MY Preseason Rankings:
1. Pittsburgh Panthers-
The Big East this year is the definition of wide open. While the top 4 teams are a cut above, really the top 6 could have a legitimate shot at a title run. That being said, I give Pitt the preseason edge to grab the 2011 BE crown. Pitt has a great defense and a good offense, both featuring solid talent in the trenches. I believe that Coach Todd Graham will be the perfect fit for the Panthers and put the offense, led by QB Tino Sunseri and RB Ray Graham, in a position to succeed right away. And another big reason why I give Pitt an edge, is their schedule (starting to see a pattern readers?). They get almost all of their tough games, both conference and non, at home. West Virginia is essentially the only road game they have to worry about and should be a brawl (as the rivalry name suggests). Still, I would be shocked if the Panthers didn't end the season with at least a share of the title and the Big East's BCS bid.
2. West Virginia Mountaineers-
West Virginia comes in a close second in my Big East rankings. In fact, they are most experts' favorite to win the conference title. They feature one of the best QB-WR combos in the nation in Geno Smith and Tavon Austin. Both the offensive and defensive lines, though featuring some great talent, still have some holes. The defense as a whole only returns 4 starters, so while WV won't have much trouble scoring, they might run into some real issues stopping anyone. I also have reservations about the schedule. Cincinatti presents a tough road game and WV must travel to face USF on a short week immediatly following an intense rivalry with Pitt. WV certainly has a shot at winning the BE, but they might need to catch a few breaks to do so.
3. USF Bulls-
South Florida is another team very much in the hunt for the Big East title, thus garnering my close 3rd place ranking. While they only return 11 starters, QB BJ Daniels continues to improve and the offense should be pretty solid. USF has a lot of talent and their speed is arguably the best in the conference, which can be a huge factor. The schedule is very manageable and gives the Bulls as good a shot as anyone at the Big East title. I just feel like Pitt and WV represent slightly better competition, and that's why the Bulls are my #3.
4. Cincinnati Bearcats-
With 15 returning starters and under 2nd year Coach Butch Jones, Cinci looks to show improvement and compete for a title. The offense should be stout, featuring a great QB, the conference's best RB, and some good WR talent. Ironically, it's the defense, which returns 10 of the 15 starters, that is the biggest question and weakness. The Bearcats will score, but at some point you have to stop someone. Cinci plays USF, Pitt, and WV back-to-back-to-back (two of which on the road). A tough October/November and bad defense= #4 on my rankings.
5. Connecticut Huskies-
While last year's slim Big East champ has some chance at repeating, they are really on the outside looking in as far as the top half of the conference is concerned. They return 16 starters, and the defense looks to be pretty good and keep them in some games. But 3 of their 4 games against the conference's best are on the road, and they are under a completely new coaching staff. Last year was very lucky and they look to take a step back in 2011.
6. Rutgers Scarlet Knights-
Rutgers has potential following last season's collapse. 14 starters return and look to turn the ship back around. Young QB Chas Dodd could surprise some people, and it doesn't hurt that he has some great talent at WR to throw to. The defense looks to be improved as well. The Knights get all the conference's best teams at home, so there is high likelihood for an upset at some point. But the chances Rutgers gets a shot at a BE title are slim to none.
7. Syracuse Orange-
'Cuse appears to be slowly rising from the ashes of their recent mediocrity, but it could be a while before they are back among the conference's best. Like so many teams in the Big East this year, the Orange have a pretty good offense and an awful defense. From the outset, it looks like most of their competition will simply outscore them. But they do have some potential to make some waves. That's why they are my solid #7.
8. Louisville Cardinals-
The Cards are something of a wildcard this year. As I see it, they could finish anywhere from 4th to where I have them now, last. While they only return 10 starters, they get some key games at home and have a strong motivational Coach (no pun intended, Coach's name is Strong). As I look at the roster, I feel like there are too many questions to be confident in this team, but they could be a few upsets away from the postseason. In the mean time, I would consider this another rebuilding year.
MY All Conference Team:
|Isaiah Pead, Cincinnati|
RB- Isaiah Pead, Cincinnati
RB- Ray Graham, Pittsburgh
WR- Tavon Austin, West Virginia
WR- DJ Woods, Cincinnati
WR- Mohammed Sanu, Rutgers
TE- Nick Provo, Syracuse
|Tavon Austin, West Virginia|
OG- Chaz Hine, USF
OG- Chris Jacobson, Pittsburgh
OT- Don Barclay, West Virginia
OT- Mike Ryan, Connecticut
|Bruce Irvin, West Virginia|
DE- Bruce Irvin, West Virginia
DE- Brandon Lindsey, Pittsburgh
DT- Chas Alecxih, Pittsburgh
DT- Derek Wolfe, Cincinnati
LB- Max Gruder, Pittsburgh
LB- DeDe Lattimore, USF
LB- Najee Goode, West Virginia
|Max Gruder, Pittsburgh|
CB- Blidi Wreh-Wilson, Connecticut
CB- Quenton Washington, USF
S- Hakeem Smith, Louisville
S- Terence Garvin, West Virginia
K- Ross Krautman, Syracuse
P- Pat O'Donnell, Cincinnati
Ret- Lindsey Lamar, USF
5 Games to Watch:
1. Pittsburgh @ West Virginia: The hate-filled rivalry know as the Backyard Brawl should have championship implications this year, adding to the brutality. The matchup to watch will be Pitt's defense vs WV's offense, however I think Pitt's offense will be the difference. Overall, these teams are evenly matched and this year's installment of the rivalry should live up to its name.
2. West Virginia @ USF: Another game with major bearing on the title race. The Bulls catch WV in Tampa and on a short week following my #1 Game to Watch. If WV doesn't bring their "A game" (and perhaps even if they do), USF will win this game. These teams are very similar to each other. Should make for a close game.
3. Utah @ Pittsburgh: I love the story line for this OOC game. It's a rematch of the 2004 Fiesta Bowl that featured Utah as the first ever BCS buster. Now both teams are in AQ conferences and go into this season fairly evenly matched. If it's anything like last year's OT battle, this should be a fantastic game.
4. Miami @ USF: Another OOC game with some intrigue. USF always plays second fiddle to their south Florida counter part, and I'm sure many players on both sides know each other. Besides the small rivalry, this is a great measuring stick opportunity for USF's growing program. Plus it's at home. You won't want to miss this one.
5. West Virginia @ Cincinnati: Don't forget about the Bearcats. They will be just as in the hunt for a BE title as anyone, and this home contest against WV could provide them with a giant leap toward their goal. This is also somewhat of a geographical rivalry. Expect a shootout.
That does it for my 2011 NCAA Football preview! Can't wait for the season to start! Stay tuned though, cause I've got plenty of ideas to hold our attention, in case Rangers baseball isn't enough to keep you satisfied.