Welcome to Morgantown, West Virginia, where it's already 2012 and the Big East Conference battle in 2011 didn't even take place!
No, West Virginia University hasn't solved the mystery of time travel. If that was so, you can bet former Mountaineers head coach Bill Stewart would venture back to last December and put the kibosh on the hiring of Dana Holgorsen as Stewart's heir-apparent following the upcoming 2011 season.
Officially named as the coach-in-waiting by WVU athletic
director Oliver Luck just seven short months ago, Holgorsen is no longer
waiting. He stepped into the
Mountaineers head coach position this past week after Stewart resigned amid
allegations of running a smear campaign on his successor.
The former offensive coordinator at Texas Tech, Houston and Oklahoma
State, Holgorsen is
expected to win immediately. West Virginia shares the co-favorite slot in the Big East
with South Florida, both schools priced at
+250 to represent the conference in the BCS Bowls.
New coaches abound in
Holgorsen's closet isn't skeleton-free and he's not alone in
the Big East when it comes to new coaches.
Stewart himself had only been on the job in Morgantown since the start of the 2008
season. Todd Graham at Pitt and Paul
Pasqualoni at UConn join Holgorsen as rookie coaches in the conference.
Doug Marrone is starting his third year at Syracuse
with Butch Jones (Cincinnati) Charlie Strong (Louisville) and Skip Holtz (South
Florida) in their second seasons. Greg Schiano, beginning his 11th
season at Rutgers, is the longest tenured
coach in the conference.
Maligned last season as the weakest of the six conferences
with automatic BCS bids, the recent upheaval in the coaching ranks only adds to
this being a transitional year for the Big East. The conference is set to welcome the TCU
Horned Frogs in 2012 and assuming Gary Patterson doesn't get lured away to a
bigger school before then, TCU figures to instantly become the top dog in the
UConn a long shot to
defend conference crown
Until then it's quite possibly wide open for top-dog honors,
with the possible exception of last year's top dogs, the Connecticut
Huskies. The longest shot on the college
football betting board at 25/1 to win the Big East, UConn will be trying to
find the right mix for a majority of the skill positions on offense. That includes quarterback where redshirt soph
Mike Box is at the top of the depth chart coming out of spring practice.
Competition in the backfield will extend into preseason
practice and possibly beyond. USC
transfer DJ Shoemate is the frontrunner at tailback, but he could get pushed by
a pair of incoming freshmen.
If the Huskies upset the college football odds and defend
their Big East title, it will likely be due to a strong performance by a
defense that returns eight starters. Trevardo Williams at one end anchors a
line that includes tackles Twyon Martin and Kendall Reyes.
could decide it at the end
Co-favorites WVU and South Florida
don't have to find a new quarterback like Pasqualoni does at UConn. The Mountaineers and Bulls each possess
highly-touted signal callers Geno Smith and B.J. Daniels respectively, and it's
the shoulders of those two young men that carry most of the burden for their
Smith could be in for a huge year running Holgorsen's
pass-oriented offense. The junior threw
24 TDs against seven INTs last season, ranking second in the Big East in total
offense. Smith also has three of his top
targets from 2010 back in receivers Tavon Austin, Stedman Bailey and Brad
Daniels, a redshirt junior, didn't progress like Holtz and
his coaching staff hoped in 2010. Off
his '09 freshman campaign, Daniels experienced two really bad contests at Florida and West
Virginia early in the season and was injured late in
the year, missing the season finale against UConn.
native did rebound with a nice performance in the Meineke Bowl vs. Clemson.
Should the conference come down to a Bulls, Mountaineers
battle, we'll have to wait until the final game of the season when West Virginia travels to Tampa for a Thursday night ESPN clash (Dec.
Pitt leads list of
WVU, USF challengers
Like Holgorsen at West
Virginia, Todd Graham is expected to add pizzazz to
the Pitt attack on both sides of the ball.
Tino Sunseri is back at QB and tailback Ray Graham (no relation) is off
a fantastic season that saw him run for over 900 yards as Dion Lewis' backup.
The Panthers, +350 as the third choice in the Big East
betting board, do have some questions to answer on defense after losing safety
Dom DeCicco and defensive end Greg Romeus who was a 7th-round selection by the
New Orleans Saints in this year's NFL Draft.
Pitt has a tough early road trip to Iowa
just before back-to-back home tilts with Notre Dame and South
Florida in a 5-day span.
Butch Jones' second year at Cincinnati can't be any worse than his first,
right? The 8-loss campaign saw just
three highlights, and one of them was a loss to Oklahoma that was only close because the
Sooners allowed it to be. The other two
games worth mentioning were a road win at Louisville
and a 69-38 roller at home over UConn.
The Bearcats (+500) do have a strong nucleus returning on
offense, led by junior QB Zach Collaros, but it will be up to the defense which
returns 10 starters from a weak unit, to prove its worth if Cincy is going to
Just as surprising to see Cincinnati drop eight games,
Louisville's 7-6 season that ended with a bowl win over Southern Miss was also
a bit of a shock. It could've been even better had a few bounces gone the Cardinals'
way in close losses at home to South Florida and West Virginia.
Strong and Louisville
(+800) scored big this past offseason according to most recruiting experts, and
Teddy Bridgewater might be getting his feet wet at QB as a true freshman. But
the defensive side of the ball is going to be breaking in new corners on
defense where just five starters return.
Rutgers (+1200) and Syracuse (+1300) are sort of in no-man's
land in this conference, both capable of going bowling but still a lot to
prove. Schiano's reign as the senior
coach in the Big East could be in trouble if the Scarlet Knights can't improve
off a 4-8 campaign that saw them go 1-6 in conference, all six defeats coming
in succession at season's end. Rutgers' defense is a work in progress while the offense
can't go anywhere but up.
The Orange saw their season
die off at the end with home losses to UConn and Boston
College, but still finished with eight
wins courtesy of a 36-34 win over Kansas
State in the New Era
Bowl. The offense could be a sleeper
behind QB Ryan Nassib, but like Rutgers there
are many questions on the defensive side. A September trip to Los Angeles against USC could provide some of
Big East Conference