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2008 BIG EAST FOOTBALL PREVIEW
It wasn't too long ago that the Big East Football Conference was the laughing stock of College Football. Not any more folks. As a matter of fact, of the 8 Big East Teams, 6 of them have made some kind of national splash recently. Ironically, the two teams that haven't been that great, are a couple of teams that have had past success, Syracuse and Pitt. But whether it's Wet Virginia almost making it to the National Title game, or South Florida knocking off Auburn, or even gutsy UCONN surprising teams there's some good football being played in the Big East. 6 of the 8 teams were ranked in the top 20 at some point last year, and a few of them were top 5. This year looks to be more of the same as many of these teams are loaded once again. Let's take a look at Big East football for the 2008-2009 season.
West Virginia - While they actually shared the Big East title with UCONN, West Virginia was the real champ. They beat the Huskies on the field in a blow out 66-21 leaving no doubt who the better team was. So until they are knocked off, they are the champs. There will be new faces on the coaching staff this year, but on the plus side, the new head coach is a former assistant that's been with the team for many years, Bill Stewart. The Mountaineers will return an offense largely intact from last season, and a good one it was, among the best in the nation with an 11.5 yards per point number, which is fantastic. They will lose some key defensive players, but let's face it, it was the offense that almost carried this team to a National Title. No reason this team can't make another run, but in looking at their schedule, there are probably 5 games or so that could go either way, including a big home game on a Thursday night in October against Auburn. But they really have no tough road games the entire season. So with all their big tests at home, keep an eye on West Virginia as a possible repeat title holder.
South Florida - The Bulls won't be sneaking up on anyone anymore. This team returns just about everyone on both sides of the ball this year including one of the better QB's in college ball, Matt Grothe. This is a team that beat Auburn and West Virginia last year. They ripped thru the lower tier teams they were supposed to hammer, and stumbled in a couple of bad weather games against Uconn and Rutgers. But they'll have their chances for revenge this year getting both of those teams at home. It looks like a minimum of 8 wins for this team. There are a couple of swing games that may prove tougher than some might expect. Kansas, NC State, Pitt and Cinci. None of those are locks. Their success this year will depend upon those games just mentioned.
Rutgers - You have to appreciate the job Greg Schiano has done with Rutgers. Three straight winning years. It wasn't that long ago that Rutgers was a complete joke. But that's all changed now and once again, the Scarlet Knights look like a Big East competitor as they return 7 on offense and 8 on defense to a team that went 8-5 a year ago. But they do lose Ray Rice to the NFL and they did fall short against the "good" teams they played last year, losing to every ranked team except South Florida. This years schedule is workable though. If they can handle North Carolina and Fresno, they could start the year 4-0 before having to face the heart of their Big Easy schedule. They also have Army thrown in there towards the end of the year. So, if they can knock off Louisville, Syracuse or UConn along the way, they have a good shot at yet another Bowl appearance. No Big East title this year though.
Cincinnati - It will be tough for the Bearcats to duplicate last years 10-3 magic. Everything came together for them last year behind the gutty play of QB Ben Mauck. As of this writing, the NCAA has not yet made a decision on his being able to play this year, which would be his 6th (major injury while at wake forest). He's been practicing with the team and obviously, whether or not he plays will have a huge impact. Behind Mauck, the Bearcats lit up the scoreboard last year while also playing some tough defense, ending the year a whopping +16 in turnovers. So the jury is out. We'll wait for Mauck. But don't expect another 10 win season. It does look like 7 or more wins though, as the toughest games on their card are Oklahoma and West Virginia. Every other game is up for grabs.
Pittsburgh - The Panthers show all the characteristics of a team ready to make a move. They return a bunch of starters on both sides of the ball. Coach Wannstedt enters his 4th year at Pitt so these are all his guys and they all know his system. Lastly, down the stretch last year, they were very competitive, losing some close games and pulling a couple of upsets. They knocked off West Virginia and Cinci and came close against South Florida and Louisville. If they can carry over that confidence into this season, Pitt has a chance to surprise. Wannstedt hasn't won at Pitt yet. I'd say, it's now or never. Look for Pitt to play in a bowl this year and win at least 7 games.
Connecticut - Lots of so called experts like to point to Uconn last year and say they got lucky. They got all the breaks. They got all the calls. They got all the bounces. While it's true that the Huskies benefitted from a couple of blown calls, it doesn't take away the fact that they were a good team. In other words, ok, take away the W's in games such as the fair catch blown call in the Louisville game. Big deal, they wouldn't have won 9 games and been co-champs of the Big East, but that wouldn't change all of the positive things they accomplished statically on the field. +14 in turnovers, a defense with a yards per point number of over 18 and an offense with a ypp number of 13. Those numbers don't happen by accident. Those numbers don't happen because of a blown call. Oh, and by the way, if you point towards two games played in driving rain storms, well, hey, BOTH teams had to play in the rain. Like it or not, Uconn is a well coached, scrappy football team capable of playing with anyone. They return just about everyone from last years team and the schedule has enough holes in it to get them to 7 wins and another Bowl appearance. I'd look to bet the Huskies the first time they get no respect from the oddsmakers this year which may come September 13th when Virginia comes to town.
Syracuse - Only way to go is up for the Orange. They have had two seasons in the last 3 years where they won two games or less. Worst of all, they weren't even competitive. Not even close. They may win as many as 5 games this year, but can't make a case for more than that. We won't take up too much space here.
Louisville - The Cardinals game has always been to get it done with offense. Outscore your opponents, get a W, and the heck with defense. But last season the defense was even worse than years past. They couldn't stop anyone. It was a bad team that someone won 6 games. I don't see much changing this year. It looks like a 6 win or less season here. There's too much work to be done
The Odds to win the Big East Conference 2008-2009, are listed below. It looks as though the oddmakers have it right for this conference. West Virginia should be able to get it done, particularly on offense, but with the new coach, and as we mentioned above, 5 games that could go either way, someone else could sneak in and take the title. South Florida should be good, but 5-2 odds are hardly worth taking a chance with on a futures wager. I keep coming back to Uconn as a dark horse at 10-1 odds. Last year was not a fluke. They are largely intact from a year ago, and have a chip on their shoulders due to the fact that just about all pre season polls have them in the basement of the Big East.
West Virginia 10 - 11