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Wednesday, February 27, 2013
Big East spring preview capsules: Part I

By Matt Fortuna

UCF KNIGHTS

Spring start: March 13

Spring game: April 13

What to watch:
  1. Bortles' progress: Blake Bortles threw for 3,059 yards with 25 touchdowns and seven interceptions last season, and he figures to be one of the better signal-callers in a Big East that has few consistent returning standouts outside of Teddy Bridgewater.
  2. Replacing Ishmael and McDuffie: UCF loses arguably its two best players in Kemal Ishmael -- who was the Conference USA defensive player of the year and team MVP, notching 124 total tackles and three interceptions -- and Quincy McDuffie, who was the C-USA special-teams player of the year and offensive team MVP.
  3. Beginning the transition: You voted UCF as the newcomer most likely to succeed in the Big East in 2013, and the Knights do seem to be the most ready of the C-USA newcomers. They won 10 games last season, play arguably the toughest nonconference schedule annually of the newcomers, and will have the most natural rival in USF.
CINCINNATI BEARCATS

Spring start: March 1

Spring game: April 6 (open practice), spring ends April 13

What to watch:
  1. The Tommy Tuberville era kicks off: Tuberville's stint at Cincinnati got off to an unceremonious start publicly, but Cincinnati got a proven coach who has had plenty of offensive success. The school has usually been a step up the ladder for coaches -- the past three of whom left after three successful seasons each -- but the Bearcats have gone in another direction this time.
  2. The ground game: Cincinnati faced the same question last year upon losing Big East offensive player of the year Isaiah Pead. George Winn ended up outproducing Pead. Who will replace Winn this year? Ralph David Abernathy IV is the most proven returner, but he does not fit the mold of an every-down back. Regardless, with all five offensive line starters back, the transition figures to be relatively smooth, if not as productive.
  3. Defensive line production: Cincinnati got used to playing without Walter Stewart, but it also loses Dan Giordano, who had five sacks in 2012. Although its 31 sacks as a team were good for second in the Big East, the production was down from the previous season.
CONNECTICUT HUSKIES

Spring start: March 11

Spring game: April 20

What to watch:
  1. Offense under T.J. Weist: The numbers were ugly -- 110th nationally in total offense, 118th in scoring -- resulting in George DeLeone being stripped of his duties. (He's still the offensive line coach.) Weist comes over from Cincinnati, where he coached receivers the past three years.
  2. Defense under Hank Hughes: Conversely, UConn must now replace defensive coordinator Don Brown, who lifted the Huskies to 10th nationally in total defense last season. Hughes enters his 13th season on staff but is tasked with replacing a number of standouts at each position -- Trevardo Williams, Sio Moore and Blidi Wreh-Wilson, to name a few.
  3. Whitmer's growth: Chandler Whitmer returns after passing for 2,664 yards with nine touchdowns and 16 picks in 2012. He had little help up front, and there is more depth at the position this year with Scott McCummings and incoming recruits Richard Lagow and Tim Boyle, both three-star prospects.
HOUSTON COUGARS

Spring start: March 4

Spring game: April 12

What to watch:
  1. Quarterback competition: David Piland is the returning starter, having thrown for 2,929 yards with 16 touchdowns and 12 interceptions in 2012, but he will be challenged by juco transfer Billy Cosh and three-star recruit John O'Korn.
  2. Defense under David Gibbs: The Cougars' defense really has nowhere to go but up after a 2012 season that saw it finish 115th nationally, 107th in scoring, 92nd in rushing and 115th in passing -- numbers that resulted in the ouster of Jamie Bryant. Gibbs most recently worked with the NFL's Houston Texans.
  3. Building depth: The Cougars bring back 43 players from 2012, 14 of whom were starters. Throw in a 26-man recruiting class -- five of whom are currently enrolled -- and Houston can begin to build depth needed to sustain its level of play in a new, better conference.
LOUISVILLE CARDINALS

Spring start: March 20

Spring game: April 13

What to watch:
  1. Backfield options: Senorise Perry, last year's starter, will not be in full-contact practice after tearing his ACL late last season. His backup, Jeremy Wright, is not enrolled in classes. Dominique Brown, Corvin Lamb and Brandon Radcliff are the next three guys on the depth chart, although Brown is the only one to have proved much thus far.
  2. Teddy Heisman continuing arc: Bridgewater went from conference-known to nationally known in 2012, and his strong finish against Rutgers and Florida will only amplify the hype heading into this season. If Bridgewater's improvement resembles anything like that of this past season, those Heisman whispers will become much louder.
  3. Clint Hurtt's shadow: Simply put, this is an issue that isn't going away anytime soon. AD Tom Jurich stands behind the defensive line coach, whom the NCAA says provided false or misleading information during its investigation of Miami, and the situation figures to linger until this never-ending Hurricanes case is complete.