Today, I begin taking a team by team look at each schedule in the Big East.
Up first: Cincinnati
Nonconference schedule: The Bearcats have a pretty mild nonconference slate -- two FCS teams, two MAC teams and Virginia Tech. They should go 4-1 at the absolute worst, with the very real possibility of going 5-0. Virginia Tech should be ranked when the two teams meet, but the Hokies never present themselves as an unbeatable team. Anybody who has watched them in BCS games understands that reality.
Conference schedule: Opening the season against a conference opponent is never ideal -- especially when you are breaking in so many new starters at key positions. There are two bright sides -- Pitt is undergoing a transformation as well, with a new head coach. And Cincinnati is playing at home. As for the rest of the league slate, Cincinnati gets most of the projected top teams in the Big East at home, with Rutgers, USF and Pitt all coming to Nippert. The big league test on the road is at rival Louisville, on a Friday night in October. Cincinnati has won four straight in that series.
Good news: The schedule sets up very nicely for Cincinnati. The tougher games are all spread out. There is an open week before Virginia Tech, followed by three straight winnable nonconference games. The Bearcats follow their game against Louisville with two more winnable games against Syracuse and Temple. The toughest challenge in terms of back-to-back games looks to be Rutgers and USF. But those two are at home. In addition, Cincinnati only has to play consecutive road games once all season.
Bad news: Cincinnati opens its season with a bye and gets its second one in Week 4. That means 10 straight weeks of football, a less than ideal situation for any team, especially if injuries become a problem. The first two conference games are going to be quite tough -- the opener against Pitt, and then at Louisville. The last thing Cincinnati needs is an 0-2 start in Big East play.
Best case: With only one real tough nonconference game, Cincinnati could notch another 10-win season and go 10-2. This team is going to be too young at key positions to go undefeated, in my opinion.
Worst case: Given the way the schedule plays out, Cincinnati should go no worse than 8-4.