Monday, August 27, 2012
Big East preseason predictions
By Matt Fortuna
It's that time of the year again. The first games are less than a week away (and just days away, in UConn's case), so with that, I will now subject myself to endless embarrassment by forecasting how a few things will unfold in the conference this season.
1. Kyle Flood will be a hit in his first year at Rutgers. Flood has been at the school for eight years now, has kept a strong recruiting class together and will be coaching a team with arguably one of the best defenses in the country. Greg Schiano breathed life into Rutgers football like no other, but Flood may just have a chance to do in Year 1 what his predecessor never could: win a Big East title.
2. Pitt will surprise many under Paul Chryst. While on the subject of first-year head coaches … unlike esteemed colleague Kirk Herbstreit (and several others), I don't think the Panthers will win the Big East, though they may come close. Chryst likes to run the football, has great depth in the backfield -- led by possibly the best running back in the country -- and his pro-style offense makes for an easier adjustment for the players, particularly with a senior quarterback in Tino Sunseri, who has had seemingly anything and everything thrown his way so far.
3. QB play will be at its finest. Ryan Nassib, Sunseri and B.J. Daniels are seniors who have already faced a lot. Gary Nova will get a chance to be the guy at Rutgers. And, of course, there's Teddy Bridgewater, who burst onto the scene last season as a freshman. The Big East doesn't lack for talent at the position this season.
4. Daniels will finish strong. Speaking of quarterbacks … is Daniels the conference's best quarterback right now? Maybe, but this season he could erase any doubt. The four-year starter is on the cusp of several school and conference records, is more comfortable under this regime and returns all of his offensive weapons.
5. The Big East will pick up some marquee nonconference wins. That Nov. 17 USF at Miami tilt certainly comes to mind. As does Temple's Sept. 22 game at Penn State. And can Rutgers go into big, bad SEC territory that same day and escape Fayetteville with a win? Other opportunities are scattered across the schedules, but these three jump out as close ones to watch.
6. Kevin Newsome will switch positions. The Penn State quarterback transfer is way behind after arriving on campus just this month, and starter Chris Coyer has two more years. Temple's best option may be to spread the 6-foot-2, 231-pounder out wide and take advantage of his athletic ability while the Owls have him for two years.
7. The conference will finish the season with multiple ranked teams. Yup, you heard that right. Louisville enters as a preseason top-25 team, and Rutgers and USF both bring back more than enough talent to crack the rankings if they take care of business this season. It's hard to imagine more than one of them falling.
8. Cincinnati will keep rising under Butch Jones. A conference title may be a bit much to ask given all that the Bearcats lost, but a strong front seven and favorable schedule present Jones with an opportunity to get eight or nine wins out of this year's squad.
9. Syracuse will struggle to make a bowl. Frankly, most teams with the Orange's schedule would. On the cusp of bowling last year before a season-ending five-game losing streak kept them home, the Orange face USC, Missouri and two Big Ten teams, in addition to conference trips to Rutgers, USF and Cincinnati.
10. No one will leave the conference. And for my boldest prediction yet, I will go out on a limb and say that, aside from the Pitt and Syracuse jumps at the end of the year, the Big East will go untouched. Of course, not even member schools saw those two flips coming, so it's really guesswork at this point.