Dallas Colleges: USF Bulls
More than anything, this group should serve as a primer for anyone who wants to get to know the new teams in the league, and the new players in the league that have a chance to make a big impact on their respective teams.
Having said that, there were not too many surprises on the first team, populated mostly by players on returning Big East teams. Only four players from incoming teams made either the first-team offense or first-team defense. One of those was Houston running back Charles Sims, who decided to leave the team after Steele's preseason team went to press. Steele had Rutgers' Savon Huggins and UCF's Storm Johnson on the second-team at running back.
Here are a few of my takeaways:
- I am trying to figure out how Louisville receiver Eli Rogers is not listed on any team. We are talking about four teams with three receivers each. Am I missing something here? The Cardinals did get two receivers tabbed -- DeVante Parker on the first team and Damian Copeland on the fourth team. But in my book, Rogers is one of the top 12 receivers in this league. His is the biggest omission I saw.
- USF has the potential to be really good up front defensively. Hard to argue with Ryne Giddins and Aaron Lynch on the first team at defensive end, although Rutgers' Jamil Merrell could make a case. Giddins is due for a bounce-back season, and Lynch turned heads all spring. Tackles Luke Sager (third team) and Todd Chandler (fourth team) also were named. Louisville and USF were the only teams with their entire starting defensive front named.
- UConn coach Paul Pasqualoni moved safety Byron Jones to cornerback to help fill some of the gaps in the secondary. By all accounts, Jones had a great spring. Steele has Jones listed on the first team, along with linebacker Yawin Smallwood. Plenty of defensive talent still left on that team.
- Steele also has a good number of transfers named, and these are definitely players to keep an eye on this fall. Among them -- Cincinnati linebacker Jeff Luc (second team), UConn linebacker Graham Stewart (fourth team), Houston linebacker Trevon Randle (third team), SMU running back Traylon Shead (third team), Louisville tight end Gerald Christian (first team) and Lynch (first team).
- How's this for a flip flop? Rutgers has four offensive players listed on the first team -- receiver Brandon Coleman and offensive linemen Betim Bujari, Antwan Lowery, and Kaleb Johnson. Zero listed on the first-team defense.
- Preseason favorite Louisville led the way with seven first-team selections. Rutgers and Cincinnati were next with four, followed by: Houston (3), Memphis (3), UConn (3), USF (2), Temple (1) and SMU (1).
While the soon-to-be-former Big East is entering its last season as a BCS school, before the four-team college football playoff takes into effect in the 2014-15 season, aggressive scheduling is one way to keep the league on the national radar.
The slates will provide several opportunities for big national upsets in the coming years, so here's a look at some of the notable future opponents for SMU.
SMU: The Mustangs have quite the in-state home-and-home lineup. They canceled this season's home game with Baylor, and while it is unknown if the 2013 game will be made up or bought-out completely, the schools still have a home-and-home scheduled through 2019. The Battlle for the Iron Skillet with TCU will continue through 2017, with the Horned Frogs playing host this season. SMU will go to Texas A&M this year and host the Aggies in 2014, closing out a four-year home-and-home. They begin this season with a Friday night home contest against Texas Tech.
- Louisville is clearly the marquee team to watch this year, and the schedule makers treated the Cardinals that way. They have at least four games set for national television -- all midweek games, all against Big East competition. The first is against Rutgers on Thurs., Oct. 10. In 2012, the two teams met on the final weekend of the regular season with a BCS berth on the line. Rather than duplicate that schedule this year, Louisville will end the season at Cincinnati on Thurs., Dec. 5, in what could be the final matchup between the two longtime rivals.
- Speaking of rivals, I applaud what the Big East did with its biggest rivalry games in 2013. The league scheduled them to end the season. First, USF plays at UCF and SMU plays at Houston on Nov. 29. The Big East should work hard to build up these two rivalries, as these four teams remain in the league for the foreseeable future. The following week features the Keg of Nails game between Louisville and Cincinnati. There are so many juicy subplots in that game, especially since these two teams are expected to start the season at the top of the league. The Big East would like to remind you that in each of the last four years, its BCS representative has been determined in the last week of the season.
- Five of the league's 10 games in Week 1 are being played on either Thursday or Friday. Of those five, two are very intriguing -- Rutgers at Fresno State on Thurs., Aug. 29, and Texas Tech at SMU on Fri., Aug. 30 at 8 p.m. on ESPN.
- Temple has a tough two-game opening stretch. The Owls start the season at Notre Dame on Aug. 31. The following week, they open Big East play against Houston -- the first league game of 2013. In fact, Houston and Temple are the only two teams to have a conference game in the month of September.
- Biggest nonconference day? That would be Sept. 21, when Michigan plays at UConn, Arkansas travels to play Rutgers and SMU is at Texas A&M. Michigan and Texas A&M are expected to be ranked in the Top 25. Meanwhile, Rutgers will be hosting an SEC opponent on its campus for the first time in school history.
- Interestingly enough, the Big East has more matchups against the Big Ten (five) and SEC (four) than the ACC (three), traditionally the conference it plays the most.
- Only Houston, Memphis and Temple have nonconference games in the middle of Big East play.
- Only a handful of games have been designated with a start time and TV network. There will be many more games selected for national television at a time to be determined.
Spring Start: March 25
Spring game: April 20
What to watch:
- Replacing Zach Line: The Mustangs have to replace their top runner over the past several seasons in Line, who had three straight 1,000-yard seasons. Leading the charge this spring are junior college All-American Traylon Shead and reserve back Rishaad Wimbley, who switched from defense a few seasons ago.
- New defensive starters: The Mustangs lost the bulk of their playmakers on defense in Margus Hunt and linebackers Taylor Reed and Ja'Gared Davis. Finding guys to step up without them is a huge priority. Watch for Zach Wood at defensive end in place of Hunt; and Kevin Pope and Robert Seals at linebacker.
- More consistency at QB: June Jones' offense runs best when the quarterback is at his best. Garrett Gilbert returns as the starter, but he is going to need to find much more consistency this spring and into the fall. Two numbers that have to be improved: accuracy (53 percent in 2012) and touchdown-to-interception ratio (15-to-15 in 2012).
Now, this configuration is good only for 2013. In 2014, East Carolina and Tulane join, while Louisville (ACC) and Rutgers (Big Ten) are expected to depart. Navy joins as a football-only member in 2015.
So now it's our turn to welcome the four teams that will join Cincinnati, UConn, Louisville, Rutgers, USF and Temple in 2013.
Here is a brief snapshot of the SMU Mustangs.
2012 record: 7-6
Bowl appearances: 15
Key losses: C-USA Offensive Player of the Year Zach Line (1,278 yards rushing, 13 TDs); defensive end Margus Hunt (eight sacks, 11.5 TFLs); linebacker Ja'Gared Davis (77 tackles, 11 TFLs); receiver Darius Johnson (787 yards receiving, five TDs); linebacker Taylor Reed (97 tackles, 6.5 sacks, 14.5 TFL)
Key returners: Quarterback Garrett Gilbert (2,932 yards, 15 TDs, 15 INTs); defensive back Kenneth Acker Jr. (50 tackles, 15 passes defended); receiver Jeremy Johnson (679 yards receiving, three TDs); linebacker Randall Joyner (93 tackles, 2 forced fumbles, 8 passes defended)
What they bring to the Big East: Houston and SMU make a nice pair from Texas as the western-most programs in the league. SMU has gotten itself back to respectability after the death penalty sent the program into the doldrums. June Jones is one of the savviest offensive minds in the game, so the Mustangs are sure to bring a little razzle-dazzle to a league that is generally dominated by defense.
Did you know: SMU just played in its school-record fourth straight bowl game, and has posted back-to-back bowl wins for the first time in school history.
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