Mike Tranghese and friends over at the Big East have been quite happy with themselves with the recent success the conference has had despite losing its three top programs to the ACC. While the ACC has floundered in football, especially in BCS games while the Big East has been strutting. Capped off by last years’ West Virginia lambasting of Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl, the Big East looks (and mostly prays) for the trend to continue. They already lost one high profile coach, and may lose their others to other power conferences, but the talent keeps coming in and the Big East keeps performing. Bottom line is, the trend will not end this year, and it figures to be West (by God) Virginia taking the title home again.
I see this conference as a two boat race between West Virginia and South Florida. Rutgers will be hurting from losing Ray Rice and three starters from the O-line. The Scarlet Knights had what has now become a disappointing 8-4 season last year. I expect them to take 3rd in the Big East, but they face Pitt, West Virginia, and South Florida all away from the comforts of Jersey. South Florida became everyone’s darlings last year for a few weeks last year before losing steam and getting routed by Oregon in the Sun Bowl. Jim Leavitt is a coach you can enjoy watching because you know he really cares for the program and is not just hamming it up on the sidelines. Matt Grothe is the head of the offense for the Bulls. As the saying goes, to kill the dragon (bull in this case) you must sever the head. If Grothe is held in check, the Bulls seems to flounder. But with another year of experience behind him, I expect the South Florida offense to perform well. They will be tested early, facing Kansas on September 12th in Tampa, but expect them to perform just as well, if not a shade better than they did last year. Expectations are suddenly up for the stache of Dave Wannstedt after shocking WVU in the “Backyard Brawl” last year, ending the Mountaineers title hopes. But this is Dave, the stache, they will struggle once again, even with sizzling sophomore LeSean McCoy in the backfield. Losing NFL first round pick Jeff Otah on that line makes it even harder for McCoy and you can bet there will be many defenders in the box when the Panthers take the field. Another blow to the team was losing DE Doug Fulmer for the season with a knee injury. Louisville and coach Steve Kagthorpe have an uphill battle I front of them. Hopefully the luster from years past can propel them to signing the same level of talent they had beginning with John L. Smith years ago. A lot will be expected from Hunter Cantwell as he replaces Brian Brohm, but he is a senior and the Cards will need him. The first game against Kentucky may very well be a barometer of how the team will fare this season.
That leaves us with the lads from Morgantown. West Virginia was brought to new heights under Rich Rodriguez, but now they face the long years ahead. But Lo! Pat White returns to the delight of Moutaineer fans and Erin Andrews(obligatory) and even though backfield mate Steve Slaton is now cashing checks from Sunday, Noel Devine is more than able in the backfield (8.6 yards per rush last year). Many have pointed to the Bill Stewart factor as being a similar situation to when Larry Coker inhabited the powerhouse Miami team of Butch Davis. I say a thousand times yes to this comparison. Rich Rodriguez may not be welcome in the wild and wonderful state, but fans will miss what he brought to the program. This West Virginia team will thrive this year with their only out of conference road test coming against Colorado and I look for them to play with a purpose after just missing the national championship last year by giving it away to Pittsburg in the last game of the regular season. Their home date with Auburn will probably decide whether they enter the BCS title conversation or have to rest their hopes on simply another Big East title. Either way I see them coming out on top, or then after this year, I see dark days ahead. So enjoy the sun while it shines in Morgantown, because it won’t last after this year.
Big East picks
Conference Champion: West Virginia
Below Expectations: Pittsburgh
Above Expectations: Louisville
Player to Watch: Matt Grothe, QB, South Florida
Game to Watch: South Florida @ West Virginia, December 6th