2007 Big East Conference Preview

2007 Big East Conference Preview

2007 Big East Conference Preview
by T.O. Whenham

The Big East Conference tried to take a gigantic step forward in national credibility last year, but in the end they just couldn't quite succeed. Really, the problem was that the top three teams all got in each other's way. Louisville beat West Virginia, West Virginia knocked off Rutgers and Rutgers upset Louisville. If one of those games had gone the other way, then the Big East, the poor sister of the major conferences, would have been a major player on the national championship stage. As it was, the conference gained some believers when Louisville handled Wake Forest easily in the Orange Bowl, though the positive impact would have been larger if a more respected opponent than Wake Forest had been the winner of the ACC.

Those same three teams should be fairly competitive again this year, and there is a chance that South Florida will take a leap forward to challenge the forerunners in the conference. That might be a bit of a stretch, but it's even more unlikely that any of the other four teams in the relatively small conference will be competitive at the highest level.

Team on the rise:

South Florida. Quarterback Matt Grothe was more than solid as a freshman last season, completing 64 percent of his passes for 2,600 yards, and the has a foundation of talent to build on that. Combine that with a defense that is solid, and outstanding at the corners, and you have a team ready to take a step forward. The Bulls won nine games last year, including the PapaJohns.com bowl, so we aren't likely to see a huge gain in wins. The difference in this team could be that they start to win the games against top competition. Last year, with the exception of a shocking upset of West Virginia, the Bulls were competitive against the best teams on their schedule, but they failed to capitalize on opportunities.

Team on the decline:

Syracuse. Up until the end of September last season, the Orange were a decent team. They were 3-2, and had won three in a row. But then the bottom fell out. The defense allowed too many points last year, and they are likely to have the same problem again this season. The offense doesn't have the firepower to overcome the hole they consistently find themselves in. Andrew Robinson returns as QB, but he led an offense that was only the 102nd best in the country, and his tools are not any shinier this year. Head coach Greg Robinson left Texas two years ago to take this job. He must regret that decision every day. The only bright spot last year is that, as bad as they were, the public thought that they were worse - despite being 4-8 they were 8-4 ATS.

Treading water (hasn't done much to improve):

Pittsburgh. Dave Wannstedt hasn't done enough in the first two years to prove that he can handle the transition from the pros to college. He's managed to put together solid recruiting classes, but he has not turned that talent into wins. He's just 11-12 in two seasons, and something in the order of 6-6 seems likely again this season. As an offense, the Panthers have failed to establish either a solid running game or a truly great passing game. On defense they sacrifice too many points, and that was with the highly touted new pro corner Darrelle Revis on the field. There are questions at quarterback and other key positions, and it's hard to get very excited about this squad.

Money player (player to bet on):

Brian Brohm, QB, Louisville. Brohm deserves support if only because he made the unexpected decision to come back for his senior season and give up a likely first round selection in the draft. He struggled with injuries last year, but he has shown that, when healthy, he has the potential to be one of the best players taking snaps in the country. He loses running back Michael Bush, a friend and deadly weapon that is now with the Raiders, but the team has the depth to support him and help him put up some gaudy, and potentially award-worthy numbers.

Bankroll buster (player to avoid betting on):

Ray Rice, RB, Rutgers. Rice may ultimately prove me wrong here, but I am concerned about him. He put up huge numbers last year (1,800 yards and 20 TDs), but he also carried the ball 335 times. That's a lot of abuse, and you have to question his ability to hold up under that strain again. It's not like he will get to let up this year - Brian Leonard is gone to the NFL and the second running back, sophomore Kordell Young, appears talented but has little experience, and QB Mike Teel is a serviceable quarterback, but one that must rely heavily on a pounding running game if the team wants to have any success. Maybe I'm a pessimist, but those all seem like the ingredients for a disappointing season to me.

Important betting trends:

Pitt, UConn and Syracuse combined for 14 wins, but just four in conference. They feasted on weak non-conference schedules to make their records deceptively fat early in the season. The same could happen again in all three cases this year, so bettors should beware.

Potential conference champ:

Louisville. Though West Virginia returns the potent one-two punch of Steve Slaton and Pat White, I have to lean towards the Cardinals as long as Brohm can stay healthy this season. It comes down, in my mind, to the West Virginia pass defense. It was virtually non-existent last year. They have improved it some, but the Cardinals' passing game will also be improved.

Key matchups:

South Florida at Auburn, Sept. 8. If the Bulls can keep this one close, or find a way to win, then we will know that we have another team to take seriously.

Louisville at West Virginia, Nov. 8. With luck, this could be a replay of last year - two undefeated teams proving who is better.

Predicted order of finish:

Louisville, West Virginia, Rutgers, South Florida, Pitt, Cincinnati, UConn, Syracuse.

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College Football Preview: Can the Big East be even better in 07?
July 30th, 2007

(Sports Network) - What a season it was for the Big East Conference last year with a 5-0 bowl record and three teams in the final AP Top 12. It was quite a turnaround from 2005 when the league won just one of four postseason contests and sported only one team in the Top 12.

The Big East finished 31-8 against FBS schools, including a 27-11-1 ATS mark. Two years ago, the conference was 13-13 in 26 non-league affairs. What set the group apart in 06 was how well it did vs. the other five BCS conferences. The Big East won 14 of 21 games with an incredible 16-5 ATS record. Back in 05, the league went 5-14 straight up and 9-10 ATS.

Louisville, West Virginia and Rutgers will be prime contenders once again, but this year, they will be joined by South Florida. The Bulls defeated the Mountaineers on the road and lost by only a deuce to the Scarlet Knights. If the BCS Championship odds are a barometer of what will happen, then West Virginia will be number one in the league, as the Mountaineers are 8-1 to be national champions. Louisville is a hefty 20-1, while Rutgers is a fat 100-1 and USF is 300-1. The other four schools are in the field at 75-1. Which club will actually take the title? Time now for an inside look at the Big East:

1) LOUISVILLE - Only a loss to Rutgers prevented the Cardinals from playing in the BCS Title game. The Cards were coming off a huge win over West Virginia the week before and the Scarlet Knights had 12 days to prepare for their epic win. Strengths - The offense will fight tooth and nail with Hawaii as the top two scoring teams in the nation. The key is Brian Brohms health. The conference player of the year in 2005 missed a pair of games last season and the hope is that backup QB Hunter Cantwell will not be seeing any significant minutes in 07. The defensive line is in much better shape than last year as the unit loses just two players who combined for 12 sacks rather than the three starters lost last year that registered 27.5. In addition, the secondary wont be heavily picked on with Rod Council and Jon Russell returning after missing a combined 20 games last season. Weaknesses - As is the case with the top teams in the country, there is not a whole lot to write about in this section. The only concern for new head coach Steve Kragthorpe is the back-to- back November road games vs. West Virginia and South Florida. Bottom line - If the Cardinals can get past those two hurdles, they will be in the drivers seat in terms of representing the conference for the National Championship. A 12-0 record is not out of the question and at 20-1 they are a great bet to be crowned number one.

2) RUTGERS - A triple overtime loss at West Virginia prevented the Scarlet Knights from a BCS bowl berth and sent them to the Texas Bowl against an outmatched Kansas State club. Strengths - Most of the same pieces are in place for another huge year. Mike Teel improved as the season moved along completing 65% of his throws with five touchdowns and zero interceptions the last three games. Much different numbers than his 52% completion rate and 7-13 TD-INT ratio the first nine contests. Ray Rice (1,794 rushing yards and 20 TDs) returns along with three members of the starting offensive line, a unit that led the nation allowing just eight sacks. The defense that allowed 14 ppg last season could be even better with the emergence of DE George Johnson. Weaknesses - Depth could be an issue as 10 lettermen are lost from both offense and defense. Brian Leonard and Clark Harris, who combined for 72 catches, must also be replaced. Bottom line - The schedule maker was extremely kind to Rutgers with only four road games and three of them are close to home at Syracuse, Army and Connecticut. However, the contest vs. the Huskies could be a trap game as it comes a week after the Knights will beat the Mountaineers. It looks like a 10-2 season, 5-2 in Big East play, but stay away from the Knights as an away favorite - 0-5 ATS the last two years.

3) WEST VIRGINIA - Since the contest against Louisville will be played in Morgantown, most forecasters are predicting the Mountaineers will win that game as well as the Big East Crown. They defeated the Cardinals at home in 05, but needed triple overtime to do so. Strengths - The two Heisman Trophy candidates - Pat White and Steve Slaton - were not 100% healthy for parts of last season and WVU still scored 505 points! The defense did not record a sack the first four games, but picked up 31 the final nine. Weaknesses - The Mountaineers allowed an average of 13 ppg the first seven against extremely weak competition, but that number jumped to 32 the final six games. Not the type of "D" that wins championships. Bottom line - Improvement in the secondary will decide if West Virginia has what it takes to win the league title. The Mountaineers allowed an average of 315 yards per game through the air in the last six contests. It might not hurt them until they face Louisville, but by then it will be too late. A 5-2 conference record is in the cards, along with 10 wins overall. West Virginia is just 6-12-1 as a home favorite the last four years.

4) SOUTH FLORIDA - The Bulls have had just one losing season since beginning FBS (formerly Division 1-A) play back in 2001, but it took a road win over the Mountaineers last year to put them on the national map. Strengths - The Bulls were number one in league play in scoring and total defense giving up only 19 ppg and 300 yards per game. In addition, if freshman running back Mike Ford dazzles this season as he did during the spring, USF will have its finest offensive attack in five years. Weaknesses - If Ford cant deliver, it could force QB Matt Grothe to lead the team in rushing for a second straight season. Also, this summer hasnt been too kind to Jim Leavitts program as two expected defensive starters - LB LaBrandon Glover (transferring) and S Danny Verpaele (academics) - will not play this season. Bottom line - Expectations are at its highest point ever at USF but the Bulls will remain at last years 8-4 (4-3) mark. They are 14-9 ATS the last two years, but could plummet since more action will be placed on them this season.

5) PITTSBURGH - I hesitate to put the Panthers in this position since Dave Wannstedt could be the worst Xs and Os coach in the country. Nonetheless, his solid recruiting classes the last two years will begin to take shape and prevent them from dropping to the bottom of the league. Strengths - Pittsburghs running game has failed to reach 4.0 yards per carry in god knows how long, but 2007 will be the year the unit tops the mark. LaRod Stephens- Howling and LeSean McCoy will team up and wreak havoc on opposing defensives. Last years offensive line allowed just 10 sacks in 10 of the 12 games and four of the five starters return. Weaknesses - For Pitt to return to the eight win seasons of the Walt Harris era, the defense must improve from allowing 416 total yards per game, last in conference play. It will be interesting to see how that can be accomplished as the Panthers will be without their three tacklers and all three starting linebackers from a year ago. Three-year starting QB Tyler Palko leaves but might be replaced by heralded freshman Pat Bostick. Bottom line - The Panthers have been the epitome of mediocrity at 11-12 in the two years under Wannstedt and this season will be no different. They will get out to a decent start and crumble down the stretch to finish 6-6 and 3-4 in conference play. Bet them early and bet against them late in the year.

6) CINCINNATI - New head coach Brian Kelly comes over from Central Michigan to take over at Cincinnati after the Bearcats finished off an 8-5 campaign against a brutal schedule with games vs. Ohio State, V-Tech, Louisville, West Virginia and Rutgers. Strengths - Gone are the Buckeyes and Hokies, replaced by Oregon State and San Diego State. Seven starters return to a defense that allowed 20 ppg in Big East play, good for a second place tie with the Cardinals. Weaknesses - As is the case with USF, Cincinnati was hit hard this summer as Trevor Anderson, who led the defense with six sacks, decided to transfer, and wide-out Derrick Stewart and his 20.5-yard reception average is academically ineligible. Tight end Brent Celek also moved on so the talent at the receiving position will not be anywhere near the level it was a year ago. Bottom line - Despite the easier schedule, the Bearcats will not improve off last seasons record. Expect a .500 campaign with just two league wins. They also will be a great club to wager against in 07.

7) CONNECTICUT - The Huskies have hit hard times winning only 11 of their last 25 games after an 8-4 season in 2004. Strengths - All eyes will be on quarterback Tyler Lorenzen. The junior college transfer will hopefully infuse some life into the position that had the highest interception rate per attempt (13.4) of all 119 FBS teams. Running back Donald Brown rushed for over 400 yards vs. Pitt and Rutgers and finished with 896 yards in just five starts. Look for even better numbers this year with a healthier offensive line. Weaknesses - Connecticuts defense must improve in order to reach .500. The unit allowed 34 ppg in conference play in 06, well above the 24 ppg given up in 2005. Stopping the run should be the first priority as opponents crashed the line for 4.5 yards per pop. Bottom line - If theres one Big East team capable of improving its record from a year ago its the Huskies. They will reach the .500 mark at 6-6 and win one more game (2) in conference play than last season. Connecticut will be one of the better ATS clubs in the nation.

8) SYRACUSE - The Orange gave 100% effort last year improving from 1-10 to 4-8. They also covered all five of their non-conference games, but won only one league contest. Strengths - Wide-out Taj Smith was injured last season, missing eight games. His return will help spice up an offense that ranked 110th in the country in yards per game with 264. Syracuse usually fares well in turnover margin and last year was no exception with a +11. The Orange are +36 over the last six years. Weaknesses - Running back Delone Carter injured his hip in the spring and will miss the season. Quarterback Perry Patterson, who dramatically spiced up his play last season, also wont be back. The defense lost all three of its starting linebackers, so dont expect an improved run defense after finishing 110th in the nation last year. Bottom line - There arent too many BCS schools that will be worse than Syracuse. Thankfully, Buffalo is on the schedule, so the Orange will win one game. They certainly will not match their 8-4 ATS record from a year ago.

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Re: 2007 Big East Conference Preview

2007 BIG EAST FOOTBALL PREVIEW

A few years back many in college football were referring to the Big East as the Big Least. My how things have changed. This conference provided us with some of the most thrilling games in college football in 2006 and figures to more of the same in 2007. The big three, Louisville, Rutgers and West Virginia remain loaded and can play with any team from any conference in college football. But there may be one or two more teams from the Big East this year with something to say, namely South Florida and Cinci. Big East teams in general, have very soft schedules. The Big East schedules don't come close in toughness to most of the other major conferences. But don't let that fool you. While there will be some patsy's on their schedules, the top teams in the Big East are for real.

Louisville - Some may point out that the Cardinals lost more than half of their defense from a year ago, including two of their best players, but then this team was never known for defense. Offense is where it's at in Louisville, and this years team figures to keep piling on the points. Future NFL first round pick, QB Brian Brohm returns for his senior year with a group of receivers that should once again light up the scoreboards. Looking at Louisville schedule, it appears to be a cake walk right thru their first 9 games of the year. They should enter the final 3 game stretch at 9-0 before the true tests in their final three games against West Virginia, South Florida and Rutgers. With 2 of those three games coming at home, everything is in place for a run at an undefeated season for the Cards.

West Virginia - Another Big East Team that returns a solid group of players at key positions on both sides of the ball, including one of the better Quarterbacks in college football, Pat White as well as running back Steve Slaton. The Mountaineers problem has been their secondary and with teams like Louisville in your conference, being weak in the secondary certainly isn't a good idea. Revenge is big in College ball. West Virginia only had two blemishes on their record last year. South Florida and Louisville. They'll have to go down South to try and avenge the South Florida loss, which may prove difficult, but circle November 8th on your calendars as that's when the Louisville Cardinals come to town. WVA will win a minimum of 7 games and will once again go bowling. Whether they have anything to say about the bigger picture in college ball this year will be decided at South Florida, at Rutgers and against Louisville at home. Should be interesting.

Rutgers - Ah Rutgers.....what a magical season Rutgers had in 2006. Taking a look back, Rutgers had the one loss to Cinci in a classic let down situation where they simply didn't show up. The only other blemish on their record last season was a triple overtime loss to West Virginia to close out the regular season. 2006 was the best season in the history of Rutgers football and one that won't soon be forgotten. But with the success of last year comes the high expectations of 2007 and repeating last years success figures to be unlikely. True, Rutgers returns most of the key ingredients from a year ago including QB Mike Teel (36-3 as a starter in high school and college) and Running back Ray Rice along with several key defensive players (although they did lose two linebackers). But last year was a year where everything went their way. They caught all the breaks, which has to happen in a magical season like the one they had. Take a look at a couple of the games they won that were close. 21-16 over NC. 22-20 over South Florida. Who could forget being down 25-7 to Louisville in what was looking like a Cardinal rout before coming back and winning the game 28-25! Don't expect every break to go their way this year which probably means a few losses for Rutgers. It will be impossible to live up to the high expectations this year. But having said that, this is still a damn good football team that will no doubt go bowling once again this year.....and who knows, with a little luck............

South Florida - South Florida isn't going to sneak up on anyone this year. This is a solid team returning the bulk of their key starters from a year ago, a team that won 9 games. But a repeat performance isn't going to be easy. They have to play at Auburn the 2nd game of the season which figures to break any early season momentum unless they can pull off the upset. If that's not enough, two weeks later West Virginia comes to town. So we'll have a good idea before we even get out of September just where the Bulls of South Florida stand in 2007.

Syracuse - Syracuse is still rebuilding, but look for them to pull of an upset or two with their West Coast offense which can create havoc for any team with a suspect secondary.

Cinci - New coach, new QB.......Cinci's claim to fame last year was their upset of Rutgers. However, on that particular day, A high school team would have beaten Rutgers, who simply didn't show up. Cinci has some talent and could pull an upset, but figures to be mediocre.

Pitt - Coach Wannstedt needs to hurry up and win or his coaching days are numbered. Pitt started off the year 6-1 last season only to implode the rest of the way losing 5 straight to close out the year. They lost star QB Tyler Palko as well as several other key players, however they appear to recruit well and seem to have the talent. They should be able to compete, but still think it will be the same old Wannstedt coached team.

Connecticut - Maybe next year

To sum up, the Big East looks like it will be every bit as exciting this year as it was last year. Look for a few upsets from teams like Syracuse, Cinci and Pitt, but in the end it should come down to West Virginia and Louisville for the Big East crown and maybe more. Rutgers and South Florida will have something to say about that, but the feeling here is that they will come up a little short this year.

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2007 Sleeper Candidates (Big East)    

Last week, we kicked off a journey to find sleepers in each conference. Who doesn’t love a good sleeper? This week will take us to the Big East Conference, with four legitimate top 25 teams and several great fantasy players for all owners. For those owners hoping to find the next Steve Slaton or Pat White, this conference may not be deep in sleepers, but there are guys who should make a splash in 2007 – and help your roster. Cincinnati is a team all fantasy owners should closely watch, especially with their switch to a spread offense and the fact it could have a major impact on the value of quarterbacks, running backs and receivers on their roster.


-- Quarterbacks --

Ben Mauk, Cincinnati

Yeah, you guys know all about Mauk, but he makes this list because some aren’t going to be aware of the Bearcats offensive changes. The former Demon Deacon quarterback knew he wouldn’t start with Wake Forest this year and transferring to Cincinnati was the right move. Mauk is a good fit for what new head coach Brian Kelly wants to do – spread offense with a mix of no huddle – and that’s what Mauk ran in high school. It wasn’t the exact thing, but Mauk has all the tools to fit into the offense. Junior Dustin Grutza isn’t going to giveaway the job, but I think Kelly will have a hard time not starting Mauk. If Mauk shows more than he did at Wake Forest, he’s probably worth a spot in the top 50 quarterbacks.

Dennis Brown, Connecticut

It’s not certain Brown will win the starting job, but there’s reason to keep your eye on him. The Huskies chose to redshirt him last year and it was probably a good move. Brown saw action in two games during his freshman season and completed 28 of 54 passes for 293 yards and two touchdowns with two interceptions. The 6’3, Miami native has a lot of potential and redshirting him should’ve helped fix a few flaws that were discovered while he was on the field. Junior Tyler Lorenzen is also in the mix for the starting job, so there’s no guarantee Brown will win it, but this sophomore caught my eye in limited action and I think he’s got potential to be a good passer for this team.

Kevan Smith/Pat Bostick, Pittsburgh

Somebody has to step up and replace Tyler Palko don’t they? Bostick comes to Pittsburgh with all of the pub as a top recruit and one of Dave Wannstedt’s best recruiting pulls in his tenure. However, don’t count out Smith from the starting spot. The Panther coaching staff is intrigued by his ability – which includes a great arm, but just needs to learn a bit of touch. We know the Panther quarterback is capable of putting up quality fantasy numbers, especially with the solid receiving corps. Junior Bill Stull is in contention for the starting job, so we don’t want to forget about him – but the future of the Panthers is with one of these two youngsters and Wannstedt will turn to them in 2007.


-- Running Backs --

Mike Ford, South Florida

Ford’s had some legal issues arise over the past month, so keep an eye on those as the season gets closer. Out of these names in this week’s column, Ford is probably the guy getting the most pub from the owners around fantasy leagues, so he may not classify as a total sleeper. The buzz on Ford gathered around in the spring, as the highly touted back joined the team in the spring and is a former Alabama signee. Ford and NFL back Travis Henry are the only two Florida high school players to rush for 200-plus yards in 11 consecutive games. The biggest obstacle for the freshman is to beat out Benjamin Williams for starting carries. Williams is not the most spectacular back, but he found a groove last year and will play regardless of who is the starter.

LeSean McCoy, Pittsburgh

When trying to pick sleepers every year, it always seems a name pops up on a list that doesn’t belong. It’s one of the hard parts of writing this column – after studying college football all year long and following recruiting, it’s almost like there are no sleepers. It may seem difficult to picture a Panther back as a sleeper to contend for carries – wait, don’t they have La’Rod Stephens-Howling? Yes, but McCoy may be too good to keep off the field. McCoy spent last season at Milford Academy, but was one of the nation’s top high school backs. Stephens-Howling may start, but there’s no question McCoy is going to contend for time and possibly level out the value of both backs.


-- Wide Receivers --

Mike Williams, Syracuse

Every year, there are players who fly under the radar in fantasy leagues and I suggest you keep an eye on Williams. No, this isn’t the Mike Williams of former USC fame, but this Williams was impressive in his own right. In his freshman season, the 6-2 receiver led the team with 461 receiving yards – the first freshman to do since 1983. Additionally, he ranked sixth in the Big East with 46.1 receiving yards per game. Obviously, the Orange offense is a question mark and they’ve been downright dreadful in previous years. New quarterback Andrew Robinson could be better, so there’s hope to see Williams move up the receiving charts this year.

Dominick Goodman, Cincinnati

We’ve spoken about Goodman before – see our 2007 NCAA Fantasy Wide Receiver rankings for more – but the Bearcats new spread attack is going to increase his value. Additionally, Derrick Stewart was booted off the team, so Goodman should be seeing plenty of passes thrown his direction. The Bearcats receiver was a quality option in previous seasons, but his value is at it’s highest peak this year.


-- Tight Ends --


Kevin Brock, Rutgers

Was Clark Harris that good or were the Scarlet Knights just solid at using their tight ends in passing situations? Well, we are about to find out. Brock played in 12 games last season and has mostly been used as a blocker in his career. However, Brock was converted from wide receiver when he came to Rutgers. The junior didn’t register in the stat column last year, so there’s no guarantee he’ll be the go-to guy at tight end. However, considering the success of Harris in his career, you at least have to keep Brock on your mind for a late-round pick.


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Knee injury sidelines Pitt wide receiver Derek Kinder for season
August 12, 2007

PITTSBURGH (AP) -Pitt wide receiver Derek Kinder, a first-team all-Big East player last season, will miss the season with a torn knee ligament.

Kinder was injured making a cut after catching a pass during a non-contact drill during the first day of full squad workouts Saturday. An MRI exam revealed a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee that will require at least six months of rehabilitation.

After making the catch, Kinder was in pain but walked off the practice field. He is expected to have surgery this week.

``This is a very unfortunate thing,'' said coach Dave Wannstedt, who disclosed the test results on Sunday. ``He has worked so hard to put himself in position for a great year. It was a non-contact injury - he never got hit, he just planted on the grass.''

Kinder has not redshirted, so he can sit out this season and return to play as a senior in 2008.

Kinder caught 57 passes for 847 yards and six touchdowns last season, when he was a semifinalist for the Biletnikoff award as college football's top receiver.

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Big East Preview
CSTV.com

Mountaineers favorites once again

Once lightly regarded and often referred to as the "Big Least," the Big East is no longer the laughing stock of the BCS - not with three top 25 teams and four Heisman Trophy candidates.

With West Virginia, Louisville and Rutgers all ranked heading into the season and South Florida right on the cusp of cracking the rankings, the Big East is no longer considered the weak step-child of the BCS. They're a formidable force on the national scene.

Freedom Grill

With two new coaches in Louisville's Steve Kragthorpe and Cincinnati's Brian Kelly, the conference attracted two of the more highly regarded coaches in the country who weren't at a BCS school.

West Virginia and Louisville are still the class of the conference, with Rutgers right behind them, but one thing seems certain about this league - there's a whole new level of confidence and a little bit of a swagger after a widely successful 2006 season. The prospects of two teams earning BCS berths have never looked better and national championship talk is readily being thrown around the Cardinals and Mountaineers.

All the talk about the new look Big East, after three schools joined in 2004, and its future as a viable commodity on the BCS scene have gone away. 

"It's not an issue anymore," Rutgers coach Greg Schiano said. "Three years ago it was an issue. Now the on-field results are speaking well for the Big East. What's happened is it's gone away."

It probably doesn't get enough credit for how good it is, or how physical games can be, or how it's weathered the storm that questioned its ultimate survival, but the Big East is alive and well.

"It's a tough league," Schiano said. "Every single team in the league plays every down and people who play inter-conference games against us would say that when you go up against a Big East team it's going to be a physical game. Win or lose, you're going to be sore. And that's a pretty good reputation to have as a league."


West Virginia - 2006: 11-2 Overall, 5-2 Big East

Offense

In Morgantown this fall, it all starts with the best quarterback/running back duo in the nation. How good it is to be Rich Rodriguez.

After nearly taking off for Alabama, the highly regarded and highly successful coach will feature two Heisman Trophy candidates on offense who are as dynamic as it gets.

With Pat White behind center and Steve Slaton taking the hand-offs, the Mountaineers feature two of the fastest players at their position in the game. And if there's one thing we know about college football, it's that speed kills.

Not only can White run with the ball as effectively as Slaton, but he can throw it, too, something he doesn't get nearly enough credit for. He's got a stronger arm than advertised and makes some sensational plays on the run. He's not physically imposing, just a ridiculously gifted athlete who leads Rodriguez's spread-offense with great success. However, West Virginia's corps of wide receivers will leave White with something more to be desired.

The Mountaineers finished third nationally in scoring last year and second in rushing and they figure to be just as good this year. With West Virginia and its two superstars, it's going to center around running the ball. Amassing over 300 yards per game on average shouldn't be much of a problem this year. The Mountaineers return three offensive linemen, although they do lose one of the best centers in the nation, Dan Mozes, along with highly regarded offensive line coach Rick Trickett. But White believes the Mountaineers will be just fine.

"We have athletes, from center out to receiver, we have a team full of athletes," White said. "We have not only one or two or three playmakers, but five or six."

And if that thought isn't scary enough, how about Slaton's competitiveness.

"I think he hates losing more than he likes winning," White said of his teammate.

Defense

When comparing West Virginia's offense to its defense, it's the offense that trumps the D. But it's not like the 3-3-5 defense can just be readily dismissed.

The Mountaineers will feature a veteran defensive line that was one of the nation's better units against the run last season. Keilen Dykes returns and should make his presence felt in the backfield.

The linebacking unit lost some talent - it's by far the weakest of the three defensive units - but the losses are nothing the Mountaineers feel they can't address. The secondary has a bunch of gifted athletes who can fly to the ball. But a marked improvement will be needed out of the unit after giving up 243 yards per game through the air last season. Eric Wicks, the team leader in sacks last season, is back as one of the Mountaineers' three safeties.

The Skinny

It's going to be nothing but White and Slaton talk the whole season, and for good reason. The two are unbelievable talents who give defensive coordinators nightmares. But the ultimate success of this team will be predicated on the defense. Can they make the big stops when needed? They haven't always in the past, but if they want to return to their familiar role atop the Big East they're going to need to hold some teams in check.

The Mountaineers once again feature a relatively easy schedule - especially their non-conference slate that features Western Michigan, Marshall, Maryland, East Carolina and Mississippi State. It's the conference schedule that doesn't take it easy on the Mountaineers with road trips to Rutgers and South Florida.

But this is a team that should be a national championship contender. We've been saying it for the past few seasons and every year the Mountaineers fall short, but there's just too much talent - White and Slaton talk again - for West Virginia not to be there all season.

Regular Season Prediction: 11-1 Overall, 6-1 Big East


Louisville - 2006: 12-1 Overall, 6-1 Big East

Offense

Bobby Petrino is gone, but in comes equally offensive minded, and quarterback-friendly, Steve Kragthorpe from Tulsa to take over this top 10 team.

Despite the coaching change, the offense is pretty much the same. Kragthorpe has kept parts of Petrino's system while bringing over some of his own schemes from Tulsa. There's new terminology, but it's still the same pro-style offense, with a focus on drop back passing, that's made Louisville and quarterback Brian Brohm a national contender these past few seasons.

"There're a few new wrinkles," said Brohm, a Heisman Trophy candidate, but nothing the senior can't handle.

Brohm will work with George Stripling and Anthony Allen after Kolby Smith and Michael Bush departed, but this offense really clicks when Brohm's able to get the ball to his receivers - one of the best tandems in the country.

"I think we'll be very explosive on offense this year," Brohm said. "When you have the kind of speed that we have at wide receiver in Harry Douglas and Mario Urrutia, we just have a lot of opportunities to have big plays."

The offensive line has two holes that need to be filled, but Brohm should have good protection all year long. If he doesn't, then the Cardinals will fail to live up to expectations. In their only loss last season at Rutgers, the Cardinals pass protection broke down in the second half and was a big reason why their national championship dreams were shattered.

Defense

For all the accolades thrown upon the offense, it was the defense that actually won the spring game. And they're not going to be half bad this year with only four starters returning.

Amobi Okoye, one of the top defensive players in the Big East last season, is playing professionally now so the defensive line must pick up his lost production and that will fall heavily on Deantwan "Peanut" Whitehead and Earl Heyman.

The linebacking unit should be solid and just might feature Willie Williams, the highly heralded recruit and former Miami Hurricane who will be looking to finally make an impact in college. Secondary is something of a concern as top corner William Gay is gone. The Cardinals are going to feature new faces and may even rely on a junior college transfer, Woodny Turenne. Pass defense was the weak spot of this unit last year, and it doesn't figure to improve that much.

The Cardinals fielded a pretty respectable defense last season, only allowing 16 points per game, but logic says they're going to take a step back this season. They have the potential to be pretty good, it's just that they've lost more than some people might realize.

The Skinny

Much will be expected out of Brohm and the offense, including staying healthy. He's battled injuries the past two seasons that have caused him to miss games. Hunter Cantwell is still around to back him up, and he filled in admirably last season, but the Cardinals and Kragthorpe are banking on Brohm to be there all season and lead his team back to a BCS bowl game after last year's Orange Bowl win.

But the Cardinals know they could have very easily had more if it weren't for their worst half of football against the Scarlet Knights. To say it still eats at the Cardinals might be an understatement.

"We also know we were three points away from a national title," Brohm said. "You try not to look back and just look toward the future. But anytime you're in the weight room and you need motivation you just think back to that game."

Art Carmody, one of the top kickers in the nation, is the reigning Lou Groza Award winner and is as reliable as it gets in the game. And he's going to have plenty of chances to kick it through the uprights. With a relatively manageable schedule, there's a high ceiling for Louisville. It's all going to come down to the final stretch of the season when they finish out at West Virginia, at South Florida and Rutgers at home.

Regular Season Prediction: 11-1 Overall, 6-1 Big East


Rutgers - 2006: 11-2 Overall, 5-2 Big East

Offense

With their dream season behind them, Greg Schiano has ratcheted up the expectations to an unprecedented level at Rutgers. And with super back Ray Rice returning for his junior season, and Mike Teel a year wiser, there aren't going to be any excuses for the offense this fall.

But it's all going to start with Rice. He was a workhorse for the Scarlet Knights last season and he'll reprise the role this fall after rushing for almost 1,800 yards and 20 touchdowns. He's yet another legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate in the Big East, one of those guys who get stronger as the game goes on. There's no mention of a specific numbers of carries to expect out of Rice per game, but he's going to get a lot of looks.

"He'll be angry with me if he's not getting enough touches," Schiano said. "Ray trains like a man."

Teams will be stacking the line to stop Rice and dare Teel to beat them with his arm. Last year, that was sort of a scary proposition for Rutgers. Teel was inconsistent, to say the least, and had trouble taking care of the ball. He completed only 55 percent of his passes and threw one more interception (13) than he did touchdowns. He's going to have to improve on those numbers dramatically because until he shows otherwise, Rutgers will be mostly a one-dimensional offense. But Teel will have some talent to work with at wide receivers, namely Kenny Britt.

Fortunately for all parties involved, the Rutgers line will be deep and talented. Three starters are back from a unit that allowed the fewest sacks in the nation. The highly touted and equally mammoth Anthony Davis should see significant time at guard or tackle and his choosing Rutgers over the likes of Ohio State, USC, Florida and Florida State shows you how far Schiano has taken his program in just a few short seasons.

Defense

Rutgers is an old-school team. They do it with the running game on offense and a hard-nosed, no-nonsense defense that Schiano leads.

The unit really came together last season and posted some impressive numbers against the run and the pass. They finished as the sixth best defense in the nation and only allowed 14 points per game. Now granted, some of those low scoring games came against inferior competition, but the Scarlet Knights bore down when they needed to, shutting out Louisville in the second half of their upset win last November.

Rutgers will feature a strong secondary with three starters returning, but it's going to start up front with Eric Foster and company. If they can pressure the quarterback like they did a season ago and force turnovers (+11 turnover margin), then they're going to be the best unit in the Big East. The only glaring weakness could be at linebacker where Schiano will insert two new starters.

The Skinny

The Scarlet Knights once again will feature an easy schedule, one they can really take advantage of. With the likes of Buffalo, Navy, Norfolk State and Army on the schedule, Rutgers will pick up some easy wins along the way before they hit the meat of their schedule in late October/early November when South Florida and West Virginia visit Piscataway. And the regular season closes with a trip to Louisville.

But the prognosis is good for the Scarlet Knights. They also return Jeremy Ito, the best kicker behind Louisville's Carmody in the conference, and will be in the hunt for the Big East Championship for the second straight year.

Regular Season Prediction: 10-2 Overall, 5-2 Big East


South Florida - 2006: 9-4 Overall, 4-3 Big East

Offense

Last year's surprise team of the Big East won't be surprising anyone this year. Not with reigning Big East Rookie of the Year Matt Grothe back behind center for the Bulls and seven other starters back.

Grothe did it all for South Florida last season, throwing for over 2,500 yards and leading the team in rushing with 622 yards. The biggest knock on Grothe is his decision making. He threw one more touchdown (15) than interceptions, but with another year of maturity should come fewer turnovers. He already featured a 63 percent completion percentage, so he clearly has the tools to be much more careful with the ball. Opposing coaches seem to really like what they've seen out of Grothe and will be extra wary of him this coming season. Grothe will have three of the four leading receivers from last year to work with this fall, most notably Marcus Edwards and Amarri Jackson.

The Bulls are going to need a boost from the running game that didn't do much in the way of production from its backs. Mike Ford, the highly heralded recruit, who at one time was heading to Alabama, should be a factor in his freshman season, but Ben Williams, all 5-foot-7 and 190 pounds of him, will be the featured back for now until he shows he can't be the Bulls' man.

The offensive line should be solid, returning nearly everyone from last year's squad.

Defense

If anything, the Bulls did it with their defense last season and they're going to feature yet another stealthy athletic squad. They're not blessed with huge size, rather with guys who can get to the ball faster than you'd expect.

Three starters are back on the defensive line that will feature three impact players - Woody George, Aaron Harris and George Selvie. The linebackers will be lead by Ben Moffitt, the team's leading tackler last season, and a three-year starter.

But the real strength of this unit stems from the secondary. The Bulls probably have the two best cornerbacks in the Big East with Mike Jenkins and Trae Williams, who led the team with seven picks last year. The Bulls weren't phenomenal against the pass last year, allowing 217 yards per game through the air, but that number figures to come down with the experience-heavy unit that features two seniors at the corners and two juniors at the safety position. This unit is good enough to take some gambles and get away with it, so figure on their turnover margin creeping back up to the positive after last year's minus-4 mark.

The Skinny

The ultimate success of the team is really going to rest on the offense's ability to improve. If they can get better production out of their running backs and keep Grothe from running as much as he did last season, then the Bulls figure to be in good shape, especially considering the defense's potential to be even better than last season.

They've got an early game at Auburn, but other than that their non-conference games are extremely winnable. Big East-wise, the Bulls get West Virginia and Louisville at home with Rutgers on the road.

"It is as tough a schedule as we've ever had," head coach Jim Leavitt said. "It's the real deal."

They're now considered a contender for the Big East title so it could be interesting to see how they handle the biggest expectations in the program's decade long history and Leavitt's overseen all of it.

Regular Season Prediction: 9-3 Overall, 5-2 Big East

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Cincinnati - 2006: 8-5 Overall, 4-3 Big East

Offense

There figures to be a big change in offensive philosophy now that Brian Kelly is the new man in charge of the Bearcats.

Those run-first days seem to be behind Cincinnati as Kelly will look to open up the offense and throw the deep ball with a lot more regularity than former coach Mark Dantonio, who is now coaching Michigan State.

But as for who will be throwing the ball around, it remains to be seen. Ben Mauk, Wake Forest's starting quarterback last season, transferred to Cincinnati. He's a graduate student, thus avoids the one season sit-down mandated by all other transfers by the NCAA.

Mauk, who is coming off a broken arm and dislocated shoulder suffered early in Wake's magical 2006 season, will battle incumbent Dustin Grutza for the job. Grutza was inconsistent, to say the least, last year, throwing nine touchdowns, but 13 interceptions before sitting out the final three games of the season injured. However, Grutza may have the inside edge considering Mauk isn't yet 100 percent. The battle figures to last right up until the final week of camp.

Whoever wins the job will be able to rely on a steady line that brings back some experience and a respectable running game. But the offense could very well struggle early on.

Defense

There won't be much change with this unit as eight starters return from last year's squad.

A tough team to run the ball against in 2006, things don't figure to change a whole lot for the Bobcats with the entire starting front four back and both outside linebackers.

The secondary features one of the best hitters in the Big East in safety Haruki Nakamura, who is a tackling machine. Alongside him at cornerback is Mike Mickens, one of the better defenders in the conference.

Although they weren't nearly as good against the pass as they were against the run last season that should change if Cincinnati can find ways to get to the quarterback more often.

A turnover margin of minus-6 was pretty poor last season, but that was largely a product of the offense.

The Skinny

This offense could very well struggle early on trying to grasp Kelly's new schemes, but fortunately, the Bearcats have a manageable schedule in September. Aside from their Week Two matchup with Oregon State, every game in the season's first month is winnable. And plus, Cincinnati has done it with defense, an underrated and often overlooked unit. Their stats aren't impressive, but they just seem to get the job done as evidenced by wins over Rutgers and South Florida last year.

Bottom line, the Bearcats could rip off a few surprise wins, just like last year. Plus, they get West Virginia and Louisville at home. It'd be a surprise if they won either game, but there's plenty of upset potential in this team. This is the third time in five seasons Cincinnati has a new coach, but they should be a bowl team once again.

Regular Season Prediction: 7-5 Overall, 3-4 Big East

Pittsburgh - 2006: 6-6 Overall, 2-5 Big East

Offense

Priority No. 1 for coach Dave Wannstedt as he enters his third season at his alma mater is to find a replacement for the departed Tyler Palko.

That, of course, will be easier said than done. Bill Stull and Kevan Smith are light on experience, but Stull has been anointed the favorite after freshman Pat Bostick abruptly left the team temporarily last week. But whoever Wannstedt ends up going with, he figures to be handing the ball off a lot.

Wannstedt has stated in the past that he'd like the Panthers to become a run-oriented team and it looks like he'll get his wish this year with an unproven quarterback taking the snaps.

Pitt is going to feature a veteran offensive line that will open holes for LaRod Stephens-Howling and freshman LeSean McCoy who very well may be the Big East's Rookie of the Year when it's all said and done.

When the Panthers do throw the ball, look for lots of Oderick Turner on the other end. With senior Derek Kinder, the Panthers' leader in receiving yards and receptions in 2006, forced to redshirt the season with a torn ACL, Turner becomes the top threat, having tied for the Big East lead in touchdown catches as a freshman. Freshmen Maurice Williams and Aundre Wright look to fill the gap caused by Kinder's injury.

Defense

While Wannstedt wants to stop the run, he'd settle for slowing it down after his unit let up an astounding 181 yards per game on the ground last season. That's priority No. 1 on defense this season, and with the defensive line coming back intact, there figures to be marked improvement.

But the bottom line for this unit is its two top players, and two of the top defenders in the Big East from last season, are playing professionally now in Darrelle Revis and H.B. Blades.

The Skinny

Lowell Robinson is back to return kicks for the Panthers and that's going to bode well for Wannstedt, especially in light of the new rules change on kickoffs.

Unbeknownst to many, Wannstedt has quietly brought in the top recruiting classes in the Big East the past few seasons. One of these years he's going to have to show something for it. Expectations were high when Wannstedt came aboard and the Panthers haven't really sniffed a Big East Championship since he's been back in town. A bowl's not impossible, but unlikely.

Regular Season Prediction: 4-8, 2-5

Syracuse - 2006: 4-8 Overall, 1-6 Big East

Offense

This could be the first year under Greg Robinson that the offense, which essentially runs the West Coast system, shows some real life. Robinson could very well have a competent quarterback.

Andrew Robinson seems deft enough to move the offense down the field. He's light on experience having thrown only eight passes last season, but seems to be a much better fit than Perry Patterson. Plus, there are plenty of receivers and tight ends

The coach and the quarterback hope they can rely on Curtis Brinkley, who has had knee issues in the past, but should be healthy for this season and is more than capable of turning out a 1,000 yard season.

The biggest issue for the offense will be how effectively the offensive line can defend the pass rush, something it struggled with last year.

Defense

With three seniors and a junior expected to make up the staring defensive line, Robinson should bank on a considerably better 2007 than 2006.

After all, Syracuse was dreadful against the run last season, letting up 185 yards on the ground and 399 yards total per game. Defensive end Jameel McClain actually led the conference in sacks last year with 9.5, but he was one of the few bright spots for the Orange.

The pass defense was mediocre at best, giving up 214 yards per game last fall, but Syracuse will feature two veteran safeties in Joe Fields and Dowayne Davis.

The big holes on this unit come at linebacker, where three new starters get inserted into the lineup.

The Skinny

The Orange has really fallen on hard times as of late, having won just one Big East game over the past two seasons. Not much is going to change in the conference, where they're light years behind Louisville and West Virginia and severely lagging behind Rutgers and now South Florida. The schedule isn't all that kind to the Orange this year, but there are winnable games out there with Washington and Illinois being two of the first three opponents of the season. Three of the four conference powers head to the Carrier Dome while their matchup with Louisville comes on the road.

Regular Season Prediction: 3-9, 1-6 Big East


Connecticut - 2006: 4-8 Overall, 1-6 Big East

Offense

Another team, another quarterback quandary. Connecticut featured the worst passing game in the conference in 2006 and unless things change drastically, the Huskies could spend another year in the basement.

The job will be between Dennis Brown and Tyler Lorenzen, who will battle through camp before coach Randy Edsall makes his final decision. Both have no experience at this level of football.

Last year's starting quarterback, D.J. Hernandez, has been converted to wide receiver. He's a great athlete and should have no problems at the new position. But the real production out of this offense will come from the running game, once again.

Donald Brown is back for his sophomore season after a scintillating freshman campaign where he ran for over 800 yards in 11 games, even putting up 199 against that tough Rutgers defense. He'll be one of the better backs in the Big East and will get to run behind an offensive line that should be solid.

Defense

The feeling around the Huskies is that this could be one of the better defensive units, if not the best, since they joined the Big East in 2004.

Dan Davis will be their disruptor up in the middle after moving from end to tackle. Cody Brown, the team's sack leader last season, will take his place on the end and form a nice pass rushing duo with Davis.

The Huskies were actually 25th against the pass last season and with two starting corners back and an experienced linebacking corps, they figure to be solid once again in that category. The biggest area of concern comes at safety where the Huskies will insert inexperienced freshmen and sophomores.

The Skinny

After the banner season in 2004 that saw UConn reach its first and only bowl game, Edsall hasn't won more than five games in a season. He should start to feel a little pressure this year to get things turned around. In the college game you win with talented players and the consensus seems to be that UConn is continuing to attract better and better athletes each year. Unfortunately, they don't have enough of them yet.

But having an easy non-conference schedule where they can rack up four wins certainly helps this season's outlook.

Regular Season Prediction: 5-7, 1-6 Big East

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Big East Is Home To Four Heisman Trophy Hopefuls

Quarterbacks Brohm, White lead charge for Cardinals and Mountaineers

NEW YORK (AP) -- Of all the ways to measure the success of last football season for the Big East, there might be none better than this: Rutgers is considered a hot commodity.

When Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany recently talked about the possibility of his league expanding, Rutgers was one of the programs prominently mentioned as a possible 12th member.

Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese, who's led the conference back from the brink of extinction after the Atlantic Coast Conference lured away Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College, can rest easy.

Freedom Grill

"All that stuff is speculation," Scarlet Knights coach Greg Schiano said recently when asked about the possibility of a Big Ten relocation. "What I do know is fact. We worked awfully hard to save this Big East conference and we're very proud of it.

"I'm very proud of the way the league performed last year. We take great pride in being part of that resurgence."

Behind West Virginia, Louisville and surprising Rutgers, the Big East re-established itself as a power conference in 2006. All three of those teams finished ranked in the top 12 in the country and the conference went 5-0 in bowl games.

For 2007, expect more of the same from a league with serious star power. The Big East boasts four players who are getting plenty of Heisman hype heading into the season in West Virginia's Pat White and Steve Slaton, Louisville quarterback Brian Brohm and Rutgers running back Ray Rice.

White and Slaton might be the most talented backfield tandem in the country.

"They complement each other," Syracuse coach Greg Robinson said. "No different from (Colts receiver Marvin) Harrison and (quarterback Peyton) Manning."

Slaton averaged 7.0 yards per carry, running for 1,744 yards and 16 scores. White ran for 1,219 yards and 18 scores while directing coach Rich Rodriguez's spread-option attack.

White's passing, a question mark in the past, improved greatly last season. He completed 65 percent of his passes and his efficiency rating of 159.7 would have been ninth best in the country if he had enough attempts to qualify.

Brohm could have passed up his senior season and been a first-round draft pick. Instead, he decided to take another run at a national title with new coach Steve Kragthorpe.

"I did not try to convince Brian to stay at Louisville," Kragthorpe said. "I tried to be another resource for him. Obviously, for selfish reasons, I wanted Brian to stay.

"I talked to Brian about, you're going to have one more year to have fun playing football. And then you're going to play for 15 as your job."

Injuries held Brohm back last season, but he still threw for 3,049 yards and 16 touchdowns and helped the Cardinals win the Big East and earn their first Bowl Championship Series berth.

Rice provided the power in the best season in Rutgers' history. He was third in the nation in rushing (one spot ahead of Slaton) with 1,794 yards and scored 20 touchdowns. He also led the nation in carries with 335.

"I would hope that we wouldn't have to give him that many carries (again) because we have other options at the skill positions," Schiano said. "But then again, Ray's one of those guys who gets better and stronger as the game goes on. He trains like a maniac to be able to do that. He's got the gift."

While White, Slaton, Brohm and Rice are getting much of the attention, South Florida quarterback Matt Grothe is a star on the rise.

As a freshman, he threw for 2,576 yards and 15 touchdowns and led the team with 622 yards rushing and nine more TDs. He also led the Bulls to an upset at West Virginia.


A capsule look at the teams in predicted order of finish:


WEST VIRGINIA
-- WR Daris Reynaud and FB Owen Schmitt give Rodriguez two more playmakers on offense. Reynaud caught 39 passes and averaged 27 yards per kickoff return. Schmitt ran for 109 yards and two scores when Slaton was out of the Gator Bowl. ... The pass defense must improve. Last year, it ranked 109th in the country. The entire five-man secondary is back.


LOUISVILLE -- The receiver combination of 6-foot-6 Mario Urrutia and speedy Harry Douglas is one of the best in the country. Douglas had 70 catches for 1,250 yards and Urrutia had 58 for 973. ... Cardinals also had issues stopping the pass, and they will have to improve with a rebuilt secondary.


RUTGERS -- QB Mike Teel and the passing game need to take some of the pressure of Rice. Teel didn't throw an interception in his last five games. ... Six starters return to a defense that ranked No. 4 in the country in yards allowed. DT Eric Foster and DE Jamaal Westerman are anchors.


SOUTH FLORIDA -- The Bulls would prefer Grothe not to lead the team in rushing again. Last year's top backs were juniors Benjamin Williams (436 yards) and Ricky Ponton (306 yards). Freshmen Mike Ford and Aston Samuels could move past the upperclassmen. ... Replacing two stellar linebackers, Stephen Nicholas and Pat St. Louis, will be key on defense. DE George Selvie had 5.5 sacks as a sophomore.


PITTSBURGH -- This is a big year for the program. Panthers missed the postseason in coach Dave Wannstedt's first two years. ... Most of the offense is back, except for the most important player. Productive QB Tyler Palko is gone, and heralded freshman Pat Bostick left preseason camp for personal reasons.


CINCINNATI -- First-year coach Brian Kelly is already 1-0 as Bearcats coach. He led the team to a 27-24 victory over Western Michigan in the International Bowl last year after replacing Mark Dantonio. ... DT Terrill Byrd and CB Mike Mickens lead a defense that was solid last season and has eight starters returning.


SYRACUSE -- Coach Greg Robinson's first two season have produced five wins and very little offense. The Orange ranked 110th in total offense last season ... Sophomore QB Andrew Robinson has thrown only eight passes in his career, but he's the man. ... DE Jameel McClain led the Big East in sacks with 9.5.


CONNECTICUT -- For two seasons, the Huskies' passing game has been a mess while coach Randy Edsal searched for a competent quarterback. The hope is JUCO transfer Tyler Lorenzen will finally provide some stability. ... RB Donald Brown averaged 134 in the five Big East games he played.

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Two UConn Players Suspended Indefinitely

Huskies open season September 8 versus Maine

Aug. 16, 2007

Connecticut running back Andre Dixon and linebacker Corey Stringer have been suspended indefinitely for violating team policy, the school announced Thursday.

The school did not disclose any reasons for the suspensions, stating in a news release that no further commentary would be provided on the situation.

A redshirt sophomore, Dixon appeared in four games last season for the Huskies and contributed as a kickoff returner, averaging 17.8 yards on 12 returns. The 6-1, 195-pounder was expected to serve as UConn's third-string running back this season.

Stringer, a freshman, successfully converted from strong safety to linebacker during spring practice.

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Lorenzen Named Starting Quarterback At UConn

Lorenzen, a junior, enrolled at UConn in January

Junior college transfer Tyler Lorenzen won quarterback competition for Connecticut and is slated to start the opener at Duke.

Coach Randy Edsall installed Lorenzen as the starter on Tuesday.

The 6-foot-5, 226-pound left-hander threw for nearly 3,000 yards and 26 touchdowns last season at Palomar Community College in San Marcos, California.

Lorenzen, a junior, enrolled at UConn in January and had been competing with sophomore Dennis Brown for the starting job.

The Huskies are coming off a 4-8 season in which they never found a consistent quarterback and finished 110th in the nation in passing.

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West Virginia suspends two players
August 21st, 2007

Morgantown, WV (Sports Network) - The West Virginia football program suspended defensive back Ellis Lankster and linebacker J.T. Thomas indefinitely on Tuesday.

The pair were arrested over the weekend for transferring and receiving stolen property.

"I am aware that Ellis and J.T. have been involved in an off-campus situation," West Virginia head coach Rich Rodriguez said. "I am investigating at this time and will make the determination about their status within the football program after all the facts are in."

Lankster is a junior who transferred to the school in January from Jones Junior College.

Thomas is a red-shirt freshman who has not seen any action. He missed last season with a lingering ankle sprain. He was expected to serve as a back-up outside linebacker this season.

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