BIG EAST Elite Teams
OFFENSE: Coming off a (9 – 3) season with six starters returning on both sides of the ball the expectations are high for the Cardinals this season, they aren't just thinking Big East Championship they are thinking National Championship. This all starts with the QB and Big East Offensive Player of the Year Brian Brohm (2,883 yards and 19 TD's) and dual purpose back Michael Bush (1,143 yards and 23 TD's and 21 rec, 253 yards). This offense was electric last year and I see nothing changing this year. Look for the Cardinals to put up some big numbers again this season.
DEFENSE: With six starters returning on defense the Cardinals look to improve on a defense that fell apart late in the year last year giving up (46pts to West Virginia, 35pts to Virginia Tech and 45pts to So Florida). In order for this to improve the Cardinals will rely on DL Amobi Okoye a emerging star and three year Letterman. If they can improve the big lapse in play they should be able to turn things around this season. The defense will play a big part for Cardinals if the are to win a Big East title and perhaps a National Championship.
Player to keep your eye on – RB Michael Bush, this guy can do it all, run, catch and block. At 6' 2 he is very intimidating for LB's and DB's. He figures play a big part if the Cardinals are to make a National Championship run. Also look for him to show up in the Heisman race this season and he could be the one to carry the trophy home.
OFFENSE: After a (11-1) season and (7- 0) in the Big East there are very lofty expectations in Morgantown. With eight starters returning on offense including the two headed monster (Steve Slaton and Pat White) who both combined for over 2,000 yards rushing. The Mountaineers rely on heavily on the running game with timely passing. In order for them to compete this season with the Cardinals they will need to get more out of their passing game which HC Rich Rodriguez has indicated he would also like to see.
DEFENSE: The defense suffered a major loss losing all -league DE Ernest Hunter and three key cogs from the five pronged secondary. Not is all lost though with five returning players and a defense that only allowed 20pts 3 times in 12 games. As long as Rich Rodriguez is the coach you know one thing is for certain this defense will play hard and they will play good. If the Mountaineers are to make a run at the Big East title how their defense plays will play a big part.
Player to keep your eye on – I can't think of one player so I will go with a group of players (the defense). If they can return to their 2005 form they will have a great chance of doing some great things in 2006. One thing to keep your eye on is how they go about replacing six starters. How fast these new starters step in will go a long way in determining how well the Mountaineers do this season.
OFFENSE: Pitt main gains as the season wore on, but by then it was too late for first year HC Dave Wannstedt. A (5 – 6) season was not what the first year coach expected or envisioned. In order for Panthers to improve this season Sr. QB Tyler Palko (2,392 and 17 TD's) will need some support and beyond WR Derek Kinder (37 rec and 374 yards), there are far more questions than answers on offense. They will look to top 100 recruit who could make a instant impact WR Dorin Dickerson and So. RB LaRod Stephens (434 yards) to help shoulder the load on a offense that was ranked (73rd in scoring and 85th in total offense). With six players returning on offense I look for Tyler Palko and the Panther offense to have a bounce back year.
DEFENSE: Wannstedt is looking for more balance from his defense that ranked No 2 nationally against the pass and 94th against the run. There is no reason to think this defense can't return to form with six returning starters. The defense is anchored by two defensive lineman (Charles Sallet and Chris McKillop) and sensational Sr. LB H.B Blades (121 tackles, 67 solo) and a secondary that returns two of its four starters.
Player to keep your eye on – If QB Tyler Palko returns to 2004 form, the Panthers could have a big year after disappointing 2005. He is to talented not to have a bounce back year.
OFFENSE: The question on offense for the Scarlet Knights is who do they go with at QB? Mike Teel or RS freshman Jubulani Lovelace, Lovelace has seen plenty of action this spring and it looks to be a two headed monster at QB this season unless either of them emerges. If this offense is to improve on 28.7 points per game and move into the elite of the Big East it will rely heavily on super soph. RB Ray Rice (1,120 yards and 5 TD's) to carry the load. There is no doubt this is a make or break year for the Scarlet Knights.
DEFENSE: Despite being roughed up by Arizona State for over 679 yards in the Insight Bowl, the defense did show improvement over the year before. With seven returning starters the only area of concern is the front four, gone is DE Ryan Neil and DE Val Barnaby. The back seven is in a lot better shape with all three LB's returning and standout So FS Courtney Greene (116 tackles, 68 solo). I look for The Scarlet Knight to improve on there (25.6 points per game, ranked 59th in the nation in scoring and 55th overall in total defense) this team could sneak up on a few teams this season in the Big East.
Player to keep your eye on – RB Ray Rice averages over five yards a carry as a freshman and will look carry load this season for the Scarlet Knights. If the Scarlet Knight have a good season it will because Ray Rice has had a good year. A good year could put Ray Rice in the Heisman Trophy race for 2007.
BEST OF THE REST
South Florida – The Bulls are coming off a season where they pulled off a few upsets (Louisville, Syracuse) and came away with a (6 – 6) record and a bowl appearance (Meineke Car Care Bowl). The Bulls will again rely on their stout defense that returns seven starters none more important than Jr. LB Ben Moffitt (96 tackles, 52 solo) to push them up the Big East ladder. If the Bulls can duplicate last year's defensive performance (14th in scoring 18.0 points per game and 17th in total defense 311.9 yards per game) they should be able to keep themselves among the top of the Big East. The weak link on the Bulls last year was there offense, but with seven returning starters coming back the place to go is up. If the offense is to come back stronger this season it will be because the Sr. QB Pat Julmiste (1,489 and 6 TD's) has improved the Bulls passing offense that ranked 107th in the nation last year. The success of the Bulls this season will rely a lot on how the Bulls play on offense.
Connecticut – The Huskies started off the season last year on fire winning four of their first five games only to go on a four game losing streak and finish the season (5 – 6). If the Huskies are to get on the plus side of the win total it will be because of their dominating defense that ranked 7th in total defense in 2005. There defense looks again to be there strong suit coming into this season with seven returning starters including Jr. LB Danny Lansanah (79 tackles, 25 solo) who anchors the defense. The passing game is where the Huskies struggled last season only passing for 149.5 yards per game (that ranked 106th in the nation) if this is to improve it will rest squarely on the shoulders of Matt Bonislawski who was starter last season for the first five games until he broke his collarbone and was out for the season. He has looked good this spring but he will need a strong running game behind him in order to allow him enough time to pass. If these things improve I could see the Huskies on the plus side of the win total this season.
Syracuse – Last year the Orange stunk. That's right I said it…they stunk. Going (0 – 7) in the Big East and (1-10) overall. To improve this the Orange hired OC Brian White from Wisconsin to help revive the offense that ranked (114th in scoring and 115th in total offense only 257.4 yards per game). The offense needs better play from the offensive line where last season they gave up 37 sacks and only ran the ball for 106.6 yards per game. With six starters returning they are hoping to build some continuity on offense that they lacked last year. HC Greg Robinson who acts as a defensive coordinator is fond of saying " he plays to his strengths and hides his weaknesses " this year the strength of the defense is LB with three senior starters including Kelvin Smith (84 tackles , 49 solo) on the other hand is the glaring weakness is the secondary. With the suspension of CB Tanard Jackson and CB Marcus Clayton leaving school they have had to rely on former WR's to step in and take reps at the DB position. This could be a huge problem when the Orange play pass-happy teams like the Cardinals and Huskies.
Cincinnati – Second year QB Dustin Grutza (1,799 yards and 11TD's) will try to improve the Bearcats offense that only averaged 17.5 points per game last season. In order to turn things around they will depend on two sure handed receivers Sr. TE Brent Celek (361 yards and 3 TD's) and WR Ernest Jackson. The Bearcats also have a three headed monster at RB (Bradley Glatthaar, Greg Moore and Butler Benton) to help take pressure off of Grutza, all of them capable RB's. On defense the Bearcats welcome back ten starters that gave up over 30 pts per game last season. The Bearcats gave up more than 30 points in seven of their eleven games in 2005. They will look to second team All Big East cornerback Mike Mickens to lead the Bearcats defense to a plus .500 record.
BIG EAST OUTLOOK
It looks to me to be two elite teams this year in the Big East that being West Virginia and Louisville both have Big East and National Championship aspirations. The race for third should be interesting with Rutgers, Pittsburgh and South Florida, with Connecticut, Cincinnati and Syracuse fighting out for the bottom half the Big East. West Virginia won several early games unimpressively last year, but then found their stride late in the season. The Mountaineers will run into a hornets' nest at the revenge-minded Louisville Cardinals (Last year's game 46 – 44 Mountaineer victory). With the best coach in the Big East (Rich Rodriguez) the Mountaineers have won 24 of its last 28 league games. Louisville will be one of the best offensive teams in the country again (averaging 43.4 pts per game last year) with their two headed monster Michael Bush and Big East offensive player of the year Brian Brohm. The only question for the Cardinals is can they stop anyone on defense, if the they can the game on Nov. 2nd against West Virginia should be a real barn burner. Rutgers enjoyed their first winning season since 1992 and it wasn't just a fluke. With seven starters returning on both sides of the ball and year of winning under their belt the Scarlet Knight will look to continue to build on last year season. Look for the Scarlet Knights to upset some people this season and fight for that third position in the Big East. I look for Pittsburgh to have a bounce back year this season, but a lot of that that will depend on if Tyler Palko can return to his 2004 form. The Panthers have a good defense and may rely on this early in the season to keep themselves in games until the offense can come around. If South Florida is to make back to back bowl appearances it will rest on the shoulders of untested QB Carlton Hill. The playbook has been restructured in order to exploit his talents. The Cincinnati Bearcats look greatly improved especially on the defensive side of the ball where they return ten starters. If the Bearcats are to have winning season they will have to learn quickly how to win on the road (@ Louisville, @Virginia Tech, @West Virginia and @Ohio State) it doesn't get much tougher than that. I look for the Bearcats to have another losing season. If the Connecticut Huskies aren't as injury plagued as they were in 2005 they look to be a team that may have a chance of going bowling at the end of the season. A lot of this will depend on whether the offense can step up and put points on the board. The Orangeman had one of their worst season that they have had in a long time. HC Greg Robinson tried to shake things up by hiring a new OC Brian White to simplify the offense and allow QB Perry Peterson stretch the field and make more use of his athletic ability. When it all said and done the Big East should a very strong from top to bottom.
BIG EAST PROJECTIONS
2. WEST VIRGINIA
5. SOUTH FLORIDA
Looking for College Football
Picks this season?