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Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Big East Preview, 2008

I assumed the loss to Pitt had permanently scarred the West Virginia program. When Rich jumped ship, I thought we were about see a team whither away and fade into oblivion. But Coach Stewart stepped up and the Mountaineers beat down Oklahoma, stunning the world and, apparently, Bob Stoops.

This was supposed to be a sign that all was well in Morgantown, and with White, Devine, and an imposing offensive line back, the offense was going to again be unstoppable. But I think WVU lost more talent on offense in backs Slaton and Schmitt and WR Reynaud than they have picked up with a couple of recent middle of the pack recruiting classes. And the defense, which was better than most people recognized, was stripped clean. I think WVU will really get a run for its money this year in the Big East.

Question: What do Pitt and USF have in common?

Historically, these two programs have nothing in common (except for a lack of national championships in the 80's, 90's and this most recent decade), but last season they shared one important commonality - they beat West Virginia.

They have something else in common: they both have speed out the wazoo on defense. Pitt's defense was one of the best in the country, but the offense was so bad that they had to defend short fields and, consequently, gave up too many points. USF's biggest weakness on defense is that they are too speedy and lack the size to punish bruising backfields. Noel Devine is approximately 4 feet tall and weighs as much as Juice Williams did at birth. These two things - beating WVU and having speed - are not accidents.

In 2008, after losing to Auburn at home, White and Co. will need to win at Pitt and against USF the last two weeks of the season to win a Big East championship and finish in the top 15. I don't know if they will be able to pull it off. And if things don't go well in Boulder on September 18th, WVU could be looking at 4 losses in 2008.

If West Virginia falls from grace, who will take their place. In my mind, three teams in the Big East (USF, Rutgers, and Pitt) are ready to step forward while three others (Louisville, Cincinnati, UConn) have stepped back. And Syracuse is still Syracuse (relishing the glory days of Jimmy Brown and 1959).

Rutgers will have to replace Ray Rice but is now a real program with athletes that can fill in the holes as they appear. Solid quarterback play and a more open offense will help the Scarlet Knights compete, but a tough schedule will make life hard. They have to travel to West Virginia, Cincinnati, Pitt and South Florida between October 4 and November 15. If they can win three of four of those games, they should be Big East champs and BCS bowl bound. If not (the more likely scenario) they will be looking at another 8 or 9 win season, which is nothing to be ashamed of.

South Florida put themselves on the map last season (but only figuratively because most college football fans still couldn't tell you in which city USF resides). A more mature Grothe and healty RB Matt Ford should mean the offense is better than last year. They were hit bad at corner, but the defense should still be reliable. If they can win some big games at home against Kansas, Pitt and Rutgers, the skies the limit for this team.

It's about time for Pitt to break out. Three straight years now Pitt has dominated the recruiting scene in the Big East. Injuries last season held the offense in check, but watch for Sean McCoy to have a stunning season now that defenses will have to account for QB Stull and WR Kinder. The defense will be first class again, and their performance will actually show up on the score board when the offense starts clicking. They won't be great, but it won't take greatness to win the Big East this year.

And my much awaited prediction for Syracuse? They'll suck once again and forever.

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