Hey guys, this is my first fanpost here at BECB. Let me just say I'm looking forward to the upcoming football season and interacting with you all.
As much as Iove the Orange, I love the Big East nearly as much. I love the tradition we have with out oldest programs, and the solid gains the newest members have made over recent years. And as much as I'm a critic at times, I'm a believer that our conference can succeed.
That being said, I'm going to let the predictions rip. Feel free to comment/correct me on your favorite team - I'm always up for a conversation, and I'll let you fill in the details as to why you believe your team can succeed in 2011.
(Also, I wrote a similar post last year regarding Syracuse Football and guess what, things worked out for us. No promises though!)
Looking back at what was in 2010, I don't think we need reminding as to how awful the conference was, but there's some important lessons to be learned, and reasons to look forward to 2011 with optimism. First up, lets start with:
1) New HC hires
In the last few years of coaching hires in the Big East, most first year coaches have roughly equated or improved upon his predecessors record in year 1. Strong improved his teams record from 4-8 in '09 to 7-6 in '10. Holtz and USF stood pat at 8-5 from '09 to '10, but did improve throughout the season en route a nice bowl win over Clemson. Marrone improved Syracuse from 3-9 in 2008 to 4-8 in 2009, and fielded an overall much more competative team. Butch Jones is the only exception, taking a 12-1 Cincy team to 4-8 in '10 (this is not a slam against Jones/Cincy, just an observation).
Taking that recent history into account, and then when you look at WVU and Pitt the last few seasons, it's fair to say both programs underachieved with the players they had. If coaching was one of, if not the sole cause of this, wouldn't it be reasonable to see WVU and Pitt either maintain or improve their win total, like UL/Strong and USF/Holtz did? Both Holgorsen and Graham come in with their share of success at the collegiate level, are inheriting programs with talented players, and are replacing coaches who were fired for performance and 'character' issues - situations very much respembling the situations Stong and Holtz walked into. Heck, many people think the addition of Holgorsen alone makes WVU the BE favorite. Graham also has a history in the BE, and is a winning HC. With the amount of talented athletes they are to inherit, would it really be that shocking to see both teams at the top of the BE next year, perhaps even nationally ranked?
Then that leaves Paul Pasqualoni and UConn. Ah, good ol' Coach P. I'm glad he's getting a 2nd chance at being HC, and thought it was a good choice for UConn. Until he hired George DeLeone. Thus I really don't have much hope for UConn next year. Coach P is a proven winner, but also a proven underachiever and a stubborn one at that. I'm not saying they'll completely suck, but they will be much closer to the model of Jones/Cincy in terms of going from the Big East champ to Big East cellar. Like Butch Jones, Coach P is also replacing a successful coach who wasn't fired, but instead he left for what he percieved to be a better job.
In a lot of ways the UConn team Coach P is inheriting is much like the one he left behind at Syracuse - both teams were/are a mixed bag of talent and project players, had/have solid yet unproven RBs, and a revolving door of starting QBs. And Syracuse, like last years UConn team, even tied for the conference title in 2004 (although UConn obviously won the tie-breaker and went BCS bowling in '10, whereas we all can be thankful that 6-5 Syracuse team in '04 did not).
In an case, I see two HC upgrades in Holgorsen and Graham and one small downgrade in Pasqualoni. I certainly don't see a Greggers or Kragthorpe in the group - on the contrary, we may have the best lineup of HCs the conference has yet seen. And like I said I'm not believer that UConn is about to go over a cliff, Coach P has some good bones to work with. May even win more OOC games this year than Edsall did last season, but expect a few, inexplicably bad/blowout losses. Which is a nice segway to #2...
2) Most teams should improve from 2010
If there was one, razor-thin silver lining to 2010 it was that the Big East was made up of mostly winning teams. 6 of 8 went to bowl games. 4 of those 6 won them. Maybe those bowl victories were all the mediocre bowls no one cares about, but for hitting rock bottom last season, many teams showed signs of life towards the end of the season.
On top of that, no teams lost more than 8 games last year. When this type of scenario sets itself up in another conference, it's called parity. When it happens in the Big East, at best, it's called mediocrity. Such is life in the college football world. But there really weren't any truly awful teams in the Big East last season. Rutgers and Cincy may have been knocking on that door, but now have nowhere to go but up. Both teams have the players to at least make a bowl game, and both had reasonable-to-high levels of success prior to 2010. So it's not as if either program can't succeed again.
The middle of the conference pack teams from 2010 should all be interesting in 2011. Holtz and Strong are in year 2, Marrone year 3, and all three programs they coach are looking up. Strong and Marrone may have some challenges in replacing a strong senior class from 2010, but both are proven innovators. Marrone has been restocking the Syracuse roster with his players since 2009, and should have the deepest team he's had yet. Strong has been doing exceptionally well on the recruiting trail, as we all know. For all this talk about how hard it is for players to adjust to a new system/coach, UL and Strong made it look relatively easy in 2010. I look for many in his 2011 recuiting class to be in the discussion for the freshmen All-American team this year.
I sorta already talked about UConn, but I think they can compete in this conference as much as anyone, and their OOC slate isn't that daunting (more on that in a bit). But Pitt and WVU have the most upside of any Big East teams in 2011, mainly due to the amount talent on the roster. Time will tell, but it wouldn't be unreasonable to think that both could have 10-win seasons and perhaps break the BCS bowl-victory drought the BE has had. If not them, it's not totally unreasonable to think that one of USF, Cincy, Syracuse or UL could rise above the pack and do the same.
3) Non-Conference Scheduling
If I were to scapegoat away the Big East's 2010 follies into one category, this would be it.
The Big East played it's fair share of BCS opponents last year, nearly losing to all of them. To futher worsen things, there were a number of losses to non-AQ schools, to put the cherry on top of the sh** sundae that what was the Big East's OOC record in 2010. As far as determining which conference is better than which, this is the measuring stick.
But looking at the games closer, there were some God-awful road games in the mix: Pitt @ Utah, ND; Syracuse @ UW, UL @ Oregon St.; UConn @ Mich, Temple; Cincy @ Fresno St., NC St., USF @ Florida, WVU @ LSU. With the exception of LSU and Florida, there aren't too many respectable losses in that slate. Problem is, none of those teams completely suck either and are all damn tough roadtrips to make, so there's a very limited opportunity to come away from those games looking good. You want to play these types of teams at home. And that's what will happen in 2011, where a higher percentage of these OOC games vs. winning teams will be in front of the home crowd. There also aren't as many impossibly tough games to win...the toughest roadtrips I see are Syracuse @ USC and Pitt @ Iowa.
Every team has a winnable game vs. a BCS opponent on the schedule. WVU gets a chance at payback vs. LSU at home this year, and USF gets Miami at home as well after beating them on the road in 2010. It's isn't to say their aren't any tricky/tough roadtrips in there, but coupling that with a nice home slate means most (if not all) BE teams should have a winning OOC record, and have a better chance to be at least .500 in all of their games versus other BCS opponents.
Anyway. this is just how one Big East fan sees things - for now. With preseason camps just around the corner, we can look forward to discussions on the upcoming season becoming less subjective by the day. Looking forward to hearing your opinions on the matter, especially if you care to back it up with some quality research and insight.
Best wishes for 2011. GO ORANGE, and GO BIG EAST!