Big East power rankings: Week 1

August, 29, 2011
8/29/11
10:00
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Game week is finally here, so you know what that means? Time for some Week 1 power rankings. This is where I think the teams in the league stack up today headed into the first game, so they are going to be subject to change each week.

1. West Virginia: The Mountaineers are the only ranked Big East team in any of the polls, at No. 24 in AP poll, and have some of the top talent in the league at multiple positions. Geno Smith is expected to be the next in the line of quarterbacks Dana Holgorsen has turned into stars, and defensive end Bruce Irvin could have an even better year than he did last year. Are there questions? Every team in the league has questions. How will Holgorsen do as a head coach? How will a revamped defense do with seven new starters? I think West Virginia is as complete a team as there is in the Big East, hence the No. 1 position.

2. Pitt: As you saw from the mailbag last week, a lot of fans wonder why Pitt is not getting the preseason love from media that West Virginia has received. There are two key differences. Pitt will try to run the spread with players who were bought into a pro-style offense; and the defense is switching alignments. Still, there is plenty of talent on offense and defense to make the Panthers a real threat to win the league.

3. USF: Then you have the fans who ask, well why not USF atop the league this season? For starters, the Bulls have 11 returning starters, second fewest in the Big East. There are still questions about whether B.J. Daniels can be consistent, how a revamped defensive line with three new starters is going to come together and whether the running game will be vastly improved with Darrell Scott in the backfield -- especially with three new starters on the line. The talent is absolutely there for a run at the league title if these questions are answered. But for now the Bulls start here.

4. Syracuse: It is imperative for the Orange to build on the momentum from last season with an even better year in 2011. I think the offense has a chance to be good with Ryan Nassib back. Antwon Bailey should be fine at running back, and the starting offensive line is one of the best in the league. There are questions on defense without some key starters at linebacker and with an undersized unit that is going to take the field.

5. Cincinnati: The Bearcats get the edge here over Louisville because they do not have as many questions going into the season. The offense should be better with Zach Collaros and Isaiah Pead back --provided the offensive line plays better than it did last season. On defense, the unit should be much better with another year of experience and some incoming freshmen who should make a difference. But the big questions are on defense, along the offensive line and at receiver, where a few players are going to have to step up.

6. Louisville: The Cardinals lost 25 seniors and are the youngest team in the Big East. But there is much room for improvement and room to move up in these standings. For one, there is some talent at running back, receiver and tight end. The front seven should be solid. But injuries have taken a toll on the defensive line this fall. The cornerbacks are a gigantic question mark. So is quarterback, where we have no idea how Will Stein will do as the starter and what type of impact Teddy Bridgewater will make. Until those answers become clearer, Louisville stays here.

7. UConn: A lot of fans wondered how a team that has so many players on my Top 25 list is at No. 7. The Huskies do have a nice collection of talent, but does that make a nice team? We still have no idea who is going to start at quarterback. We have no idea whether or not D.J. Shoemate is going to replicate what Jordan Todman did last season. We have no idea who is going to be a playmaker at receiver. Linebacker is a concern as well with two new starters joining Sio Moore. Until Shoemate and whoever starts at quarterback ease my concerns, UConn is No. 7.

8. Rutgers: I know Rutgers fans are not too happy with me, and I understand that. Everybody wants to see their team ranked No. 1. But this is a team with perhaps more questions than all the others headed into the season. How will the offense fare with a new offensive coordinator? Will the offensive line be any better? Will the running game work this year? Will the talented receiving group live up to its potential? How are the changes on defense going to make this unit better than last season? I think Rutgers will be better. But how much better?

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