This time last year, the Big East was in trouble perception wise(which is not to say it no longer isn't, hence the (l)east.) With Miami, Boston College, and Virginia Tech long gone, the conference was searching for an identity, and a lose by Pitt at the hands of MWC champ Utah caused some to question the BCS status of the conference. Then, something happened. Within the course of the 2005 season, the Big East experienced (at least to some extent) a revival of its programs. Suddenly Rutgers didn't suck any more, Louisville was no longer just a "good" mid-major, and West Virginia actually kicked Georgia's ass in the Sugar Bowl. While Pitt and Syracuse built incredibly disappointing seasons, South Florida suddenly rose out of obscurity. Is the Big east better then we all thought? Here are the lists...
The CFR List
- West Virginia
- South Florida
The Pitch Right List
- West Virginia
We all know about West Virginia. Rich Rodriguz runs one of the most effective offenses in the game, and QB Pat White and RB Steve Slaton are back to lead what figures to be one of the nation's top ground attacks (not as good as Navy's of course). What you may not know is WVU Brandon Barrett has his scholarship back. The former Parade All American looks to greatly improve an already dangerous passing attack. The questions here deals with the ability of the team to handle the high expectations, and to reconstruct the defensive line. Otherwise, we're looking at the clear cut favorite for the conference champion.
If WVU is the favorite, Louisville can't be far behind though, and it wouldn't surprise me if they ultimately won the conference. A lot hinges on the return of Brian Brohm, but backup Junter Cantwell showed flashes of excellence in limited playing time last season. The WR corps gets help from the likes of Chris Vaughn, Corey Thompson and Patrick Carter (all transfers), with speedster Harry Douglas adding a vertical component. Returning 1100 yard back Michael Bush is also back, adding another dimension to what should be an extremely potent offense. Despite losing Elvis Dumerville, the Cardinels still possess a stout defense, and are very sound at the linebacker position. Come to think of it, maybe I do like Louisville...
Now that we got the two obvious selections out of the way, the questions becomes fairly simple. How good is Rutgers? The answer; better then you think. Their is a reason the duo of Brian Leonard and Ray Rice is already being touted as one of the best-if not the best- backfield combinations in the country. Leonard is simply put a freak who is virtually impossible to tackle mano-y-mano (or for that matter tres manos y mano) and Rice (who was a Freshman All-American) combines great speed with elusiveness. If new QB Mike Teel can overcome a "forcing" problem and not screw up too much, Rutgers should be able to run up plenty of points against opponents. The big questions come on defense, as ends Ryan Neill and Val Barnaby departed for NFL Free-agency. Can Rutgers inflict enough pressure up front to help a secondary that was last in the Big East (Yes, even behind Syracuse)? Even if it can't, the offense should be good enough to make this team hover around the Top 25 all year.
That brings us to the interesting case of Pitt, a team that was thought to be on the rise over the past couple years. Yet astute readers will probably remember the image of Pitt's defense getting flat out torn through by opposing offenses, in particular WVU In the annual Backyard Brawl. Word on the street is coach Wannstedt has invested a lot of time in upping the conditioning of the defense, and certainly the talent is there. H.B. Blades may be the best linebacker in the conference, and linebacker Tommie Campbell can flat out fly. Pitt was bitten pretty hard by the injury bug last year, and chances are the team will be relatively more healthy this go-around. On offense Tyler Palko is back for his Senior season (not to be confused with Shane Falco) and is in the running for the "Shit, he's still in college award?!?" Seriously though, while Palko is perhaps NFL caliber, the "hard nosed running" team Wannstedt envisioned is not gonna come alive anytime soon. There still is no definitive "hard nosed" running back, and the offensive line is talented but young. Palko lost a good receiver in Greg Lee, and the passing game may take a little while to come on-line. That being said, when you look at the rest of the teams in the conference, you can't imagine Pitt falling any lower. The record may not end up indicating it, but this is the 4th best team in the Big East.
The only difference between my list and the CFR list is in the 5th spot, which conventional wisdom tells us really doesn't matter a whole lot. I went with Connecticut, perhaps only because they play Navy, and seeing this is a Navy blog I thought I’d rep 'em a little. That being said Connecticut is the premier example of how to get to Div IA and begin winning almost immediately. While questions continue on who will QB the team, the options available (including the more athletically inclined D.J. Hernandez) seem to point that someone can do at least a decent job. A strong running game built around backs Terry Caulley and Lou Allen and a good defense should help this team to be at least marginally successful this season. While Connecticut may not get to another Bowl, like last year they should beat South Florida and in turn become the 5th best team in the Big East.
That's all for today, join me Friday as I begin to take a look at the 5 Best teams in the SEC, which I admittedly no pretty much nothing about.