NCF Nation: Southern Methodist Mustangs

Video: Rutgers 55, SMU 52, 3 OT

October, 5, 2013
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SMU rallied for 21 straight points to force overtime, but fell short 55-52 in triple overtime.

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.

First-year players to watch

June, 11, 2013
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There are plenty of first-year players to watch in the soon-to-be renamed Big East this fall. Here is a quick look at those with the potential to have breakout seasons.

[+] EnlargeLouisville Cardinals Red Team running back Brandon Radcliff
Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY SportsLouisville Cardinals running back Brandon Radcliff really stepped up in the spring game.
Brandon Radcliff, RB, Louisville. With Senorise Perry out this spring, Radcliff got an opportunity to show what he can do. Radcliff ended up with 56 yards on five carries in the spring game and seems poised for more. Perry's status for the start of the season remains up in the air, so watch for Radcliff and Dominique Brown to carry the load early on.

Prescott Line, RB, SMU. His brother, Zach, was a constant in the Mustangs' backfield over the last several seasons but now he's gone. That leaves big shoes to fill. Line is next in line to help carry the load, as he had a good spring and should see plenty of action this year with Traylon Shead in the backfield.

Chris Muller, RG, Rutgers. Muller was a huge get for Rutgers when he signed back in 2012, and now he is poised to see some serious game time as a redshirt freshman. He is listed on the post-spring depth chart as the co-starter at right guard with veteran Antwan Lowery.

Averee Robinson, DT, Temple. Robinson, the younger brother of former Owls standout Adrian Robinson, enrolled in January and made his presence known in the spring, earning reps with the second team. He had a great performance in the spring game (four sacks) and certainly will be in the Owls rotation come fall.

Luke Adams, DE, UCF. Adams was easily one of the bright spots for the revamped Knights' defensive line in the spring and finished camp penciled in as the starter.

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.

Big East spring game previews

April, 19, 2013
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Nine of 10 Big East teams will be through with spring practices come Monday, with Rutgers serving as the outlier. With UConn, Temple and SMU all gearing up for their annual spring games this Saturday, here's a peek at what to look for.

UCONN
Fans in attendance for the noon start at Rentschler Field should keep an eye on how the offense moves under new coordinator T.J. Weist. The Huskies ranked 118th in total offense last year as coordinator George DeLeone was stripped of his duties, though he remains the offensive line coach. But the squad returns all five starters up front to protect incumbent quarterback Chandler Whitmer, as well as top running back Lyle McCombs, as the unit will look to keep pace with a defense that was nothing short of outstanding last season but is down a few stars who will hear their names called next weekend in New York.

Hank Hughes is the new man in charge of the defense, and he has Yawin Smallwood back to anchor a unit that has said goodbye to Sio Moore, Jory Johnson, Trevardo Williams and Blidi Wreh-Wilson. The Huskies boast plenty of potential in the middle with linebackers Graham Stewart, Ryan Donohue, Jefferson Ashiru and Omaine Stephens -- but that is just potential, for now.

UConn needs answers on both sides of the ball if it hopes to improve off head coach Paul Pasqualoni's consecutive 5-7 seasons.

SMU
The Mustangs will have an open practice at 9 a.m. local time at Pettus Practice Field, with many current and former players signing autographs afterward. There will be an NFL Punt, Pass and Kick competition afterward for kids ages 6 through eighth grade.

The Mustangs are intriguing, first and foremost, because they brought Hal Mumme aboard as their assistant head coach and passing game coordinator. Pairing the Air Raid curator with head coach June Jones and his run 'n' shoot pedigree is a fascinating experiment in and of itself.

Kenneth Acker, who is coming off a second-team All-Conference USA season in the secondary, is another experiment this spring, with the staff splitting the cornerback wide to catch some passes with the offense.

Defensively, the Mustangs are replacing a bulk of their production from last season, with Margus Hunt, Ja'Gared Davis and Taylor Reed all gone. Kevin Pope and Robert Seals must step up at linebacker.

TEMPLE
Head coach Matt Rhule's first spring will feature live kicking and punting, normal scoring and 15-minute quarters. Who will eventually emerge as quarterback, however, is another matter. Juice Granger and Thomas Rumer will see action on the Cherry squad, which is coached by defensive coordinator Phil Snow, while Chris Coyer and Connor Reilly will take reps for the White team, coached by offensive coordinator Marcus Satterfield.

Reilly has thrived under the pro-style attack, ascending to No. 1 on a depth chart that was expected to see Coyer and Granger fight for the top spot. Coyer has seen time as an H-back in practice, but Rhule said he will remain under center. Kevin Newsome, out with a shoulder injury, has been moved to H-back.

Reigning conference freshman of the year Tyler Matakevich leads a defense that struggled across the board last season, while Levi Brown and Sean Daniels are the big guys up front worth keeping an eye on.

The live kicking and punting part of Saturday's 1 p.m. contest at Edberg-Olson Hall is worth noting in that the Owls need to replace Brandon McManus, who held the school records for field goals made and punting average.
Last Wednesday's announcements that Connecticut had agreed to a home-and-home series with Boise State and that Cincinnati would be heading to the Big House in 2017 were the latest in a trend that has seen BCS-conference schools boost their nonconference schedule strength.

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 each current conference school.

Cincinnati: The Bearcats host Purdue this season and will travel to West Lafayette, Ind., in 2016. They go to Illinois this year as well, a return trip from the schools' 2009 game at Nippert Stadium. In addition to going to Michigan in 2017, Cincinnati goes to Ohio State in 2014 and 2016 and has a home-and-home with BYU set for 2015 and 2016 (at BYU, at Cincinnati).

Connecticut: The Huskies host Michigan and Maryland this year, the second parts of home-and-homes from 2010 and 2012, respectively. In addition to the Boise State home-and-home set for 2014 and 2018 (at UConn, at Boise), UConn has a home-and-home with BYU in 2014 and 2015 (at UConn, at BYU), a home-and-home with Tennessee set for 2015 and 2016 (at UConn, at Tennessee) and a home-and-home with Virginia scheduled for 2016 and 2017 (at UConn, at Virginia).

Houston: The Cougars host BYU this year and head to Provo, Utah next year.

Louisville: The Kentucky series is the only one the Cardinals currently have scheduled with a BCS-conference opponent through 2016, going to Lexington this season and in 2015, with the Wildcats visiting in 2014 and 2016. Perhaps that will change when the Cardinals begin ACC play in the 2014 campaign.

Memphis: The Tigers host Duke this season after visiting the Blue Devils in 2012. They have a home-and-home with UCLA for 2014 and 2017 (at UCLA, at Memphis), a home-and-home with Kansas for 2015 and 2016 (at Kansas, at Memphis), a home-and-home with Missouri for 2015 and 2016 (at Memphis, at Missouri) and a four-game home-and-home with Ole Miss from 2014-17, beginning in Oxford, Miss.

Rutgers: The Scarlet Knights host Arkansas this season after traveling to Fayetteville, Ark., in 2012. They will host future Big East member Tulane in 2014, each's first season in its new conference, after playing the Green Wave in Piscataway, N.J., in 2010 and in New Orleans last season. Miami (FL) visits Rutgers in 2018 and hosts it in 2019, and the Scarlet Knights have future home-and-homes with UCLA (2016 at Rutgers, 2017 in L.A.) and Kansas (2015 at Rutgers, 2018 in Lawrence, Kan.) To Rutgers' credit, it had also originally scheduled home-and-homes with Maryland and Penn State before it had announced that it was moving to the Big Ten.

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.

Temple: The Owls begin the Matt Rhule era at Notre Dame this season, a place they will re-visit in 2017. The Irish will visit Philadelphia in 2014. The two-for-one Penn State series continues from 2014-16, with the Nittany Lions visiting Philly in 2015. Temple will host Maryland in 2014 and travel to College Park at a future date to be determined, after a home-and-home in 2011 and 2012 that saw the visiting team win each time (Temple, then Maryland).

UCF: The Knights aren't backing down as they move up a level of play. They go to Penn State this season and will host the Lions in either 2014 or 2015. They host South Carolina this season and visit the Gamecocks in 2015. They go to Missouri in 2014 after hosting the Tigers this past season. They host BYU in 2014 after visiting the Cougars in 2011. And they go to Maryland in 2016 before hosting the Terps the following season. UCF has a 2017 date at Texas, too, as part of an agreement that saw the Longhorns visit the Knights in 2007 for UCF's first game in its new stadium before hosting them in 2009.

USF: The Bulls host Michigan State this season as part of a two-game home-and-home that will be returned in 2017. They will play the final game of a five-game series with the Miami (FL) this fall at home as well. USF will host North Carolina State in 2014, have a two-game home-and-home with Indiana in 2015 and 2016 (at USF, at Indiana) and play at Florida sometime in the future.
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)
Bill Belichick and Rex Ryan are rivals in the AFC East, but they both had an eye for Big East talent Wednesday.

The Patriots coach was in Storrs, Conn., to check out Connecticut's pro day, while the Jets head man was in Dallas at SMU.

When Nick Williams was learning the slot position last season, UConn coach Paul Pasqualoni had compared his potential to that of former New England star Wes Welker, making the sight of Belichick all the more surreal for him.
"That was pretty interesting," Williams said, according to the Hartford Courant. "I was fired up when I found out he was coming. An opportunity to work out in front of him is not something you can do every day. I was very fired up, especially with — although I think they're a little lofty — the Welker comparisons."

Williams ran an unofficial 4.56 in the 40-yard-dash Wednesday, while cornerback Blidi Wreh-Wilson, likely the first Husky to be taken in next month's NFL draft, improved his combine time from 4.53 to to unofficial times of 4.40 and 4.32.

The Mustangs, meanwhile, hosted reps from 21 NFL teams, including Ryan, who was there to work out potential first-round pick Margus Hunt.

Hunt chose to stand on his numbers from the combine, though others made an impression, including teammate Zach Line, who ran a 4.72-second 40 against the wind and a 4.62 with it.

Receiver Darius Johnson also stood out, running the 40 in 4.65 and 4.56, respectively, while notching 33 inches in the vertical jump. Defensive tackle Torlan Pittman led the team on the bench with 42 reps of 225 pounds.
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 signing day recap

February, 6, 2013
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No flashy headlines across the Big East on signing day. But no real major surprises, either.

It was a ho-hum kinda day for a league that has had a lot of ho-hum kinda days recently. Last year, at least the Big East had one program ranked in the ESPN RecruitingNation Top 25 at the end of signing day -- Rutgers at No. 24.

This year? Nada. Rutgers is highest ranked -- at No. 36. Of the 10 schools that will be playing in the Big East in 2013, Louisville inked the highest-rated prospect -- ESPN 150 receiver James Quick. But Louisville is not long for the Big East world, so future signing days could feature some slim pickings among the top prospects in the nation.

But that is for another day. For today, here are links to the signing classes for the 10 programs that will be playing in the Big East in 2013. Good bye, Pitt and Syracuse. Hello, UCF, Houston, Memphis and SMU.

Big East recruiting primer

February, 6, 2013
2/06/13
7:00
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ESPN RecruitingNation has signing day covered. Follow ESPNU’s coverage, chat with analysts and get breaking news on our Signing Day Live page beginning at 7:30 a.m. ET through 7 p.m. ET. For more on what to expect on signing day, check out the Big East conference breakdown Insider.

Bold Prediction for the Big East: The conference will continue its descent toward obscurity as fewer high-end prospects consider the Big East an attractive first option.

Cincinnati
Biggest need: The Bearcats need help in the secondary, at receiver and on the defensive line, where they lost anchor Dan Giordano at end.
Biggest recruit: Florida-bred quarterback Tyler Cogswell was recruited to play tight end for the Bearcats. Cincy landed him after Arkansas pulled its offer late.

Connecticut
Biggest need: Seniors Jory Johnson and Sio Moore are gone from the corps of linebackers. Depth is also needed at running back.
Biggest recruit: Outside linebacker Jalen Stevens is a steal for the Huskies, who went into SEC country and found a defensive playmaker who looked at schools from the South to the West.

Houston
Biggest need: The Cougars were young last season at most spots but lose a lot up front on defense, including three of their top four tackles. And they want another quarterback.
Biggest recruit: Joseph Glenn has a typical Texas running back pedigree. He’s productive, quick and he’s got a burst that makes him a threat to score from anywhere on the field.

Louisville
Biggest need: Star quarterback Teddy Bridgewater returns for his junior year, but the Cardinals must find an heir apparent. They need to restock at running back, too.
Biggest recruit: A top athlete from one of the nation’s best prep programs in Charlie Strong’s backyard, receiver James Quick was a necessity for the Cardinals. He had offers from Alabama and Ohio State.

Memphis
Biggest need: The Tigers, moving to the Big East from Conference USA, are looking to replenish the secondary and the offensive line, where they return only six players with experience.
Biggest recruit: Quarterback Brayden Scott, a midterm signee, picked the Tigers over Arkansas, Missouri and Tennessee, among others. He has a chance to be the future in Memphis.

Rutgers
Biggest need: The Scarlet Knights boasted plenty of experience at receiver and in the defensive backfield. Not next season.
Biggest recruit: Athlete Nadir Barnwell possesses the skill set that Rutgers will need to stay ahead in the Big East. He’s a difference-maker in the league’s best recruiting class.

South Florida
Biggest need: Under new coach Willie Taggart, the Bulls prioritized finding help at running back, in the secondary and at quarterback after the loss of top recruit Asiantii Woulard.
Biggest recruit: Eric Mayes’ long list of offers illustrates his potential. As a defensive end, he may mark the Bulls’ best athlete since Jason Pierre-Paul.

SMU
Biggest need: Running back Zach Line leaves a big hole for the Mustangs as they shift from Conference USA. Help is also needed up front on defense.
Biggest recruit: Running back Traylon Shead will play immediately out of junior college. He’s big, runs downhill and signed in December.

Temple
Biggest need: The Owls were young at receiver and on the offensive line last season but need depth in both areas. Lots of experience is gone from the secondary.
Biggest recruit: Running back Zaire Williams showed excellent big-play ability in New Jersey and should compete right away for time at the next level.

UCF
Biggest need: A Conference USA transfer, the Golden Knights want bodies on the defensive line and depth at quarterback.
Biggest recruit: Defensive end Seyvon Lowry fills a need and sends a message that UCF can compete for prospects in the Big East and even occasionally beat an SEC team.

Instant analysis: SMU 43, Fresno State 10

December, 24, 2012
12/24/12
11:53
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SMU pulled off the upset in Honolulu, and the Mustangs made it look fairly easy. Coach June Jones escaped his old stomping grounds with a 43-10 victory over Fresno State to win the Sheraton Hawai'i Bowl. Here's how it went down:

It was over when: Margus Hunt sacked Derek Carr on third-and-24 for a safety early in the second quarter. A little more than five minutes later, Zach Line rushed for an 8-yard touchdown to give the Mustangs a 19-0 lead, which was more than enough Monday.

Game ball goes to: Hunt, SMU's 6-foot-8, 280-pound defensive end, went out with a bang in the first half alone, recording three sacks, two forced fumbles and notching the second-quarter safety.

Stat of the game: Hayden Greenbauer notched an 83-yard pick-six with 1:14 to go, putting an exclamation point on the night for SMU. The score gave the Mustangs eight interception returns for a touchdown this season, tying last year's Southern Miss team for the NCAA single-season record.

Unsung hero of the game: SMU's defense held Fresno State to more than 30 points below its season average, and it made the Bulldogs one-dimensional early, outrushing them by a 169-to-minus-24 margin.

What it means: SMU put on arguably its most complete performance of the season and won its final two games to finish above .500, at 7-6. Now, it preps -- for this moment, at least -- to take its football program to the Big East next season. Fresno State, meanwhile, saw its five-game winning streak snapped in a four-turnover performance.

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