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Most important game: Dec. 5 at Cincinnati
Why: Mark Stoops has been a hit in Lexington, Ky., since taking over the Wildcats program. But if we learned anything from last year's season-opener — in which Teddy Bridgewater completed 19 of 21 passes — it's that the Cardinals still have much more talent, especially since they bring back a majority of their playmakers from last year's Sugar Bowl-winning squad. Plus, if the Cardinals can't get by Kentucky in Week 3, we can kiss all of that undefeated season — and likely conference-winning — talk goodbye.
The Cardinals get Rutgers and UCF at home, and they don't have to face SMU. And, well, there's a reason the schedule-makers made their final regular-season game on a Thursday night against Cincinnati.
We went over this Friday in a post looking at the Bearcats' most important game, but it's worth echoing again here. This tilt may very well decide the conference champion — and the league's last guaranteed BCS bowl berth. For a Cardinals squad expected to be a preseason top-10 team, it may just decide a national title berth, depending on what the rest of the national landscape looks like. And for a quarterback who has been showered in expectations, hype and preseason accolades all spring, this prime time, national-television game could provide the outlet for one final Heisman Trophy advertisement.
These teams met in a Friday prime-time contest that ended in overtime, with Louisville recovering from a pair of 10-point deficits and, ultimately, getting to look back on the win over Cincinnati as the difference-maker in clinching the conference's BCS bowl berth.
This one will be on the road. It will be Louisville's final game in the Big East/American Athletic Conference. And it is the last scheduled meeting with its arch-rival, for now.
The Keg of Nails always means a lot to both schools. But the 2013 season could bring us the most meaningful Louisville-Cincinnati game yet.
Jake Golic has an industrial design degree from Notre Dame and will be eligible to play for the Bearcats right away. The West Hartford, Conn., native appeared in five games during his Irish career. His brother, Mike Jr., was the team's starting right guard this past fall.
Jake Golic will join former Irish teammate Gunner Kiel at Cincinnati, which cannot comment on the move until Golic officially enrolls.
Golic later confirmed the move himself on Twitter.
Can't thank the ND family enough for all the love and support over the last 4 years at ND. You have made it a pleasure to be Irish!— Jake Golic (@JGolic88) May 21, 2013
With that being said, I am incredibly excited about the opportunity of attending the University of Cincinnati and being a #bearcat!— Jake Golic (@JGolic88) May 21, 2013
- Colleague Ted Miller says that college football spring prognosticators turn into fun fodder.
- Former Oklahoma State quarterback Wes Lunt has not visited Louisville yet, but is sincerely considering Illinois, colleague Joe Schad reports. Schad also reports that former Penn State quarterback Steven Bench's options are USF and Mississippi State.
- The AAC has a plan for an exit fee distribution, Greg Auman writes in the Tampa Bay Times.
- Great story here from the (Newark) Star-Ledger's Steve Politi, on Eric LeGrand returning to his Avenel home. Former Rutgers receiver Mark Harrison has signed with the Patriots.
- USF coach Willie Taggart says that the UCF rivalry needs time to grow, Paul Tenorio writes in the Orlando Sentinel.
Join us at 1 p.m. ET as we go conference-by-conference taking your questions until 3 p.m. See you there.
1. Release a new logo: The league will officially become known as the American Athletic Conference at the conclusion of the 2012-13 college sports season. A new logo is on the way, but is not expected to be revealed during this week's conference meetings, though we could see it in the next couple of weeks.
2. Get QB answers: Cincinnati, Houston, Memphis, USF and Temple all exited the spring with open competition under center, though some seem to have a lot more clarity (Cincinnati, Houston, Temple) than others (Memphis, USF). For the other five teams, the summer is about continuing the growth of returning starters, all of whom took big steps this spring to build off their 2012 campaigns (particularly Rutgers' Gary Nova and UCF's Blake Bortles).
3. Find a true No. 2 to Louisville: No, the Cardinals have not already won the AAC in their final year in the conference before moving to the ACC. But the early Heisman Trophy and NFL draft hype surrounding quarterback Teddy Bridgewater -- coupled with preseason top-10 appearances in every major forecast, a favorable schedule and the overall brilliance of its athletic department this academic year -- has the hype at previously unforeseen levels on campus. Louisville still has 12 games to deal with once the first ball is kicked this fall, but it is the only team in the conference that, this far out, seems to have most of the answers it needs heading into the season. Who will make the biggest strides in the next 100 days to close that gap and emerge from the pack of relative unknowns in the league? This is, after all, the conference's last year with a guaranteed BCS bowl berth.
4. Make the rounds: Matt Rhule does not need to meet and greet all that many new people in the Philadelphia area since he was a longtime Temple assistant, but he is stepping into his first career head-coaching job. Willie Taggart has been a hit back in his home area of Tampa, Fla., but he is taking over a roster that has vastly underachieved the past two years, and he is entering recruiting battles with local rival and Big East newcomer UCF. Tommy Tuberville has had great success on the recruiting circuit so far at Cincinnati, but he has a big standard to live up to in following the footsteps of the school's past three head coaches. How will each new head coach in the conference further establish himself in the dog days of summer?
5. Houston must figure out several game locations: One of the more overlooked aspects of one of the conference newcomers this season is the Cougars' need to determine where they will play all of their home games. Four of them have been slated for Reliant Stadium, but the school's Oct. 12 game against Memphis and Nov. 23 tilt with Cincinnati still need locations. Rice Stadium and BBVA Compass Stadium are the options, according to the Houston Chronicle.
Most important game: Oct. 26 at Rutgers
Why: There are a number of possible choices for the Cougars as they enter their first year in the Big East. Their Nov. 9 contest at UCF and their regular-season finale against SMU certainly jump out. So, too, do their Nov. 16 and Nov. 23 games at Louisville and against Cincinnati, respectively, as both teams are among the conference's recent heavyweights.
But Houston is a new team in a new league, joined by UCF and SMU from Conference-USA. So I decided to cross those two -- plus Memphis, obviously -- off the list, since beating either wouldn't prove as much to the conference's six returning members. The Cardinals and the Bearcats are the likely top-two favorites entering the 2013 season, and I don't want to make that jump just yet for a team coming off a 5-7 season and stepping up a league in play, so I crossed those two games out, too.
But you guys did vote Houston -- just barely -- as the darkhorse team with the best chance of challenging for the league title, so I don't want to diminish expectations just yet, either.
All of this brings us to the seventh game of the year, at High Point Solutions Stadium in Piscataway, N.J. The tilt will be Houston's third conference game of the season, and easily its most challenging after facing Temple and Memphis earlier. Rutgers, one of four teams to share the conference crown in 2012, is relatively unknown entering this fall, as it recently had five players drafted from a defense that finished fourth nationally in scoring D (14.15 points per game) and 10th overall in total D (311.62 yards per game).
Houston, meanwhile, has a chance to boast the most explosive receiving duo in the conference in Deontay Greenberry and former USC and Arizona Western player Markeith Ambles. The mid-season game against the Scarlet Knights provides the perfect opportunity for the Cougars to prove that they will be a force to be reckoned with in their first year in the Big East. If they truly are a darkhorse threat to win the conference title in 2013, they will announce it to the rest of their peers with a win at Rutgers.
- Oklahoma State has a number of restrictions on transferring quarterback Wes Lunt, but Louisville isn't one of them, our Joe Schad writes.
- CBSSports.com's Rob Rang has Teddy Bridgewater at No. 3 and Rutgers receiver Brandon Coleman at No. 25 on his 2014 draft big board.
- USA Today's Paul Myerberg previews Memphis, his 116th-best team for 2013.
- AthlonSports Braden Gall counts down the top 50 receivers of the BCS era, with the top spot going to a guy who made his name in the Big East: Pitt's Larry Fitzgerald.
- The Hartford Courant's Desmond Conner catches up with commissioner Mike Aresco for a Q&A.
- Finances: Who deserves what, when? The conference stands to make more than $100 million in exit fees, entrance fees and other revenues. Do the three longest-tenured members -- Cincinnati, UConn and USF -- deserve a bigger share of the pie since they have taken the biggest hit recently? What about Temple, stuck in between the new guard and the old guard? New and future members may feel they are entering a different league from the one they initially agreed to join, too.
- NCAA legislation: Decisions are sometimes made on whether the conference wants to sponsor any legislation for the next NCAA cycle. The AAC will likely gather stances from its coaches and athletic directors on certain issues, several of which have been the source of controversy this offseason. (See: recruiting deregulation)
- Bowls: The bowl cycle is up after this season. The conference's spots in the Russell Athletic Bowl, Belk Bowl and Pinstripe Bowl are seemingly in serious jeopardy. How does a new group of teams potentially affect a new postseason lineup?
- In non-football news, potential venues for the men's and women's basketball tournaments will be discussed, though whether a conclusion is reached remains to be seen. The new Big East took Madison Square Garden with it when it broke off from the rest of the conference in March. The XL Center in Hartford, Conn., has hosted the last 10 women's hoops tournaments but is facing competition from elsewhere.
Louisville and Rutgers will not attend the meetings. According to conference bylaws, once a school announces that it is leaving the conference, it cannot attend formal conference meetings. Athletic directors from future members East Carolina, Tulane, Tulsa and Navy are all expected to attend.
A new logo for the conference is not expected to be revealed for a few more weeks.
Thursday brought us our closest poll, with Houston and USF neck-and-neck as potential darkhorse candidates in the conference this season. I'd expect similar results from today's poll, as the eventual answers always end up as surprises.
Anthony McClung, WR, Cincinnati: The senior had just 34 catches for 539 yards and two touchdowns last season, but he leads all returning players in the conference in career receptions, with 105. The runner-up on the Bearcats? Alex Chisum, with 28. Travis Kelce, Kenbrell Thompkins and Damon Julian are gone, and there are question marks in the backfield. But with a returning starter under center one way or another, and with added weight, McClung has the chance to break out as a true No. 1 option this season.
Gary Nova, QB, Rutgers: Players and coaches have spoken of a much more confident man under center this spring, especially with new coordinator Ron Prince in charge of the offense. Nova shed 15 pounds in the offseason and thrived in the spring game, and his poor play during the Scarlet Knights' three-game losing streak to close last season provides the perfect opportunity for a rebound in 2013 for the junior.
Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville: Pryor may be the most accomplished among these candidates, but he still has plenty of untapped potential after thriving as a starter during most of his freshman and sophomore seasons. Pryor was a second-team All-Big East performer last season after forcing five fumbles — the third-most nationally — and notching 100 tackles. He and Hakeem Smith should form the best safety duo in the conference.
Connor Reilly, QB, Temple: If this award went out in the spring, Reilly would be the winner by a wide margin. He jumped from fourth to first on the depth chart over the course of 15 practices, dominating in the spring and forcing Chris Coyer and Kevin Newsome into position changes. The dual-sport athlete (he also plays baseball) is the frontrunner to start in 2013, but the biggest question is likely the weapons around him.
- The Cincinnati Enquirer's Tom Groeschen looks at key Bearcats dates this summer.
- Louisville is No. 10 in Athlon Sports' countdown of the top 25 teams. The gang debates if the Cardinals can run the table.
- UCF's secondary will be tested early in the season, Paul Tenorio writes in the Orlando Sentinel.
- UConn coach Paul Pasqualoni talks strength and conditioning with the Hartford Courant's Desmond Conner.
- Former Penn State quarterback Steven Bench was impressed by the buzz during his USF visit, Greg Auman writes in the Tampa Bay Times.
We're out with the clichés and straight to the point in the blog, as evidenced by our "most important game" series.
Starting today we'll take a look at one game from each of the 10 Big East teams' schedules and explain why it stands out above the other 11.
We'll kick things off today with Cincinnati.
Most important game: Dec. 5 vs. Louisville
Why: The Tommy Tuberville era at Cincinnati opens with a pair of Big Ten games. While Purdue and Illinois are far from the cream of the crop in that conference, they should provide the Bearcats with very nice opening nonconference tests. Conference play begins nearly a month later against a USF team that should improve significantly under first-year coach Willie Taggart.
Afterward? A three-game stretch against Temple, UConn and Memphis is hardly Murderer's Row. The next trio -- SMU, Rutgers and Houston -- offers potential pitfalls, but the Bearcats, at least from the comfortable view of the offseason, will likely be favored in each of those contests. Which leads us to the regular-season finale, which also reminds us that this team does not play UCF in the Knights' first season in a conference that they are expected to enter as immediate challengers to the conference throne.
So that brings us to Dec. 5 at Nippert Stadium. The Keg of Nails. And what is the last scheduled meeting between these two rivals, for now.
We all know what happened last year, as the Cardinals recovered from a pair of 10-point deficits and won 34-31 in overtime — after a bad snap during a John Wallace field goal attempt was rendered irrelevant because of an ill-timed Butch Jones timeout.
Both teams finished 5-2 in the Big East last season, along with Syracuse and Rutgers. They were all able to claim a share of the conference crown — the Bearcats' fourth in the past five seasons — but Louisville got the BCS bid, thanks in large part to its win over Cincinnati.
Cincinnati and UCF have gotten most of the consideration this spring as the biggest challengers to Louisville's repeat bid in 2013. Thanks to the schedule-makers, we may just have to wait until the last Thursday of the season to find out who gets the final guaranteed BCS-bowl bid from the conference.
Mel Kiper Jr.'s lists Thursday take a look at inside linebackers , outside linebackers and tight ends .
UConn's Yawin Smallwood is the only Big East player to make any of the top-five (or next-man-up) lists, as he comes in at No. 3 among inside linebackers.
The Huskies had four defensive players get drafted last month. Kiper says he can see three of them starting NFL games early in their rookie years. And he thinks Smallwood may be better than all of them, citing the redshirt junior's instincts and awareness on the field and saying that he looks like he reads the game a half-second quicker than everyone around him.
Colleague Travis Haney, meanwhile, ranks the 10 most talented teams in the country , using Mark Schlabach's post-spring top 25, Kiper's top 50 draft prospects and positional prospectus, and the past four years of ESPN.com's recruiting class rankings. No Big East teams make the top 10 or the next-five group.
Now it is time to tell me who you think is the league darkhorse this season.
So we'll cross off those four. Who ya got?
We're not necessarily looking for a team to run the conference table. But challenging for the conference crown or making a surprising leap to a respectable bowl game will do.
Houston: Tony Levine enters his second season at the helm with a pair of new coordinators and arguably the top receiving duo in the conference in Deontay Greenberry and Markeith Ambles. But is there enough under center to get those two the ball where and when they need it? David Piland sits atop the quarterback depth chart, but will be pushed in fall camp.
SMU: The pairing of June Jones and Hal Mumme will make for very interesting theater. The staff has raved about Garrett Gilbert's progress since last season, and that offensive experiment should be nothing short of fascinating to watch. Whether that's in a good or bad way remains to be seen.
UConn: One of the nation's best defenses last season loses four starters to the NFL draft. One of the nation's worst offenses returns all five offensive line starters, its starting quarterback and its top running back after adding a new offensive coordinator. Regardless, anything short of a bowl bid in Year 3 under Paul Pasqualoni after consecutive 5-7 campaigns will be looked at as a disappointment.
USF: The preseason No. 2 team from last season went 1-5 in conference play for the second straight year, and coach Skip Holtz lost his job in the process. New coach Willie Taggart has made a splash throughout Tampa, Fla., upon his arrival. He has a quarterback situation that is less than ideal, but on the other side of the ball welcomes Aaron Lynch, who could be one of the top defensive ends in the nation. Will the process be fast-tracked in Year 1?
The Big Ten announced the 2014 schedule Thursday, and the Scarlet Knights will jump right into the swing of things against the powerhouses of their new conference.
Rutgers' first Big Ten game will be against former Eastern rival and new East division rival Penn State, on Sept. 13, 2014 at High Point Solutions Stadium. Its two non-division opponents are the Badgers and the Cornhuskers. The Scarlet Knights will play eight conference opponents in all.
Their three-game October slate consists of Michigan and games at Ohio State and at Nebraska.
Howard, Navy and Tulane make up the nonconference slate, which is currently incomplete, as the Scarlet Knights need an opponent for their Aug. 30, 2014 opener.
Rutgers' 2014 regular-season finale will be at fellow Big Ten newcomer Maryland.
Here is its 2014 schedule in its entirety:
- Aug. 30: TBA
- Sept. 6: Howard
- Sept. 13: Penn State
- Sept. 20: at Navy
- Sept. 27: Tulane
- Oct. 4: Michigan
- Oct. 18: at Ohio State
- Oct. 25: at Nebraska
- Nov. 1: Wisconsin
- Nov. 15: Indiana
- Nov. 22: at Michigan State
- Nov. 29: at Maryland
- Former Cincinnati running back George Winn was cut by the Houston Texans.
- CBSSports.com's Dennis Dodd has Louisville at No. 10 in his post-spring top 25.
- Memphis has drawn some attention for its spring guide -- because punter Tom Hornsey is on the cover.
- The (Newark) Star-Ledger's Steve Politi says that Julie Hermann needs to prove she can be a visionary as Rutgers' new AD.
- UConn coach Paul Pasqualoni talks about his approach to the 2013 season, Desmond Conner writes in the Hartford Courant.