The Pi-Rate Ratings

August 31, 2009

2009 Big East Conference Preview

2009 Big East Preview

A PiRate Look

Today, we begin the first previews of the BCS conferences and take a look at The Big East, which according to our ratings is about five points better as a whole than the Mountain West Conference, the highest ranked of the non-BCS conferences.

Here are the preseason PiRate ratings for the league.  The ratings have been rounded to the nearest whole number even though we calculate them to two decimal places.  Thus, when you see multiple teams with the same rating, they are not actually exactly even.  To understand what the rating means, it is set so that 100 is average.  Thus, a rating of 90 means the team is 10 points weaker than the average team in the FBS.  The average of all 120 FBS teams should round to 100 if the math has been successfully calculated.

For those who have not followed the PiRate Ratings before and wonder about the home field advantage, we do not assign set in stone advantages.  These are assigned on a game-by-game basis.  For instance, when West Virginia and Pittsburgh hook up for their season ending Backyard Brawl, there isn’t really much home field advantage for the home team.  However, if West Virginia were to host Arizona State on a Thursday night in November after the Sun Devils played Southern Cal in LA five days earlier, the Mountaineers would receive as much as nine points home field advantage.  The PiRates think it’s ridiculous to issue a blank home field advantage for all teams or even assign a range of set home field advantages.


Big East Preseason PiRate Ratings


Prediction *



Big East










  South Florida








  West Virginia





















*  Predictions not based on PiRate Rating but


on expected changes to rating during the year




Pittsburgh: The Panthers begin the season as the highest rated Big East team this year, but us PiRates believe they won’t be the top-rated team at the end of the season.  Coach Dave Wannstedt has a mighty fine defense up in the steel city, but his offense plays hot and cold.  As a case in point, Pitt scored 34 points on a fairly good Connecticut team and then followed it up by getting shut out in the Sun Bowl.

The inconsistent play on the attack side starts at quarterback where Bill Stull has started off and on the last two years has never proved he could hold onto the job.  He passed for 2,356 yards last year but threw 10 interceptions and only nine touchdown passes. 

The Panthers might have threatened to make the preseason Top 10 if running back LaSean McCoy had stayed around.  McCoy left early after rushing for 1,488 yards and 21 touchdowns.  He cannot be replaced by this year’s group of backs.  True freshmen Dion Lewis and Ray Graham will get the majority of the snaps.

None of the receivers on the roster caught 25 passes last year.  Tight end Nate Byham could be an All-American if the quarterbacks can play consistently.  He should take heat off wide out Jonathan Baldwin, allowing Baldwin to possibly triple his number of catches this year (18 in ’08).  Baldwin can turn a short route into a long gain.

The offensive line has the potential to be the best in the Big East, but for now they take a back seat to Rutgers.  Four starters return, and they should give Stull ample time to spot his receivers.

The Pitt defense returns seven starters, but the top three tacklers are gone.  Still, we believe this will be one of the top stop troops in the nation.

It all starts up front with two star ends.  Greg Romeus and Jabaal Sheard combined for 26 tackles behind the line.  They batted away 10 passes too.

Only one linebacker starter returns, but he’s a dandy.  Greg Williams is an above average blitzer and very good pass defender.

Aaron Berry heads the Big East’s top secondary.  Berry knocked down 10 passes and intercepted three.  He should be a 1st team All Big East selection.

We think Pittsburgh will fall short of the conference title due to an unfavorable schedule.  The Panthers must play the top two contenders (Rutgers and West Virginia) on the road.  Out of the conference, they must play at North Carolina State and host Notre Dame, both of which could be trouble.  We’ll call it another year like last year.

Rutgers: There’s one simple reason why we favor Rutgers to win the Big East title and have an excellent shot at running the table.  It’s a weak table.  The Scarlet Knights could go 12-0 and fail to earn a shot at the national championship game even if no other teams go undefeated.  RU plays road games against Maryland, Army, Connecticut, Syracuse, and Louisville.  They get Cincinnati, Howard, Florida International, Texas Southern, Pittsburgh, South Florida, and West Virginia at home.  They get 13 days to prepare for Pitt, whereas Pitt gets six.  They play the Mountaineers the week after the Backyard Brawl. 

The Scarlet Knight offensive line is the best in the league and will help make the transition to a new quarterback easier than normal.  Look for tackle Anthony Davis, guard, Art Furst, and center Ryan Blaszczyk to make the All Big East team.

Quarterback is another story.  Knight career passing leader Mike Teel is now a Seattle Seahawk.  As of this writing, Coach Greg Schiano has yet to announce his starter.  Dom Natale was the expected starter when practice started, but he has performed poorly in recent scrimmages.  True freshman Tom Savage has drawn comparisons to John Elway and has picked up the offense quickly.  Jabu Lovelace will be used as the wildcat formation quarterback.  The QB production will drop off by as much as 100 yards from last season (270 yds/g in ’08).

The running game should gain some of the yardage lost by the passing game.  Kordell Young, Jourdan Brooks, and Joe Martinek combined for 1,474 yards and 15 touchdowns.  Rutgers averaged 3.9 yards per rush and 128 yards per game, and those numbers will escalate this year.  We believe the Knights will surpass 150 rushing yards and 4.5 yards per rush.

RU took another major hit at receiver.  Kenny Britt (87-1,371) and Tiquan Underwood (40-494) both heard their names called in the NFL draft.  Tim Brown only caught 27 passes, but he averaged 20.9 yards per catch.

This looks like the year Rutgers will make it to a BCS Bowl, but there’s virtually no chance, with their schedule, that they will play for all the marbles.

South Florida: After the initial ratings were formulated, Bulls players began suffering injuries en masse.  If we were compiling them today, we’d be inclined to lower their rating by a couple of points.  It won’t affect their record, because the Bulls start the season with Wofford, Western Kentucky, and Charleston Southern.  By the time the Bulls play at Florida State on September 26, most of those players should be healthy.

USF is one of the hardest teams to figure out.  One thing for sure is that they weaken as the season progresses.  In the second half of the last two seasons combined, their record is 5-7.  Their first half record is 11-1.

The offense welcomes back quarterback Matt Grothe for his final season.  Grothe narrowly missed a 3,000 yard season and threw 18 touchdown passes.  He also led the Bulls in rushing.  Look for USF to top 250 passing yards per game as long as Grothe stays healthy.

Grothe’s main targets will be Jessie Hester (injured to start the season), Carlton Mitchell, and Dontavia Bogan.  The talented receivers will allow USF to run more spread offenses this year.

Grothe won’t do all the running; he has some talented backs.  The best may be Mike Ford (injured to start the season).  Look for the Bulls to top 4.5 yards per rush and 150 yards per game.  That number is less than last year, but we expect the passing numbers to rise.

The one fly in the ointment is the inexperienced offensive line.  It’s one of the main reasons we may have to lower USF’s rating.  Only one starter returns, and two players expected to contend for a starting spot plus one other reserve have left the team due to injuries.  If the new line cannot protect Grothe or open running lanes, USF could struggle to reach bowl eligibility.

The best unit on defense is the line.  End George Selvie is potential first round pick in next year’s NFL draft.  He registered 13 ½ tackles behind the line last year and added five knocked down passes.

Linebacker Kion Wilson is the only holdover in the second line of defense.  New starter Sabbath Joseph played well in relief last year, so USF should be okay here. 

More injuries hit the secondary, and depth will be a concern this year.  Speedy Cornerback Jerome Murphy is the leading returning tackler, and free safety Nate Allen can make up a lot of ground in a hurry to get to the ball.

A very easy out of conference schedule to start the season will allow USF to begin 3-0 and give the new starters time to gain experience and confidence.  The key game should be the Thursday night tussle at home against Cincinnati.  USF should be 4-1 entering that game, and a win against the Bearcats should guarantee another winning season.  As usual, we expect a crash in the second half of the schedule, but the Bulls should be good for a win or maybe two in the final six.

Cincinnati: The Bearcats have a major rebuilding task at hand this season.  Gone are 10 starters from a defense that gave up 321 total yards and 20.1 points per game.  The only returning starter is strong safety Aaron Webster.  Not only does Cinti lose three secondary starters, all three went in the NFL draft.

Linebacker Andre Revels saw a lot of action last year and was the seventh leading tackler on the team.  Former Notre Dame quarterback Demetrius Jones will start at outside linebacker.

Up front, end Curtis Young and tackle Alex Daniels have some experience and should play well enough to give the Bearcats a halfway decent front line.

The offense will have to carry a lot more of the load this year, and lucky for Coach Brian Kelly, he has his top skill players returning.  Quarterback Tony Pike passed for more than 2,400 yards and earned 2nd team All Big East honors.  He should pass for 275-300 yards per game this year.

Pike’s best receiver, Mardy Gilyard, returns after nabbing 81 passes for 1,276 yards and 11 touchdowns.  Unfortunately, expected starter Vidal Hazelton, who played well at Southern Cal, did not win in his petition to become immediately eligible.

The Bearcats have a three-headed monster at running back, and all three are talented.  Isaiah Pead, Jacob Ramsey, and John Goebel combined for 1,465 yards last year and could top 1,600 this year.

Three starters return to the offensive line.  Center Chris Jurek and tackle Jeff Linkenbach could earn all-conference honors.

The schedule finds Cincinnati opening at Rutgers, and venturing to Oregon State two weeks later.  Other non-conference opponents are Southeast Missouri, Fresno State, Miami of Ohio, and Illinois.  The Bearcats play at Pittsburgh to close out the regular season, and they could be strong enough by then to spoil the Panthers’ home finale. 

West Virginia: The Mountaineers finished 9-4 last year, but that was a big disappointment.  Gone from that squad is quarterback Pat White, who finished his career in Morgantown as the second all-time leading rusher and second all-time leading passer.  Jarrett Brown saw limited action last year, and he will not come close to matching White’s rushing numbers.  He may be able to approach or even top White’s passing numbers though.

Brown’s key receivers this year will be the top two receivers from last year.  Jock Sanders led with 53 receptions, but he only gained 8.7 yards per catch.  Alric Arnett caught 35 passes for 466 yards.  Watch out for Wes Lyons.  He’s 6’8, and if he ever puts it together, he could be a major nightmare for secondary coaches.

Keeping the heat off Brown is the best running back in the league and one of the best in college football.  Noel Devine rushed for 1,289 yards last year and could top 1,400 this year.

The offensive line has major rebuilding to do.  Gone are four starters.  Combine that with a less mobile quarterback, and WVU will see a major drop-off in rushing yards and average.

Things look a little better on the defensive side of the ball with seven returning starters.  The secondary is the strongest area of this side.  Operating out of a 3-3-5, three starters return to the back line.  Cornerback Brandon Hogan intercepted three passes and broke up seven more.

At linebacker, J. T. Thomas is the top holdover.  He recorded 10 stops behind the line last year.  Reed Williams anchors the middle after missing all but two games last year.

Up front, two of the three linemen are returning starters.  Tackle Scooter Berry should make the All Big East 1st team.

Aside from White, the biggest loss could be the loss of Pat McAfee.  He was the best kicker and punter in the league.

A road game at Auburn is the only difficult non-conference game this year.  The Mountaineers could go 5-0 outside of league play, and should be at least 4-1.  They play the conference’s top two teams in the final two weeks, and if they can defeat South Florida in Tampa on October 30, it isn’t out of the realm of possibility that they could be 10-0 in late November.

Connecticut: The Huskies have been to bowls the last two years, but it’s doubtful they will make a third trip in a row.  UConn lost too much talent, and will come up a game or two short in 2009.

How do you replace 2,083 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns?  That’s just what Coach Randy Edsall must do, as Donald Brown is now an Indianapolis Colt.  Jordan Todman finished 2008 with just 296 rushing yards, but that was second best on the team.  He actually finished with a higher per carry average, but he cannot maintain that average and carry the ball 320 more times.

Quarterback Zach Frazer saw duty last year after transferring from Notre Dame earlier in his career.  Frazer has to cut down on his mistakes, and he threw six interceptions in just 83 attempts last year.

The Huskies have so many receivers of similar talent and ability, that nobody caught more then 27 passes last year.  Of course, there were only 164 pass receptions to spread around because Brown carried the ball about 30 times a game.  The top two receivers, Kashif Moore and fullback Anthony Sherman, return, but watch out for Michael Smith this season.  We think he’ll emerge as the eventual top pass catcher.

The offensive line has three talented returning starters in center Moe Petrus, guard Zach Hurd, and Tackle Mike Hicks, any of whom could earn all-conference honors.

The defense welcomes back its top four tacklers and six starters, but there are some holes to fill.  The defensive line has some major holes to fill.  Only one starter returns from last season.  To make matters worse, projected defensive end starter Marcus Campbell is off the team due to academic troubles.  Three players are competing for the vacant position.

UConn is set at linebacker.  All three starters from last year are back.  Scott Lutrus and Lawrence Wilson finished one-two in total tackles and combined for 15 tackles for loss and nine batted passes.

Jasper Howard is the star of the secondary.  He comes off a season in which he intercepted four passes and knocked down nine more.  Safety Robert Vaughn has a chance to be a 1st team All Big East selection.

The non-conference schedule is tricky this year.  The Huskies open on the road against Ohio U, and the Bobcats have enough talent to win the game.  A home game with North Carolina and a game at Baylor a week later make it a tough first three games.  Game four provides a breather at home against Rhode Island.  The fifth out-of-league game comes in November against Notre Dame in South Bend.  Frazer should be ready to show the Irish what they missed.  Pittsburgh, West Virginia, and Cincinnati must be played on the road, and Connecticut should lose all three games. We think the Huskies have too many liabilities to win six games against this schedule. 

Louisville: Coach Steve Kragthorpe finds himself in the hottest seat in major college football after posting a record of 11-13 in his first two years in the ‘Ville.  Bobby Petrino lost just nine times in four years prior to leaving.  If the Cardinals don’t show great improvement and play a 13th game at the end of the year, look for a new coach to take over in 2010.

North Carolina State transfer Justin Burke won the starting quarterback job, and he could equal the output of graduated QB Hunter Cantwell (210 yards per game).  Backup Adam Froman suffered a pulled muscle in preseason practice and will be slowed at the start of the season.

All the key components return at receiver, led by Doug Beaumont, who made a team-leading 62 receptions last year.  Unfortunately none of those catches resulted in scores.  Scott Long could emerge as a star if he can stay healthy.

The ground game is in capable hands with Victor Anderson returning after rushing for 1,047 yards at a 5.7 yards per carry average.  He could easily own the school’s career rushing record if he stays healthy for three more years.

The offensive line is almost as strong as the OLs at Rutgers and Pitt.  Tackle Jeff Adams has a chance to play in the NFL in two years.

Louisville averaged 24.7 points and 377 total yards per game last year, and they should match those numbers this year.  The news isn’t so good on the other side of the ball.  The defense gave up 30 points per game, and that number could be even worse this year.

The defensive line has a major rebuilding task.  Nose tackle Tyler Jessen is the only holdover starter, and he was a non-factor in 2008.  UL allowed 4.2 yards per rush last year, and that average could inflate a little this year.

The only bright spot on defense is at linebacker.  All three 2008 starters return, but only middle linebacker Jon Dempsey can be considered a star.

The secondary has two returning starters, but neither cornerback Johnny Patrick nor safety Daniel Covington will make 1st team All Big East this year.  Look for UL to give up about 240-250 passing yards per game this year.

The schedule doesn’t help Kragthorpe in his attempt to save his job.  After an easy opener with Indiana State, the Cardinals play back-to-back road games against rival Kentucky and Utah.  They then get Pitt on short rest on a Friday night game at Papa John’s Stadium.  That could decide Kragthorpe’s fate.  The Cardinals then face Southern Miss, Connecticut, and Cincinnati, the latter two games on the road.  By this point, we expect UL to have five or six losses, and an announcement could be made the week of the Arkansas State home game.  A closing four games of West Virginia in Morgantown, Syracuse, South Florida in Tampa, and Rutgers could be ugly if they are out of the bowl picture.

Syracuse: This is an orange train wreck.  Greg Robinson is out as coach after compiling a four-year record of 10-37.  Doug Marrone assumes control after running the offense for the New Orleans Saints.  The Saints marched on all their opponents, but Drew Brees is not on the Syracuse roster.

Players left the program and new ones arrived so quickly, it was hard to maintain the roster since spring.  From out of left field, former Duke basketball point guard Greg Paulus has emerged in upstate New York as the new starting quarterback.  He’ll be facing the equivalent of a five on one fast break from North Carolina every time he receives the snap.

Paulus has a credible group of receivers, but there are no big stars.  Mike Williams is the best of the lot if he isn’t rusty from missing all of last year with academic problems.

The ‘Cuse has a big hole to fill in its running game, as 1,164-yard rusher Curtis Brinkley has graduated as well as his big blocking fullback Tony Fiammetta.  The Orange rushed for 149 yards last year and will have to rely on a running back by committee to try to match that output.

The offensive line is neither a liability nor an asset.  Three starters from last year return, but only tackle Tucker Baumbach is a real talent.

The defense gave up 33 points and 415 total yards per game last year, and it could be just as bad this year.  Syracuse couldn’t stop the opponents’ running game last year, giving up five yards per rush.

The Defensive line shows promise with big nose tackle Arthur Jones returning.  Jones led the team with 13 tackles behind the line.

Linebacker is another story.  Three players who at one time were listed as potential starters have left the team, and only one experienced starter returns.  Derrell Smith is an above-average defender, but he cannot take over a game.  Opponents will exploit this glaring weakness in the second line of defense.

The secondary was downright lousy last year, allowing 27 touchdown passes and 225 passing yards per game.  Those stats might have cut it in Conference USA, but the Big East was not a great passing league last year.  Free safety Mike Holmes could be a star player with a little more support.

Syracuse hosts FCS power Maine on September 26.  If they don’t win that game, it could be an 0-12 season.  Cheer up Orange fans; basketball season promises to be really special this year.

Next up: A look at the Atlantic Coast Conference, where parity has been the name of the game the past few years.

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