With a month to go until Media Day and the subsequent opening of camps around the Big East, we'll be taking a look at the position units of the Big East's eight schools and ranking them. We'll begin with the most important position on the field, one which has not been a position of strength for virtually anyone in the Big East the past few seasons: quarterback. There are some familiar faces that should improve in 2012 and some new starters that will have big shoes to fill.
Ranking quarterbacks is unique in that for the most part (looking at you, UConn), you only play one at a time, so while the stable of quarterbacks on a roster might be strong, you're really only as good as the one on the field for the majority of plays. So consideration was giving to all the quarterbacks on the roster, but the rankings are based mostly on who we think will be the projected starter. Be sure to give us your feedback in the comments below. This exercise should be a lot more fun in 2013 when some very efficient passing attacks move to the Big East.
1. Louisville - Teddy Bridgewater was forced into action earlier than he was perhaps expected to. He stumbled through a stretch where the offensive line was shuffling due to injury, the offensive coordinator abruptly quit, and Louisville faced the toughest defenses on the schedule (North Carolina, Cincinnati). Still, by the end of the season he was the unquestioned leader of the team. In the final six games of the season, Bridgewater averaged 216 yards per game through the air and had 9 touchdown passes. With his offensive line returning intact and all but one of his best receiving targets back, Bridgewater should have a very good year throwing the ball. Will Stein, the starter for the first three games last year, is a solid passer if needed in relief.
2. Syracuse - Some might call me crazy for having Syracuse this high, but, I think Ryan Nassib is quietly a very good quarterback performing in a difficult situation. The Orange aren't loaded with a ton of skill position talent, yet Nassib completed 62% of his passes for 2,685 yards, and had 22 touchdowns versus just 9 interceptions. Marrone's offense is demanding of the quarterback and Nassib delivers. The schedule will give him a chance to impress, but more than likely, the team's win/loss record will obscure that Nassib is one of the league's best quarerbacks. Depth after him is essentially an unknown since no other quarterback on the roster attempted a pass last season.
3. South Florida - It seems like BJ Daniels has been at or near the top of various quarterback rankings for a decade. Entering his senior season at South Florida, it's time for Daniels to deliver. At the end of the 2010 season, it looked like he was finally ready to live up to some of the hype as he helped USF avoid its customary late season swoon and beat Clemson in a bowl game. But after a good start to the 2011 season that saw USF crack the top 25, Daniels struggled to be a reliable passer, and then missed time due to injury as the Bulls missed a bowl game despite starting the season 4-0. When healthy, Daniels is a legitimate dual-threat quarterback and he should enjoy some better receiving weapons than he's had in previous seasons. If he plays like he did to end the 2010 season, USF could contend for the Big East title.
4. Pittsburgh - Much like BJ Daniels, Tino Sunseri has seemingly been at Pittsburgh forever. He's taken a ton of criticism (and a ton of hits). Most of the criticism is justified, even for a quarterback that has been forced into different offenses each of the past three seasons. Sunseri is often erratic, holds on to the ball too long, and takes too many sacks. Still, I can't help but think that he's going to enjoy playing for Paul Chryst and Brooks Bollinger. Sunseri will be back in an offense that huddles, puts him mostly under center, and will mostly throw on bootlegs and play-action. All things that Sunseri has done comfortably in this three seasons at quarterback. It also helps Pitt that they signed a blue-chip star in Chad Voytik who will challenge Sunseri this year and likely take over next year. What has been a weakness in past seasons might finally be a strength in 2012.
5.Cincinnati - Zach Collaros is gone and gives way to the greatest-named player in college football: Munchie Legaux. Legaux took over for Collaros last year after he was injured in the West Virginia game and he managed the team well in relief. Legaux isn't the passer that Collaros was, but he's competent, and probably a bit better of a runner. Something that will likely be utilized more in the Bearcats offense this year with the departure of running back Isaiah Pead. Backup Jordan Luallen was mostly a running threat and is playing receiver this season. The Bearcats signed two talented quarterbacks in Trenton Norvell and Bennie Coney. Both enrolled in January and went through spring practice.
6. Rutgers - Now we enter the portion of the Big East where the teams don't really know which quarterback will start. Rutgers has been shuffling quarterbacks for two seasons, but new head coach Kyle Flood has vowed to settle on one in fall camp and ride it out. That's good, because there's plenty of talent around the quarterbacks and neither Gary Nova nor Chas Dodd blow you away. Both are game manager types. Nova has the better physical skills but needs to make better decisions. Neither quarterback completed 60% of their passes last year and combined threw 21 interceptions but 16 interceptions.
7. Connecticut - If the adage is true that "If you have two quarterbacks, you really have none", then what do you say about a team with...five? Last year The Huskies played trick-shot master Johnny McEntee, Scott McCummings, and Michael Nebrich. None were particularly effective. The Huskies finished the season 84th nationally in passing offense and missed a bowl game. This year, all three return, and they add two more quarterbacks in JUCO signee Chandler Whitmer and freshman Casey Cochran. Whitmer was a four-star recruit out of high school that washed out at Illinois. He enrolled in January and performed well in the spring. He may very well be the starter come September with McCummings sprinkled in as a wildcat formation quarterback. Still, as we approach the season, nobody has any idea who the quarterback will be and last year we learned that Pasqualoni feels no pressure to pick one.
8. Temple - Ranking Temple against the rest of the Big East is difficult because they've been playing against the MAC the past few seasons. Still, it's not a stretch to say that quarterback is not a position of strength in the Temple offense. Chris Coyer is technically a returning starter, but he attempted just 50 passes last season. The Owls offense attempted just three more passes per game than Georgia Tech. The Owls completed fewer than 10 passes in 8 of 13 games last season. Now Coyer faces a step up in defensive competition and does it without Bernard Pierce to carry the ball and with a new offensive coordinator. I'm predicting Temple faces significant challenges in the Big East in the short term and it will show at the quarterback position next year.