Big East spring preview

February, 22, 2012
2/22/12
9:00
AM ET
Spring practice is right around the corner. Let's look at some quick snapshots of each team.

CINCINNATI

Spring practice start date: March 1

Spring game: April 14

What to watch:
  • Replacing Pead. The biggest position battle looming might be at running back, where Isaiah Pead is gone, leaving a big hole in the offense. Pead won Big East Offensive Player of the Year honors and was the MVP of the Bearcats this past season. Pead and quarterback Zach Collaros combined for 64 percent of the carries and 64 percent of the rushing yards. Cincinnati might go with much more of a rotation this year. George Winn, Jameel Poteat, Ralph David Abernathy IV and a promising group of freshmen all figure to be in the mix.
  • Quarterbacks. Collaros is gone, but at least Munchie Legaux and Jordan Luallen have game experience. Coach Butch Jones says the competition is wide-open in the spring, but you can bet that getting timing down with receivers has to be at the top of the agenda for all the quarterbacks. That was really lacking this past season.
  • Man in the middle. Linebacker J.K. Schaffer has been the heart of this defense for the past three seasons, getting more than 100 tackles in each of those three campaigns. So who fills his shoes? That is one of the biggest position battles to watch for the Bearcats. Dwight Jackson, Greg Blair, Solomon Tentman and Kevin Hyland are all in the mix this spring.
UCONN

Spring practice start date: March 20

Spring game: April 21

What to watch:
  • Quarterbacks. We finally get to see how highly touted freshman Casey Cochran looks when he takes his first snaps under center for the Huskies. He is the man many are tabbing as the starter for 2012, so his development beginning in the spring will be huge for the team's prospects in the fall.
  • Offensive line. The Huskies have to replace Moe Petrus, who started the past three seasons at center, and Mike Ryan, who's as solid as they come at tackle. Coach Paul Pasqualoni decided to shift coaching responsibilities for the line to offensive coordinator George DeLeone in order to boost this unit. DeLeone's background is primarily in coaching the offensive line, so this move could pay off nicely for the Huskies.
  • Improving pass defense. Perhaps more than finding a replacement for Kendall Reyes, improving the pass defense has to be priority No. 1 this spring. The Huskies are losing starting safety Jerome Junior, but there are young players capable of taking over. Having Blidi Wreh-Wilson healthy is obviously huge, but I am guessing that technique, fundamentals and coverages will be emphasized this spring.
LOUISVILLE

Spring practice start date: March 21

Spring game: April 14

What to watch:
  • Growing up. Gaining maturity has been a big theme since the season ended. It is only spring practice, but I think coach Charlie Strong wants to get a good sense from his players about their focus. How committed are they to getting to a BCS bowl game? To starting the season as a preseason Top 25 team? To going undefeated? All coaches say championships are won starting in January.
  • Young linebackers. Louisville has to find a replacement for Dexter Heyman and gain some depth at the position. So it will be intriguing to see how early-enrollee linebackers Keith Brown and James Burgess do during spring practice and whether they can emerge to be contributors in 2012.
  • Kicker/punter. With Chris Philpott gone, there isn’t anyone on the roster with game experience at punter or kicker, so expect a wide-open competition in the spring. Redshirt freshman kicker John Wallace may have an edge, if only because he is on scholarship. Walk-ons Andrew Fletcher and Matthew Nakatani also will get long looks. Ryan Johnson is probably the leader at punter. Incoming freshman Joshua Appleby is talented and will compete when he arrives on campus.
PITT

Spring practice start date: March 15

Spring game: April 14

What to watch:
  • Quarterback. At some point, we all must put Tino Sunseri's 2011 season behind him. That has to begin in the spring, when coach Paul Chryst anticipates getting a good look at all his quarterbacks, including Mark Myers and Trey Anderson. This will be the third system in three seasons for Sunseri; can he turn the corner?
  • New coaches. How will the Panthers adjust to their new coaches and new scheme? This is Chryst's first head-coaching job, and he's already had to deal with staff reshuffling because two guys he brought in changed their minds and moved on elsewhere. How equipped are he and his new coordinators to handle their roles, and how well do the players buy into their system?
  • Offensive line. Bigger problem area -- quarterback or offensive line? The two go hand in hand, and this is one position that clearly has to be addressed. The good news is some young players got experience, and they will leave the spread hurry-up that was not so friendly to the line. The bad news -- still not much in the way of depth or options. We'll see whether the Chryst system that worked so well at Wisconsin works with a group that clearly underachieved in 2011.
RUTGERS

Spring practice start date: March 27

Spring game: April 28

What to watch:
  • New staff. Just like Pitt, Rutgers goes into the spring with a new head coach and new offensive coordinator. But there should be much more familiarity for the Scarlet Knights. For one, they are going to continue running a pro-style set, even with a new coordinator. For another, assistant Robb Smith has been elevated to defensive coordinator and will employ the same aggressive 4-3 scheme that Greg Schiano used. Still, Kyle Flood is a first-time head coach and is going to need to get his bearings, to put his own stamp on this program.
  • Quarterbacks: Chas Dodd and Gary Nova go into the spring in a competition to earn the starting job. Neither was spectacular last season, but there are those who believe Nova has more room for improvement because he has a stronger arm. He just needs to cut down on his mistakes.
  • Receivers stepping up. Last spring might as well have been a coming-out party for receiver Brandon Coleman. But he was virtually silent during the season, as Mohamed Sanu got all the headlines and the catches. With Sanu gone, there remains talent in the receiving corps with guys like Coleman, Mark Harrison and Quron Pratt returning and a group of up-and-coming redshirt freshmen as well. Who is going to step up?
USF

Spring practice start date: March 21

Spring game: April 7 and 14

What to watch:
  • Rebound. USF is always a team that looks good on paper and in the early season. But then the usual collapse ensues. What has coach Skip Holtz learned in his first two seasons on the job that will allow him to fix what has continually plagued this team, and how can that be worked on during the spring? Folks will pay attention more than ever because USF has one of the most talented and experienced teams returning.
  • New DC. Chris Cosh takes over as defensive coordinator, and one of his first orders of business is making sure he molds his group into a much more passionate but disciplined unit. This group needs a beating heart, and DeDe Lattimore might be the perfect player to step into that role. The bigger question is how these players will adapt to their third coordinator in four years.
  • Depth in secondary. The Bulls need to work on depth in the secondary, especially after losing starting safety Jerrell Young and starting cornerback Quenton Washington. That departure in particular means all eyes are going to be on early enrollee Chris Bivins, a four-star cornerback out of Gainesville, Fla. Spring will give him time to really work on bulking up -- he was listed at 166 pounds out of high school.
SYRACUSE

Spring practice start date: March 20

Spring game: April 21

What to watch:
  • Receivers. There is plenty of opportunity for this group to get better and have somebody emerge this spring. With Alec Lemon sidelined, plenty of young players should be getting reps and a chance to get some rhythm with Ryan Nassib. Watch for Keenan Hale, Kyle Foster and Jarrod West. Still no word on whether Marcus Sales will be reinstated in time for the spring.
  • Quarterback. Not necessarily Nassib, but early enrollee Ashton Broyld, a dual-threat QB who played last season at Milford Academy. Coach Doug Marrone already has talked about potentially getting Broyld reps in games as a change-of-pace quarterback, and there are plenty of Orange fans who want to finally see what it is that Broyld can do.
  • Defensive line. One area that has to improve is along the defensive front, where Syracuse struggled to get a consistent pass rush. Their best two players are gone in Chandler Jones and Mikhail Marinovich, leaving guys like Micah Robinson and Brandon Sharpe as likely first-teamers in the spring. More help comes in this summer in the form of junior college transfers Zian Jones and Markus Pierce-Brewster.

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