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Sunday, March 25, 2007
Updated: March 26, 12:52 PM ET
Spring look around the Big East

By Joe Starkey
Special to

Will Brian Kelly's attack attract fans to Cincinnati? Can Steve Kragthorpe keep Louisville flying high? Will Greg Robinson get Syracuse turned around? Our Big East notebook addresses those questions and much more.

Cincinnati Bearcats
Coach: Brian Kelly, 1st season
Age: 44
Record at school: 0-0
Big picture: Cincinnati's administration wasted no time replacing Mark Dantonio, who left for Michigan State, with Central Michigan coach Brian Kelly, who received a five-year contract that guarantees him $800,000 per season but could pay significantly more in incentives. According to The Cincinnati Enquirer, those incentives include $100,000 if the Bearcats play in a bowl game. Kelly also has attendance-based incentives -- and increasing local interest is the biggest issue facing this program. The hope is that his wide-open offense will attract more fans to Nippert Stadium, where the Bearcats routinely play to minuscule crowds. The team was last in the Big East in attendance in 2006.

Connecticut Huskies
Coach: Randy Edsall, 9th season
Age: 48
Record at school: 41-51
Big picture: Edsall is coming off perhaps the toughest year of his tenure. UConn was expected to bounce back from a rough 2005 season but finished a game worse (4-9) and was hampered by off-the-field issues. Still, Edsall deserves high marks for presiding over a smooth transition from Division I-AA to I-A in his second season and another big move in 2004, when UConn joined the Big East a year earlier than expected. In September of '04, he was rewarded with a six-year deal reportedly worth $5.3 million. Edsall's downfall the past two years, besides injuries, has been inconsistent quarterback play. The program won't turn the corner until it finds its next quarterback.

Louisville Cardinals
Coach: Steve Kragthorpe, 1st season
Age: 41
Record at school: 0-0
Big picture: This is a much different gig than the one Kragthorpe inherited at Tulsa, which had lost 21 of its past 22 games before his arrival. At Louisville, the expectation is to challenge for a national championship in Year 1. Kragthorpe has the horses, thanks to his predecessor, Bobby Petrino. A long-time friend of athletic director Tom Jurich, Kragthorpe was the immediate choice to replace Petrino. He signed a five-year contract that reportedly pays $1.1 million per season. If he stays for the full five years, he will earn an additional $2.25 million. Kragthorpe won his first two big recruiting battles at Louisville, helping to convince his star quarterback, Brian Brohm, to eschew the NFL draft, and his future quarterback, Matt Simms, to re-commit to the school. Now, he'll have to win just about every game to keep folks happy.

Pittsburgh Panthers
Coach: Dave Wannstedt, 3rd season
Age: 54
Record at school: 11-12
Big picture: Wannstedt begins year three of his five-year contract without a bowl appearance and needing to replace quarterback Tyler Palko, linebacker H.B. Blades and cornerback Darrelle Revis. People who track recruiting for a living say Wannstedt has reeled in a couple of nationally competitive classes, the latest headlined by quarterback Pat Bostick and running back LeSean McCoy. Wannstedt's first high-pressure year to win big will be 2008. He has the unwavering support of Pitt's administration, which rightly views the team's trip to the Fiesta Bowl in Walt Harris' final season as a fluke and not something Wannstedt should have been expected to duplicate immediately. A bowl game of some kind would be nice, though.

Rutgers Scarlet Knights
Coach: Greg Schiano, 7th season
Age: 40
Record at school: 30-41
Big picture: One more good season, and Schiano might own the state of New Jersey. After the Scarlet Knights went 11-2 last season and Miami came calling for Schiano, the administration at Rutgers re-worked his deal for the second consecutive year. This time, he agreed to a four-year extension that runs through 2016 and increases his annual compensation to $1.5 million. It's only natural that Scarlet Knights fans will continue to worry about Schiano's next career move -- particularly if the Penn State job ever becomes available -- but they will be celebrating plenty more victories in the meantime. Schiano's rebuilding efforts have resulted in some big-time prospects committing to the school, and the team appears to be loaded for the upcoming season.

South Florida Bulls
Coach: Jim Leavitt, 11th season
Age: 50
Record at school: 70-43
Big picture: The only coach in school history continues to draw interest from other schools and continues to stay committed to finishing what he started. Leavitt, who began USF's football program working out of a trailer in 1995, signed a seven-year, $7 million contract in November of 2005. Although he's dealing with several staff changes this spring, but Leavitt's program appears to be on a steady rise. Over the past two seasons, the Bulls have at least one victory over every other team in the Big East. They also have a big-time quarterback in Matt Grothe. If Leavitt can find himself a tailback -- and he might have one in freshman Mike Ford -- the Bulls might become a hot commodity at Raymond James Stadium, where they would like to attract more fans.

Syracuse Orange
Coach: Greg Robinson, 3rd season
Age: 55
Record at school: 5-18
Big picture: Horrific is the only way to describe Robinson's first two seasons, but the talent level is improving. Athletic director Dr. Daryl J. Gross mentioned a "long-term commitment" when Robinson was hired before the 2005 season. How long that commitment extends could be directly related to how one of Robinson's first big recruits performs. That would be redshirt freshman quarterback Andrew Robinson, who is slated to take the reins this season. Robinson has long been a respected a defensive coach, so the most disturbing aspect of his first two seasons has been the Orange's inability to stop anyone. They ranked 107th out of 119 Division I-A teams in total defense in 2006. More of the same, and the hot seat upon which Robinson sits will become downright scalding.

West Virginia Mountaineers
Coach: Rich Rodriguez, 7th season
Age: 43
Record at school: 50-24
Big picture: After a serious flirtation with Alabama, Rodriguez was rewarded with a contract extension that runs through 2014 and reportedly will make him the highest-paid coach in the Big East at close to $2 million per year. It also has been reported that Rodriguez's new buyout clause is close to $4 million, so he figures to stick around for a bit, which is great news for Mountaineers fans, who love Rodriguez's high-powered offense. WVU returns its two Heisman Trophy candidates -- quarterback Pat White and tailback Steve Slaton -- so they'll be plenty fun to watch. If Rodriguez can solve the defensive problems, his team could challenge for a national championship.

Joe Starkey covers the Big East for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.