Five early questions for the Big East

Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett

On Tuesday, I listed five things we learned about the Big East in the spring. There's still a lot more we don't know. Here are five questions facing the league heading into the fall:

1. Will any team emerge as a national contender? It's quite likely that only one, and possibly none, of the Big East teams will begin the season in the Top 25. That's a far cry from previous years, when West Virginia and Louisville had preseason Top 10 teams and Rutgers and South Florida both moved into that lofty zip code by midseason. Big East teams don't deserve a lot of preseason love because they all have warts. But here's betting that at least one team finds answers and starts moving up the polls. Who will it be? And how high can they get?

2. Can Rutgers and Pitt get solid quarterback play? The Scarlet Knights and Panthers aren't the only teams wondering about their quarterbacks, but in my mind these are the two most important questions at that position in the league. Both Rutgers and Pitt have enough talent on defense and in other areas to be serious threats to earn the Big East's BCS bid. But Pitt must get an improved performance from Bill Stull or one of his backups, while Rutgers needs either Dom Natale or someone else to do a decent Mike Teel impression.

3. How fast can Cincinnati's defense get up to speed? I can just copy and paste the phrase "Cincinnati lost 10 defensive starters from last year" at this point because it comes up so often. We all know that. We also know the Bearcats have a new defensive coordinator (Bob Diaco) and are switching to 3-4 base. Cincinnati should have the best offense in the league heading into the season, so there will be less pressure on the defense to carry the load. A solid effort on that side of the ball might be all the Bearcats need for another BCS appearance.

4. Is this the year for South Florida? Yes, the Bulls have questions on the offensive line, in the secondary and in overall depth. But they also have seniors Matt Grothe and George Selvie, the best two players in program history to this point. And it's a wide-open race. It's time that South Florida capitalize and finally become a serious conference contender instead of merely attracting some midseason hype.

5. Can the Big East score some big nonconference wins? Given last year's success by the Mountain West and the lack of buzz for Big East teams this fall, you can bet that Big East critics will be out in force early on if the league stumbles out of the gate. It's important that the league performs well out of conference, both to fend off criticism and to get teams ranked high enough to bolster the Big East's BCS future qualifying criteria. There are plenty of opportunities, including Cincinnati's games against Oregon State and Illinois; Connecticut's dates versus North Carolina and Notre Dame; Pitt's showdowns with the Irish and NC State; South Florida's in-state feuds with Florida State and Miami; and West Virginia's games against Auburn and Colorado. The Big East doesn't have to win them all, but it needs to claim its fair share.