What we learned in the Big East this spring

Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett
What did we learn during our Big East spring fling? Let us count the ways.

1. Defense first: The Big East lost a lot of offensive star power to NFL and graduation, including four of the league's top six rushers in 2008 and all but two members (Mardy Gilyard and Nate Byham) of the first team all-league offense. Some of the strongest units in the conference this season figure to be on the defensive side, where Rutgers, Pittsburgh, West Virginia, Connecticut and South Florida all look solid. This may be a year of lower-scoring, physical grinders in league play.

2. Mighty mites rule: For whatever reason, many of the playmakers who have emerged in the Big East could all apply for a 6-foot-and-under league. There are holdovers like West Virginia's Noel Devine (5-foot-8) and Louisville's Victor Anderson (5-9). Pittsburgh's Dion Lewis (5-8, on a good day) has emerged as LeSean McCoy's possible successor, while UConn may look to Jordan Todman (5-9) to fill Donald Brown's cleats. Antwon Bailey (5-8) should get a lot of carries at Syracuse, while Cincinnati may work Darrin Williams (5-7, if that) into the offense. If you like quick, small backs, the Big East is your nirvana.

3. QB and O-lines remain a concern: A few dilemmas got resolved in the spring, but many more remain at some of the vital offensive positions. Two legitimate contenders, West Virginia and South Florida, have major question marks on the offensive line, while Pitt, Rutgers, Louisville, Syracuse and Connecticut don't have firmly established starting quarterbacks heading into the fall.

4. Youth will be served: More players are seeing the field right away as freshmen across America these days, and we could be watching dozens of first-year guys making an impact in the Big East. Just about every school in the conference is counting on newcomers as reinforcements this summer. South Florida coach Jim Leavitt has said as many as 20 members of his recruiting class could play in '09. West Virginia figures to plug in several freshmen at the skill positions, while UConn will look for some immediate receiver help. Pitt might start a true freshman (Lewis) at running back, Rutgers could add freshmen to help its defensive front, not to mention possibly Tom Savage at quarterback, and Syracuse and Louisville will play anyone with skill. This looks like a transitional year in the Big East, where the next young wave of stars begins to replace the veteran big names (Pat White, Donald Brown, LeSean McCoy, Mike Teel, Kenny Britt, Scott McKillop, etc.) that left after '08.

5. Nobody knows anything: Across the Big East this spring, every coach privately wondered who the favorite would be in 2009. Only a psychic would dare try to list the order of finish in the league this coming season. The conference may enter the year without a frontrunner and without a preseason Top 25 team in the bunch, but several teams should improve as the season goes along. This could be the most unpredictable -- and therefore fun -- year ever in the Big East.