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Who will finish last in the Big East?

4/22/2011

There was one question in my chat on Wednesday that I didn't get to but found intriguing. A reader asked me who would finish last in the Big East in 2011.

Now, I normally spend my long hours of prognosticating time (read: throwing darts at a dartboard) focusing on which teams will most likely finish first. But in a conference that's so balanced top to bottom -- the Torso League, as I called it last year -- it's maybe more difficult picking the last-place teams.

Others conferences have their Dukes, their Vandys, their Washington States to rely on. The Big East had Syracuse occupying the cellar for a few years, and then Louisville joined that low-rent district. But both the Cardinals and Orange rebounded in 2010, leaving Rutgers and Cincinnati as the surprise last-place occupants.

Who's bound for the basement in 2011? Let's take a look at the candidates:

Rutgers: The Scarlet Knights finished 4-8 and 1-6 in the Big East in 2010, losing to Cincinnati to cement their status as the worst team. But this is a club that could easily rise up again in 2011. Talent is not an issue, and several offseason changes by head coach Greg Schiano could lead to better performance. I don't see another 4-8 season coming.

Cincinnati: The Bearcats were likewise 4-8 overall and 2-5 in the league, but do we really think their turnover problems will repeat for a second straight year? They've got all 11 starters back on a defense that can only improve, plus a star senior quarterback and the second year for head coach Butch Jones. They're another strong bounce-back candidate.

Louisville: The Cardinals lost 25 seniors, so some regression may occur. But it's also the second year for head coach Charlie Strong, who has improved the talent base. I can't believe he'd allow a team to finish last.

Syracuse: The Orange finally got out of the cellar, and it's hard to see them returning there so quickly after working so hard. But they, too, lost a ton of valuable seniors, and they won't have the surprise factor going for them this year.

Connecticut: First to worst? It's possible, without a proven quarterback or running back and a new head coach. Yet the defense is loaded and could be nasty. The players who just went to a BCS game have too much pride to let it slip away so soon.

Pittsburgh: A brand new system on both sides of the ball could spell growing pains. On the other hand, Todd Graham has won everywhere he has been, and there is still a lot of talent on hand.

South Florida: The Bulls were three scores away from potentially winning 11 games last year. They were also about five scores away from only winning three games. USF could struggle if the passing game doesn't improve. Still, I think they're a legit contender for the title, not the bottom.

West Virginia: About the only way the Mountaineers finish last is if Bill Stewart and Dana Holgorsen get into a wrestling match at midfield in Week 2. This program has been too good for too long.

So I don't know. I'll probably slot Rutgers out No. 8 in my power rankings based on last year alone. But just as with picking the league winner, predicting who will finish last in the Big East is no easy task. What do you think?