NCF Nation: Memphis Tigers

Setting up the spring in the American Athletic Conference:

CINCINNATI

Spring start: Feb. 27

Spring game: April 5

What to watch:
  • Gunner Kiel: Attention has followed the former high school sensation for years, from Indiana to LSU to Notre Dame and now to Cincinnati. He enters his redshirt sophomore season having never taken a college snap. With sixth-year senior Munchie Legaux still recovering from last year's leg injury, the show is Kiel's to run this spring.
  • Hank Hughes' defense: The former Cincinnati defensive coordinator returns after coaching last season at UConn. There, he orchestrated a rushing defense that finished 23rd nationally despite a 3-9 campaign. He will keep a 4-3 base but loses three all-conference performers from last season: Greg Blair, Jordan Stepp and Deven Drane.
  • RDA IV: Ralph David Abernathy IV has been a playmaker out of the backfield for the Bearcats in recent seasons, but he has moved to the slot this spring. He will probably still line up in the backfield at times, but seeing what the 5-foot-7, 161-pounder can do in space is definitely worth keeping an eye on, especially if the man throwing him the ball, Kiel, lives up to the hype at quarterback.
EAST CAROLINA

Spring start: March 21

Spring game: April 12

What to watch:
  • Carden's ascent: Shane Carden could be a dark-horse Heisman Trophy candidate in 2014. He enters his fifth year in the program coming off a season in which he completed better than 70 percent of his throws for more than 4,000 yards, totaling 43 combined touchdowns between passing and rushing. Similar numbers in a new league will get him much more attention.
  • Replacing Jeremy Grove: The redshirt senior linebacker recently announced that he was hanging up his cleats after several shoulder injuries. The former freshman All-American led the Pirates in tackles for two years running before being limited last season. Expect bigger roles for Zeek Bigger and Brandon Williams, who together last season totaled 10 tackles for loss and three forced turnovers.
  • Filling the backfield void: East Carolina says goodbye to Vintavious Cooper, who turned in consecutive 1,000-yard seasons. While signee Anthony Scott looks like a player who could contribute right away upon his summer arrival, the burden for now falls on the shoulders of three backs who totaled 548 yards on the ground last season.
HOUSTON

Spring start: March 3

Spring game: April 11

What to watch:
  • O'Korn looks to take next step: John O'Korn started 11 games last season at quarterback, proving to be efficient through the air and on the ground while taking the Cougars to a bowl game in their first season in the American. Now he's running an offense that, including him, returns eight starters. He set the bar pretty high as league rookie of the year, but incremental improvement could mean big things for Houston in 2014.
  • CB battles: Zach McMillian and Thomas Bates have graduated, taking their combined 10 forced turnovers from last season out the door with them. Two transfers could find themselves in the mix, as Lee Hightower (Boise State) and Tyler White (Utah) look to battle for starting spots on a defense seeking help in the secondary.
  • Trevon Randle: The former LSU linebacker and three-star recruit now finds himself in more of a pass-rushing role after sitting out the 2013 season for undisclosed reasons. The move is interesting for the 6-foot-2, 218-pound Randle, but the talent is certainly there for Randle to become a playmaker, wherever he ends up playing on the field.
MEMPHIS

Spring start: March 2

Spring game: April 11

What to watch:
  • Paxton Lynch's growth: Lynch made a name for himself by unseating Jacob Karam as the starting quarterback during fall camp last season. He followed with an up-and-down season for the 3-9 Tigers, showing flashes of playmaking ability and a penchant for turning it over. He is now the hunted, not the hunter, with redshirt freshman Brayden Scott now in the role Lynch played last season in hoping to steal the No. 1 job.
  • Hayes' return: The biggest coup of the offseason was the NCAA granting Brandon Hayes a sixth year of eligibility. The former walk-on was the team's MVP and leading rusher last season, and he will help take plenty of pressure off of whoever emerges as the starting quarterback.
  • Defensive growth: The Tigers were ranked 39th last season in total defense, and eight starters return. The unit gave the offense chances to win last season against league heavyweights Louisville and UCF before falling by a 24-17 margin in both games, and the Tigers welcome two new coaches in Ricky Hunley (line) and Ryan Walters (corners).
SMU

Spring start: March 4

Spring game: April 5 (no spring game)

What to watch:
  • Replacing Gilbert: SMU opened practice Tuesday with five men in the mix to become its starting quarterback, with Neal Burcham carrying the front-runner status after starting the final two games last season in place of Garrett Gilbert (knee), who totaled nearly 3,800 yards rushing and passing last season, accounting for 27 scores.
  • Receiver depth: The Mustangs are relatively thin at the position following the graduation of two of its top three receivers from last season, as Jeremy Johnson and Keenan Holman each tallied more than 1,000 yards in 2013. Deion Sanders Jr., meanwhile, will miss spring practice because of a shoulder injury.
  • The next Acker: Cornerback Kenneth Acker starred with the Mustangs, earning second-team all-conference distinction after finishing second in the league in passes defended (16) and tallying a team-best three interceptions on the season. Jay Scott, who forced three turnovers himself last season, is also gone. Talented safety Shakiel Randolph could see his role increased after showing plenty of promise in his first two seasons, including a 37-tackle campaign last season.
TEMPLE

Spring start: March 24

Spring game: April 26

What to watch:
  • Receiver help: Temple will open spring practice without Robbie Anderson, the Owls' top receiver from last season, who is no longer with the team. Both Anderson and the graduated Ryan Alderman combined for more than 1,300 yards last season, so the pressure will be on Jalen Fitzpatrick and John Christopher to carry bigger workloads going into 2014. They'll have a familiar Philly face coaching them, with former QB Adam DiMichele now the Owls' receivers coach.
  • Aerial attack: One silver lining from a 2-10 campaign last season? P.J. Walker, who rebounded after losing the preseason quarterback battle and ended up starting the season's final seven games, threw for 2,084 yards. He was part of a group that passed for the most yards ever (2,996) by a Temple team, a promising sign moving forward for the second-year player (and his second-year coach, Matt Rhule).
  • Tyler Matakevich: The kid just keeps on getting better, as the linebacker followed up his impressive rookie season by tallying 137 total tackles — including 11.5 for loss — picking off one pass, recovering two fumbles and forcing three more. He wears a single-digit jersey, No. 8, to signify his toughness, and he is a great central piece for the defense to build around. Temple was ranked 109th overall in yards allowed last season.
TULANE

Spring start: Feb. 7

Spring game: Feb. 26 (no spring game)

What to watch:
  • Injuries: The situation is a little different here with Tulane, which is already finished with its spring season, allowing us to instead look back. And the Green Wave even ended up finishing earlier than anticipated, as coach Curtis Johnson ended it after Feb. 26, cutting the final two practices because of injuries. Among the walking wounded throughout last month: Linebacker Nico Marley, running back Sherman Badie and linebackers Sergio Medina and Edward Williams, who both missed all of spring because of pre-existing injuries.
  • QB battle: Tanner Lee is seemingly the front-runner to start in 2014 after redshirting as a freshman this past fall. A local prospect from Jesuit High, he passed for nearly 4,000 yards in high school while tallying 39 touchdowns and just nine interceptions, and he received a much heavier workload this spring after the Green Wave struggled with consistency in the passing game in 2013.
  • Filling the backfield void: Orleans Darkwa is gone after totaling 920 yards and 12 touchdowns last season. Tulane might be turning to another redshirt freshman, with Badie getting plenty of attention this spring before suffering a concussion down the stretch. Senior Rob Kelley (420 yards in 2013) and three other backfield contributors from last season return to give this unit a bit of depth.
TULSA

Spring start: March 11

Spring game: April 19

What to watch:
  • Defensive stability: No one in the program is happy following a 3-9 campaign last fall, but the Golden Hurricane bring back plenty of experience from last season as they move into Year 1 in the American. Ten starters are back on defense. Despite finishing just 102nd in yards allowed last season, that gives the program a nice foundation as it welcomes in a tougher slate of opponents.
  • Josh Blankenship and the offense: Head coach Bill Blankenship's newest hire is his son, Josh, who was brought in to coach quarterbacks and rework an offense that finished 100th overall last season. The former Muskogee High head coach is part of a restructured offensive staff after coordinator Greg Peterson left the program and Bill Blankenship gave up coaching the QBs.
  • Backfield holes: Trey Watts and Ja'Terian Douglas are gone after totaling nearly 1,700 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns last season. Reinforcements are on the way in three running back signees from this recruiting cycle, with one of them, juco transfer Tavarreon Dickerson, enrolling early and looking to make an impact after averaging 8.5 yards per carry last season at Trinity Valley.
UCF

Spring start: March 12

Spring game: April 12

What to watch:
  • Like after Bortles: Blake Bortles will be examined and re-examined in the public eye daily before the NFL draft, and his replacement back at UCF has some major shoes to fill. His backup last season, Justin Holman, is the most experienced of a three-man group that includes early enrollee and former SMU commit Tyler Harris.
  • Replacing Storm Johnson: Johnson is gone after rushing for 1,139 yards and 14 touchdowns last season, and Will Stanback will likely have to prepare for a much bigger role in his sophomore year after getting 105 carries in his rookie campaign of 2013. There are plenty of other bodies back there, but none managed the workload Stanback carried last season as a freshman.
  • Offensive line depth: Brent Key is now the assistant head coach of the offense, and he will serve as offensive line coach as well. The spring will be very important in helping to sort out the chaos up front, and one player worth keeping an eye will be Chester Brown, who saw limited action last season after switching from the defensive line in fall camp.
UCONN

Spring start: March 10

Spring game: April 12

What to watch:
  • New leader: Bob Diaco had an introductory news conference like few others. The former Notre Dame defensive coordinator is filled with energy, and he certainly brings a new approach atop the program following the Paul Pasqualoni and Randy Edsall eras. He already has made some cosmetic changes in the training facility, but bringing immediate change on the field is a bigger challenge in 2014.
  • Casey Cochran. The Huskies won their final three games last season, putting up 28 or more points in all three contests. Cochran passed for a school-record 461 yards in the finale, and seeing how he and the rest of the quarterbacks develop under this new staff will go a long way toward determining what UConn can do next season.
  • Defensive replenishments. For all of their struggles in recent years, the Huskies haven't lacked for talent or effort on the defensive side of the ball. That shouldn't change under Diaco, who won the Broyles Award as the nation's top assistant coach as Notre Dame's defensive coordinator in 2012. But replacing standouts such as Shamar Stephen and Yawin Smallwood won't be easy.
USF

Spring start: Feb. 26

Spring game: March 29

What to watch:
  • QB battle: Penn State transfer Steven Bench was named the starter at midseason in 2013, but he found himself behind freshman Mike White after an injury. Both quarterbacks turned the ball over way too much last season, and increased production from that position is crucial if Willie Taggart wants to get this program turned around in his second season as head coach.
  • Running backs: The battle to replace Marcus Shaw is on after his 765-yard season in 2013. Mike Pierre, Willie Davis and Darius Tice are the men being counted on now in the backfield, but no player from that trio carried the ball more than 41 times or topped 141 rushing yards for the season.
  • Jamie Byrd: Byrd enrolled at USF this January following a stint at Iowa Western Community College, and he has two years of eligibility remaining. He had 53 tackles, two interceptions, seven passes defended and a fumble recovery last season, and the hard-hitting speedster could make an early impact with the Bulls in the secondary.

Video: Louisville 24, Memphis 17

November, 23, 2013
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Teddy Bridgewater connected with DeVante Parker on a 39-yard touchdown as Louisville held off Memphis 24-17.

Memphis season preview

August, 19, 2013
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Today, we take a look at Memphis' 2013 campaign.

Memphis Tigers

[+] EnlargeBrandon Hayes
Nelson Chenault/USA TODAY SportsBrandon Hayes, who rushed for 576 yards last season, will be one of the keys to the Tigers' offense.
Coach: Justin Fuente (4-8 overall, 4-8 at Memphis)

2012 record: 4-8

Key losses: WR Marcus Rucker, DB Robert Steeples

Key returnees: RB Brandon Hayes, TE Alan Cross, QB Jacob Karam

Newcomer to watch: LG Sam Thomas

Biggest games in 2013: Duke (Sept. 7), Cincinnati (Oct. 30)

Biggest question mark heading into 2013: Memphis ranked second-to-last nationally in rushing offense two seasons ago, but in Fuente’s first season, the Tigers doubled their ground-game production, averaging 151.8 yards per game. With Memphis returning its top two running backs in Hayes (576 yards and six touchdowns in 2012) and Jai Steib (427 yards and six touchdowns in 2012), will the rushing attack become an even bigger part of the offense this fall? An offensive line that returns five players with starting experience could help the running backs’ production, too.

Forecast: Memphis will be at home or close to home to start the season with seven of its first eight games played in Tennessee. After doubling its win total from 2011 last season, Memphis will take any scheduling help it can get as Fuente works to continue to develop a program that now moves into a tougher conference. The Tigers open with Duke on Sept. 7.

“We know that we are obviously faced with an incredible challenge to build a football program while simultaneously taking a step up in competition,” Fuente said. “But we're going into this with our eyes wide open and with full understanding of what it's going to take to get the job done. And we're looking forward to the challenges that lay ahead.”

After winning its final three games of last season, Memphis returns 17 starters, including Karam. He completed a school-record 64.2 percent of his passes last season for 1,895 yards and 14 touchdowns. Though one of his top targets in Rucker is gone, Alan Cross returns after catching five touchdowns last season. And on defense, three of the top four tacklers return to a unit that led Conference USA in total defense in league games last fall. All four starters return to the defensive line.

Memphis was picked to finish last in the American Athletic Conference, but with the experience and momentum the Tigers carry over from finishing last season on a winning note, they may do better than expected in their first American season.

“We know where we're at and where we're going to go and what we're going to do,” Fuente said. “So I don't take other people's opinions and consider that as a step backwards. We're just solely focused on ourselves. We made large strides last year. We'll make large strides this year. Where it all ends up, I don't know.”
When the calendar turns to July 1 on Monday, the American Athletic Conference officially begins operations.

It has been a turmoil-filled two years for the league no longer known as the Big East. But with a measure of stability seeming to take hold across college football, commissioner Mike Aresco is optimistic about the future of his league -- despite being on the outside of the "power five" conference structure.

Aresco has embraced the "challenger conference" mantra and has done his best to extol the virtues of his rebranded league, repeatedly focusing on all the positives each member institution brings not only to football but to all other sports. He has been an exhaustive cheerleader, something the league has desperately needed in its leader.

So now that the American is nearly set for its debut, I had a chance to catch up with Aresco and talk about some of the biggest priorities moving forward.

1. Bowls. The league is working hard to finalize its bowl lineup, which will look different beginning in 2014. The league will no longer have tie-ins to the New Era Pinstripe Bowl, Belk Bowl or Russell Athletic Bowl. Aresco said that the league is working on continuing its tie-ins with the Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl in St. Petersburg, Fla., the BBVA Compass Bowl in Birmingham, Ala., and the Liberty Bowl in Memphis. He also added that the league has been in discussions about a bowl game in Texas, New Orleans, perhaps the Military Bowl in Washington, D.C., and occasionally in Hawaii (that bowl has a tie-in with Conference USA that ends this season).

[+] EnlargeMike Aresco
AP Photo/Jessica Hill, FileCommissioner Mike Aresco has been a tireless cheerleader for the American Athletic Conference as the old Big East assumes its new identity.
As for opponents, Aresco expects to continue to play the SEC in Birmingham. The Liberty could feature the Big 12, as could the Texas Bowl game. The league wants to keep playing the ACC as well. Aresco also mentioned there have been preliminary discussions about playing the Pac-12 in the new South Florida bowl game the American wants to create, and to play in Marlins Park.

Aresco hopes to have more bowl tie-ins than the current five, though he also acknowledged the league may be in a good position to receive at-large bids, too. He hopes to have some announcements in the next two to four weeks.

"We’ll end up fine," Aresco said. "We’ll have a chance to challenge. The key thing, too, is we do have access to the college football playoff system. If our champion is the highest-ranked team of the five conferences, we would be playing on New Year’s Day. That’s what we hope our champion is doing a good part of the time. We feel we have a good opportunity there."

2. Scheduling. There is no question the American is going to have to beef up its nonconference scheduling in order to get teams to either compete for a spot in the playoff or get the coveted spot in a New Year's Day game that goes to the highest finisher among itself, the Mountain West, Conference USA, Sun Belt and Mid-American. But Aresco says the league has not made any policy forbidding games against FCS opponents.

What he said he wants to see is balance in the schedule -- a few tough games, with a few less-challenging ones to allow league teams a chance to win. He also said league teams are working hard to ensure these tougher games against the premier programs in the country are home-and-home series. Perhaps teams would settle on a 2-for-1 or a single road game, but Aresco does not want this to be the norm.

There is also no doubting the exposure added by games against premier programs. Aresco mentioned UCF's game against Penn State in Dublin for 2014 as one example.

"It's a huge opportunity for us to show what we can do against those teams," Aresco said. "We’ve had some success in the past, but we need that opportunity. We know we’re a challenger. We know that we have programs that have history, that have had success, that have been in BCS conferences over the years, and we know what it takes. But we have to get an identity for the league, and we have to make sure people know who we are."

3. Building rivalries. One other key area Aresco mentioned is building rivalries within the league, now that the biggest ones in the former Big East are gone. He recognizes the potential in heavily promoting the UCF-USF rivalry as perhaps the headliner. That game is scheduled for end of the season this year, but he did not rule out possibly moving it to the beginning of the season.

"We definitely think that is a marquee rivalry that will develop," he said. "These are big, important schools that have good programs. Whether we play at the end or the beginning, it’s still up in the air. Some people would say maybe you want to play in the beginning because it’s the old saying, well, a loss early in the season doesn’t hurt you as much late. Miami and Florida State had the philosophy for a number of years. Also, early in the season you can get a great deal of attention for certain games. But right now, I think the plan is to keep it as a late-season rivalry game."

Others with potential that he mentioned include Houston-SMU, East Carolina-Navy and Tulsa-Memphis.

Future American Power Rankings

June, 21, 2013
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You've seen the college football future power rankings. Let's take that to another level here, using the eye test to look at how this conference is set up in the years to come.

1) Cincinnati. With at least a share of four of the past five conference titles, and with a proven coach in Tommy Tuberville aboard, the Bearcats are the class of the conference.

2) UCF. The most ready-made of the conference newcomers this fall, the Knights have the ideal talent, recruiting tools and coaching to compete for the conference crown year-in and year-out moving forward.

3) USF. Like rival UCF, USF is ideally located to land top talent. The Bulls have had that talent in recent years, but the hope is that new coach Willie Taggart can make the most of it and thrive back on the recruiting trail in Tampa, Fla.

4) Tulsa. Three straight eight-plus win seasons show that this program is on the rise, as the Golden Hurricane, much like UCF, look ready to compete with the league's elite upon their arrival.

5) UConn. The last of the "old guard" of the old Big East is in need of a turnaround following consecutive 5-7 seasons under Paul Pasqualoni. A Fiesta Bowl appearance in 2010 and five draft picks this past April show that there is potential here.

6) SMU. June Jones and Hal Mumme together will be a fascinating experiment to watch this year. But with their history and an always-strong nonconference slate, the Mustangs can put themselves in position to be a conference contender only if the breaks fall their way.

7) Navy. The Midshipmen won't be aboard until 2015. But eight-plus wins in nine of the past 10 seasons against a solid independent schedule suggests the triple-option can give its new conference brethren problems upon its arrival in two years.

8) Houston. Kevin Sumlin had a great run in 2011. Tony Levine still has some work to do, especially on the defensive side of the ball, after a down season in 2012. But landing big-name receivers like Deontay Greenberry and Markeith Ambles shows that there is promise for the Cougars moving forward.

9) Temple. The Owls started off 2-0 in the Big East last season, but then received a rude awakening. New coach Matt Rhule seems perfect for the role, but the cupboard is bare as he tries to turn things around in Year 1.

10) East Carolina. The Pirates always face their share of tough nonconference opponents, but Ruffin McNeill seems to have the program trending upward after going bowling in two of his first three seasons.

11) Memphis. Justin Fuente won't let the Tigers get too high on themselves after a three-game winning streak to end last season. By opening up key spots -- including quarterback, where Jacob Karam returns -- he has shown that he is set on taking this program to another level as it enters a new conference and tries to put the Conference-USA era behind it. Still, Fuente faces an uphill battle.

12) Tulane. The Green Wave haven't won five games in a season since 2004. They have their work cut out for them, as they move up to a better version of the C-USA they have struggled in.

100-day checklist: Big East

May, 21, 2013
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We have officially reached the 100-day mark until the college football regular season kicks off. There is still plenty of business to tend to until then -- much of which is being discussed this week at the Big East's spring meetings in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. -- so here is a checklist of five things that the conference needs to accomplish between now and Aug. 29, when three league teams (UConn, Rutgers and UCF) will be among the 34 to start their 2013 campaigns before everyone else.

1. Release a new logo: The league will officially become known as the American Athletic Conference at the conclusion of the 2012-13 college sports season. A new logo is on the way, but is not expected to be revealed during this week's conference meetings, though we could see it in the next couple of weeks.

2. Get QB answers: Cincinnati, Houston, Memphis, USF and Temple all exited the spring with open competition under center, though some seem to have a lot more clarity (Cincinnati, Houston, Temple) than others (Memphis, USF). For the other five teams, the summer is about continuing the growth of returning starters, all of whom took big steps this spring to build off their 2012 campaigns (particularly Rutgers' Gary Nova and UCF's Blake Bortles).

3. Find a true No. 2 to Louisville: No, the Cardinals have not already won the AAC in their final year in the conference before moving to the ACC. But the early Heisman Trophy and NFL draft hype surrounding quarterback Teddy Bridgewater -- coupled with preseason top-10 appearances in every major forecast, a favorable schedule and the overall brilliance of its athletic department this academic year -- has the hype at previously unforeseen levels on campus. Louisville still has 12 games to deal with once the first ball is kicked this fall, but it is the only team in the conference that, this far out, seems to have most of the answers it needs heading into the season. Who will make the biggest strides in the next 100 days to close that gap and emerge from the pack of relative unknowns in the league? This is, after all, the conference's last year with a guaranteed BCS bowl berth.

4. Make the rounds: Matt Rhule does not need to meet and greet all that many new people in the Philadelphia area since he was a longtime Temple assistant, but he is stepping into his first career head-coaching job. Willie Taggart has been a hit back in his home area of Tampa, Fla., but he is taking over a roster that has vastly underachieved the past two years, and he is entering recruiting battles with local rival and Big East newcomer UCF. Tommy Tuberville has had great success on the recruiting circuit so far at Cincinnati, but he has a big standard to live up to in following the footsteps of the school's past three head coaches. How will each new head coach in the conference further establish himself in the dog days of summer?

5. Houston must figure out several game locations: One of the more overlooked aspects of one of the conference newcomers this season is the Cougars' need to determine where they will play all of their home games. Four of them have been slated for Reliant Stadium, but the school's Oct. 12 game against Memphis and Nov. 23 tilt with Cincinnati still need locations. Rice Stadium and BBVA Compass Stadium are the options, according to the Houston Chronicle.
Former Temple coach Wayne Hardin was one of 14 men Tuesday to be named to the College Football Hall of Fame, emerging from a pool of 77 candidates and joining Colorado's Bill McCartney as the only coaches to make it this year.

The winningest coach in Temple history, Hardin led the Owls to an 80-52-3 record during his tenure, from 1970-82. The 1979 team's Garden State Bowl win over Cal was the first bowl win in program history, giving it a record 10 wins for the season. (The Owls finished 10-2.) The team finished ranked 17th in both the AP and UPI polls, also marking school records for the highest ranking in program history.

Temple won a school-record 14 straight games from 1973-74 under Hardin, who won the 1974 Kodak District II coach of the year and was inducted into Temple's Hall of Fame 20 years later.

“This is a great day for Temple University,” interim athletic director Kevin Clark said in a statement. “Wayne Hardin is not only a Hall of Fame football coach, but a Hall of Fame person. The entire Temple community is grateful that he has been selected for induction into the College Football Hall of Fame.”

Hardin is the third Temple player or coach to be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame, joining former coaches Ray Morrison (1940-48, inducted in 1954) and Glenn S. “Pop” Warner (1933-38, inducted in 1951).

Before he entered Philadelphia, Hardin was Navy's head coach from 1959-64, coaching two Heisman Trophy winners (Joe Bellino, Roger Staubauch) and twice leading the Midshipmen to top-5 rankings.

He will be inducted Dec. 10 at the 56th annual NFF awards dinner at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York.

The other former Big East player and coach candidates -- Memphis coach Billy Jack Murphy, SMU running back Eric Dickerson and Temple running back Paul Palmer -- did not make the Hall on Tuesday.
Tonight kicks off a weekend-long celebration of college players turning into professionals, as the NFL draft kicks off at Radio City Music Hall in New York.

There is a solid chance for several former Big East players to hear their names called in Round 1, but for now, we'll look back at how this conference has fared in the past 10 drafts, and especially in the first round.

Obviously, the conference has gone through change after change in the past two years alone, so to limit any confusion, we narrowed the pool of players to those whose college experience came on any of the 10 teams that will make up the American Athletic Conference in the 2013-14 season.

Some noteworthy items?
  • Four teams have not had a player taken in the first round in the last 10 years.
  • Rutgers leads the way in first-round picks during the past 10 years, with three, while Louisville leads in total picks, with 29. Again, given those teams' futures, you can look at that as a positive or a negative as a Big East fan, depending on your mood or point of view.
  • In total, current conference schools have had a total of 11 first-round picks in the past 10 years, and 150 players from these 10 schools have been drafted during that time.
  • Defensive back has been the strongest position among these schools, with 30 cornerbacks and safeties in total selected during this stretch.
FIRST-ROUND PICKS SINCE 2003:
Rutgers: 3
Louisville: 2
USF: 2
Memphis: 2
UConn: 1
Temple: 1
Cincinnati: 0
UCF: 0
SMU: 0
Houston: 0

TOTAL PICKS SINCE 2003:
Louisville: 29
Cincinnati: 24
Rutgers: 17
USF: 16
UConn: 16
UCF: 15
Temple: 9
SMU: 9
Memphis: 8
Houston: 7

Breakdown of Big East draft picks over the last 10 years by position:

Defensive backs: 30
Defensive linemen: 23
Offensive linemen: 19
Running backs: 16
Wide receivers: 15
Linebackers: 14
Tight ends: 8
Quarterbacks: 8
Punter: 2
Kicker: 1
Fullback: 1

Scouts Inc.'s Steve Muench and Kevin Weidl, meanwhile, have a complete, seven-round mock draft here.
Willie Taggart's youthful exuberance is palpable everywhere, from the music he blasts at South Florida practices to the declarations he makes about his Bulls team to the media — "come out every single day with an enthusiasm unknown to mankind."

The 36-year-old Taggart is the youngest head coach in a Big East that boasts no shortage of them. Taggart is the fifth-youngest coach in the nation in 2013, according to a list of 14 that Temple provided to the Philadelphia Inquirer's Keith Pompey.

Taggart is less than a month younger than the sixth-youngest coach on that list, second-year Memphis coach Justin Fuente. Two spots lower? That would be 38-year-old Temple head man Matt Rhule, giving the Big East three of the nation's eight youngest coaches.

As for the flip side of things, UCF coach George O'Leary is the elder statesman of the league, at 66 years old. O'Leary is the sixth-oldest coach in the nation in 2013.

Connecticut's Paul Pasqualoni (63) and SMU's June Jones (60) also crack the 60-and-over crowd, coming in as the ninth- and 17th-oldest active coaches, respectively.

Here is a list of Big East coaches by birth date:

Willie Taggart, USF (Aug. 27, 1976)
Justin Fuente, Memphis (July 30, 1976)
Matt Rhule, Temple (Jan. 31, 1975)
Tony Levine, Houston (Oct. 28, 1972)
Kyle Flood, Rutgers (Jan. 20, 1971)
Charlie Strong, Louisville (Aug. 2, 1960)
Tommy Tuberville, Cincinnati (Sept. 18, 1954)
June Jones, SMU (Feb. 19, 1953)
Paul Pasqualoni (Aug. 16, 1949)
George O'Leary (Aug. 17, 1946)

Big East releases schedule

March, 6, 2013
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The Big East released its 40-game conference schedule Wednesday, highlighted by a number of Friday night primetime clashes and more key late-season matchups that will likely have conference championship implications.

Here's a team-by-team look at the 2013 slate:

CINCINNATI: Aug. 31 vs. Purdue, Sept. 7 at Illinois, Sept. 14 vs. Northwestern State, Sept. 21 at Miami (Ohio), Oct. 5 at USF, Oct. 11 vs. Temple, Oct. 19 vs. UConn, Oct. 30 at Memphis, Nov. 9 vs. SMU, Nov. 16 at Rutgers, Nov. 23 at Houston, Dec. 5 vs. Louisville

HOUSTON: Aug. 30 vs. Southern, Sept. 7 at Temple, Sept. 21 at Rice, Sept. 28 at UTSA, Oct. 12 vs. Memphis, Oct. 19 vs. BYU, Oct. 26 at Rutgers, Oct. 31 vs. USF, Nov. 9 at UCF, Nov. 16 at Louisville, Nov. 23 vs. Cincinnati, Nov. 29 vs. SMU

LOUISVILLE: Aug. 31 vs. Ohio, Sept. 7 vs. EKU, Sept. 14 at Kentucky, Sept. 21 vs. FIU, Oct. 5 at Temple, Oct. 10 vs. Rutgers, Oct. 18 vs. UCF, Oct. 26 at USF, Nov. 8 at UConn, Nov. 16 vs. Houston, Nov. 23 vs. Memphis, Dec. 5 at Cincinnati

MEMPHIS: Sept. 7 vs. Duke, Sept. 14 at Middle Tennessee, Sept. 21 vs. Arkansas State, Oct. 5 vs. UCF, Oct. 12 at Houston, Oct. 19 vs. SMU, Oct. 30 vs. Cincinnati, Nov. 9 vs. Tennessee-Martin, Nov. 16 at USF, Nov. 23 at Louisville, Nov. 30 vs. Temple, Dec. 5 at UConn

RUTGERS: Aug. 29 at Fresno State, Sept. 7 vs. Norfolk State, Sept. 14 vs. Eastern Michigan, Sept. 21 vs. Arkansas, Oct. 5 at SMU, Oct. 10 at Louisville, Oct. 26 vs. Houston, Nov. 2 vs. Temple, Nov. 16 vs. Cincinnati, Nov. 21 at UCF, Nov. 30 at UConn, Dec. 7 vs. USF

SMU: Aug. 30 vs. Texas Tech, Sept. 7 vs. Montana State, Sept. 21 at Texas A&M, Sept. 28 at TCU, Oct. 5 vs. Rutgers, Oct. 19 at Memphis, Oct. 26 vs. Temple, Nov. 9 at Cincinnati, Nov. 16 vs. UConn, Nov. 23 at USF, Nov. 29 at Houston, Dec. 7 vs. UCF

UCF: Aug. 29 vs. Akron, Sept. 7 at FIU, Sept. 14 at Penn State, Sept. 28 vs. South Carolina, Oct. 5 at Memphis, Oct. 18 at Louisville, Oct. 26 vs. UConn, Nov. 9 vs. Houston, Nov. 16 at Temple, Nov. 21 vs. Rutgers, Nov. 29 vs. USF, Dec. 7 at SMU

UConn: Aug. 29 vs. Towson, Sept. 14 vs. Maryland, Sept. 21 vs. Michigan, Sept. 28 at Buffalo, Oct. 12 vs. USF, Oct. 19 at Cincinnati, Oct. 26 at UCF, Nov. 8 vs. Louisville, Nov. 16 at SMU, Nov. 23 at Temple, Nov. 30 vs. Rutgers, Dec. 7 vs. Memphis

USF: Aug. 31 vs. McNeese State, Sept. 7 at Michigan State, Sept. 14 vs. Florida Atlantic, Sept. 28 vs. Miami (Fla.), Oct. 5 vs. Cincinnati, Oct. 12 at UConn, Oct. 26 vs. Louisville, Oct. 31 at Houston, Nov. 16 vs. Memphis, Nov. 23 vs. SMU, Nov. 29 at UCF, Dec. 7 at Rutgers

TEMPLE: Aug. 31 at Notre Dame, Sept. 7 vs. Houston, Sept. 14 vs. Fordham, Sept. 28 at Idaho, Oct. 5 vs. Louisville, Oct. 11 at Cincinnati, Oct. 19 vs. Army, Oct. 26 at SMU, Nov. 2 at Rutgers, Nov. 16 vs. UCF, Nov. 23 vs. UConn, Nov. 30 at Memphis
Memphis

Spring Start: Feb. 28

Spring game: April 6

What to watch:
  1. Quarterback: Jacob Karam returns as the starter after throwing for 1,895 yards, 14 touchdowns and three interceptions. But coach Justin Fuente says Karam will be pushed during the spring and has to win the starting job all over again.
  2. Bump up the physicality: Fuente has said repeatedly that he wants to see his team be more physical, especially now that it is joining the Big East. The spring is the perfect chance to improve in this area. "We will play some of the same teams we played last year, but they will be the bigger, more physical teams we played last year," he said. "We have to understand that we have a lot of ground to make up. That is not ground that is made up easily."
  3. Competition at defensive back: The Tigers lose two starters from their defensive backfield -- Cannon Smith and Robert Steeples -- and Fuente is excited about the competition at this position going into the spring.
Rutgers

Spring Start: March 26

Spring game: April 27

What to watch:
  1. Quarterback: Even though coach Kyle Flood says Gary Nova is his starter, you can bet there is going to be competition at this position going into the spring, especially with a new offensive coordinator in Ron Prince. That doesn't mean there will be changes, but certainly Prince is going to want to take a look at all the players he has available to evaluate what they can or cannot do.
  2. Defensive leaders: Rutgers lost its top defensive playmakers and needs to find guys who can step in for Scott Vallone, Khaseem Greene, Steve Beauharnais and Logan Ryan, to name four. Plus, there is a new coordinator in Dave Cohen, so there might be some adjustment period.
  3. Huggins stepping up: The time is now for the highly heralded local recruit to live up to the expectations that came with him when he arrived on campus. Jawan Jamison is gone off to the NFL, so all eyes have turned to Huggins to see if he has what it takes to be the next 1,000-yard rusher.
SMU

Spring Start: March 25

Spring game: April 20

What to watch:
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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).
USF

Spring Start: March 20

Spring game: April 13

What to watch:
  1. New coaches, new style: Coach Willie Taggart has promised to ratchet up the intensity and transform his team into more of a smash-mouth group. That process begins in the spring, when he has his first opportunity to really show his players what he expects out of them. You can bet he expects a lot more physicality from his offensive and defensive lines to start.
  2. Quarterback competition: Who will emerge as the starter? Will we even know after the spring? Matt Floyd and Bobby Eveld, the top two candidates, have plenty of work to do as they fight to win the starting job. But this competition could very well go into the fall, when freshman Mike White arrives on campus.
  3. Defensive back improvement: This was the worst group the Bulls had a year ago and the one in most need of immediate improvement. USF registered two interceptions in 2012, tied with Auburn for the fewest among all 120 schools in the nation. And they both came in the same game -- against UConn on Nov. 3.
Temple

Spring Start: March 22

Spring game: April 20

What to watch:
  1. New staff: Matt Rhule certainly has a familiarity with Temple, having served as an assistant there under both Al Golden and Steve Addazio. But anytime a new coach comes in, there is change, so the spring gives him his first chance to really start implementing his style and what he wants to get accomplished.
  2. Quarterbacks: You can bet this competition is going to be open this spring, with Chris Coyer, Juice Granger and Kevin Newsome all returning. Coyer and Granger both started a year ago; Newsome transferred in from Penn State a few years ago. How this shakes out is one major story to watch.
  3. Running backs: Montel Harris and Matt Brown are gone, taking with them 1,426 yards rushing and 16 of the team's 21 rushing touchdowns. Jamie Gilmore got more carries as the season went on when Brown was hurt; Kenny Harper also is back and certainly will be relied upon even more.

Another new-look spring for Big East

February, 27, 2013
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For the second straight spring, Extreme Makeover: Big East edition has gripped the conference.

Four teams enter practice with an eye toward their first Big East season. Two teams enter spring practice wondering if 2013 is their final Big East season.

The mix makes for quite the dysfunctional pairing, and most likely the only configuration featuring remaining members Cincinnati, UConn, USF and Temple, incoming members UCF, Houston, Memphis and SMU and departing members Louisville and Rutgers playing under the same conference umbrella.

Got all that?

What must be most especially difficult for the league this spring is marketing and promoting what should be a preseason top-10 team -- Louisville -- knowing the Cardinals are not long for the Big East world. It was the same scenario that unfolded back in 2011, when West Virginia represented the Big East as its highest-rated Top 25 team and Orange Bowl participant, with a move to the Big 12 just months away.

[+] EnlargeTeddy Bridgewater
Cal Sport Media via AP ImagesThere are many question marks at QB in the Big East this spring. Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater is certainly not among them.
Given all the conference realignment, this is certainly not uncharted territory. But it certainly takes the luster off what should be downright euphoria over having one of the projected marquee teams in all the nation in 2013. Along with that conundrum is the idea that the Big East cannot begin to rebrand itself while it continues to have a hodgepodge of teams with one foot in the door and one foot out.

None of this is new, but it certainly is more than a little uncomfortable. Having said that, Louisville remains the biggest story to watch this spring and into the fall because of the opportunity the Cardinals have in front of them. Not only do they return nearly all of their key starters from the Sugar Bowl-winning team of a season ago, they return soon-to-be junior quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, already a preseason Heisman candidate.

Last spring, he was incredible, completing 70 percent of his passes in a near-flawless performance. That translated into a super sophomore season that not only has people talking Heisman now, it also has them talking about whether this is his final spring in a Cardinals uniform. Another solid spring showing from him, and Louisville should cement its standing as the preseason favorite to win the Big East, with an outside shot as a dark horse national title contender.

Louisville, however, is only one of a handful of Big East schools with quarterback certainty. UCF returns Blake Bortles, who had a 3,000-yard season in 2012 as the Knights went 10-4 in their final year in Conference USA. He is perhaps the next-best quarterback in the league, although that is probably up for debate, as Cincinnati returns Brendon Kay.

But Kay is going to face some competition this spring, with new coach Tommy Tuberville taking charge. He is not the only incumbent who is sure to be pushed. At Rutgers, coach Kyle Flood says Gary Nova remains the starter, but new offensive coordinator Ron Prince is certainly going to want to see what all his signal-callers have to offer. At Memphis, Jacob Karam must win his starting job again. At SMU, Garrett Gilbert needs to work on his consistency. So does UConn quarterback Chandler Whitmer, who is going to see some competition for his job as well.

At Houston, David Piland is in for a fight for his spot. USF and Temple need starters, too. The Bulls lose veteran B.J. Daniels and return Matt Floyd and Bobby Eveld. The Owls rotated between Chris Coyer and Clinton Granger last season, but Penn State transfer Kevin Newsome could figure into the mix as well with new coach Matt Rhule taking charge.

The quarterback position in the Big East represents the league as a whole: plenty of uncertainty this spring.

Big East at the combine

February, 26, 2013
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Twenty-four former Big East players and several more stars from future conference teams have been in Indianapolis the past week showing off in front of their prospective future employers. With the NFL scouting combine wrapping up today with defensive backs working out, we'll take a look at how some of the Big East's stars fared.

Q&A: Big East commissioner Mike Aresco

February, 14, 2013
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Mike Aresco's five months on the job as Big East commissioner has been anything but routine. The former CBS Sports executive vice president of programming has seen Notre Dame, Rutgers, Louisville, Boise State and San Diego State make plans to leave his conference since he took the job. He has seen the "Catholic 7" basketball schools break off in an effort to form their own conference, while he has added Tulane and East Carolina, the latter currently set to enter as a football-only member. There is also the matter of negotiating a new television deal.

With moving days taking part across the blogs this week, we caught up with Aresco to talk about incoming 2013 members Central Florida, Houston, Memphis and SMU, as well as several other topics facing the Big East.

Obviously there's a lot out there right now about the TV deal. Where do you guys stand with that, and do you need a 12th school immediately to move forward with any further TV negotiations or deal?

Mike Aresco: I think we are getting closer. The TV doesn't really depend on whether we add another team or teams. I think our position has been that we're not interested in numbers just for numbers' sake. We don't need to be 14 or 16 teams or any of that. We just want to make sure we have the right teams and the right mix athletically, academically. And right now, as you know, we're at 10 with Navy going to join in '15. And Louisville/Rutgers -- if they leave after next year, we're not sure yet -- but if they leave after next year, we would replace them and have 10 and we would also have Navy coming in obviously a year later. At this point, we would definitely look at a 12th, because you'd want even divisions if you ultimately go to a championship game, which I think is our goal. We don't absolutely have to do that, but we think that that's what we would want to do. You can play unbalanced divisions, but it's not a great idea. It just isn't. So I think in that sense we would look at perhaps adding another team -- you know the usual suspects, you've heard those. And I don't know when we would make that decision. We've got some meetings coming up, we call it our group of 11 schools, and we could make a preliminary decision as to whether we want to expand, in probably the next several weeks, and then determine just what we want to do. And then if we did expand, [we'd choose] that team. But in terms of our football, I think everybody's fine playing as a 10-team league until we get Navy in. If we feel the need to expand, great.

[+] EnlargeMike Aresco
Bill Shettle/Cal Sport MediaAmerican Athletic Conference commissioner Mike Aresco said he's confident that the league will have an attractive future bowl lineup.
But you mention some of the teams, I think our conference is really built on some programs that have had success and that really have a lot of potential. We look at SMU, and June Jones has done well there, but I think their best years are still ahead of them. Houston a couple years ago, obviously a tremendous season with Kevin Sumlin. Again, they need to sustain that. Same thing, USF has had years when they've been highly ranked and had good seasons. And UCF, you've seen what UCF has done, very strong program with good facilities. I think what we're looking to do is with our group from the North, Cincinnati, [Tommy] Tuberville there now. UConn. Temple, Al Golden left a program that was definitely rebuilt, and they have to sustain that. And eventually Navy, East Carolina with a great fan base. It's a good group of schools that frankly need to probably develop a storyline, now that we're going to be together. The schools haven't played together before. But I think they're all spending money, they're all trying to improve. Many of them are in big markets. I didn't mention Memphis -- they're spending a lot on their programs, and I didn't mention Tulane, they'll stay until 2014. Houston, building a new stadium.

So I think it's a story of growth. That's what we're looking for, we're trying to grow. We think we can compete. Our goal is to be competing with the five conferences that are perceived as the five power conferences. As you know, we were one of the six, we're still one of the six BCS conferences, but we know that we have to fight and try to be, again, a challenger, to challenge those other five. And that's why I think TV and exposure and marketing and promotion are really important. I think we've got some good brands, some good schools, but there's a lot of untapped potential there.

You mentioned Rutgers and Louisville in passing there. Do you plan ahead as if next year will be their last year in this conference? Where do you guys stand with them as it relates to that?

MA: Don't know yet, Matt, we're still negotiating with them. I think they would probably want to leave after '14, and if a reasonable settlement can be negotiated, we'll certainly look at that. We just haven't made any decision yet. They're definitely in for this year, and then the question is whether they would stay through '14.

Similar with Notre Dame. I know they announced last week that they were going to be in there for at least one more year. Would you envision that being their last year there?

MA: Again, all three of those schools have a commitment through the summer of '15 and then the question comes whether they would stay that extra year. That's going to depend on what kind of agreement we negotiate with them. We certainly have shown a willingness to engage in those kinds of negotiations.

With all the moving parts, do you plan or foresee a nine-game conference schedule in the future?

MA: We don't right now. It's something we could look at, but right now we plan to do an eight-game conference schedule. As you know, a lot of conferences are adopting nine games. Again, we'll either be at ... 11 or 12 [in 2015], '14 we'll either be 10 or 11. I think our membership has expressed preference for eight games. Eight conference games allows them to play more nonconference games. But that's something we can revisit certainly.

As you guys move forward, as the landscape itself moves forward, what are your plans as it relates to bowl tie-ins? What do you guys hope to accomplish in those negotiations?

MA: We'd like to certainly keep the tie-ins we have; we have some good ones. It's a fluid situation. We also could look at some others that make some sense. Again, the conference now will have schools from Texas, from Carolina, very attractive. I think our goal will be to make sure we're in a variety of bowls in a variety of locations so we have nice experiences for our fans and teams. We're definitely talking. We know that that next round is coming up soon. There's going to be some change, we realize that. Could we have some slightly different bowl configurations? We could. But we really like the bowls we're involved in, whether it's the Russell Athletic, or it's the Belk, or it's the Pinstripe, the Liberty, the BBVA Compass. Go down the list, we've got good bowls. But we're going to look at others, too. And we're a bigger conference, Matt, than we were. We'll be at 10 this year, then we'll be potentially at some point 11 and maybe 12. That could give us a chance to develop more tie-ins.

I've seen you touch on this earlier in other interviews. East Carolina, is that a school you want to become a full member eventually?

MA: That's something we haven't decided yet. We're going to take a hard look at that very soon. I think that would certainly be their preference. We haven't made any decisions yet, but we would certainly give that a lot of consideration.

What about the name? I know there's been so much debate about who gets it, who's negotiating with what, what the real Big East is and so forth. How does that play out in your mind in terms of the Big East name? Is that something you really want to fight hard to keep? Do you think maybe a fresher approach would be best for the conference? What's your take on that?

MA: Yeah, people have speculated either way on that. I think our feeling is we would fight hard for it because we think that you can do a fresh approach and keep the name. We would talk about the new Big East or the reinvented Big East, because it isn't the same Big East it was a few months ago. We can't pretend it is. We've had 12 teams leave in the interim for various reasons, and no one's fault, but the point is we know we're a different conference even though we are the Big East. The Big East has tremendous brand equity built up over a lot of years, in basketball and in football. And so consequently our preference would be to keep the name and just rebuild our league and rebuild the brand. I don't think it needs much rebuilding, but clearly when you've had some of the publicity we've had, you need to deal with that and we will. So we think going forward with that brand, with that brand equity is more advantageous than not.

To go off that a little bit, what is it about this conference that you think makes it an elite conference moving forward? What are some of the characteristics that are going to make you a real player in the years to come?

MA: I think we have a real chance to be a player. I think that we have schools that historically have had success, that are in good markets, that have good brands, that have not played together and, as I said, have not developed a storyline yet. But if you look around and you look at the individual programs, they have good potential, they'll play good opponents and I think that they will hold their own. I think you've got schools in talent-rich states. You've got schools with good fan support. You've got schools, again, as I said, in big markets. And take it one by one. Again, Cincinnati with Tommy Tuberville, and they've had a history of hiring excellent coaches. One of the goals of our conference is to hold on to our coaches as long as we can. And you know that head coaches come in, do a great job and move on. We'd like to hold on to them, but if we don't, we'd like to get the next great coach to come along. We had Brian Kelly in this conference. We had Brady Hoke at San Diego State, which didn't end up joining the Big East. You had a lot of terrific coaches around. Kevin Sumlin, look what he's done. And we need to retain them.

But Cincinnati and Tuberville. Connecticut's done a great job over a 10-year period of building a program. Then you've got Navy, everybody loves Navy; they play good football. Temple, again, has just real potential in Philadelphia, has to realize it and it will. East Carolina, solid football program, will gain a lot more attention and exposure in the Big East than it did where they were. And UCF, you've seen what they've done. You've seen what USF has done over the years. USF a little disappointing recently but thinking they've got the coach that is going to take them to the next level. Memphis is spending a lot of money and resources on the program. They have real potential as well. Tulane, new stadium, rich recruiting area. They've had success historically in football. Katrina set them back but they're spending money, they've got the will and determination to get better. And the same thing with Houston and SMU. And as those schools get better they'll garner a lot of attention. Look at SMU, you saw what they did in the bowl game. And you saw what June Jones has done the last few years. So I think there's real potential. There's also a history of achievement. Not necessarily sustained achievement; they haven't had consistently great seasons sometimes -- that doesn't mean that we can't do that.

And one other thing, Matt, I would say: The Big East brand and the Big East conference has always elevated anyone who joined, and I think that's still going to be true. If you look at the history of Louisville coming into the conference, [they] didn't have programs like they have now. Tom Jurich has always credited the Big East with part of their success. Same thing with Frank Beamer and Virginia Tech. He'll always maintain that if it weren't for their time in the Big East, they never could've built their program and their brand. So I think we've always been a scrappy conference. We've had to reinvent ourselves a few times, we've done it successfully, we'll do it again. We also view ourselves as a challenger brand, meaning we're going to challenge. Perception is important. We need to show people that we've got a strong group of schools that are going to compete at a high level, and the goal obviously is to make sure we have the resources. And we'll look at TV. We'll do well enough on the TV in terms of finances, you've read about some of that. And we have resources in our conference, we're part of the BCS for one more year. Going forward we're still part of, I don't know what the whole system's going to be called, but we'll have significant revenue from that. And we'll have other sources of revenue in our conference. So financially we're in good shape. And we think our schools will have the resources to do what they need to do to compete.

Meet the new Big East members

February, 14, 2013
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Conference switch-over day is here for the Big East blog. Even though UCF, Houston, Memphis and SMU won't become official league members until July 1, we are going to begin covering them in this space starting today. Syracuse and Pitt already have been welcomed to the ACC blog.

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 each.

UCF Knights

2012 record: 10-4

Bowl appearances: Five

Key losses: Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year Kemal Ishmael (124 tackles, three INTs); C-USA Special Teams Player of the Year Quincy McDuffie (1,102 all-purpose yards, nine TDs); running back Latavius Murray (1,106 yards, 15 TDs); center Jordan Rae; defensive lineman Troy Davis (eight sacks, 11.5 TFL)

Key returners: Quarterback Blake Bortles (3,059 yards passing, 25 TDs, 7 INTs); running back Storm Johnson (507 yards rushing, four TDs); receiver Breshad Perriman (388 yards, three TDs, C-USA all-freshman team); safety Clayton Geathers (117 tackles); defensive tackle Thomas Niles (five sacks, seven TFL)

What they bring to the Big East: UCF adds another presence in Florida and perhaps just as important, brings an automatic rivalry headliner to a league in desperate need of one. USF and UCF will revive their "War on I-4" rivalry in Orlando, with the Knights hoping to beat the Bulls for the first time.

Did you know: UCF's fall 2012 enrollment was 59,767, making it the second-largest university in the country behind Arizona State.

Houston Cougars

2012 record: 5-7

Bowl appearances: 21

Key losses: Offensive lineman Jacolby Ashworth; linebacker Phillip Steward (128 tackles, 11 sacks, 19.5 TFL); defensive back D.J. Hayden (61 tackles, 4 INTs, 12 passes defended); linebacker Everett Daniels (112 tackles, 5 sacks, 10.5 TFL)

Key returners: Quarterback David Piland (2,944 yards passing, 16 TDs, 12 INTs); running back Charles Sims (851 yards rushing, 11 TDs; 373 yards receiving, 3 TDs); receiver Deontay Greenberry (569 yards receiving, three TDs); receiver Dewayne Peace (603 yards receiving, two TDs); linebacker Derrick Mathews (126 tackles, 17 TFL)

What they bring to the Big East: Entry into Texas, and also one of the more solid non-automatic qualifying conference programs. Though last season was a down one, Houston nearly got into the BCS in 2011, finishing with 13 wins. The Cougars made five straight bowl trips (2005-09).

Did you know: Houston returns 43 of its 71 letter winners from the 2012 roster, 21 each on offense and defense and one on special teams.

Memphis Tigers

2012 record: 4-8

Bowl appearances: Six

Key losses: Left tackle Jordan Devey; receiver Marcus Rucker (525 yards receiving, three TDs); linebacker Akeem Davis (68 tackles); safety Cannon Smith (50 tackles)

Key returners: Quarterback Jacob Karam (1,895 yards passing, 14 TDs, 3 INTs); running back Brandon Hayes (576 yards rushing, six TDs); receiver Keiwone Malone (476 yards, three TDs); defensive lineman Johnnie Farms (38 tackles, 9.5 TFL); defensive lineman Martin Ifedi (7.5 sacks, 11 TFL)

What they bring to the Big East: Memphis initially was added in large part because of its successful basketball program, which would lessen somewhat the impact of losing Pitt, Syracuse and West Virginia. But the football-basketball split has made that point meaningless. At least the Tigers were improved in 2012, a big change from recent history, when it was one of the worst teams in college football.

Did you know: Memphis ended the season on a three-game winning streak for the first time since 2007.

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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