true freshman Eli Rogers.

 

The big loss on offense is at running back, where Bilal Powell leaves after rushing for more than 1,400 yards and 11 touchdowns.  Victor Anderson replaces Powell; he rushed for 286 yards last year.

 

The offensive line has just one returning starter, and he is center Mario Benavides.  No other offensive lineman on the roster has ever started a game, so the Cards could have some troubles moving the ball this season.

 

After averaging 26 points and 370 yards a game last year, the drop could be as far as 17 to 20 points and 300-325 yards this season.

 

While seven starters return on the defensive side, the Cards took a major hit on this side of the ball with the departure of six of the top 10 tacklers.  The biggest concern is in the trenches, even though three starters return.  Ends B. J. Butler and Greg Scruggs combined for just 37 tackles, and Butler missed Spring Practice with an injury.  The Cards will miss designated pass rusher Rodney Gnat and his team-leading nine sacks.

 

Linebackers Daniel Brown and Dexter Heyman combined for 14 ½ tackles for loss, but neither will challenge for 1st Team All-Big East honors.

 

Safeties Hakeem Smith and Shenard Holton led the Cards with 88 and 74 tackles respectively.  They combined for just one interception.  Cornerback appears to be a major liability.  Johnny Patrick was high NFL draft choice after leading the conference with 17 passes defended.  Expected starter Darius Ashley was picked up twice on DUIs and is indefinitely suspended. 

 

Louisville will have a difficult time avoiding the Big East cellar.  However, there is still a small chance the Cards could become bowl eligible.  The non-conference slate gives them a small chance to win five games and a decent chance to win four.  UL plays Murray State, Florida International, Kentucky, Marshall, and North Carolina.  If they can win at least four of those five, they could go 2-5 in the league and repeat at 6-6 in the regular season.

 

2011 Big East Conference Media Poll

Team

1st Place Votes

Points

West Virginia

21

188

Pittsburgh

2

162

South Florida

1

151

Syracuse

 

98

Cincinnati

 

96

Connecticut

 

76

Louisville

 

60

Rutgers

 

33

 

 

2011 Big East Conference PiRate Ratings

Team

PiRate #

Prediction

Pittsburgh

111.5

7-0/11-1

Cincinnati

108.7

3-4/6-6

West Virginia

106.6

5-2/8-4

Connecticut

102.1

3-4/7-5

S. Florida

101.4

5-2/9-3

Syracuse

94.8

2-5/6-6

Rutgers

94.5

1-6/6-6

Louisville

92.2

2-5/5-7

 

August 16, 2010

2010 Big East Conference Preview

Go to www.piratings.webs.com where we beat the spread 60.4% in 2009!

 

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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