Coming off a combined Big East regular season championship last season with only a 7-6 overall record, the Cardinals won’t have much of an easier path to glory this season. Despite the fact that Charlie Strong’s squad only plays one team in the AP Top 25 and has only two opponents on the schedule that finished in the Top 25 at the end of last season, the Cardinals lost to four teams on the docket for this year that they also faced off against last season. They also barely edged out cross-state rival Kentucky in a sloppy affair in Lexington.
This year’s Louisville platoon will be led by 2011 Big East Rookie of the Year Teddy Bridgewater at the quarterback helm. Bridgewater started the season at backup but started in Louisville’s fourth game of the season against Marshall and never looked back. He ended up finishing the season with 14 touchdowns and 191 completed passes on 296 attempts. On the defensive side of the ball, the Cardinals return ten starters including defensive catalyst Hakeem Smith at strong safety. Smith led the defense in tackles last campaign with 84, anchoring the Derby City’s secondary.
Overall, the Cardinals will have some tough games to navigate through in the early half of the season and should make it through with an almost identical record from last season barring any major upsets. Note: Even though Louisville was ranked 25th in the new AP Top 25, I don’t believe that they will have a spectacular season. Prediction: 7-5
Another team in the trio of co-champions in the Big East last season, Cincinnati faces an extremely easy schedule both in and out of conference. The Bearcats face two FCS teams on the schedule (Delaware St. and Fordham) and have several other cupcakes mixed around in the batch. Ranked 25th in the new pre-season AP Top 25, the Bearcats return 11 starters on the depth chart including solid slot receivers Anthony McClung and Kembrell Thompkins. Newly-minted starting quarterback Munchie Legaux enters his junior season after splitting time with Senior quarterback Zach Collaros last season.
With one of the easiest non-conference schedules in the Big East combined with a talented group of starters the Bearcats could be looking at a potential BCS bowl bid for the second time in three years with Butch Jones as head coach. Prediction: 10-2
The closest team to my home turf in New Jersey, the Scarlet Knights come into the season with a quarterback battle brewing and a new head coach. Kyle Flood took over in Piscataway on January 31st after previous head coach Greg Schiano left the program to take the head coaching job with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Flood, the former offensive line coach at Rutgers inherits a team who went 9-4 last season including a win in the Pinstripe Bowl over Iowa St.
The two quarterbacks vying for the starting job at Rutgers are sophomore Gary Nova and junior incumbent Chas Dodd. Dodd started in 8 fixtures last season including starting and throwing for 176 in a 27-13 win over Iowa St. in the Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium. Meanwhile, Gary Nova threw for 11 touchdowns and 9 interceptions in 10 games of action with his best performance coming against Navy, throwing for 271 yards and 2 touchdowns. Nova also had 23 completions on 31 attempts against Navy. Additionally, look for Savon Huggins to have big impact at the running back position in his sophomore campaign.
On the defensive side of the ball the Scarlet Knights are led by senior linebacker Kasheem Greene. Overall, Rutgers’ schedule is a manageable one with the only very tough game coming against Arkansas in Fayetteville on September 22nd. I see the Knights grabbing 9 wins on the regular season and possibly putting in another Pinstripe Bowl performance like last season. Prediction: 9-3
With their 3rd head coach in the past three seasons, (not including disgraced one-day coach Michael Haywood) Pittsburgh looks to move forward. After struggling to a 6-6 regular season record last year, things looked bright when the Panthers salvaged a bowl birth. The problem was that less than one month earlier head coach Todd Graham has accepted the head coaching job at Arizona St. and then texted his players to say goodbye. That is right folks, Todd Graham did not tell his players in person or encourage them going into their bowl game, he texted them saying that he had taken the Arizona St. job and goodbye. Needless to say there was a lot of turmoil going into Pitt’s BBVA Compass Bowl game against SMU and they ended up being defeated 28-6 in a sloppy end to the season.
With first-time head coach Paul Chryst at the helm for this season, the Panthers look to take advantage of a weak Big East schedule. The problem is that they have a tough non-conference slate and the team is just not all that great. One bright spot on the offensive side though is 2011 All-Big East first team running back, Ray Graham. Graham lead the nation in rushing for the better part of last season before being sidelined for the season in the ninth game with a knee injury.
With tough non-conference games such as Notre Dame and Virginia Tech the Panthers may have a tough time navigating through the schedule without bumps along the road. Overall, I think that they should get right onto that bowl number once again and we will have to see if they have a better bowl game than last season’s. Prediction: 6-6
Entering their second season under head coach Paul Pasqualoni, the Huskies look to build on their underwhelming 5-7 performance last year. UConn’s non-conference schedule is not one to fret over but they hit a stretch of Big East games towards the end of the year that could make or break their season. In the last four games of the year the Huskies travel to USF and Louisville in tough environments and then host Pittsburgh and a very tough Cincinnati team to cap off the year.
Quarterback Johnny McEntee, who gained YouTube fame after a series of trick shots last off-season returns for his 5th year in Storrs. McEntee used his golden arm to throw for over 2,100 yards last year and 12 touchdowns. He leads the offensive side of the ball for UConn while Blidi Wreh-Wilson should become a senior leader in the secondary.
Overall, the Huskies should start off well but may falter down the stretch in their tough last four Big East games. Prediction: 6-6
Skip Holtz’s enters his third year at the helm of USF and it finally looks like the Bulls have the promise and potential they have shown for years. With a signature win for the program last year over 16th ranked Notre Dame in South Bend, (Admittedly that was one of the worst moments of my days loving Notre Dame Football) the Bulls have been tiptoeing to a top flight bowl game i the past few seasons and now it looks like they finally have arrived. With an average schedule with a few exceptions South Florida could be close to a BCS bowl game this year.
5th year senior quarterback B.J. Daniels passed for 2,585 yards last season easily besting his original best mark, as well as throwing for 13 touchdowns to only 7 interceptions. He is the leader of the whole team and if he can do even better than last season USF is on track for the greatest year in school history.
South Florida plays tenacious in-state foes Florida St. and Miami during the campaign and might be able to come out victorious in both contests. Realistically, I see USF beating Miami from Sun Life Stadium and navigating their way to a 9-3 record, one of their best in past years. Prediction: 9-3
If any team in the Big East needs a bounce back year, it is the Syracuse Orange. After starting off last year with a promising 5-2 record, ‘Cuse lost their last five games and stumbled to a 5-7 overall record in their third year with coach Doug Marrone. The season looked especially bright when the Orange dismantled 11th ranked West Virginia at the Carrier Dome. After that victory the Orange rolled over to their last 5 opponents in games that were not reasonably close.
Senior quarterback Ryan Nassib threw for a career-high 22 touchdowns to only 9 interceptions last season and looks to build even more on that performance this season. The Orange will have a challenging schedule ahead of them if they want to attain their bounce back season. That includes them playing against AP Top 25 #1, USC. That game will be played at MetLife Stadium home of the NFL’s New York Giants and New York Jets. Overall, ‘Cuse will not end up much better than last year but they should be bowl-eligible which is a plus. Prediction: 6-6
Despite significant improvements under former head coach Al Golden and current head coach Steve Addazio, the fact of the matter is that these accomplishments were in the Mid-American Conference, which is a far weaker conference then the Big East. That doesn’t mean that the Big East is powerhouse by any stretch of the word but it certainly is tougher than the MAC.
With junior quarterback Chris Coyer stepping into the full-time starting role for the first time, it will be interesting to see how he handles the pressure of playing in the Big East. Coyer completed 60% of his passes for 463 yards last season in sporadic playing time. Despite what I believe will be a tough season for the Owls, I do expect them to defeat the reeling Penn St. Nittany Lions in Beaver Stadium on September 22nd. Overall, the stretch of games in the Big East from the middle to the end of the season should pose a tough task for them and one they may not be able to make it out of. Prediction: 4-7 Note: Temple only plays 11 games on the regular season oppose to the usual 12.