2011 FINAL BIG EAST STANDINGS
West Virginia 10-3 (5-2)
Cincinnati 10-3 (5-2)
Louisville 7-6 (5-2)
Rutgers 9-4 (4-3)
Pittsburgh 6-7 (4-3)
UConn 5-7 (3-4)
USF 5-7 (1-6)
Syracuse 5-7 (1-6)
RETURNING STATISTICAL LEADERS
Returning Leaders: Passing
Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville, Soph (191 of 296 for 2,129 yds, 14 TD, 12 INT)
Ryan Nassib, Syracuse, Sr (259 of 415 for 2,685 yds, 22 TD, 9 INT)
BJ Daniels, USF, Sr (215 of 365 for 2604, 13 TD, 7 INT)
Tino Sunseri, Pitt, Sr (247 of 385 for 2,616 yds, 10 TD, 11 INT)
Returning Leaders: Rushing
Lyle McCombs, UConn, Soph (275 carries for 1,151 yds, 4.1 ypc, 7 TD)
Ray Graham, Pitt, Sr (164 carries for 964 yds, 5.8 ypc, 9 TD)
Jawan Jamison, Rutgers, Soph (231 carries for 897 yds, 3.8 ypc, 9 TD)
Returning Leaders: Receiving
Alec Lemon, Syracuse, Sr (68 rec for 834 yds, 6 TD)
Devin Street, Pitt, Jr (53 rec for 754 yds, 2 TD)
Anthony McClung, Cincy, Jr (49 rec for 683 yds, 6 TD)
Kenbrell Thompkins, Cincy, Sr (44 rec for 536 yds, 2 TD)
Returning Leaders: Tackles
Khaseem Greene, Rutgers, Sr, LB (140 total, 10.77 tackles/game)
Jory Johnson, UConn, Sr, LB (97 total, 8.08 tackles/game)
DeDe Lattimore, USF, Jr, LB (94 total, 7.83 tackles/game)
Mike Lanaris, USF, Sr, LB (87 total, 7.25 tackles/game)
Returning Leaders: Sacks
Trevardo Williams, Sr, UConn, DE (12.5 sacks)
Aaron Donald, Pitt, Sr, DT (11.0)
DeDe Lattimore, USF, Jr, LB (7.0)
Sio Moore, UConn, Sr, LB (6.5)
Returning Leader: Interceptions
Duron Harmon, Rutgers, Sr, S (5 interceptions)
BREAKING DOWN THE BIG EAST WITH THE ZEALOTS AND THE SATURDAY EDGE:
Jay (Prediction: tie for #3): If I knew what to expect out of Cincinnati's QB, I might be a little bolder in my projection for Cincinnati. Munchie Legaux has a lot of physical upside, but didn't look anywhere near ready last season. If he has a breakthrough, the Bearcats could really push the top three teams in the conference. If not, they at least look like a solid bet for "Best of the Rest" in an especially weak year for the weakest "power" conference. They return solid numbers on defense, and their conference schedule is fantastic. With the exception of a road trip to Lousiville, everything else sets up very well. They even get South Florida at home on a short week following the Bulls' big rivalry game with Miami. But, seriously, who in the Cincy athletic department approved the rest of that schedule? The Bearcats only play two games in the first four weeks of the season, then play 10 games in a row to finish out. Looks like a recipe for a slow start and a tired, banged up team at the end.
The Saturday Edge: (Prediction: #5): The Bearcat defense was surprisingly good last season finishing 2nd in the Big East in points allowed despite allowing over 360 ypg. They return 7 starters from that defense, but must replace their best player, NFL 2nd round draft pick Derek Wolfe at DT. Replacing QB Zach Collaros and RB Isaiah Pead may be even more difficult on the offensive side.
Kevin (Prediction: #2): The season will come down to how close the defense can maintain it's improvement from last year and how quickly the new starters at the skill positions on offense can find their groove. Cincinnati definitely has a chance to win the Big East this year but the pieces have to fall in place.
Pete (Prediction: #4)
Ross (Prediction: #2)
Jay (Prediction: #1): When I survey the Big East, the #1 thing that stands out to me is that lack of elite offensive playmakers. There just aren't any. (I guess Ray Graham at Pitt could count if he makes a strong return from injury.) And with such a deficit of superstars who can take over a game, I see the balance of power in this league shifting significantly to the teams that play the best defense and control the ball on offense. It's difficult to imagine anyone in the conference playing better defense than the Cardinals this year. Charlie Strong's UL defenses have consistently overachieved, and this will be his best unit yet. I'm not as certain of the Cards' ability to hold onto the ball. They're still searching for a running game in the wake of Bilal Powell, and while you'd expect some degree of improvement from Teddy Bridgewater after his trial by fire as a freshman (through which he completed an impressive 64.5% of his passes, it should be said), he'll need to cut his interception number in half for Louisville to be as good as it can be. But despite those concerns, wow, their conference schedule just sets up so perfectly for them. As long as they get off on the right foot on the road at Pitt, I think they'll be in control of their destiny when they travel to meet Rutgers to end the season.
The Saturday Edge (Prediction: #1): I’m going to give Louisville the nod over Rutgers as the best team in the Big East this year mainly because I believe the Louisville offense and QB Teddy Bridgewater have more upside (We return 16 players on offense who started games last season – HC Charlie Strong) then Rutgers and either of their QB options. The defensive front seven looks salty and the secondary returns a wealth of breakthrough candidates.
Kevin (Prediction: #1): With Teddy Bridgewater more prepared this season, there will be more balance and that should help out the running game. There is no reason to think the Louisville defense will fall off this season. I look for Louisville to make the jump this year and have them as the team to beat in the Big East.
Pete (Prediction: #1)
Ross (Prediction: #1)
Jay (Prediction: #5): Typically, the type of coaching turmoil Pitt has undergone over the past 18 months or so is a recipe for disaster. And it wouldn't surprise me at all if this Pitt team completely gives out and misses a bowl for the first time in years. But, you know, maybe this team isn't irreparably broken. There's still a lot of quality Wannstedt talent left on the roster. There have been a lot of coaches at Pitt since he was there, but he hasn't actually been gone that long. And the offensive and defensive schemes Paul Chryst is bringing with him seem like a better fit for the talent on hand than Todd Graham's spread and 3-3-5. But even if the transition goes as well as possible, there's still the matter of this being the least experienced defense in the conference (only 10 of their top 20 tacklers back!). In a league where the top will be ruled by tough defenses, if you give up a lot of points, you can forget trying to win shootouts, you're going to lose blowouts. I think ultimately this team's postseason fate will be determined by Ray Graham. If he comes back at full strength, they go 6-6 or 7-5. If he doesn't, it's going to be another holiday at home. (Granted, this might be preferable to another trip to the Compass Bowl.)
The Saturday Edge: (Prediction: #4): I think new HC Paul Chryst’s offensive and defensive schemes are better suited for Pitt’s player personnel then Todd Graham’s were, but this is still Pit’ts third system in as many years, so it may be difficult for the Panthers to grasp it right away. QB play should be improved and Ray Graham’s return from injury will help. The defense lost seven players with starting experience, but the secondary will be stout.
Kevin (Prediction: #5): Pitt doesn't exactly play a killer schedule and last year they showed they could beat Big East foes like Louisville, Syracuse and USF. I wouldn't expect a miracle from this team but I would expect them to be competitive week in and week out.
Pete (Prediction: tied for #5)
Ross (Prediction: #4)
Jay (Predicton: #2): If any team is going to challenge Louisville for the best defense in the conference, it will be the Scarlet Knights. Not only do they return an impressive number of starters on that side of the ball, they roll deep as well, with 16 of their top 20 tacklers from 2011 back. Rutgers' issues are almost completely confined to the offensive side of the ball, but they are numerous. They appear ready to turn the keys over to rising sophomore Gary Nova at QB, but he was far less impressive as a freshman than Teddy Bridgewater. Their offensive line play has been in steady decline over the past few seasons, and with only 2 starters back, there isn't much hope for improvement. Their best chance to improve on offense will depend on Savon Huggins living up to his potential at RB, but even Ray Rice would have trouble running behind this line. The massive Brandon Coleman (6'6"-220!) showed flashes of playmaking ability, but he'll have a more difficult time of things without Mohamed Sanu drawing coverage off him. It sounds like I'm down on Rutgers, but nobody else in the league is going to be setting the scoreboard on fire either. Too bad they didn't catch a break in scheduling. They kick off their conference slate with a trip to South Florida (where a team from up North definitely doesn't want to be in mid-September) and then get a difficult draw on the back end with back-to-back away games followed by a home date with Louisville. I think that's really the difference.
The Saturday Edge: (Prediction: #2): With 8 returning starters, the Big East’s best defense should only get better this season. However, with the loss of their best offensive player Mohamed Sanu, I think the offense will continue to hold the Scarlett Knight’s back.
Kevin (Prediction: #4): If the running game stalls and they can't find a new target at receiver, Rutgers could really struggle and fall below seven or eight wins. If the defense can carry this team early and the offense can come together then we could be looking at a potential Big East Champion. Right now, I've got Rutgers as the fourth place team in the Big East but there isn't a lot separting the pack.
Pete (Prediction: tied for #2)
Ross (Prediction: #5)
Jay (Prediction :#7): Syracuse will be an interesting team to watch this year. They don't have a lot going their way. They have a tough schedule, in conference and out. They don't have an obvious next-back-up to take over for Antwon Bailey. They don't have a deep threat in the receiving corps. What they do have is what every Big East team wishes they did: Ryan Nassib, a veteran QB who has, quietly, gotten better every year he's started. Syracuse isn't going to compete for the Big East title or even go to a bowl game. But there are going to be a few Saturday's this fall when the solid Orange defense plays a little over it's head, and Nassib gets hot under center, and they put a scare into a much better team, maybe even beat them.
The Saturday Edge: (Prediction: #7): Ryan Nassib may be the best quarterback in the Big East. Unfortunately for the Orange they don’t have much in way of a support cast for their QB. They lose three Big East 1st teamers (RB Antwon Bailey, TE Nick Provo and RG Andrew Tiller) and the returning position groups appear to be average at best. The linebacker group ranks among the best in the Big East, but overall there are too many concerns to lead me to believe that Syracuse will finish any better than they did last year.
Kevin (Prediction: #6): One thing that may hurt is that Syracuse gets just three home games (in-conference) this year and must go on the road for four. I think it's important for Syracuse to get out of the gates of conference play quickly as they play Pitt and UConn in two of the first three conference games and if Syracuse wants to go to a bowl this year those are games they must win.
Pete (Prediction: #7)
Ross (Prediction: #6)
Jay (Prediction: #8): Temple deserves a lot of credit for getting serious about football and scraping their way to legitimacy over the past several years. (I can think of some other schools that should follow their lead.) That said, all of their recent success came at a different level of competition. Even in it's current lowly state, the Big East is still a few notches above the MAC, and the Owls will find that out firsthand this season. In no small part because this is by far the least experienced team in the conference. But, you know, this is probably perfect timing for a good old fashioned rebuilding year.
The Saturday Edge: (Prediction: #8): After spending the last seven years in non-FBS exile, Temple returns to the Big East. Unfortunately the Owls enter their old/new conference with a very inexperienced team. Temple lost seven starters on offense including RB Bernard Pierce (NFL 3rd round draft choice) and six on D including four who earned all-MAC honors.
Kevin (Prediction: #8): I think Temple has the tools to be competitive in the Big East this year, I just don't know if it's going to show in terms of their overall record.
Pete (Prediction: #8)
Ross (Prediction: #8)
Jay (Prediction: #6): UConn returns a lot of productivity on defense, I'll say that. Like the better Edsall defenses, this year's unit doesn't have a lot of talent, but they make up for it with quality experience. They know how to do their jobs, and as long as they're not purely out-athleted, they'll be stalwart. Unfortunately, the Huskies don't seem to be narrowing the skills gap on offense. The QB position is a seemingly never-ending mess, and even with the addition of Bryce McNeal from Clemson, the receiving corps isn't filling any secondary's heart with dread. I do give them credit for continuing to dig up 1,000-yard rushers, though. But Lyle McCombs' teeny shoulders can't carry this team through an extremely difficult schedule. The Huskies' conference slate actually calls for them to make visits to Louisville, Rutgers, and USF. Harsh. I think UConn is about to go 2-for-2 on missing a bowl in the Pasqualoni era.
The Saturday Edge: (Prediction: #6): UCONN could be a sleeper team in the Big East this year. JC transfer Chandler Whitmer should improve the QB position and the Huskies also return 2011 Freshman All-American running back Lyel McCombs. If UCONN can find some answers at defensive tackle, where they lose two multi-year starters (85 career starts), this defense could be one of the best in the Big East.
Kevin (Prediction: #7): UConn's defense should be the strength of this team. One thing UConn did very well last year was create turnovers as they had 31 which ranked them 10th in the Nation. If UConn can maintain their takeaways and improve their giveaways they could make some noise in the wide-open Big East.
Pete (Prediction: tied for #5)
Ross (Prediction: #7)
Jay (Prediction: tied for #3): I've often referred to the Bulls as the most geographically disadvantaged team in major college football, with the wear of a difficult travel schedule and extremely cold weather conditions in late season road games making it difficult for them to compete at their best for the entirety of the season. In fact, over the last 5 seasons, USF has posted a winning record in their last 6 games only once (12-18 overall). But this year, thanks to a favorable Big East slate and clever scheduling on USF's end, the Bulls will only leave the state of Florida twice over the last 6 games, and both of their bye weeks come in the last 8 weeks of the season. If they're ever going to win the conference title, this should be the year. And on paper, they're very comparable to the other top teams in the league, Rutgers and Louisville. They return good numbers on defense, which is usually one of the best in the conference. They also return virtually their entire receiving corps and have the one thing most of the league would kill for: a veteran quarterback. But that QB happens to be BJ Daniels. I've never gotten the hype on this guy. He's always thrown in that mid-50% range, and he's always had a TD-Int ratio that didn't inspire much confidence in his ability to throw his team to a win with any consistency. I don't see him having a breakthrough as a senior. He has never led the Bulls to a winning BE record, and though I do think they'll take down Rutgers in Tampa on September 15th, I think USF will again fall short of expectations with him under center.
The Saturday Edge (Prediction: #3): If QB BJ Daniels can show more consistency the USF offense has the potential to be very good. They are loaded at the skill positions and the offensive line has three starters returning. USF was 37th in the nation in scoring defense last year, but with the return of eight starters, the Bulls defense should be even better this fall.
Kevin (Prediction: #3): The defense has a ton of returning talent. The Bulls return eight of their top ten tacklers and should have a good front seven with the linebackers being a strength of the team. The pass defense was an opportunity last year. For USF to take a big step forward this year, they will need a few guys to step up in that unit. Based on how many close games they lost last year, they should be able to take a good step forward by just closing out some of those close games this year.
Pete (Prediction: tied for #2)
Ross (Prediction: #3)
CFBZ PREDICTED 2012 BIG EAST FINISH
1. Louisville Cardinals
2. USF Bulls
3. Rutgers Scarlet Knights
4. Cincinnati Bearcats
5. Pittsburgh Panthers
6. UConn Huskies
7. Syracuse Orange
8. Temple Owls