Welcome to the second edition of my 2007 College Football preview. In case this is your first time reading this series of posts, I am working my way down the list of the "Big 6" conferences, previewing one every Saturday, all the way down to the first college football game, which kicks off officially on August 30, a Thursday. (Notre Dame fans, if I have time I will try to do an Independents edition!) I hope you enjoyed my ACC preview, and I'll try to correct all errors that I may have made there in this one.
Now, on to the preview. The Big East is obviously one of the most controversial conferences this season, maybe even the most. The fact is, no one has any idea who is going to win this conference. It is essentially between three teams: West Virginia, Louisville, and Rutgers. But even darkhorses South Florida and Cincinnati (who?) have an outside chance of stealing it in a conference with only eight teams. I'm going to attempt to break down each team, give you a prediction on how well they will perform this season, and then tell you what the final standings for the conference will look like when the regular season comes to an end.
2007 Big East Conference Preview
Cincinnati- The Bearcats of 2006 were a pleasant surprise. They were able to put together a solid season, going 8-5 and winning the International Bowl, which they played against Western Michigan. Starting quarterback Dustin Grutza had a solid sophmore season in '06, throwing for 1,632 yards and nine touchdowns. However, they may be upgrading to a quarterback who formerly started for Wake Forest, Ben Mauk, who is attending Cincinnati for grad school, with a year of football still in his pocket. They will be competing for the starting position, but with the athletes on this team, it's a win-win situation if you ask me. Even more good news for the Bearcats: thier two leading rushers, Greg Moore and Butler Benton, will be senior leaders this season, and they combined for eight rushing touchdowns last season. Cincy also picked up five players on ESPN's 150 to Watch List, to go along with a solid receiving corps. Head Coach Brian Kelly has also scheduled some promotional events to keep the fans involved throughout the season. That all sounds great, but although there's no denying that the Bearcats are on the rise, it's hard to see them making major waves in the Big East this season. Another bowl season can be expected, however.
Connecticut- Last season, the Huskies only won one game in conference play en route to a second to last finish and a season mark of 4-8. Over the last three seasons, Connecticut has lost wins from the previous season. A reason for a little bit of hope this year? First of all, D.J. Hernandez, who played quarterback for the Huskies last season after starting off his college career as a wide receiver, will be more experienced, should they decide to utilize him again. Hernandez has both his legs and his arms to rely on, which could be a problem for some teams. He threw for nine touchdowns last season, but also had nine interceptions. Matt Bonislawski is the more experienced pick, but he only had five touchdowns last season, and three interceptions, giving that he didn't play as much, but the season before that he threw only six touchdowns and seven interceptions, so I say go with the junior Hernandez. A much brighter light for the Huskies is Donald Brown III, who led the team in rushing last season, scoring seven touchdowns while rushing for 896 yards. Not bad, right? Well, he was a freshman. Now the sophmore gets to come back and see what he can do. If he improves his numbers from last season at all, then there's a chance that the Huskies could go bowling. However, I'm not sure that their second half of the schedule will allow this to happen in the end.
Louisville- What an offseason these guys have had! First, after winning the Big East title and the Orange Bowl, head coach Bobby Petrino skips town and hops on the next plane to Atlanta, to coach the Atlanta Falcons on a bigger stage. Next, they get a coach from a mid-major level, although very talented, to come in and lead the Cardinals, who is of course Steve Kragthorpe from Tulsa. Next, Brian Brohm, who could have went the first few picks of the NFL draft, decides to stay for his senior season?!?! I can't say enough about how impressed I was with them last season. They lost Michael Bush, their star runningback and Heisman candidate, for the season due to injury their first game, against Kentucky, and yet were still able to go 12-1 and win both the Big East title and the Orange Bowl. On offense, they averaged just about twenty shy of 500 yards per game! I have to pick the Cardinals to win the Big East again. I know that everyone thinks West Virginia, but let me present something to you: Why? What makes this year's Mountaineer team so special that couldn't help them last season? I pull for West Virginia when they play Louisville, and I still will be, but why will the win? Last season, Louisville beat West Virginia by ten points, with virtually the same caliber team as they have this season. They have pratically all of their offense back, and even pulled in a solid recruiting class, consisting of nine players on ESPN's 150 to Watch list. I think that Louisville may be in for another great season, but maybe not as grand as the last one.
Pittsburgh- The big story for Pitt this season is the loss of Tyler Palko, who didn't stay for his senior season. The starting quarterback for the Panthers last season threw for 2,781 yards and 25 touchdowns, one of the best seasons any quarterback had. The problem for this team was their tedious ground attack, and their defense, who gave up 22 points per game, too many for a team who wants to have a quality season. The 2006 edition of the Pittsburgh Panthers went 6-6, but the 2007 version may not even get that far. The three quarterbacks who will be competing for the starting job don't even come close to the caliber of Palko, but one of them could surprise. There are four games on Pitt's schedule that are probable wins, which are Eastern Michigan, Grambling State, Syracuse, and Connecticut, and then five more games that could go either way, most of them to the advantage of their opponent. These are Michigan State, Virginia, Navy, Cincinnati, and South Florida. Pittsburgh may be able to sneak into a bowl if they get their quarterback problems solved to some extent, but we can't expect more than a 7-win season, which may be wishful thinking.
Rutgers- Rutgers won the hearts and support of America last season, including mine. They are my favorite team in the Big East, but I do pick them to finish third. There's no doubt that this team has the ability to win the Big East title, but I don't think that they will be able to steal it away from both Louisville and West Virginia, although they are very capable of knocking one out of the race single handedly. The Scarlet Knights have one of the easiest noncoference schedules out there, to be honest, and they will likely start out the season with six or seven straight wins. However, I still calculate thier first loss to be against West Virginia. Last season, Ray Rice was the X-factor for this team, and he will be again this year. If he has success, the team has success. If he fails, Rutgers gets nowhere. I don't think that he will fail, however, and a one to two loss season isn't out of the question for Rutgers and Ray Rice, who rushed for an astounding 1,794 yards and 20 touchdowns last season, eye-popping numbers for the 2006 sophmore.
South Florida- South Florida is perenially the team that comes into the football season and scores some upsets, and usually go bowling. Last season, they had a 9-4 record, but had a very, very, very easy schedule, and dropped a game against Kansas. However, I see a lot of potential with this year's Bulls team, beginning with starting quarterback Matt Grothe. Last season, as a freshman, he threw for 2,576 yards and 15 touchdowns, and also rushed for 622 yards and 9 touchdowns. This kind of player can be very dangerous in the Big East, where there aren't many great defenses, but rather great offenses. Sporting a mildly tough schedule, with nonconference games against North Carolina, who I believe to be greatly improved, and Auburn, always a great team in the SEC, South Florida won't be expected to do that much this season. However, those are the kind of games that this program lives for. A bowling season should be possible, maybe a 6-6 or 7-5 record. I can't see them winning 9 games again, with a much tougher schedule than last season.
Syracuse- Syracuse is beginning to worry me. It seems that they aren't competing very well in the Big East in several sports programs. However, their basketball team will have to redeem this school, because thier football team isn't looking too promising right now. They had four wins in 2006: Illinois, Miami (OH), Wyoming, and Connecticut. Wow. Although they finished the season 1-10 the year before that, I wouldn't call that season much of an improvement, considering the teams they beat. Because they have a pretty easy schedule, they should be able to squeeze out two or three wins, but don't expect Big Orange to win any big games, even with a quarterback who threw for 1865 yards and 12 touchdowns last season. The rest of the offense is dismal. This may be the only team with a better defense than its offense in the Big East, but that's not saying much here.
West Virginia- The Mountaineers, as I've stated before, are most people's pick to win the Big East. However, also as I've said before, there's no reason why they should. Once again, yes, this team does have a great quarterback in Pat White. However, is he better than Brian Brohm? Absolutely not. Also, they have a great back in Steve Slaton, but the arial attack of Louisville beats the ground forces of West Virginia, in my opinion, and I stand right until proven wrong, since Lousville did knock off West Virginia last season, with, once again, virtually the same caliber teams. Now, on to why West Virginia will still be a great team. WVU has one of the best offensive attacks in the nation, and a pretty good defense as well. They outscored opponents by an average of 18 points last season, their only two losses being to Louisville and South Florida, the lean, mean, upset machine. The problem with this team is that there's not a whole lot of depth. Get this statistic: Patrick White and Steve Slaton combined scored 47 touchdowns for the Mountaineers last season. Can you imagine what would happen if one of these guys got injured? Major problems. Barring injuries, though, the double Heisman hopeful team should finish the season with anywhere from 9 to 11 wins, with an undefeated season somewhat possible.
Big East Final Standings
Team W/L (conf.)
- Louisville 10-2 (6-1)
- West Virginia 10-2 (5-2)
- Rutgers 10-2 (5-2)
- Cincinnati 9-3 (4-3)
- South Florida 7-5 (4-3)
- Pittsburgh 5-7 (3-4)
- Connecticut 5-7 (1-6)
- Syracuse 3-9 (0-7)
There you go. Please give me your feedback. I've worked all day on this one as well, so I hope you enjoyed it. Next week, I'm looking at the Big Ten. Michigan? Wisconsin? Ohio State? Penn State? All of this revealed and more next Saturday.