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Tuesday, August 11, 2009
Big East bowl predictions


Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett

We're only in August, but it's never too early to start peeking ahead to December and January.

Picking the order of the Big East finish is nearly impossible this year, so it's even more difficult to figure out where teams will be going bowling. But that's my challenge today.

One thing to remember about the Big East bowl picture is that the No. 2 team can go to the Gator Bowl and not the Sun Bowl this year, but the Gator Bowl can take Notre Dame instead of a Big East team. And I predict that's exactly what will happen, because the Irish will have a winning record but fall short of a BCS bid. That would mean only four bowl slots outside the BCS for the Big East, and it could initiate a wild postseason scramble.

Anyway, here are my postseason predictions for each team, in alphabetical order:

Cincinnati Bearcats

Bowl bound?: Count on it.

Best case: The magic continues for Brian Kelly, who has led the Bearcats to two straight seasons of double-digit wins. Tony Pike, Mardy Gilyard and the rest of the offense put up the Big East's most potent attack, and the defense holds its own. Cincinnati repeats as champs and goes to its second straight BCS game.

Worst case: Cincinnati gets behind the eight-ball early with losses at Rutgers, at Oregon State and at South Florida. The Bearcats struggle late and fall to West Virginia, Illinois and Pitt to finish 6-6 and hope for help to avoid staying home.

My prediction: Papajohns.com Bowl

Connecticut Huskies

Bowl bound? Possibly

Best case: The new no-huddle offense is a smashing success, finally adding offensive production to Randy Edsall's solid formula of defense and fundamentals. Like in 2007, the Huskies work their way into a tie for the regular-season crown and go to the Gator Bowl when Notre Dame makes the BCS.

Worst case: UConn doesn't have the players to make the new offensive system fit, and the loss of star power to the NFL (Donald Brown, Darius Butler, Cody Brown, Will Beatty) proves too much to overcome. The Huskies either don't make a bowl or have to hope for an at-large berth somewhere.

My prediction: Independence Bowl (at-large)

Louisville Cardinals

Bowl bound?: Forget about it

Best case: The Cardinals surprise everybody by becoming a factor in the league, reversing Steve Kragthorpe's reputation with a 7-5 season and a trip to St. Petersburg.

Worst case: The questions on the offensive line, defensive line and at quarterback have negative answers. Louisville doesn't sniff a bowl for the third straight year.

My prediction: Home for the holidays.

Pittsburgh Panthers

Bowl bound?: Count on it

Best case: It finally all comes together for Dave Wannstedt, as the talented Panthers ride their defense and get just enough plays from the quarterback spot to win the Big East and go to the BCS.

Worst case: The combination of losing LeSean McCoy and not having a star quarterback tips the scale the other way for a team that usually plays close games anyway. Pitt makes the postseason but has to settle for a lesser locale.

My prediction: Meineke Car Care Bowl

Rutgers Scarlet Knights

Bowl bound?: Count on it

Best case: Rutgers puts it all together, using its advantageous schedule to hammer out 10 wins and its first Big East crown. It's on to the BCS.

Worst case: It would be nearly impossible not to qualify for a bowl with Rutgers' schedule. Only a full-scale implosion would keep the Scarlet Knights from anything less than seven wins.

My prediction: Sugar Bowl

South Florida Bulls

Bowl bound?: Possibly

Best case: The Bulls finally play as well in October and November as they do in September and have their breakthrough year. The star power of Matt Grothe and George Selvie, combined with an influx of highly-athletic newcomers, leads South Florida to its first league championship and into the BCS.

Worst case: Why do I list the Bulls' postseason chances as only possible? Because they play two FCS teams. Which means if they lose to Florida State and Miami and go 3-4 in the Big East (remember they were just 2-5 a year ago), then they will finish 6-6 and won't be eligible for a bowl.

My prediction: International Bowl

Syracuse Orange

Bowl bound?: Forget about it

Best case: Doug Marrone works miracles in his first year, and Greg Paulus becomes the best story in college football. The Orange pull off an early upset against their troika of Big Ten opponents, then scrape together three Big East wins for a 6-6 campaign. Some bowl offers an at-large spot, hoping to capitalize on the Paulus curiosity factor.

Worst case: Four years of cellar-dwelling can't be reversed overnight. Syracuse is eliminated from bowl contention before October is over.

My prediction: Home for the holidays

West Virginia Mountaineers

Bowl bound?: Count on it.

Best case: The Big East champs of 2005 and 2007 continue their odd-year pattern. Jarrett Brown makes people forget Pat White, Noel Devine runs wild and the defense is ruthless as the Mountaineers reestablish their Big East dominance on the way to another Sugar Bowl showdown against the SEC.

Worst case: West Virginia will make a bowl; it always does, and its fan base guarantees ticket sales. But the Mountaineers finish in the middle of the pack of the Big East, and fans have to
trudge off to Birmingham or Toronto for what feels like a poor consolation prize.

My prediction: St. Petersburg Bowl.