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Wednesday, August 23, 2006
5 predictions for the Big East season

By Mark Schlabach

The Big East has two teams, Louisville and West Virginia, with serious BCS aspirations.

Four players from the league -- Cardinals quarterback Brian Brohm and tailback Michael Bush and Mountaineers quarterback Pat White and tailback Steve Slaton -- are each legitimate Heisman Trophy candidates.

The coaches from those teams, Bobby Petrino and Rich Rodriguez, are two of the hottest names in the coaching profession.

So much for the Big East collapsing after it lost Boston College, Miami and Virginia Tech to the ACC.

The realigned conference begins its second football season with new bowl agreements with games in Birmingham, Ala., and El Paso, Texas. If those destinations aren't exotic enough, Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese secured a spot for one of his league's teams in the International Bowl in Toronto. Now that's thinking outside the borders. Here are five predictions for the Big East:

1. Miami will beat Louisville on Sept. 16. The Cardinals will beat West Virginia on Nov. 2 (ESPN, 7:30 p.m ET). Neither Big East team will lose another regular-season game and each will play in BCS bowl games in January. Louisville will win the Big East and receive the league's automatic berth; West Virginia will receive an at-large berth.

2. Louisville's Brohm will outshine West Virginia's White and be named Big East Player of the Year. White is one of the most dangerous quarterbacks in the league because of his ability to scramble and run for yards. But Brohm is a more polished passer, although White has improved his throwing. Both players will be invited to New York as Heisman Trophy finalists. Neither will win, but Brohm will be the No. 1 pick by the Oakland Raiders in next year's NFL draft.

3. Fresh off his team's Big East championship and BCS berth, Petrino's name will pop up in searches at more than a half-dozen big-time schools and at least one NFL franchise. This time, however, Petrino will adamantly tell those schools, "No, thank you," and really mean it. Louisville gave its coach a 10-year, $25.5 million contract extension during the offseason. Petrino will honor it, at least the first two seasons.

4. Pittsburgh will go bowling. The Panthers were within one victory of playing in the postseason in Dave Wannstedt's first season coaching his alma mater in 2005. With quarterback Tyler Palko bouncing back from an up-and-down junior season, and linebacker H.B. Blades and cornerback Darrelle Revis leading an improved defense, the Panthers will get off to a hot 5-1 start and finish 7-5. Rutgers and Connecticut will play in the postseason, too.

5. The Big East will flex its growing muscles against the ACC, the conference that raided three of its best teams. Connecticut will beat Wake Forest on Sept. 16. Pittsburgh will wallop Virginia in its Sept. 2 opener (ESPNU, 7 p.m. ET) with players from the Panthers' 1976 national championship team watching. Rutgers will upset North Carolina on the road the same weekend, and West Virginia will beat Maryland on national television on Sept. 14 (ESPN, 7:30 p.m. ET).

Mark Schlabach covers college football and men's college basketball for You can contact him at