Post-Spring Power Rankings
|1. West Virginia||1. West Virginia|
|2. South Florida||2. Pittsburgh|
|3. Syracuse||3. South Florida|
|4. Louisville||4. Louisville|
|5. Pittsburgh||5. Syracuse|
|6. Connecticut||6. Cincinnati|
|7. Cincinnati||7. Connecticut|
|8. Rutgers||8. Rutgers|
Mark's Take: Interesting that Pat and me both agree on the top, middle, and bottom team's in the rankings. There appears to be universal agreement that West Virginia is the favorite heading into the season and represents the Big East's best chance to send a high ranked team to the BCS after last season's debacle. Casteel has shown that he will always field a quality defense in Morgantown, and now with the arrival of the Holgorsen attack, the Mountaineers will be a formidable opponent for everyone on their schedule. Louisville hanging around in the middle makes sense because the Cardinals are a mysterious combination of strengths, questions, and potential. The front seven returns virtually intact and a large and talented freshman class will arrive in August, but replacing four senior offensive linemen and Bilal Powell won't be easy. Rutgers had one of its worst seasons under Greg Schiano after winning 36 games the four previous seasons. I just don't see much to convince me that Rutgers is going to make great strides in 2011.
Pat's Take: I think West Virginia will be the class of the league this year and that Rutgers will still be at the bottom of the standings. The Holgorsen hire will get the Mountaineers over the top this year while the Cignetti hire will improve Rutgers but not enough to get them out of the cellar. I have more faith Pitt's ability to compete for the title than Mark. I think the new scheme will make Pitt a more formidable opponent than last season. South Florida will be stronger but I just don't trust B.J. Daniels enough to think that he leads the Bulls to a Big East title. Louisville had a stronger defense than people acknowledge last year and that should remain their strength this year. I see Syracuse backsliding as they overachieved by a couple of games last year and lost their workhorse running back to the NFL. I see a more drastic reversal of fortunes by UConn as they lost talent and their coach. Cincinnati has a chance to show the most improvement with the least visible on-field results. Overall, this will be a stronger league than last year's version.
Rating the Coaching Hires
- Dana Holgorsen - West Virginia - It's hard for me to imagine a better hire than the bold move West Virginia made in plucking Dana Holgorsen from Oklahoma State and naming him the head coach in waiting. There's an added element of enjoyment for Mountaineers fans in that all reports indicate that they were able to get Holgorsen right before Pittsburgh was set to hire him. His offense is as imaginative and aggressive as there is in all of college football and will fit extremely well with the talent he inherits.
- Todd Graham - Pittsburgh - I applaud Pittsburgh for (after the debacle with Mike Haywood) reaching outside of its comfort zone and bringing in a guy that is a complete reversal of the mentality that prevailed under former coach Dave Wannstedt. Todd Graham brings with him a 3-3-5 type of defense and an offense that has promised to snap the ball within ten seconds of it being snapped. The problem for Graham and his staff is its lack of connection to the area and its having to recruit in-state against Penn State and others. Unlike West Virginia, Pitt also needs to assemble more of the pieces to run its new offense effectively and that will take time.
- Paul Pasqualoni - Connecticut - Uconn was never going to bring in a household name, so it was somewhat set up to fail in trying to replace the only coach it had in FBS football that was also coming off of a Big East championship. We question the wisdom of hiring a 63 year old coach that's been out of the college games since 2005. We do, however, like Pasqualoni's familiarity with the region and his embracing of the high school football coaches in New England. He might experience some early struggles trying to replace key offensive starters, but, he didn't win four Big East titles at Syracuse and then forget how to coach.
- Dana Holgorsen - West Virginia - A very bold move from the Mountaineers that should pay immediate dividends this season. At least, I'm banking on Bill Stewart not interfering during games. If the Spring game was any indication, West Virginia is going to score a ton of points this season and be a much more dangerous team for LSU to play.
- Todd Graham - Pittsburgh - I'm willing to pretend the Mike Haywood hire didn't happen (because I think it would have been a disaster if he had been able to coach the Panthers) and that Todd Graham was their man all along. Graham will bring excitement to the Panthers offense that has sorely lacked it during the Wannstedt years. Graham is also very keen on keeping Pitt strong on defense as his depth building moves indicate.
- Frank Cignetti - Rutgers - As down as I was on Pitt's offense under Wannstedt, Schiano's 2010 Rutgers offense was simply pathetic and toothless. A completely confused mishmash caused a team that should have gone to a bowl to finish dead last in the Big East. Cignetti will bring a predictable Pro Style to Rutgers but that will help skill players healthy by playing them where they are supposed to go.
- The Quarterbacks - Geno Smith and Tino Sunseri - Both quarterbacks are leading offenses making transitions from conservative, run based attacks to wide open passing attacks and in their respective spring games, the two combined for almost 100 attempts and almost 900 yards passing. Both were pretty highly rated quarterbacks coming out of high school and both are finally in offenses that will utilize their strengths. I wouldn't be shocked if Geno Smith was a Heisman Trophy candidate by year's end. I could easily include Zach Collaros here, but, he's a known quantity in the same system. It's conceivable that the three will combine for more than 10,000 passing yards in 2011.
- The Defensive Linemen - Even with the loss of Pitt's standout defensive ends, the Big East is full of quality defensive linemen. Bruce Irvin at West Virginia, Kendall Reyes at Connecticut, and Chandler Jones at Syracuse all look to be stars again in 2010. One budding player to look out for in the future is Louisville sophomore defensive end Marcus Smith. Smith came to Louisville at a 230 pound quarterback but played all of his freshman season (and played well) at outside linebacker. Due to injuries, Smith packed on about twenty pounds of muscle and moved to defensive end and looks like some of the great pass rushers Strong had in his time at Florida. Watch out for him in 2011 paired up with fellow sophomore B.J. Butler.
Newcomers We're Excited About
- Teddy Bridgewater - Louisville - Bridgewater was as highly rated as any quarterback that Louisville has ever signed and to get him enrolled in January was an added bonus. He wasn't able to beat out Will Stein in spring ball, but the battle will continue into the fall. Bridgewater fits the Louisville offense perfectly and while at times he certainly looked like a freshman, he showed glimpses of the ability that had everyone in America coming after him out of high school.
- Savon Huggins - Rutgers- Huggins is getting plenty of hype (the next Ray Rice) but I want to see if he can back it up. Granted, he will be playing behind an offensive line that was the worst in the FBS in 2010. Huggins is from New Jersey and is the first five-star recruit to ever sign with Rutgers. His arrival in the Fall will also mark the first time Rutgers has landed the top prospect in New Jersey.