Big East Football Predictions
The Big East is considered the weakest of the six BCS conferences, and it figures to remain in that class with West Virginia jumping ship to join the Big 12 this season. Temple has since joined the conference to keep it at an even eight teams. The Mountaineers leaving is just a minor bump in the road compared to what will take place prior to next season. Pittsburgh and Syracuse are both headed to the ACC, while Boise St, San Diego St, SMU, Houston, UCF, and Memphis will move up from smaller conferences to make it a 12-team league.
One thing you can say about the Big East is it’s one of the more competitive conferences. For a second straight season, three teams finished tied atop the standings. West Virginia, Cincinnati and Louisville all ended up at 5-2. The Mountaineers ended up winning the tie-breaker and the right to play in a BCS Bowl, which means there isn’t a single team in the conference who played in a premier bowl last season.
There’s a good chance the conference won’t be decided until the final weeks of the regular season once again. Without a clear-cut favorite, the race for the top spot is completely up for grabs. It’s without question one of the toughest conferences to predict, but I have studied what each team has coming back and the schedule in front of them to give you my 2012 Big East predictions.
1. Pittsburgh Panthers
While the Panthers will open the season with their 3rd different head coach in the last three years, I’m going to go out on a limb and predict Pittsburgh to win the Big East. The Panthers should have one of the most explosive offenses in the conference with an experienced quarterback in senior Tino Sunseri and one of the top running backs in college football in Ray Graham. They are also very underrated on the defensive side of the ball. Even with all the changes that have taken place, the Panthers haven’t allowed more than 23 points a game since 2007. While they have to go on the road to face a very talented South Florida team (beat USF 44-17 last year), they get both Louisville and Rutgers at home.
2. South Florida Bulls
Even though the Bulls finished tied for last in the conference with a 1-6 conference mark in 2011, I believe USF is going to be one of the most improved teams in the country. South Florida could have just as easily finished in the top half of the conference, as they had a lead in the second half of five of their six losses inside the Big East. The Bulls will be right there with Pittsburgh with one of the most dangerous offenses in the conference behind senior quarterback B.J. Daniels and my top rated receiving corps. South Florida also has a very manageable schedule with just three conference road games all season.
3. Louisville Cardinals
The Cardinals will likely be the popular pick around the country to win the Big East this season, but I’m not exactly sold on this team just yet. Despite starting the season just 2-4 with a couple of bad losses at home to FIU and Marshall, Louisville was able to finish up the regular season 7-5 and just missed out on winning the conference title. The big reason everyone is jumping on the Cardinals bandwagon is the excitement around sophomore quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. However, Louisville still doesn’t have a running game to put teams away and aren’t exactly strong on either the offensive or defensive line. While they have just three conference road games, two of those come against Pittsburgh and Rutgers. Louisville has just five seniors projected in their starting 22, which has me thinking this team is one year away from really making some noise in the Big East.
4. Rutgers Scarlet Knights
The Scarlet Knights were one of the big surprises in the Big East last year, as they went from a 1-6 finish in 2010 to finishing just one game out of share for the title at 4-3. If it wasn’t for the loss of head coach Greg Schiano, I would have likely had Rutgers picked right behind Pittsburgh in my predictions. The Scarlet Knights are absolutely loaded with talent all over the field. The only weak spot on the roster is at starting quarterback, but they should see improvement there. On top of losing their leader, which is bigger than a lot of people may realize, Rutgers has to go on the road to face both USF and Pittsburgh.
5. Connecticut Huskies
The Huskies represented the Big East in a BCS Bowl in 2010, but the expectations were low coming into last season with the loss of head coach Randy Edsall. Connecticut ended up finishing 3-4 inside the conference and showed a lot of improvement as the season went on. With 14 starters back and now in the second year under Paul Pasqualoni, the Huskies are primed to bounce back and be a contender again. Keep an eye on sophomore running back Lyle McCombs, who exploded onto the scene with 1,151 yards and seven touchdowns as a true freshman.
6. Cincinnati Bearcats
I think the Bearcats are in for a long season in 2012. Unless Muchie Leaguax is one of the biggest surprises in college football, Cincinnati is going to really struggle to score points. Not only do they have to replace one of the top quarterbacks in the conference in Zach Collaros, they lose star running back Isaiah Pead and their two best offensive lineman. Things aren’t exactly looking great on the defensive side of the ball. While they made some solid improvements last year, they have to replace three of their top four tacklers, including the heart and soul of the defense in middle linebacker J.K. Schaffer.
7. Syracuse Orange
A lot of people laughed when I picked the Orange to finish last in the Big East after they surprised everyone and went 8-5 overall (4-3 Big East) in 2010. Syracuse had an amazing 49-23 win at home over West Virginia, but finished the year with five straight losses. Head coach Doug Marrone has done a great job of getting his team to outperform expectations, but I can’t see Syracuse being much of a threat in 2012. They have just three conference home games and not one of them will be easy, as they will host Pittsburgh, Connecticut and Louisville.
8. Temple Owls
The Owls have earned themselves a spot back in the Big East with three straight seasons with at least eight wins (9-4 last year), but they don’t figure to be much of a threat inside the conference in 2012. Temple is in the middle of a major rebuilding process, as they have just eight starters returning. They are without question the most inexperienced team in the Big East and no longer will be able to pad their stats against the weak competition in the MAC. Their best shot at winning a conference game will be at home in the season finale against Syracuse, but I wouldn’t be surprised at all if they didn’t win a game in the Big East this season.
|More Team Previews|
|Cincinnati Bearcats||Connecticut Huskies|
|Louisville Cardinals||Pittsburgh Panthers|
|Rutgers Scarlet Knights||South Florida Bulls|
|Syracuse Orange||Temple Owls|
|Big East||Big Ten|