Handicapping the Big East race

May, 5, 2011
5/05/11
3:00
PM ET
The Kentucky Derby is Saturday, which is undoubtedly a much bigger deal where I live than it is for many of you. Still, it's hard not to get caught up in the Derby festivities, especially since one Big East school's stadium is located just a stone's throw from Churchill Downs.

With that in mind, I thought I'd have some fun and handicap this year's Big East as if it were a horse race. Like the Derby, the Big East is usually jumbled and nearly impossible to predict. Note that these are not my post-spring power rankings, which will be coming soon. This is simply a reflection of how most people would likely bet on the teams if such a thing were legal and encouraged.

Break out your racing forms.

West Virginia: 3-to-1 odds

The morning-line favorite. Always talented and speedy, the Mountaineers have adjusted their running style by bringing in Dana Holgorsen in the offensive saddle. Hasn't won the big race in three years, though, and needs to make sure connections are all on same page.

South Florida: 6-to-1

The wise-guy pick. Handicappers like the way the Bulls performed down the stretch last season and think they're sitting on a breakout performance. A word of caution, though: The wise-guy choices almost never win the Derby.

Pittsburgh: 8-to-1

The horse that usually goes off at short odds but rarely crosses the finish line first. Expected to have more speed this year in Todd Graham's "high-octane" offense. But this could be the equivalent of switching from dirt to turf mid-career. We'll have to see how the Panthers handle the transition.

Connecticut: 10-to-1

The reigning champ proved to be a great closer last year, going 5-0 to end the regular season. Major equipment changes since then (new coach, new coordinators, new quarterback and tailback). Could be on the lead early this time around with easy nonconference schedule. Potential value pick.

Syracuse: 10-to-1

Made improbable Giacomo/Mine That Bird upset run last season by defying its previous track record. Workouts point to continued strong performance. Will the Cinderella run continue, or was the long shot a one-time fluke, a la Giacomo and Mine That Bird?

Louisville: 15-to-1

Maybe the most difficult contender to handicap. The Cardinals showed good friskiness last season but spent much of the spring trying to overcome injuries. Experience is lacking, and this might be like a 2-year-old needing to break its maiden before stepping up in class. But it will be well-trained and could surprise if breaks go just right.

Cincinnati: 25-to-1

Stumbled out of the gate last season and never really got going. Good bloodlines and track record from Big East titles in 2009 and 2010, but Butch Jones still must prove he can win on the big stage. Might be a one-trick pony: explosive offense and imploding defense.

Rutgers: 35-to-1

Failed to fire in 2010. Could be a candidate for the bounce factor given that this program went to five straight bowls before going 4-8 last season. Needs to show it can handle the jostling of this race with suspect strength on the offensive and defensive lines. Greg Schiano is in danger of becoming the Todd Pletcher of the Big East.

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BIG EAST TEAM COVERAGE