2011 Big East Football Preview With Predictions and Picks
The Big East gets a lot of slack for being the weakest power conference. Naysayers should be on watch in 2011. The Conference is as deep and strong as it has been in a long time. That contrasts sharply to 2010 when the Big East was very weak. Let’s take a look at the top contenders.
Pittsburgh Panthers – Most analysts are bullish on this team getting back 5 starters on offense and 8 on defense after an 8-5 finish last year in which they underachieved. New HC Todd Graham takes over after having sustained success at Tulsa. His system should provide QB Tino Sunseri more chances to throw the ball. Ray Graham will get plenty of work after averaging 6.2 YPC and picking up 958 yards last year. The defense returns 8 of its top 10 tackler and is cleary the best in the Big East. There is a lot of uNCertainty given the new HC, but fans should be looking up as well as bettors.
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Cincinnati Bearcats – Things will be very different in Cincinnati after the team went 4-8 last year. Quite the hangover from a 12-0 regular season in 2009! The biggest differeNCe fans will notice is the defense will be leaps and bounds better thanks to a few JUCO transfers and 10 starters returning. The offense figures to be as prolific as ever thanks to mobile starting QB Zach Collaros and top RB Isaiah Pead. Throw in top recruit Jameel Poteaet and CiNCy figures to have the best backfield in the Big East. They will get an early season test against Tennessee, but all of their Big East Games are winnable which makes them a team to watch especially when considering recent success minus the 2010 debacle.
USF Bulls – Last year has to be considered a success given their 8-5 record and win over Clemson in the Car Care Bowl. HC Skip Holtz is now 46-32 in his career and this could be the first team he coaches that can do real damage. They get back only 11 total starters, but lose only 15 lettermen which is the fewest amount in the Big East. BJ Daniels is a VERY mobile QB, but must do a better job keeping his passes on track. Look for marked improvement in his second season under the tutelage of Holtz. The RB group looks solid with Auburn transfer Donyae Aycock playing behind Darrell SCott. The defense is a good group on the whole and the LBs figure to shine thanks to JUCO transfer Mike Jeune. This could be the best USF Bulls team in a very long while.
West Virginia Mountaineers – Off season scandal has rocked WVU, but Dana Holgorsen now runs the show. He inherits a good offense with Geno Smith at the helm. The junior passed for 2,763 yards in 2010 and had a 24-7 ratio. Smith will get to throw the ball MUCH more under the new offense. This isn’t your grandad’s WVU team. They will be taking to the air and taking to the air often. RB Andrew Buie figures to take over the starter roll after the departure of the legendary Noel Devine. The dfense has back only 4 starters, but still has one of the best lines in the conference. They will be the only team ranked preseason in the Big East and are without a doubt a title contender.
Connecticut Huskies – No disrespect to UCONN fans, but let’s hope an 8-5 team never wins the Big East again. That made the entire Conference look bad, but it was an impressive feat for HC Randy Edsall who is now the top man for the Maryland Terrapins. Former Syracuse HC Paul Pasqualoni takes over after a 6 year hiatus in the NFL. He will have 7 starters on offense and 9 back on defense. The offense will have big questions at QB and RB. A very weak Schedule means they could easily match last year’s win total, but defending their title is asking a whole lot.
Rutgers SCarlet Knights – Greg SChiano produced yet another bad season when Rutgers ended up 4-8 last year. He gets back a solid team with QB Chas Dodd in his second year at the helm. The offensive line should move up big time after being just plain awful last year. With some luck they might make it into bowl talk, but they need a lot of things to go their way.
Louisville Cardinals – HC Charlie Strong did very well in his first full year on the job at Louisville. His Cardinals ended up 7-6 with a win over Southern Miss in the Beef O’ Brady’s Bowl. Unfortunately he loses Bilal Powell and only gets back 3 offense starters. That means this will be a rebuilding year. Don’t fret though ‘Ville fans, your team is in great hands with Charlie Strong and competing for the Big East Title is only 2-3 years away.
Syracuse Orange – Most people were surprised when this team finished 2010 with a strong 8-5 record. HC Doug Marrone gets back 8 starters on offense iNCluding star QB Ryan Nassib. Big home Games against West Virginia and USF could decide their season.