In the last of the Big 6 conference breakdowns, we look at the Big East. In a time where the “spread” offense has taken over football, the top teams in the Big East are led by the running game. That will be the key to determining a winner at the end when the weather in the northeast turns foul. There has been some coaching turnover, and some key departures from the league will dictate a lot of outcomes this year. Onward!
Shady Who? Dion Lewis announced his presence with authority, last year, and he made it easy for Panthers fans to move on from LeSean “Shady” McCoy. Lewis ran for almost 1800 yards and 17 TD’s. He broke all kinds of school records, and proved to be a workhorse with only two games of fewer than 20 carries (19,18). If he is to continue that production, the offensive line will have to pick up for the 3 starters they lost this year. On defense they have two All-Conference linemen in Greg Romeus and Jabaal Sheard. The front four will need to apply pressure to opposing offenses, so that they won’t have time to pick apart their rebuilding secondary. The schedule maker did them no favors either, with road games against Utah, Notre Dame, UConn, USF, and Cincinnati. Throw in a home tilt with Miami, and coach Wannstedt has his job cut out for him.
Get on my back! Don’t be fooled by the 5’8 180 in the program. Noel Devine is plenty strong enough to carry the Mountaineers into his senior season. He is a dynamic player, who amassed 1500 yards and 13 TDs, and gets to run behind an offensive line with 4 starters returning. That is great to hear for Coach Stewart as he tries to break in a new starting quarterback in Geno Smith. He’s no Pat White, but is a much better thrower from the pocket. On defense, the strength will be in the secondary. They get back Robert Sands who led the team with 5 picks, and also the senior leadership provided by cornerback Brandon Hogan. Coach Stewart has kept the ship headed in the right direction despite the turmoil from Rich Rodriguez’s departure. If their offense can put up enough points, they are going to be a load to handle.
Noel Devine will give the Mountaineers plenty of reasons to celebrate.
Basketball school no more. Coach Edsall is jumping right into the fire, opening up his season at The Big House. He did a great job last year, enduring the murder of Jasper Howard, and still led the team to a bowl victory. Former Notre Dame quarterback Zach Frazer will be heading the offense, and steps back into a starting role that he had lost due to injury. Nothing is more fun for a quarterback than a good running game, and the Huskies have that. They have BOTH of their 1000-yd rushers back in Andre Dixon and Jordan Todman. They will have to continue that production, and Frazer will have to be sound with the ball, so that UConn can play keep away with the football. Their secondary is in flux, and they weren’t very good last year on the way to the 88th ranked pass defense in the nation.
Who’s got next? Not often is there a coaching change when the football program has won the conference 2 years in a row. That is the case here with the Bearcats, where Butch Jones takes over for Brian Kelly. He has some huge shoes to fill as Kelly has proven to be one of the best coaches in the country. This is a familiar jump for Jones who did the same thing when Kelly left Central Michigan to go to the Bearcats. Congrats coach! Your first schedule includes the Oklahoma Sooners and the Fresno State Bulldogs. He does have some experience at quarterback with Zach Collaros, who was awesome in his 4 starts last year (74% comp, 10 TDs, 2 INT). He showed good mobility and is gonna need it. There isn’t good depth at RB and he lost his most deadly target in Mardy Gilyard. Couple those factors with a mostly new offensive line, and the Bearcats will struggle to hold on to the title belt.
A new era. Slowly climbing the ladder into a BCS conference is Skip Holtz. He helped put UCONN on the map, moved to ECU and won a couple of C-USA titles, and is now in the Big East with USF. Obviously, he would wish the circumstances were better. I won’t pretend to know what went on with Jim Leavitt and his ouster, but to say it was not good would be an understatement. Holtz does get a talented quarterback in BJ Daniels. He’s strong armed and extremely quick. The fun part for him is that the offensive line has a lot of experience. Unfortunately, his skill positions don’t, which is odd being in Florida. Losing a presence like Carlton Mitchell hurts. We’ll see if someone steps up. On defense, it looks even worse, losing Pierre-Paul and Selvie to the NFL, so the defense is in rebuilding mode. It could be a long season, especially traveling to the Swamp and the U. Like I said earlier, Holtz has done some pretty good reclamation jobs, so give him time. He should do the same here.
Normally, the conference title is decided after WVU and Pitt meet in “The Backyard Brawl”. This year it will probably be done by that time. The number of road conference games that Pitt will have makes it hard to see them persevering to the title. I’m calling the Mountaineers here. They have an early test against LSU that should get them ready for the conference schedule. Noel Devine is a definite Heisman candidate, and after the adversity he has faced growing up, a Big East title would be a fitting way to go out.