Friday Big East mailbag

August, 28, 2009
8/28/09
5:06
AM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett

Welcome to the final Friday that doesn't precede a football Saturday for the next three-plus months. And thank goodness for that. Let's get to some of your questions:

Ron from Davis, Calif., writes: How are injuries stacking up? Are any teams especially hard-hit? I'm especially curious about how injuries may affect the RU-Cincy game.

Brian Bennett: That's a good question, and it allows me to point out that the Big East, to this date, has been remarkably injury-free this preseason (knock on wood). The most serious injuries that we know about are South Florida running back Jamar Taylor's sprained knee, which will keep him out 8-to-10 weeks, and UConn backup tackle Jimmy Bennett's season-ending knee injury. While tough breaks for those guys, these aren't exactly crushing blows to their teams' hopes. Now of course there are the usual bumps and bruises but not a lot of major, season-changing injuries that we know about.

As far as the Rutgers game, keep an eye on the situation with Scarlet Knights defensive end, who's been out most of this week of practice and was listed as questionable by Greg Schiano. That may have an effect on the game, though Rutgers should have adequate replacements.

Rodney from New York, N.Y., writes: Seems like 2009 may be the kind of year where any team in the Big East with a few lucky bounces (and the fewest mistakes) can win the league or the game. What teams do you think are the best suited to take care of the ball and vice versa the ones that may be prone to mistakes and turnovers?

Brian Bennett: Turnovers are almost wholly unpredictable from year to year, and yet turnover margin is a good indicator of success. It's nearly impossible to tell who will get the breaks in that area, because a lot of time it is pure luck, i.e. a fumble bouncing the right way or a pass deflecting off a receivers' hands. One team I will look closely at when it comes to turnovers, though, is South Florida. We all know about Matt Grothe's interception problems, and he is working hard to cut that down. At the same time, new defensive coordinator Joe Tresey was known for creating turnovers at Cincinnati. If the Bulls can improve their turnover margin, they may be ready to take the next step.

Speaking of which ...

Dave from Pittsburgh writes: I just want to make clear that USF has only disappointed once. In 2007, a 9-4 record was an extremely fair prediction at the start of the season. Everyone that being No. 2 was absurd, but at the time, there were no other qualified teams and USF had won at No. 19 Auburn and beaten No. 5 WVU. But they were not the second-best team in the country. Last year was a disappointment, but only by two games, as I think that 10-3 was the best possible likely outcome. They hardly pulled a Clemson or Pitt.

I think you've greatly overblown USF's tendency to slow down. They are coming off of one disappointing season. In my mind, 2007 was the greatest season in school history. USF takes heat for fast starts, but most schools in the country would love to get off to such a fast start (think Rutgers last year). But at the end of the season, the overall record has been pretty much on target.

Brian Bennett: The thing with the Bulls is they look like they're building up to something great and then they come right back down. In 2007, losing at Rutgers was no shame. But they followed that up by losing at UConn and at home to Cincinnati. And then they were destroyed by Oregon 56-21 in the Sun Bowl. A team that was talented enough to win at Auburn and beat a West Virginia team that won the Fiesta Bowl should have performed better than that.

Injuries played a part the past two years, but it seems this team wears down as the season goes along. Whether that's because of a lack of depth or because it's being pushed too hard, I'm not sure. Regardless, South Florida needs to do better than a 4-3 conference record one of these years.

Ute from Connecticut writes: BB, you do a great job covering the Big East, I love reading the blog. And you hit us with good stuff regularly. I know the BE is getting a bad rep this year (pre-season) and I agree this isn't a banner year for the conference (pre-season)... although there are some teams that can surprise people. With the talent Rutgers, Pitt, WVU have been recruiting and UConn's experience/sniper recruiting, do you agree that in 2010, the Big East will be serious business?

Brian Bennett: I do believe this is just a down cycle and the league will be strong again in the near future. Recruiting has been strong and there are a number of young players already emerging in camps. It's exciting to think about Tom Savage playing for four years at Rutgers or the young talent at West Virginia and South Florida, and I'm glad you mentioned UConn, because that team will have some serious experience next year. Will it be 2010? It might not be until 2011. But I think this league is on course for a major uptick.

Jeff C. from Raleigh, N.C., writes: No clear favorite in the Big East has caused a major guessing game among five of the eight Big East teams: Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Rutgers, South Florida, or West Virginia. All contenders, if we believe smart beat writers like yourself. Weeks 7 and 8 seem to have some great matchups inside the conference. These two weeks should separate the contenders from the pretenders in the race for the Big East crown. Do you think we'll have the Big East race down to two teams after Week 8? Or will it be one big ambiguous sloppy mess of for all five until the final match-ups on Dec. 5th in Week 14.

Brian Bennett: Some of the matchups you're talking about include Cincinnati at South Florida, Pitt at Rutgers, South Florida at Pitt and UConn at West Virginia. I think we'll know a lot more about who the real contenders are, but it will be way too early for much separation. I don't think all five will be in the running by Dec. 5, but I suspect two or maybe three will be. Remember that in Week 7 last year, Cincinnati lost 40-16 at UConn. They didn't exactly look like runaway Big East champs that week.

Bundy from Running Springs, Calif., writes: If Syracuse played one FCS team -- Utah State, San Diego State, UNLV, Wyoming, and New Mexico -- every year they would have been bowl eligible every year for the past decade. Question: Since a lot of teams get props for playing pathetic schedules and racking up wins, wouldn't the Big East benefit by bringing up a low-level school rather than add even
more parity. Villanova is ranked No. 5 in the FCS with several first place votes. If we bring them up we don't upset the basketball powers, our scheduling gets fixed and our top half looks better by comparison. Plus, Philly is a great TV market for football.

Brian Bennett: Well, first of all I have to take issue with your math. Syracuse played an FCS team last year (Northeastern) and finished 3-9. The previous three years they 2-10, 4-8 and 1-10, so one victory would not have mattered much. And the Orange have begun, smartly, to soften their ridiculously tough schedules. As for Villanova, I'm not sure how adding a team that would likely need a few years to get up to BCS level would help the overall strength of the league. And as we've discussed at length, Villanova does not have a place to play that would meet FBS eligibility (Lincoln Financial Field is booked with the NFL's Eagles and Temple).

Andrew from Sistersville, W.Va., writes: I started thinking about something after reading your blog on Coach Kelly's and Coach Leavitt's preseason top 25. Are the coaches that are selected to vote on a Top 25 really up to the task? Does a head coach that spends anywhere between 65-to-90 hours a week on practice with their team, game day, interviews, dinners and whatever else the head coach is involved in have enough time to judge 119 teams and put together a valid Top 25? I really think it is just a popularity contest to serve the interests of voter's teams and conferences. Just another reason to work towards a playoff of some sort. What are your thoughts?

Brian Bennett: You're absolutely right and it's a problem that has been recognized for a while. That's why a lot of coaches have their sports information directors fill out their ballots; they don't have time to watch games of teams they're not playing. The same thing goes for the media poll, by the way. Most of the voters are beat writers who cover one team and thus are at one stadium each week spending hours reporting and writing in the press box and often traveling. I was a voter once and can tell you that you're basically going off highlight shows and scores.

If the polls are going to be used for the BCS formula, I'd like to see something like the Legends Poll, where former coaches or administrators who know the game and have time to watch all the teams each weekend can offer a truly informed opinion from week to week.

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