Big East Media Day is tomorrow and with it, the preseason media poll will be released. Big East Coast Bias was honored to submit a ballot. Here's the ballot I submitted and some explanatory notes. It's worth pointing out that the ballot was due a couple of weeks ago and since then, I've changed my mind a little but not at the top or the bottom.
1. Louisville - Louisville returns virtually everyone from the team that tied for the Big East title last year and in even numbered years, Louisville gets four Big East home games (including South Florida and Cincinnati). It's remarkable to look at last year's depth chart and see the number of true freshmen, redshirt freshmen, and sophomores that started or played significant minutes. All of those players are back and if the adage about players making their biggest improvements between freshman and sophomore seasons is true, Louisville should be the favorite to win the conference.
2. Rutgers - If Greg Schiano had returned as head coach, the Scarlet Knights would probably be the favorites to win the conference. There's talent on offense, despite the loss of Mohamed Sanu at wide receiver. New head coach Kyle Flood seems determined to settle on a quarterback, so while there will be a fierce fall battle between Chas Dodd and Gary Nova, don't look for the flip-flopping at quarterback that has characterized Rutgers the past few years. If there is even moderate offensive production, Rutgers should contend for the Big East title because it returns the best defense in the conference. There are elite players at every level of the defense and they signed a number of blue-chip recruits that should contribute right away. Rutgers gets Louisville at home in the final week of the season which could be a de facto Big East championship game.
3. Pittsburgh - Every year I feel like I get duped by Pittsburgh, so this is me falling for it again. The one year experiment in Todd Graham's offense was one of the more awkward matches of scheme and personnel that I can recall. New head Paul Chryst and his power running game and play-action passing game will the players he's inheriting quite well. He'll have a senior quarterback, three quality running backs, a pair of talented receivers, and a a dependable tight end. The Panthers go to South Florida and Cincinnati, but get Louisville and Rutgers at home. If the defense is solid, there's no reason Pitt can't be in contention for a Big East title its final season in the conference.
4. Cincinnati - If I had to submit my ballot today, I would flip-flop South Florida and Cincinnati. Butch Jones did a lot for himself last year, guiding the Bearcats to a ten win season and a share of another Big East title. The problem is, many of the key components from last year's team, on both offense and defense, are gone. No team replaces guys like JK Schaffer, Derek Wolfe, Isaiah Pead, and Zach Collaros without experiencing some kid of drop off. Still, Jones has talent at running back, new quarterback Munchie Legaux got some experience last year filling in for the injured Collaros, and the offense should transition to a little more of a running based attack to highlight Legaux's skills Cincinnati gets USF, Pitt, and Rutgers at home, which should make the reloading year a little easier, but it's unlikely the Bearcats will contend for the Big East title in 2012.
5. South Florida - Like we've been writing for what seems like forever, so much of the Bulls' fortunes will be decided by the play (and health) of quarterback BJ Daniels. If Daniels is a reliable passer and can avoid injury, the Bulls have a ton of talent on offense. Defensively, as has become its custom, South Florida has a talented defensive and the Big East's second best linebacking corps. The challenge for South Florida will be the schedule that has them playing at Cincinnati, at Louisville, but Rutgers and Pitt at home.
6. Connecticut - UConn is a much better overall team and program than it played like last year. The Huskies had ineligibility cost them their best receiver and constant quarterback shuffling left the defense trying to constantly cover for an offense that simply couldn't get anything going. Paul Pasqualoni gets that receiver back this year and JUCO transfer Chandler Whitmer enrolled in January to (hopefully) get a grasp on the quarterback job. If UConn fields even a decent offense, it'll surely return to the postseason and be improved this year, but not enough to merit being picked much higher than this.
7. Syracuse - I like Doug Marrone and I think he doesn't get enough credit for just how much he's achieved in his time at Syracuse. Taking the team to a pair of bowls before last year's using season was a real feat. Now I fear that the momentum is waning and the fact that he hasn't significantly upgraded the talent level in recruiting means last year's swoon is more likely the norm than the outlier. The Orange have an extremely difficult non-conference schedule and in the conference don't appear to have the offensive line or running backs to make Marrone's offense work against the better defenses in the league (despite how well I think quarterback Ryan Nassib has played).
8. Temple - I think Steve Addazio is the right guy for Temple right now and I truly believe Temple is far more equipped to handle Big East football than it was the first time around when the league not so politely asked the Owls to leave for its football ineptitude. This year, however, is a rough year for the program to make a step up in competition. Virtually everyone from last year's team that won a bowl game and played toe to toe with the likes of Penn State is gone. The offense relied so heavily on Bernard Pierce that in 8 games last year the team failed to complete 10 passes. This year Pierce is gone, but the Owls did get a late boost in the transfer of former Boston College tailback Montel Harris tp play running back. His health will keep him from taking the pounding that Pierece did, which means Chris Coyle and the passing game will have to pick up the slack. I wouldn't be shocked to see Temple upset a Big East team, maybe two. I also wouldn't be shocked to see them go 0-7 in conference play either.