Like the all Big East team yesterday, we'll roll this out in two stages. This is the individual ballot that we at Big East Coast Bias are submitting and closer to noon we'll post the results of the voting from all nine of the SB Nation Big East blogs. This is not an easy task as, and this is not really a result of the league being overly strong, the Big East is as wide open in the middle as it has ever been. I think the case for the top is very simple and limited to two or three teams at the most. Places four through eight are fluid, but here's our ranking.
1. West Virginia - The Mountaineers have the most talent in the Big East and get Pittsburgh at home late in the season with a week to prepare. We think Geno Smith and the weapons on hand are perfect for the Dana Holgorsen offense and we've always been very optimistic about his ability to easily transition into the head coaching role. The Mountaineers have been like a pitcher with very little run support the past two seasons. That won't be the case in 2011. Jeff Casteel might actually enjoy coordinating a defense that doesn't have to win games 17-10 anymore. The schedule is conducive to a sweep of the Big East with a week off before back to back road games in October and another week off before the pivotal final two games against Pittsburgh and USF.
2. Pittsburgh - Much like West Virginia, we're thrilled that Pittsburgh now has a head coach and offensive system that will hopefully make the most of what has been a talent-laden but disappointing offense during the Wannstedt years. Tino Sunseri is a good fit for Graham and offensive coordinator Todd Dodge's no-huddle offense and is surrounded by talented backs, receivers, and a solid offensive line. Defensively, the Panthers will be solid in the front seven (front six?) in Graham's preferred 3-3-5 style defense, but there are questions in the secondary outside of Jerred Holley. Unlike the Mountaineers, this is also Pittsburgh's first year in the new defense, so we expect some growing pains, our respect for the front seven notwithstanding. We would be tempted to pick Pittsburgh to win the Big East were the Backyard Brawl not on in Morgantown. Still this is a very talented team that should improve on last year's disappointing record.
3. South Florida - Head coach Skip Holtz did the one thing we'd hoped he would do at South Florida: stop the late season swoon that characterized the Leavitt years. The Bulls were impressive in their bowl win over a very talented Clemson team and if that team shows up in 2011 on a weekly basis, there's no reason they won't contend for the Big East title. There is talent at running back and wide receiver for (sometimes erratic) quarterback BJ Daniels to work with, but the line replaces three starters. We never worry about South Florida fielding a competent defense and 2011 gives us no reason to change our line of thinking. Ryne Giddins is an excellent young defensive end while DeDe Lattimore and Sam Barrington give USF one of the conference's best linebacking corps. Our hesitation in picking them higher comes with the schedule. A final final game stretch with no week off that features trips to Rutgers and Syracuse before coming home to face Miami, Louisville, and West Virginia in consecutive weeks. It'll probably be too much to win the Big East this year.
4. Cincinnati - We had our fun with the Butch Jones-thorpe jokes after the Bearcats fell to a 4-8 record on the heels of back to back Big East titles. Nevertheless, Jones is a good coach and we think Cincinnati will bounce back well in 2011. The offense is loaded with talent at all of the skill positions and the defense returns virtually intact. They won't win the Big East, but the Bearcats will finish in the top half of the Big East this year.
5. Louisville - 2011 will be another placeholder year for Charlie Strong and the Cardinals. After doing an admirable job in 2010 guiding the team to a 7-6 record and a bowl win, Strong's second edition will be more talented and better equipped physically to compete with the talented teams on its schedule, but is going to be extremely young and inexperienced. An entirely new offensive line and new starter at quarterback means the team will rely on a very good defensive front seven and ball control early. They also draw West Virginia, South Florida, and Cincinnati all on the road. 2012 will be the breakout year for Louisville.
6. Syracuse - We view Louisville and Syracuse as mirror images in terms of program development. Both teams made impressive runs last year on the backs of a large and experienced senior class that has now departed. 2011 will be all about just maintaining before making a run in 2012. We like quarterback Ryan Nassib and the Orange receivers and it doesn't hurt to get home games against Rutgers, West Virginia, South Florida and Cincinnati.
7. Rutgers - Going into 2011, the quarterback position is at least settled. The Scarlet Knights will transition back to more of a run oriented, pro-style offense that should be pretty effective with Chad Dodd at quarterback, a good pair of receivers in Mark Harrison and Mohamed Sanu, and stud freshman running back Savon Huggins. Our hesitation is with the offensive line that allowed a stunning 61 sacks in 2010. Just as worrisome is a defensive line that didn't blow opponents away in 2010 either.
8. Connecticut - We love the Huskies defense and new defensive coordinator Don Brown. They should be as good a unit as there is in the Big East. The problem for us is, we just cannot see where the points will come from. There does not appear to be a real answer at quarterback, receiver, or at running back, though the offensive line is very good. Paul Pasqualoni has his work cut out for him trying to cobble together skill position players that can punish teams that will surely bunch up to stop the run without much fear of being beaten through the air with the ineligibility of the team's best receiver, Michael Smith. It could be a very long year for the Huskies.