I was recently asked to do a conference preview of the Big East for the upcoming season. Go ahead and laugh. We drew straws, and I got the shortest one, so here I am, writing about the Big East, a conference that only has eight teams competing in football. I know this conference’s football doesn’t inspire a lot of excitement, but hey, you never know, Louisville could come out and win a national title for all we know (doubt it). So now, with all jokes aside, I give you our Big East football preview.
Where does the conference fall in the national rankings – how likely are they to have a team in the Title game?
With the departure of West Virginia, Louisville is the cream of the crop in this conference. They are currently the only team ranked in the AP Top 25, and the conference has no ranked teams in the USA Today Poll. The Cardinals are coming off a 2011 campaign where they went 7-6. Yes, the strongest team in the conference was 7-6 last year, so that should tell you a lot about how the conference compares to others nationally.
Behind Louisville, the next best team is likely Cincinnati, a team that went 10-3 last year, but the Bearcats lost some key players on offense, including quarterback Zach Collaros and running back Isaiah Pead. Past those two teams, it’s Pittsburgh and everybody else. Expect Louisville to get the at-large automatic BCS Bowl bid come bowl season.
In terms of conference strength, I’m going to be blunt. It’s the weakest BCS conference. Put these teams up against any of the other power conferences, and it makes for an ugly comparison… there just isn’t any other way to put it.
Who is the best team in the conference? Who will play for the conference title game (if there is one)?
As previously discussed, Louisville is the best team in the Big East. They play Cincinnati at home which helps, and the rest of the schedule pretty favorable (as of now, it does not contain a single ranked team). Combine that with the fact that they have fifteen returning starters, and they’re clearly the favorite to win the conference (which has no conference title game).
Who is the worst team(s) in the conference?
This has to be Syracuse, a team that finished 5-7 last year overall and 1-6 in the conference. They finished 73rd overall in team defense last year and 84th in team offense. U-G-L-Y. This year, they have a tough non-conference schedule including Northwestern, USC, Minnesota, and Missouri this season, which does not help their cause to improve their record. Expect the Orange to struggle again all year.
Conference Offensive/Defensive MVP?
Look for Pittsburgh running back Ray Graham (if healthy) to be the offensive star of this conference. He ran for over 200 yards in two games last year before tearing his ACL against Connecticut in October. If he is able to play, and if Pittsburgh can get their offensive line in order, Graham could be a big playmaker for the Panthers.
On the defensive side of the ball, look for Khaseem Greene to be the MVP. He led a Rutgers defense that finished first in the conference last year, led the Big East in tackles, and was co-defensive player of the year.
Coach of the year?
Charlie Strong has to be the favorite. Louisville should be much better this year, and if they in fact are, he could find himself as the head coach somewhere else next season.
There you have it. Your Big East preview. Now, back to your regularly scheduled programming….GO BUCKS.