Big East mailbag

A Tuesday mailbag actually on Tuesday. Imagine that. What's on your mind?

Kevin R. from Washington, DC, writes: Hey, Brian, love the blog. With Greg Schiano going for more speed on defense, do you think that he will finally be able to successfully defend against the spread offense? Recent history seems to show that he has been unable to defend against the spread, what with the difficulties against teams like WVU and Cincinnati. With Pitt adopting a no-huddle spread, it could be another long year if the Rutgers D can't keep up with spread offense teams.

Brian Bennett: That's the idea behind it, Kevin. And teams are going to have to be able to defend the spread effectively to win in this league going forward. You mentioned Pitt, Cincinnati and West Virginia as no-huddle, up-tempo offenses now. TCU also plays a version of the spread, and I think Louisville and Connecticut will move more toward that in the future. There will still be some power teams, but matching speed for speed will become a necessity in short order.

Kris from Hollidaysburg, Pa., writes: What happened to Robert Sands' draft prospects? A month ago most places I saw had him going in the 3rd round. In your recent blog about Kiper and McShay and their projections, Sands wasn't even mentioned. Any explanation?

Brian Bennett: From what I'm hearing, Sands hasn't impressed in his pre-draft workouts. He has looked stiff and has shown poor ball skills. He'll probably still get drafted just because of his potential, but right now it's looking like he might have been better served by another year at West Virginia.

Keith from Martinsburg, W.Va., writes: Do you think there is a Big East team that will be equipped to win a national title in the next few years? With a few teams on the rise and TCU coming in. Will there be enough respect for the conference, if we start winning some big games, to get a team in the title game if it goes undefeated, or even a 1-loss team like WVU almost did in 07?

Brian Bennett: People forget quickly how close 2006 Louisville, 2007 West Virginia and 2009 Cincinnati were to playing in the BCS title game. So it can happen. Last year's performance overall and three straight BCS bowl losses have taken a toll on the Big East's reputation, which could pose a problem if a team is in the title hunt this year. But we've clearly seen in the recent past that it can happen. A lot still depends on what happens elsewhere, because at this point the SEC champion is almost guaranteed a spot in the title match. A Big East team would need a good nonconference win to brag about, like if West Virginia were to beat LSU and LSU went on to win the SEC West.

Gary P. from Cincinnati writes: What would have to happen to make or force the Big East to expand to 12 football schools?

Brian Bennett: Well, it's taking a while for the league to even get to 10, with the Villanova situation still in the wind. The problem with going to 12 is that you're adding three schools who have not been in BCS AQ conferences and who will have something to prove. The Big East is not getting teams from other AQ leagues to jump ship, so it would have to pick from candidates like UCF, East Carolina, Houston, etc. The league basically becomes Conference USA at that point, not to mention the effect it has on basketball. I say get to 10 and then re-evaluate after a couple of years.

Aaron from Boca Raton, Fla., writes: Thanks for keeping the Big East fans informed. I really liked how you recently included a post about TCU and you're right about getting to know them. Since they will soon be in our conference, any chance of regularly including articles about them? Maybe Andrea Adelson's blog posts about TCU could be included here. Go Bulls!

Brian Bennett: My plan as of right now is to have at least a weekly TCU update during the season. I would think that all Big East fans are rooting for the Horned Frogs to have a strong season in their exit campaign from the Mountain West. Speaking of which ...

Corey from Baton Rouge, La., writes: Everyone keeps pointing to 2012 as the year that the Big East takes a step forward, mainly due to the addition of TCU. Now, I've been a Mountaineer fan my entire life, and in general, a fan of the Big East (except Pitt). This has, of course, turned me into a pessimist. Knowing what I know about the Big East in football, isn't it more likely that TCU will take a huge hit this year with all the lost players, get crushed by Boise State, and limp into the postseason with a 9-3 record? They join the Big East, struggle to beat the top of the conference, and never regain their luster. Logistics are, as we can all expect, a nightmare, and everyone in the end agrees that it was a bad idea. The Big East takes ridicule by the major media, as usual. Can you give me any reason to believe that this won't be the case? Then please pick South Florida to win the conference this year.

Brian Bennett: Wow, that is pessimistic. I don't think it's unrealistic for TCU to suffer a few losses this year; the Horned Frogs lost several key players of the Rose Bowl team, and the Mountain West did them no favors in the schedule. But I have confidence that Gary Patterson will keep this program at a high level, and I believe TCU will contend right away in the Big East in 2012. Other reasons for optimism in 2012 include some pretty good senior quarterbacks: Geno Smith, Tino Sunseri, B.J. Daniels and Ryan Nassib.

Kevin from Mahwah, N.J., writes: Brian, you continue to have high expectations on South Florida, but I am a bit confused. I think people are getting carried away with their victory over a likely unmotivited Clemson team in their bowl game. They still were 3-4 in Big East and with big losses to graduation. In the end, they have big question on both lines, especially on the offensive line, and potential but no proven playmakers from the skill positions, outside QB. Seems a lot is hung on B.J. Daniels reaching next level of performance.They have potential to be good, but to me, I am a little perplexed how are reaching "co-favorite" status with West Virginia, can you elaborate more on your thoughts?

Brian Bennett: I look at more than just the Meineke Car Care Bowl and see how USF finished. The Bulls won four of their final six games, including on the road at Louisville and Miami. Their two losses in that span were both one-possession games they could have won. Add in that it was Skip Holtz's first season, and the natural progression that should occur in Year Two, and you can expect the team to improve in 2011. They lost some valuable seniors but also played a lot of guys in 2010 and brought in two potential difference makers at running back with Darrell Scott and Dontae Aycock.

You're right, though, in that the season may ultimately depend on Daniels continuing to mature. The receiving corps is still a big question mark and did not play well this spring. That's a concern. Ultimately, my endorsement of USF as a contender has much to do with question marks at just about every other Big East team this season. Pitt and UConn have new head coaches. Cincinnati and Rutgers are coming off 4-8 seasons. Louisville and Syracuse each lost a ton of senior starters. South Florida and West Virginia look like the safest bets right now, but that doesn't necessarily mean they're the smartest bets.