The most popular question I have been asked since taking over for BB is where I rank the Big East teams. I spent the week going back and forth on this, and now I give to you my post-spring Power Rankings. Please remember, these are subject to change as we head into August.
1. West Virginia. I think the consensus is that the Mountaineers are going to be the preseason pick to win the league. The excitement over the hiring of Dana Holgorsen as offensive coordinator, coupled with Geno Smith and Tavon Austin, has folks believing in the Mountaineers. On defense, Bruce Irvin is my preseason choice for defensive player of the year after a terrific 2010. But there are some reasons to pause -- both offensive and defensive lines have some question marks that need to be answered in the fall.
2. Pittsburgh. I might be way too high on Pittsburgh right now, but I saw what Todd Graham did at Tulsa (and Rice!) and I am an early believer. I know folks question whether Tino Sunseri can run the no-huddle attack, but he will be placed in situations to succeed, and having Ray Graham in his backfield will help. So will a solid offensive line that should benefit from Chris Jacobson's move to center. The defensive line is solid as well. In fact, a big reason I have Pitt up here is because it has the potential to be the best team in the trenches.
3. USF. I see why BB was high on the Bulls. If B.J. Daniels continues to develop the way he did toward the end of last season, they could have a shot at the championship. One point to remember about him -- he just finished spring in the same system as the season before for the first time in his career. Darrell Scott could be a big contributor at running back, and there is plenty of talent at receiver. Now those wideouts have to prove it.
4a. Louisville. I realize the Cardinals lost 25 seniors, including Bilal Powell, and have some question marks at quarterback and cornerback. But Charlie Strong did a heck of a job in his first year getting a team that went 4-8 into a bowl game and to finish above .500. There is plenty of potential here, especially if Victor Anderson returns to 2008 form. But some questions have to be answered first.
4b. Syracuse. I know. I am indecisive here. But hey, this is the Big East, where three-way ties are usually the rule, not the exception. I like what the Orange have returning on offense, even without Delone Carter. The big question is the defense without several players, most notably Doug Hogue and Derrell Smith. There are also are questions at defensive tackle. So my defensive concerns outweigh my hopes for the offense right now.
6. Cincinnati. I love the potential of the offense here with Zach Collaros, Isaiah Pead, D.J. Woods and all the talent at the skill positions. The big question, of course, is the defense. Will there be improvement over the performance last season? There are some depth issues as well. Plus, there is no kicker right now, so there are some questions about the Bearcats headed into the season.
7. Connecticut. I know, I know. How can I downgrade the league's BCS representative to No. 7? I just have too many questions on offense. The Huskies will not return their leading passer, rusher or receiver from a year ago, and they have a new coach and new coordinators. However, the defense and special teams will be solid, so there is a chance they can win without doing much on offense the way they did last year.
8. Rutgers. There is potential for Rutgers, no question. The receiver position is stacked, Chas Dodd has picked up the new offensive scheme well and many have high expectations for Savon Huggins at running back. There were plenty of position moves made on offense and defense that should improve the team. But questions have to be resolved on both the offensive and defensive lines.