The Pi-Rate Ratings

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?

Advertisements

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

 

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.