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.
``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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