No Sleep Till Football

Like Brooklyn Except It's Football

Early Look at Big East Schedules

In case you’ve missed any of my early looks at schedules, here are the links to all the previous entries to start the season:

Big 10
Big XII
ACC
SEC
Pac 12
Notre Dame
Non-AQ Schools

And this brings us to my final entry, the Big East! I have a soft spot in my heart for Big East football because it’s the most intimate of conferences with only 8 teams. Unfortunately they are going to expand next season with the decidedly un-Big East TCU moving the conference to 9 teams which of course will become 10 and then most likely 12. For now we can enjoy the last year of the Big East employing 8 teams because it will be the last time we do so. Let’s see how this year shapes up for the smallest conference.

CINCINNATI BEARCATS

Home: Austin Peay, Akron, NC State, Louisville, West Virginia, Connecticut
Road: Tennessee, Miami-OH, South Florida, Pittsburgh, Rutgers, Syracuse

It’s interesting that HC Butch Jones took over Central Michigan when Brian Kelly left. Now he’s taken over Cincy after Kelly bolted to Notre Dame. Last year was Jones’s first in Cincinnati and going 4-8 wasn’t the spectacular year Jones probably wanted. A couple of close losses go the other way and UC is 6-6 and going to a bowl. This year the Bearcats return 6 on offense including QB Zach Collaros, RB Isaiah Pead & WR DJ Woods. Dyjuan Lewis & Kembrell Thompkins also give UC some explosion on the edge at wideout. The O-Line only returns 2 starters, but 4 of the 5 are upperclassmen. The Bearcats should easily top last year’s 27.1ppg total last season. Defensively, UC wasn’t fantastic giving up 28ppg, but they return 10 starters on defense! They return their top-11 tacklers and 17 of their top-18! Jones is like Kelly in that he loves a ball hawking defense that flies around the ball. Cincinnati should definitely have that in place. UC’s schedule isn’t horrible. The home games against WVU & NC State will be tough. On the road UC will be tested by Tennessee, South Florida, Pittsburgh & Syracuse. On the other hand, is there really a team on the schedule that Cincinnati couldn’t beat? It’d be interesting to see if Cincinnati could pull another 12-0 regular season like they did in 2009. I don’t think it happens, but when we are going with win ranges, you have to put down 6-12 for the Bearcats. I don’t think they come away with an undefeated season, but if they went 12-0, it wouldn’t be all together unsurprising either. The schedule simply isn’t great and there is a decent amount of parity in the Big East.

CONNECTICUT HUSKIES

Home: Fordham, Iowa St., W.Michigan, South Florida, Syracuse, Louisville, Rutgers
Road: Vanderbilt, Buffalo, West Virginia, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati

You really can’t blame former HC Randy Edsall for bolting UConn when he did. Last season Edsall led the Huskies to a Big East championship and a berth in a BCS bowl. Sure Oklahoma beat them 48-20, but UConn was never going to be considered a consistent player on the national stage and Edsall probably saw the writing on the wall. He bolted to Maryland which is odd because it almost seems like a lateral move given the current state of both programs. Paul Pasqualoni takes over which is a solid higher considering Pasqualoni spent 14-years in the Big East as the HC of Syracuse. He brings veteran leadership with a fantastic feel for the region. UConn actually brings back an experience team. They lose QB Zach Frazer & RB Jordan Todman but return their top-3 receivers in WR Mike SMith, WR Kashif Moore & TE Ryan Griffin. The O-Line also brings back 3 starters including both tackles. Defensively UConn brings back 9 starters from a defense that only allowed 22ppg last year. They only lose 2 LBs in Lawrence Wilson & Scott Lutrus. Wilson was an All-Big East player so he won’t be easily replaced, but UConn does return their entire secondary & defensive line. The Huskies have an easy home slate although USF, W.Michigan & Iowa St. are going to be a handful. Even Syracuse mighit be difficult. They get screwed on the road by having to go to WVU, Pitt & Cincy. I think they definitely lose to USF, Cincy, West Virginia & Pittsburgh. They could also lose to Vandy, Iowa St., and Western Michigan. I’ll even throw in Rutgers. That puts their win range at 4-8. The Huskies could get back to a bowl, but it won’t be the Fiesta.

LOUISVILLE CARDINALS

Home: Murray St., Florida Int’l, Marshall, Rutgers, Syracuse, Pittsburgh
Road: Kentucky, N.Carolina, Cincinnati, West Virginia, Connecticut, South Florida

Charlie Strong did a great year last year in his inaugural season in “The Ville” by leading the Cardinals to a 6-6 regular season with a bowl win over Southern Miss to finish the year 7-6. Unfortunately for Coach Strong, things aren’t going to get easier. The Redbirds only averaged 26ppg last year, and return just 3 starters. They lose their QB, their RB, their top-2 receivers and 4 of their 5 offensive lineman from a year ago. Louisville returns a single WR, their TE, and their OC. That’s it. Defensively Louisville returns 7 players including their top-2 tacklers and their leading QB sacker in Hakeem Smith, Shenard Holton & Daniel Brown respectively. Strong is a DC by trade so he’ll have the defense firing on all cylinders. In his first year as HC, he shaved 7 points off Louisville’s points allowed per game from 2009 to 2010! The unit will be a little thin at corner, but Strong has 5 of his front-7 returning along with both safeties. If the Cardinals get some cover help, the defense will be very strong due to Strong’s abilities. The schedule isn’t too bad for the Cardinals. I don’t think they can lose any home games outside of the game against Pittsburgh. Road games could be tough though. I think Louisville could easily lose all of them. Worst case for Louisville is winning just 3 games against Murray St., FIU & Marshall. On the other hand, they could win 6 giving Strong’s men a win rage of 3-6. It looks bad, but if things break right, Louisville will be back to a 2nd consecutive bowl.

PITTSBURGH PANTHERS

Home: Buffalo, Maine, Notre Dame, South Florida, Utah, Connecticut, Cincinnati, Syracuse
Road: Iowa, Rutgers, Louisville, West Virginia

Pittsburgh has had their share of interesting moments since the end of last season. Pitt wins at Cincinnati to capture a share of the Big East title at 7-5 and then beats Kentucky in the bowl game 27-10 to finish 8-5. HC Dave Wannstedt was let go after a 3-year period that saw PITT go 27-12 and 2-1 in bowl games. Pittsburgh felt they made a fantastic hire by grabbing Miami-OH HC Mike Haywood, but a domestic dispute led to his firing by the university. Pittsburgh then turned to Tulsa’s Todd Graham who accepted. It seems like turmoil, but Pittsburgh is better than you think. Despite losing RB Dion Lewis & WR Jon Baldwin, the offense looks poised to be powerful. QB Tino Sunseri is back along with RB Ray Graham (922 rushing yards, 6.2ypc in 2010) and WR Mike Shanahan (6’5/220lbs which is similar in size to Baldwin). WR Devin Street also returns who is 6’4/190lbs! Pittsburgh has massive size on the edge. The offensive line also returns 3 starters while 4 of the 5 projected starters are seniors! Defensively the Panthers return 8 starters including 8 of their top-10 tacklers. Yes they lose 1st Team Big East SS Dom DeCicco, 2nd round draft pick DE Jabaal Sheard, but this defense looks very very stout! Remember that Graham’s offenses in Tulsa were dynamic so scoring points is going to be a lot easier in the post-Wannstedt era. The schedulers were good to Pitt giving them 8 home games to only 4 road games. The only home game I don’t think Pittsburgh can win is when Notre Dame comes to town. Obviously I’m an Irish Homer, but I think the coaching transition will be enough to put ND over the top. Every other game on the schedule could be a win for Pittsburgh. I do think they can lose games to Notre Dame, South Florida, Utah, Cincinnati, Iowa & West Virginia. That puts their win range at 6-11.

RUTGERS SCARLET KNIGHTS

Home: NC Central, Ohio, Pittsburgh, Navy, West Virginia, South Florida, Cincinnati
Road: North Carolina, Syracuse, Louisville, Connecticut

Neutral: Army

It seems like a long time ago the Knights were relevant, but that really isn’t the case. From 2005-2009, Rutgers had winning seasons including the 11-2 2006 season in which Rutgers finished 12th in the country. Last year HC Greg Schiano and company suffered their first losing since 2004. This year should see a much improved team. Offensively the Knights bring back 9 starters including their QB, top-5 rushers and top-6 receivers. The offensive line also brings back 4 starters giving Rutgers potentially the best offense they’ve had since the 2007 season in which Rutgers went 8-4. Defensively, the outlook isn’t as rosy with just 5 starters returning. Rutgers brings back just 4 of their front-7 and 3 of their back-7. They lost both cornerbacks from a season ago from a defense that allowed 26.5ppg. The schedule isn’t overly difficult if you look at each team in a vacuum, but Rutgers isn’t a fantastic team so it’s relative. The squad will be improved, but they could still lose to every team on the schedule outside of NC Central & Army. It’s possible there are 7 wins on that schedule giving the Scarlet Knights a win range of 2-7. It could be enough to get Rutgers back into the bowl picture, but the margin for error is pretty thin. One slip up either way Schiano & Co. are back on the couches come December/January.

SOUTH FLORIDA BULLS

Home: Ball St., Florida A&M, UTEP, Cincinnati, Miami-FL, Louisville, West Virginia
Road: Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, Connecticut, Rutgers, Syracuse

Former HC Jim Leavitt had this program teetering on Top-20 or Top-15 status. In 2007 the Bulls ran their record to 6-0 and the #2 spot in the nation before falling at Rutgers 30-27. In 2008 USF would run their record to 5-0 and the #10 spot in the country before falling to Pittsburgh 26-21 despite being 13-point favorites at home! In 2009 USF got out to a 5-0 start before losing to Cincinnati 34-17. In each of those 3 years, USF would not be ranked in the top-25 by season’s end. So we have a pattern here with South Florida. They start great but finish bad leading to mediocre and disappointing seasons. Leavitt was canned and Skip Holtz was brought in last year. In his first year Holtz had USF at 8-5 including a bowl win, but what might be most important is USF went 5-2 in their last 7 games. From 2007-2009, USF went 3-4 in their last 7-games in each year after starting 6-0, 5-1, and 5-1 respectively in their first 6. Last year USF went 3-3 in their first 6 but finished strong at 5-2 to finish 8-5. You have to think it’s change for the better. USF returns 5 starters on offense this year, but included in those 5 starters is QB BJ Daniels and former #1 RB recruit Darrell Scott who transferred in from Colorado. USF only has one returning starter on the offensive line, but Daniels is an electric playmaker at QB while the Bulls have plenty of size at receiver. Defensively USF brings back 6 starters but return 3 of their top-4 tacklers and also SS Jon Lejiste. LB DeDe Lattimore was a 1st team Freshman All-American as he was 2nd on the team in tackles with 69. USF is a little undersized on defense, but they only allowed 20ppg last season and have quite a bit of experience back. The Bulls have one of the tougher Big East schedules in 2011. Home dates against Cincinnati, Miami-FL & West Virginia won’t be easy. They also start the season off with a BRUTAL road game to South Bend to take on Notre Dame. They also get Pittsburgh on the road. From a pure talent perspective I don’t think South Florida is overmatched in any game except for the road game at Notre Dame. They would win all their games except for that one. They could lose 5 games against ND, Pitt, Cincy, Miami-FL & WVU. That puts USF’s win range at 7-11. Watch out if USF opens with a win in South Bend. If the Bulls can avoid their notorious 2nd half swoon and start the year 5-0, it’ll be hard to keep them away from 12-0.

SYRACUSE ORANGE

Home: Wake Forest, Rhode Island, Toledo, Rutgers, West Virginia, South Florida, Cincinnati
Road: USC, Tulane, Louisville, Connecticut, Pittsburgh

The Doug Marrone hire was pure inspiration. After going 10-37 in 4-years under Greg Robinson, Marrone had Syracuse at 8-5 including a bowl win in only his 2nd season as HC of the Orange! That’s getting it done! I love me some Doug Marrone! Marrone got a little lucky last season as Syracuse was 4-0 in close games. Best case for Syracuse was their actual 8-5 record, but worst case was 4-9. Still, Syracuse was a mess when Marrone took over and he’s far exceeding everyone’s expectations. This year the Orange have 8 starters returning on offense including QB Ryan Nassib, and their top-4 receivers. The O-Line brings back 4 starters too. The one loss on offense is RB Delone Carter who was a beast last year and wound up a 4th round draft pick by the Indianapolis Colts. Marrone has averaged about 22ppg on offense his first two seasons which is about 4ppg better than Robinson, but they need to keep improving. Defensively, Marrone only has 5 returning starters although 2 of them are FS Phillip Thomas and SS Shamarko Thomas who were 2 of the top-4 tacklers on the team last year. DE Chandler Jones was 2nd team All-Big East last season and DE Mikhail Marinovich is a 6’5/250lbs DE which great size. Syracuse is small in the interior D-Line and in the LB spots. They also have two new starters at CB so the defense might take a step back after allowing only 19.3ppg last year. The schedule doesn’t set up well for Syracuse. Wake Forest, Toledo, and USC are going to be tough non-conference games. Every team in the Big East is capable of beating the Orange so really they only have a couple of wins they can guarantee. At best they can win 7 games. I don’t think they can beat USC, WVU, USF, Cincy or Pittsburgh. That gives Syracuse a win range of 2-7. That seems low and I wouldn’t bet against Marrone exceeding expectations once again.

WEST VIRGINIA MOUNTAINEERS

Home: Marshall, Norfolk St., LSU, Bowling Green, Connecticut, Louisville, Pittsburgh
Road: Maryland, Syracuse, Rutgers, Cincinnati, South Florida

The Dana Holgorsen era beings a year early in Morgantown after WVU decided to jettison Bill Stewart. It was for the best really. Stewart was a lame duck coach and Holgorsen’s star was on the rise as the future of West Virginia. With a reputation of being an offensive genius, the folks in Morgantown probably can’t wait to see what Holgorsen can do with this offense! The Mountaineers had a disappointing season last year at 9-4. Their “best” case record was actually 12-1, but they lost 3 close games during the regular season that prevented them from being the Big East representative in the Big East. Under Rich Rodriguez, WVU had an offense that was putting up close to 40ppg in 2006-2007. Under Stewart the offense sagged to a pedestrian 25ppg, but expect the fireworks to begin anew with Holgorsen calling the shots. Back is QB Geno Smith with a group of receivers that should be nightmarish for opponents. The O-Line returns 4 starters giving WVU 8 returners on offense. RB Noel Devine will have to be replaced, but the Mountaineers should get back to their high scoring ways. What could be problematic is the defense. West Virginia’s defense was downright NASTY last year giving up only 13.5ppg, but they return just 4 starters. They lose 8 of their top-12 tacklers but do return leading tackler SS Terence Garvin. They also return leading sack specialist Bruce Irvin who amassed 14 sacks and 2nd team All Big East honors without starting any games! DE Julian Miller was 2nd on the team in sacks last year with 9. He also returns. CB Keith Tandy also returns after having led WVU last year in interceptions and passes broken up. MLB Najee Goode also returns and could be one of the best LBs in the conference. Despite only 4 starters returning on defense, the Mountaineers have all-conference type of players in those returning starters. The schedule isn’t brutal for WVU either. They get Pittsburgh & LSU at home. While both games are difficult, at least they aren’t playing the Bayou Bengals in Baton Rouge! The road slate isn’t too bad either with only Cincinnati & South Florida being big obstacles. Best case for West Virginia is 12-0. Worst case is probably 7-5. I could see West Virginia losing games to Maryland, LSU, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh & South Florida. That puts their win range at 7-12 which is pretty darn good. I don’t think Holgorsen gets a perfect 12-0 in his first go around in Morgantown, but he shouldn’t be too far off either.

WIN RANGES

Cincinnati 6-12
Connecticut 4-8
Louisville 3-6
Pittsburgh 6-11
Rutgers 2-7
South Florida 7-11
Syracuse 2-7
West Virginia 7-12

Those win ranges look right to me. The Big East is definitely divided in half. The top half has West Virginia, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati & South Florida. Those are the big contenders. The 2nd half consists of Connecticut, Louisville, Rutgers & Connecticut. All 4 of the 2nd tier teams could become bowl eligible, but it won’t be easy. If you are looking for early favorites in the Big East among the top-4 teams, you have to think about South Florida & Pittsburgh. They both only play one of the other top-3 teams on the road while West Virginia and Cincinnati get 2 of the 3 other teams on the road.

I wanted to also point out how young the Big East coaching is. Maybe not necessarily young in age, but how new the coaches are to the programs. Greg Schiano is the senior member now and he’s only been at Rutgers going on 11 seasons. Here is how many years each coach as at his current school including the 2011 season:

Greg Schiano/Rutgers: 11
Doug Marrone/Syracuse: 3
Skip Holtz/South Florida: 2
Butch Jones/Cincinnati: 2
Charlie Strong/Louisville: 2
Todd Graham/Pittsburgh: 1
Dana Holgorsen/West Virginia: 1
Paul Pasqualoni/Connecticut: 1

Next year when TCU joins the conference, HC Gary Patterson will be entering his 12th season so he becomes a senior member of the Big East coaching fraternity along with Schiano although it will only be his first year in the Big East. I don’t think it necessarily means anything, but it’s interesting that the coaching staffs are so new to their environments outside of Rutgers.

As always, I have nothing but good things to say about the Big East. I love the 8-team conference format and the intimacy of the league. This might be the last time we ever see the Big East at 8-teams so enjoy it while you can.

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July 30, 2011 - Posted by | Big East, Cincinnati, Connecticut, Louisville, Pittsburgh, Rutgers, Schedule, South Florida, Syracuse, West Virginia

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