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Tuesday, May 15, 2007
Updated: May 17, 10:34 AM ET
Breaking down the Big East

By Mark Schlabach
ESPN.com

Will Louisville win its second straight conference championship? Can Brian Brohm or Ray Rice win the Heisman Trophy? Will newcomer Pat Bostick earn the starting QB job at Pitt? Can Rutgers replace Brian Leonard? Take a look at what Big East questions were answered this spring and what problems linger heading into the fall.

Cincinnati Bearcats
2007 Schedule
Aug. 30 Southeast Missouri State
Sept. 6 Oregon State
Sept. 15 at Miami (Ohio)
Sept. 22 Marshall
Sept. 29 at San Diego State
Oct. 6 at Rutgers
Oct. 13 Louisville
Oct. 20 at Pittsburgh
Nov. 3 at South Florida
Nov. 10 Connecticut
Nov. 17 West Virginia
Nov. 24 at Syracuse

2006 overall record:
8-5
Conference record:
4-3

Returning starters
Offense: 7, Defense: 8, Kicker/punter: 0

Top returners
QB Dustin Grutza, RB Greg Moore, WR Dominick Goodman, WR Derrick Stewart, OT Jeff Linkenbach, OT Digger Bujnoch, G Trevor Canfield, DT Terrill Byrd, DE Trevor Anderson, CB Mike Mickens, S Haruki Nakamura
Key losses
CB John Bowie, LB Kevin McCullough, K Kevin Lovell, TE Brent Celek, QB Nick Davilla, C Jeff Reinstatler, SS Dominic Ross, G Frank Straub
Top newcomer: WR Adrien Robinson Insider
2006 statistical leaders (*returners)
Rushing: Greg Moore* (709 yds)
Passing: Dustin Grutza* (1,632 yds)
Receiving: Brent Celek (481 yds)
Tackles: Kevin McCullough (72)
Sacks: Trevor Anderson* (6)
Interceptions: Dominic Ross (4)

Spring answers: 1. More spread to the offense: Former Central Michigan coach Brian Kelly, who guided the Bearcats to a 27-24 victory over Western Michigan shortly after taking the job, spent much of the spring installing the spread offense. It is a drastic change from the prodding running game utilized by former coach Mark Dantonio. The quarterbacks will throw a lot more, receivers will be asked to make more plays and running backs will have to block and catch. And the offensive line moves to a zone blocking scheme.

2. Strong up front: The Bearcats ranked in the top five in the Big East in rushing defense, scoring defense, pass defense and total defense last season. Three of four starters are back on the defensive front, led by end Trevor Anderson and tackle Terrill Byrd. Anderson had 13 tackles for loss and six sacks in 2006, and Byrd had 31 tackles and 8½ tackles for loss. Seniors Angelo Craig and Anthony Hoke were competing for a starting end spot in the spring.

3. Experienced running backs: The Bearcats return three accomplished runners, including senior Greg Moore, who led the team with 709 yards in 2006. Senior Butler Benton, who had 497 rushing yards last season, also is back. Senior Bradley Glatthaar, who led the team with 620 yards in 2005, also returns. The running backs will be asked to do much more than run in Kelly's offense. John Goebel and Jacob Ramsey, who played defense last season, were moved back to offense and were impressive in the spring.

4. Wide receivers: There is talent at receiver, but the coaching staff is looking for more consistent playmakers. Junior Dominick Goodman had a team-high 40 catches last season, including seven for 109 yards and two touchdowns in the International Bowl. Junior Derrick Stewart is the team's fastest player, averaging more than 20 yards per catch in 2006. Senior Earnest Jackson has 68 catches in his career and also returns. Mike Daniels, a former running back who missed all of last season with a knee injury, moved to receiver during the spring and might help.

5. Line shuffling: Three starters are back on the offensive line, but new line coach/offensive coordinator Jeff Quinn shuffled a lot of players during the spring. Senior Digger Bujnoch moved from right tackle to left tackle, and junior Trevor Canfield went from right guard to left guard. Junior Mario Duenas was the top player at right guard during the spring, and senior Chris Flores was in line to replace departed Jeff Reinstatler at center. Sophomore Jeff Linkenbach was at right tackle.

Fall questions: 1. Starting quarterback: Junior Dustin Grutza started the first 10 games last season, then was hurt and lost his starting job to departed Nick Davila. Grutza, who completed more than 60 percent of his passes while throwing for 1,632 yards with nine touchdowns and 13 interceptions in 2006, left spring practice as the No. 1 quarterback. He completed 17 of 23 passes for 114 yards and no interceptions. Sophomores Craig Carey and Tony Pike remained in the competition, and Wake Forest transfer Ben Mauck joins the battle this fall. Mauck, who is recovering from two surgeries on his shoulder, will be eligible to play immediately for Cincinnati.

2. Replacing McCullough: Two of three linebackers are back, but replacing All-Big East middle linebacker Kevin McCullough is a tough act. McCullough led the team with 72 tackles and 14½ tackles for loss. Sophomore Andre Revels and junior Delbert Ferguson were battling to replace him. On the outside, three players (returning starters Leo Morgan and Corey Smith and junior Ryan Manalac) were fighting for two starting spots.

3. Secondary holes: Cornerback Mike Mickens, a second team All-Big East selection in 2006, and free safety Haruki Nakamura return to lead a secondary that must replace two starters. Departed cornerback John Bowie was the fastest player in the Big East and had two interceptions last season. Strong safety Dominic Ross was a physical tackler. DeAngelo Smith, the third cornerback last season, should move into a starting role. Junior Cedric Tolbert and sophomore Aaron Webster were battling for the safety spot.

4. No tight ends: Replacing Brent Celek, who led all Big East tight ends with 35 catches last season, was difficult enough. But then junior Connor Barwin tore ligaments in his left ankle while playing pickup basketball, and sophomore Kazeem Alli hurt his knee. Both players missed all of spring practice. Doug Jones, who moved back to tight end from fullback, is a sure-handed receiver with 47 career catches.

5. Special teams: The Bearcats lost kicker Kevin Lovell, punter Brian Steel and long snapper Patrick Farsing. Redshirt freshman Jake Rogers won the placekicking job during the spring, and Kevin Huber takes over at punter. Walk-on Jason Kelce was battling for the long-snapping job.

Connecticut Huskies
2007 Schedule
Sept. 1 at Duke
Sept. 8 Maine
Sept. 15 Temple
Sept. 22 at Pitt
Sept. 29 Akron
Oct. 13 at Virginia
Oct. 19 Louisville
Oct. 27 South Florida
Nov. 3 Rutgers
Nov. 10 at Cincinnati
Nov. 17 Syracuse
Nov. 24 at West Virginia

2006 overall record:
4-8
Conference record:
1-6

Returning starters
Offense: 7, Defense: 6, Kicker/punter: 1

Top returners
RB Donald Brown, WR Terence Jeffers, WR Brad Kanuch, G Donald Thomas, TE Steve Brouse, DT Dan Davis, LB Danny Lansanah, LB Ryan Henegan, CB Darius Butler, CB Tyvon Branch
Key losses
DT Ray Blagman, TE Dan Murray, RB Terry Caulley, QB Matt Bonislawski, G Immanuel Hutcherson, LB Donta Moore, FB Deon Anderson, G/T Matt Applebaum, DT Rhema Fuller, S M.J. Estep
Top newcomer: WR Jonathan Jean-Louis Insider
2006 statistical leaders (*returners)
Rushing: Donald Brown II* (896 yds)
Passing: D.J. Hernandez* (849 yds)
Receiving: Brandon Young (263 yds)
Tackles: Danny Lansanah* (99)
Sacks: Cody Brown* (4½)
Interceptions: Danny Lansanah* and Darius Butler* (4)

Spring answers: 1. Deep at running back: Sophomore Donald Brown is back after taking the Big East by storm as a freshman. He averaged 134.6 yards in five Big East starts and finished with 896 yards and seven touchdowns. Junior Lou Allen, who had 230 rushing yards and five touchdowns in 2006, also returns. Those two players didn't see much action during the spring. Sophomores Andre Dixon (21 carries for 100 yards in spring game) and Robert McClain III (18 carries for 109 yards) did most of the running in their absence.

2. Talented young receivers: Sophomores Terence Jeffers and Brad Kanuch played significant roles as freshmen, combining for 30 catches and three touchdowns in 16 combined starts. Senior Larry Taylor also returns after leading the team with 29 catches last season. Juniors Ellis Gaulden (foot injury during spring) and Robert Theoudele provide depth.

3. Hernandez on the move: Junior D.J. Hernandez, who led the Huskies to three of their four wins in 2006 while playing quarterback, moved to slot receiver during the spring. Hernandez seemed to be the odd man out in a crowded quarterback battle, so he asked coach Randy Edsall for the move. Hernandez adjusted quickly, catching two passes for 46 yards in the spring game. He might challenge Taylor for the starting slot receiver spot during the fall.

4. Speedy cornerbacks return: Senior Tyvon Branch and junior Darius Butler are two of the fastest and most experienced cornerbacks returning in the Big East. Butler intercepted four passes in each of his first two seasons at Connecticut. They have combined to play in 57 games. Sophomore Robert Vaughn, who was forced into action last season, returns at free safety. Freshman Aaron Bagsby and senior Donnell Ford were battling at strong safety.

5. Linebackers: Seniors Danny Lansanah and Ryan Henegan, the team's top two tacklers in 2006, are both back. Lansanah is a three-year starter in the middle. Henegan returns on the weak side, and redshirt freshman Scott Lutrus and Greg Robinson Jr. were battling on the strong side. Lutrus had nine tackles and three interceptions (he returned two for touchdowns) in the spring game. Freshman Jarrell Miller, who is believed to be the first Parade Magazine All-American to sign with UConn, was the backup middle linebacker at the end of spring.

Fall questions: 1. Starting quarterback: JUCO All-American Tyler Lorenzen, a former walk-on receiver at Iowa State, seemed to be on his way to winning the quarterback job until a knee injury cut short his spring. Last season, Lorenzen threw for 2,960 yards with 26 touchdowns and only three interceptions at Palomar Community College near San Diego. Sophomore Dennis Brown, who redshirted last season after playing as a freshman in 2005, is still competing for the job. He completed 17 of 35 passes for 241 yards with one touchdown and three interceptions in the spring game.

2. Offensive line rotation: Because of injuries, the Huskies started nine offensive linemen last season. Two players who started the 2006 finale against Louisville are gone: right guard Immanuel Hutcherson and right tackle Matt Applebaum. Sophomore Dan Ryan was bothered by a sprained ankle during the spring, so junior William Beatty and redshirt freshman Zach Hurd were battling at left tackle. Sophomore Lawrence Green, a converted defensive tackle, was leading at left guard. Junior Keith Gray, who missed most of 2006 with a shoulder injury, is back at center. Donald Thomas and Alex LaMagdelaine, who played center last season, are battling at right guard. Sophomore Mike Hicks and Hurd were competing at right tackle.

3. Where's the beef: With starting defensive tackle Ray Blagman and Rhema Fuller departing, the Huskies moved senior Dan Davis from end to tackle before the spring. He missed spring drills while recovering from surgery to repair cartilage damage in his left knee. Junior Rob Lunn and sophomore Brandon Dillon were competing at the other tackle spot. Sophomore Lindsey Witten, redshirt freshman Mike Cox and junior Julius Williams, a converted linebacker, were competing for the two end spots. Junior end Cody Brown was held out of spring practice for academic reasons.

4. Off-field problems: The Huskies have endured a plethora of off-field issues. Receiver Brandon McLean was suspended in April after he was arrested twice in a week. Also, three returning starters (guard Immanuel Hutcherson, safety Dahna Deleston and outside linebacker Donta Moore) left the team. Edsall indicated the departures were caused by academic problems. Hutcherson started 22 games the last two seasons combined. Moore was fourth on the team in tackles in 2006, and Deleston was fifth.

5. Special teams: The Huskies' top two kickers were a combined 5-for-14 on field goal tries last season. Tony Ciaravino, who was 2-for-2 with a long of 29 yards, did most of the place-kicking in spring practice. Desi Cullen, who figures to take over the punting and handle kickoffs, also tried field goals. Incoming freshman Dave Teggart might get a chance to win the job this fall.

Louisville Cardinals
2007 Schedule
Aug. 30 Murray State
Sept. 6 Middle Tennessee State
Sept. 15 at Kentucky
Sept. 22 Syracuse
Sept. 29 at NC State
Oct. 5 Utah
Oct. 13 at Cincinnati
Oct. 19 at Connecticut
Oct. 27 Pittsburgh
Nov. 8 at West Virginia
Nov. 17 at South Florida
Nov. 29 Rutgers


2006 overall record:
12-1
Conference record:
6-1

Returning starters
Offense: 7, Defense: 5, Kicker/punter: 2

Top returners
QB Brian Brohm, WR Harry Douglas, WR Mario Urrutia, C Eric Woods, RB Anthony Allen, RB George Stripling, K Art Carmody, LB Malik Jackson, LB Lamar Myles
Key losses
DT Amobi Okoye, RB Michael Bush, RB Kolby Smith, CB William Gay, CB Gavin Smart, S Brandon Sharp, G Kurt Quarterman, T Renardo Foster, DE Zach Anderson, LB Nate Harris
Top newcomer: RB Doug Beaumont Insider
2006 statistical leaders (*returners)
Rushing: Kolby Smith (862 yds)
Passing: Brian Brohm* (3,049 yds)
Receiving: Harry Douglas* (1,265 yds)
Tackles: Nate Harris (65)
Sacks: Malik Jackson* (9)
Interceptions: William Gay (6)

Spring answers: 1. Smooth transition: New Louisville coach Steve Kragthorpe, who was lured from Tulsa after former Cardinals coach Bobby Petrino bolted for the NFL's Atlanta Falcons, enjoyed a relatively smooth transition. He convinced Heisman Trophy candidate Brian Brohm to stay another season, and then kept the quarterback's older brother, Jeff Brohm, as assistant head coach/quarterbacks coach. Receivers Mario Urrutia and Harry Douglas and linebacker Malik Jackson also bypassed the NFL draft for another season at Louisville.

2. Brohm likes the offense: Kragthorpe kept much of the terminology that Petrino used at Louisville, but the Cardinals will have a different look on offense in 2007. Kragthorpe installed about 65 percent of his spread offense during the spring and the early results were encouraging. Brohm completed 23 of 34 passes for 313 yards and three touchdowns in the spring game. But he also threw four interceptions, so there's still work to do during the offseason.

3. Plenty of perimeter weapons: Getting Douglas and Urrutia to return was as important as keeping Brohm. They combined for 128 catches for 2,238 yards and 12 touchdowns last season. The receivers combined for 13 catches for 205 yards and two touchdowns during the spring game. Finding a third receiver to replace Jimmy Riley remains on the to-do list. Senior Pat Carter, junior Chris Vaughn, sophomores Scott Long, JaJuan Spillman and Trent Guy and freshmen Steve Orndorff, Troy Pascley and Josh Chichester were all fighting for bigger roles in the spring. Chichester is a 6-foot-8 target.

4. Linebackers: There are concerns on the defensive front and in the secondary, but the linebackers should be solid with three seniors expected to start. Malik Jackson was as disruptive as any linebacker in the country last season, with 57 tackles, 16 tackles for loss, nine sacks and three fumble recoveries. Lamar Myles had 45 tackles and three forced fumbles, and Preston Smith had 44 tackles and five tackles for loss. Junior Mozell Axson (nine tackles in spring game) and Terrence Butler (six tackles, two tackles for loss in spring game) played well during the spring. Former Miami linebacker Willie Williams, who spent last season at West Los Angeles College, where he tried to revive his game and repair his image, is expected to enroll at Louisville this summer.

5. Tight end: Kragthorpe and offensive coordinator Charlie Stubbs like to use the tight end in the passing game. Former Tulsa star Garrett Mills had 201 receptions in his four seasons (the last three under Kragthorpe), second-most by a tight end in Division I-A history. Louisville's Gary Barnidge, a 6-foot-6 senior, has great hands and runs crisp routes. He caught 31 passes for 511 yards and four touchdowns in 2006 and should play an even bigger role this fall.

Fall questions: 1. Rebuild the right side of the offensive line: Three starters are back, but the right side of the line must be replaced after guard Kurt Quarterman and tackle Renardo Foster departed. Junior center Eric Wood, an All-America candidate, might be joined by four seniors this fall. Left tackle George Bussey and left guard Danny Barlowe return. Senior Breno Giacomini, a converted tight end, moves to right tackle, and senior Marcel Benson is the top candidate at right guard. Benson was hospitalized at the end of spring practice with an irregular heartbeat, but he's expected to be fine.

2. Replace Okoye up front: Replacing departed defensive tackle Amobi Okoye, the 10th pick in the NFL draft, by the Houston Texans, is no small feat. He had 15 tackles for loss and eight sacks last season. Juniors Adrian Grady and Earl Heyman are expected to start in the middle. Heyman, who played tackle and end last season, broke a bone in his foot during the spring game, but should be ready to go this fall. JUCO transfer Willie Williams, a 300-pounder from Georgia Military College, also provides depth.

3. Secondary holes: No unit was hit as hard by personnel losses as the secondary, which lost All-Big East cornerback William Gay. Starting cornerback Gavin Smart and safety Brandon Sharp also are gone. Both returning safeties -- Johnathan Russell (six career interceptions) and Latarrius Thomas -- have starting experience. Bobby Buchanan and Rod Council are expected to start at cornerback.

4. Running back by committee: The Cardinals used several players at tailback last season, after Heisman Trophy candidate Michael Bush broke his leg in the opener against Kentucky. Bush turned pro, and leading rusher Kolby Smith also left. But senior George Stripling (81 carries for 475 yards and five touchdowns in 2006) and sophomore Anthony Allen (96 carries for 423 yards and 13 touchdowns) are back. Fullback Brock Bolen is a bruising runner, and junior Sergio Spencer showed a lot of speed in the spring. Will the Cardinals have one back emerge as an every-down player, or will they continue to rotate players?

5. Pass rush: With defensive end Zach Anderson gone, the Cardinals needed a replacement to start opposite Deantwan "Peanut" Whitehead, who had four sacks in 2007. Senior Brandon Cox is first in line to replace Anderson, but sophomore Michael Adams also will get a look this fall.

Pittsburgh Panthers
2007 Schedule
Sept. 1 Eastern Michigan
Sept. 8 Grambling State
Sept. 15 at Michigan State
Sept. 22 Connecticut
Sept. 29 at Virginia
Oct. 10 Navy
Oct. 20 Cincinnati
Oct. 27 at Louisville
Nov. 3 Syracuse
Nov. 17 at Rutgers
Nov. 24 South Florida
Dec. 1 at West Virginia

2006 overall record:
6-6
Conference record:
2-5

Returning starters
Offense: 8, Defense: 6, Kicker/punter: 1

Top returners
TB LaRod Stephens-Howling, WR Derek Kinder, WR Oderick Turner, G C.J. Davis, OT Mike McGlynn, CB Kennard Cox, DE Joe Clermond, DT Gus Mustakas
Key losses
QB Tyler Palko, LB H.B. Blades, CB Darrelle Revis, SS Sam Bryant, TE Steve Buches, C Joe Villani, LB Clint Session, LB Brian Bennett
Top newcomer: QB Pat Bostick Insider
2006 statistical leaders (*returners)
Rushing: LaRod Stephens-Howling* (893 yds)
Passing: Tyler Palko (2,871 yds)
Receiving: Derek Kinder* (847 yds)
Tackles: H.B. Blades (147)
Sacks: Joe Clermond* and Chris McKillop* (5½)
Interceptions: H.B. Blades and Darrelle Revis (2)

Spring answers: 1. Talented receivers: The Panthers appear to be so deep at receiver that sophomore Oderick Turner, who was second on the team with 44 catches for 660 yards and a Big East-leading eight touchdown receptions in 2006, lost his starting job during the spring. Senior Derek Kinder returns after catching 57 passes for 847 yards and six touchdowns last season. Junior Marcel Pestano, the third-leading receiver in 2006, had a very impressive spring and moved into the starting lineup going into fall camp. Sophomore T.J. Porter also made great strides in the spring.

2. Byham is a stud: Sophomore Nate Byham is showing the talent that made him one of the country's most highly recruited players in 2005. The tight end caught only two passes for 34 yards last season, but with Steve Buches departing, Byham should play a huge role this fall.

3. Defensive line dominant in spring: The Panthers' defensive front was dominant throughout the spring, thanks to improved conditioning and focus from junior nose tackle Rashaad Duncan. Junior defensive tackle Gus Mustakas was named the team's most improved defensive player. Defensive end Joe Clermond returns after leading the team with 16½ tackles for loss in 2006, and senior Chris McKillop returns at right end. McKillop started six games in 2006 until he hurt his knee. Doug Fulmer, who started the first three games last season, injured his knee during the spring and his status for the fall is uncertain.

4. Experienced offensive line: Four starters return up front, but the starting lineup isn't set because coach Dave Wannstedt hasn't found a center he likes. Senior left tackle Jeff Otah was the most improved offensive player of the spring, after he was thrown into the fire as a JUCO transfer in 2006. Right guard Joe Thomas also is more experienced. Left guard C.J. Davis and right tackle Mike McGlynn are the most experienced linemen, but either could move to center this fall. McGlynn could move to guard or center, after sophomore Jason Pinkston played well at right tackle this spring (McGlynn was out with a shoulder injury).

5. Holes in secondary: The Panthers had to replace cornerback Darrelle Revis, a two-time All-Big East selection, and strong safety Sam Bryant, a two-year starter. Both concerns were addressed in the spring, as sophomore Aaron Berry played very well at cornerback. Senior Mike Phillips, who started seven games at free safety in 2006, moved to strong safety. Cornerback Kennard Cox is back, along with free safety Eric Thatcher, who started five games before breaking his ankle.

Fall questions: 1. Starting quarterback: Tyler Palko, who started 35 consecutive games and left as one of the most productive passers in school history, must be replaced. Neither junior Bill Stull nor redshirt freshman Kevan Smith took command of the job during the spring. Stull, who threw 10 passes the last two seasons combined, was 8-for-18 for 89 yards with one interception in the spring game. Smith was 11-for-22 with two touchdowns and one interception. Incoming freshman Pat Bostick, the state's Player of the Year after throwing for more than 7,000 yards in his prep career, might get a chance to win the job this fall. Bostick attended position meetings and watched spring practices and was scheduled to enroll in classes in May.

2. More running: With a new quarterback, Wannstedt will want to rely on his running game, which wasn't very good last season. The Panthers averaged only 123 yards per game, 78th in Division I-A. Junior LaRod Stephens-Howling ran for 893 yards and nine touchdowns, but he's shorter than 5-foot-8. Sophomore Kevin Collier was the most impressive runner during the spring, and sophomore Shane Brooks also returns. Incoming freshman LeSean McCoy, who chose the Panthers over scholarship offers from Florida, Penn State and Virginia Tech, will get a chance to play a lot this fall.

3. Three holes at linebacker: Pittsburgh lost its entire linebacker corps, including Big East Defensive Player of the Year H.B. Blades. Outside linebackers Clint Session and Brian Bennett also must be replaced. Junior Scott McKillop, a tough player, replaces Blades in the middle. No one really stepped forward at outside linebacker, but the coaches hope sophomores Dorin Dickerson and Shane Murray win the jobs during preseason camp.

4. New punter: Purdue transfer Dave Brytus replaces punter Adam Graessle, a two-time All-Big East selection. At least the Panthers know Brytus can hold his own. Along with averaging nearly 40 yards in two seasons with the Boilermakers, Brytus also is a Gold Gloves boxing champion, black belt and aspiring Ultimate Fighting Championship participant. He has put off the fighting until after football.

5. How many freshmen will play: There will be a lot of pressure on Wannstedt and offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh to put Bostick and McCoy on the field right away. They might not be the only first-year players who see action. JUCO transfer Tommie Duhart and incoming freshmen Myles Caragein could help at defensive end. Linebacker Brandon Lindsey and receiver Aundre Wright also might see the field this fall.

Rutgers Scarlet Knights
2007 Schedule
Aug. 30 Buffalo
Sept. 7 Navy
Sept. 15 Norfolk State
Sept. 29 Maryland
Oct. 6 Cincinnati
Oct. 13 at Syracuse
Oct. 18 South Florida
Oct. 27 West Virginia
Nov. 3 at Connecticut
Nov. 9 at Army
Nov. 17 Pittsburgh
Nov. 29 at Louisville


2006 overall record:
11-2
Conference record:
5-2

Returning starters
Offense: 7, Defense: 6, Kicker/punter: 1

Top returners
RB Ray Rice, QB Mike Teel, WR Kenny Britt, OT Pedro Sosa, OT Jeremy Zuttah, DT Eric Foster, CB Jason McCourty, FS Courtney Greene, SS Ron Girault, K Jeremy Ito
Key losses
FB Brian Leonard, CB Derrick Roberson, DT Ramel Meekins, C Darnell Stapleton, G Cameron Stephenson, TE Clark Harris, LB Devraun Thompson, LB Quintero Frierson
Top newcomer: LB Manny Abreu Insider
2006 statistical leaders (*returners)
Rushing: Ray Rice* (1,794 yds)
Passing: Mike Teel* (2,135 yds)
Receiving: Clark Harris (493 yds)
Tackles: Devraun Thompson (83)
Sacks: Jamaal Westerman* (8)
Interceptions: Courtney Greene* (4)

Spring answers: 1. Holes filled up front: The Scarlet Knights return three starters from one of the best offensive lines in the country, after allowing only eight sacks in 13 games in 2006. Tackles Pedro Sosa and Jeremy Zuttah are All-Big East bookends, and left guard Mike Fladell is an overpowering blocker. Junior Mike Gilmartin probably will replace Cameron Stephenson at right guard, and sophomore Ryan Blaszczyk takes over at center, after playing very, very little the last two seasons.

2. Strong secondary: Three starters are back in the secondary, led by safeties Courtney Greene and Ron Girault. Greene had 82 tackles and four interceptions last season, and Girault is the defense's quarterback. The cornerback spots might be occupied by twin brothers Jason and Devin McCourty. Depth is a concern after Zaihre Kitchen, Leslie Jackman and Glen Lee each missed spring practice with injuries.

3. Speedy wide receivers: Sophomores Kenny Britt and Tim Brown emerged as big-play weapons late last season, and each continued to make strides during spring practice. Britt caught 28 passes for 440 yards and two touchdowns in 2006, and Brown had seven receptions and two touchdowns in the last two games. Tiquan Underwood is the most polished receiver and wasn't hampered by a broken leg he suffered near the end of last season.

4. Defensive front: The Scarlet Knights might be dominant up front defensively, once tackle Eric Foster (shoulder) and ends Jamaal Westerman (shoulder) and George Johnson (back) return this fall. Foster is an All-America candidate after totaling 51 tackles and six sacks in 2006, and Westerman had a team-high eight sacks and 13½ tackles for loss. Tackle Pete Tverdov was named the team's most improved defensive player and might replace departed starting tackle Ramel Meekins.

5. Teel's progress: The Scarlet Knights didn't get much out of their passing game until late last season, when quarterback Mike Teel completed 45 of 69 passes for 692 yards with five touchdowns and no interceptions in the last three games. He seemed to have better command of the offense and more confidence in the pocket. With Britt, Brown and Underwood, Rutgers has the necessary ingredients for a strong passing game. But Teel must continue to improve as a passer. He completed 13 of 21 passes for 137 yards in the spring game.

Fall questions: 1. Replacing Leonard: The Scarlet Knights have a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate in tailback Ray Rice, who ran for a school-record 1,794 yards in 2006. He missed the end of spring practice after having surgery to remove a bone chip from his right ankle, but should be fine by preseason camp. But replacing departed fullback Brian Leonard, who was a three-way weapon as a blocker, runner and receiver, is a tall order. Sophomore Jack Corcoran tries to fill Leonard's shoes this fall.

2. No tight ends: Rutgers lost starting tight end Clark Harris, a three-time All-Big East selection. Junior Kevin Brock, who missed spring practice because of an injury, had no catches last season. Sophomore Shamar Graves, a converted wide receiver, was the most impressive tight end during the spring. But coach Greg Schiano was so discouraged by the play of the tight ends that he hinted the Scarlet Knights might go with more wide receiver sets.

3. Linebacker holes: Starting linebackers Devraun Thompson and Quintero Frierson, who combined for 161 tackles, 21½ tackles for loss, 6½ sacks and three interceptions last season, are gone. Former walk-on Brandon Renkart returns at the other starting spot. Sophomore Kevin Malast had seven tackles in the spring game and emerged as the other starting outside linebacker. But sophomore Ryan D'Imperio, the top candidate to start in the middle, broke his leg during the spring and might not be ready for the start of fall practice.

4. Quarterback depth: Teel was an iron man at quarterback last season, taking nearly all of the snaps in 13 games. Until the spring game, there was no established backup behind him. But Jabu Lovelace played well during the spring, completing 8 of 15 passes for 102 yards and running 11 times for 88 yards in the spring game. Michigan State transfer Domenic Natale needs elbow surgery, which might sideline him for the entire 2007 season, and freshman Chris Paul-Etienne is suspended indefinitely for a violation of team rules.

5. Coaching changes: Schiano shook up his coaching staff, even after Rutgers produced the greatest season in school history in 2006. Offensive coordinator Craig Ver Steeg was demoted to running backs coach. John McNulty, who coached receivers and then quarterbacks, takes over the play calling. Robert Jackson moved from running backs to receivers.

South Florida Bulls
2007 Schedule
Sept. 1 Elon
Sept. 8 at Auburn
Sept. 22 North Carolina
Sept. 28 West Virginia
Oct. 6 at Florida Atlantic
Oct. 13 Central Florida
Oct. 18 at Rutgers
Oct. 27 at Connecticut
Nov. 3 Cincinnati
Nov. 10 at Syracuse
Nov. 17 Louisville
Nov. 24 at Pittsburgh

2006 overall record:
9-4
Conference record:
4-3

Returning starters
Offense: 8, Defense: 8, Kicker/punter: 2

Top returners
QB Matt Grothe, DE George Selvie, LB Ben Moffitt, CB Mike Jenkins, CB Trae Williams, OT Marc Dile, OT Walter Walker, C Nick Capogna, LB/DE Chris Robinson, WR Taurus Johnson
Key losses
LB Stephen Nicholas, WR S.J. Green, WR Ean Randolph, S Jeremy Burnett, LB Pat St. Louis, OT Thed Watson, TE Will Bleakley
Top newcomer: QB Alton Voss Insider
2006 statistical leaders (*returners)
Rushing: Matt Grothe* (622 yds)
Passing: Matt Grothe* (2,576 yds)
Receiving: Ean Randolph (506 yds)
Tackles: Ben Moffitt* (112)
Sacks: Stephen Nicholas (7½)
Interceptions: Trae Williams* (7)

Spring answers: 1. Ford is the real deal: Perhaps the most high-profile player to ever sign with the Bulls, freshman tailback Mike Ford showed he might be worth the hype during the spring. Ford, 6-foot-2 and 220 pounds, originally signed with Alabama out of Sarasota (Fla.) High School in 2004. He was one of only two Florida prep players to run for 200 yards or more in 11 straight games (Tennessee Titans back Travis Henry is the other), while running for a state-record 2,836 yards and 37 touchdowns as a senior. After signing with the Tide, he failed to qualify and enrolled at Hargrave Military Academy in Virginia. Ford will challenge junior Benjamin Williams, the MVP of the Papajohns.com Bowl, and freshman Aston Samuels for the starting job this fall. Ford ran eight times for 55 yards and one touchdown during the spring game.

2. Grothe's healthy: Quarterback Matt Grothe, who set school freshman records with 2,576 passing yards, 622 rushing yards and 3,198 all-purpose yards last season, showed no effects from the hairline fracture of his fibula suffered in the bowl game. He was 18-of-34 for 179 yards without an interception during the spring game.

3. Cornerbacks are back: The Bulls return a pair of cornerbacks who could start for any team in the country. Senior Trae Williams had seven interceptions last season, and senior Mike Jenkins is one of the fastest players in the Big East. Jenkins had a team-high 15 pass breakups in 2006. Jenkins was arrested in March for his role in a disturbance outside a Tampa nightclub. He was briefly suspended during the spring, but won't miss any time this fall, coach Jim Leavitt said.

4. Staff changes: Leavitt moved quickly in hiring replacements for former offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Rod Smith and offensive line coach Greg Frey, who both left for Big East rival West Virginia. Leavitt hired Mike Canales from Arizona as his team's passing game coordinator and receivers coach, and former Iowa State coach Dan McCarney was hired to coach the defensive line. Graduate assistant Mike Simmonds, a former NFL offensive lineman, was promoted to Frey's position. Also, Greg Gregory was promoted from tight ends coach to offensive coordinator.

5. Immediate help at linebacker: The Bulls must replace starting outside linebackers Stephen Nicholas and Pat St. Louis, two of the stars on a defense that essentially carried the team last season. Tyrone McKenzie, a second team All-Big 12 selection with Iowa State last season, transferred to Tampa in January. Because McKenzie returned to his hometown to help care for an ailing family member, he received a waiver from the NCAA, which allows him to play for the Bulls this fall, instead of sitting out one year under NCAA transfer rules. McKenzie averaged a whopping 10.8 tackles per game last season, eighth-best in Division I-A.

Fall questions: 1. Huners hurt: Returning left guard Matt Huners tore the ACL in his knee during the spring and will miss this coming season. He was one of the team's top returning linemen, along with tackles Marc Dile and Walter Walker. Two freshmen (Jeremiah Warren and Zach Hermann ) were playing behind Huners and right guard Ryan Schmidt, a Kansas State transfer. Center Nick Capogn also returns.

2. More big plays at receiver: With wideout S.J. Green and Ean Randolph departing, the Bulls will be counting heavily on senior Amarri Jackson and junior Taurus Johnson in the passing game. Jackson had 26 catches for 393 yards and is very adept at running reverses. Johnson caught 37 passes for 494 yards, but lacked consistency last season.

3. What to do with Chris Robinson. It's a nice problem to have for Leavitt, who is considering playing sophomore Chris Robinson at defensive end or outside linebacker this fall. As a freshman, Robinson proved his pass rushing skills with seven sacks and nine tackles for loss. He left spring listed as the No. 1 strongside linebacker, but could move to end, especially if McKenzie or JUCO transfer Donte Spires is ready to start at linebacker.

4. Will Amp Lee get the message: Leavitt suspended junior Amp Hill near the end of spring drills, after the LSU transfer, ahem, signed a football after scoring a touchdown during a scrimmage. Leavitt said Hill also needed to get his academics in order. Hill, once a big-time recruit, caught 19 passes for 233 yards and two touchdowns last season. He is physically capable of much, much more.

5. Shore up the special teams: Punter Justin Teachey struggled mightily last season, averaging 38.2 yards with little hang time. As a result, the Bulls had a net punting average of only 30 yards. Teachey hasn't yet abandoned the rugby-style punting, which made him so successful on fakes last season. The Bulls hope Taurus Johnson can improve their kickoff returns, and Randolph must be replaced on punt returns.

Syracuse Orange
2007 Schedule
Aug. 31 Washington
Sept. 8 at Iowa
Sept. 15 Illinois
Sept. 22 at Louisville
Sept. 29 at Miami (Ohio)
Oct. 6 West Virginia
Oct. 13 Rutgers
Oct. 20 Buffalo
Nov. 3 at Pittsburgh
Nov. 10 South Florida
Nov. 17 at Connecticut
Nov. 24 Cincinnati

2006 overall record:
4-8
Conference record:
1-6

Returning starters
Offense: 6, Defense: 4, Kicker/punter: 1

Top returners
WR Taj Smith, RB Curtis Brinkley, WR Mike Williams, TE Tom Ferron, DE Jameel McClain, DT Tony Jenkins, FS Joe Fields, CB/SS Dowayne Davis, G Carroll Madison, G Ryan Durand, C Marvin McCall
Key losses
QB Perry Patterson, LB Kelvin Smith, LB Jerry Mackey, CB Tanard Jackson, CB Terrell Lemon, NT Chris Thorner, G Mike Sklarosky, C Justin Outeen
Top newcomer: WR D'Amon Merkerson Insider
2006 statistical leaders (*returners)
Rushing: Delone Carter* (713 yds)
Passing: Perry Patterson Jr. (1,865 yds)
Receiving: Mike Williams* (461 yds)
Tackles: Kelvin Smith (115)
Sacks: Jameel McClain* (8½)
Interceptions: Joe Fields* (4)

Spring answers: 1. Defensive line improves: The 2006 defensive front was relatively inexperienced and it showed. The defense allowed 185 rushing yards per game and nearly five yards per carry. Undersized end Jameel McClain emerged as a disruptive force, with 9½ sacks and 14½ tackles for loss. Tackle Tony Jenkins had 8½ tackles for loss. If end Brandon Gilbeaux and nose tackle Arthur Jones develop quickly, the line could be the strength of this year's defense.

2. Smith returns: JUCO transfer Taj Smith appeared to be a force in the Orange's first four games of 2006, with 12 catches for 227 yards during a three-game stretch. But then Smith broke his collarbone and missed the rest of the season. He is healthy again and showed the same explosiveness during the spring. Additionally, the NCAA granted him an extra year of eligibility, meaning he'll have two years left to play for the Orange.

3. Tight End U.: When Smith went down last season, an unlikely target stepped up for departed quarterback Perry Patterson. Tight end Tom Ferron because the first Syracuse tight end to lead the team in receptions since 1980. He finished with 30 catches for 351 yards and two touchdowns. Senior J.J. Nesheiwat, a former walk-on and transfer from Division I-AA Western Carolina, is another big target. He had 11 catches for 56 yards and two scores last season. Nesheiwat was recently granted an extension by the NCAA, allowing him to play for Syracuse this season, his sixth year in college.

4. Other receivers improve: Mike Williams blossomed in Smith's absence last season, catching 24 passes for 461 yards and two scores as a freshman. He's another fast option in the passing game, along with senior Rice Moss, who caught 23 passes for 272 yards and one touchdown in 2006.

5. Flexibility in secondary: Even after losing cornerbacks Tanard Jackson, a fourth-round selection by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the NFL draft, and Terrell Lemon, the Orange seemed pretty talented in the secondary during the spring. FS Joe Fields, who moved to defense from quarterback prior to last season, returns as the last line of defense. Strong safety Dowayne Davis moved to cornerback late in the spring, partly because of the improved play of junior A.J. Brown. Junior Nick Chestnut and seniors Jason Tanner and Quinton Brown were battling at cornerback before Davis moved.

Fall questions: 1. Starting quarterback: Patterson did an admirable job playing quarterback on a bad team and behind a porous offensive line. Sophomore Andrew Robinson, who threw eight passes in five games last season, seemed to have a good grasp on the starting job at the end of spring practice. He completed 12 of 19 passes for 146 yards with one touchdown and one interception. Junior Cameron Dantley, a former walk-on, was still in the mix. He completed 10 of 13 passes for 72 yards in the spring game.

2. Tailback woes: With junior Curtis Brinkley and sophomore Delone Carter coming back, the Orange figured to have a fighter's chance this fall because of its strong running game. But then Carter dislocated his hip during spring practice, an injury that will cause him to miss the entire 2007 season and seriously puts his career in jeopardy. Carter led the Orange with 713 yards last season and showed explosiveness. Brinkley didn't leave spring practice unscathed, either, as he underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right knee. He should be back for preseason camp. With Carter and Brinkley sidelined, junior Paul Chiara did most of the running in the spring. Converted linebacker Derrell Smith and one-time receiver Daniel Bailey showed they might be able to help this fall.

3. Entire linebacker corps departs: Syracuse must replace linebackers Kelvin Smith, Jerry Mackey and Luke Cain, the heart and soul of its defense last season. Senior Ben Maljovec is the anticipated starter on the strong side, with junior Vincenzo Giruzzi starting on the weak side. Junior Jake Flaherty takes over in the middle. Three players -- Parker Cantey, Mike Stenclik and Oliver Fernandez -- emerged as top backups during the spring.

4. Offensive line holes: Three starting linemen return from a unit that allowed a Big East-high 45 sacks in 2006. Left guard Carroll Madison, center Marvin McCall and right guard Ryan Durand started at some point last season. A fourth returning starter, right tackle Eugene Newsome, was declared academically ineligible. He is enrolled at a junior college and hopes to rejoin the team in August. Junior Corey Chavers, who was benched the final four games of last season, returns at left tackle. Senior Larry Norton replaces Newsome at right tackle.

5. New punter: Brendan Carney, who averaged 42 yards per punt and put 17 inside opponents' 20-yard line, is gone. Sophomore Kyle Muir and junior Niko Rechul were battling to replace him, with Muir having the edge after spring drills.

West Virginia Mountaineers
2007 Schedule
Sept. 1 Western Michigan
Sept. 8 at Marshall
Sept. 13 at Maryland
Sept. 22 East Carolina
Sept. 28 at South Florida
Oct. 6 at Syracuse
Oct. 20 Mississippi State
Oct. 27 at Rutgers
Nov. 8 Louisville
Nov. 17 at Cincinnati
Nov. 24 Connecticut
Dec. 1 Pitt


2006 overall record:
11-2
Conference record:
5-2

Returning starters
Offense: 8, Defense: 8, Kicker/punter: 2

Top returners
QB Pat White, RB Steve Slaton, WR/KR Darius Reynaud, FB/TE Owen Schmitt, FS Eric Wicks, K Pat McAfee, SS Quinton Andrews, DT Kellen Dykes, DE Johnny Dingle, OT Ryan Stanchek, G Greg Isdaner
Key losses
LB Jay Henry, LB Kevin "Boo" McLee, G Jeremy Sheffey, C Dan Mozes, WR Brandon Myles, WR Rayshawn Bolden
Top newcomer: RB Noel Devine Insider
2006 statistical leaders (*returners)
Rushing: Steve Slaton* (1,744 yds)
Passing: Patrick White* (1,655 yds)
Receiving: Brandon Myles (522 yds)
Tackles: Quinton Andrews* (80)
Sacks: Eric Wicks* (7)
Interceptions: Quinton Andrews* (5)

Spring answers: 1. Quarterback depth: The Mountaineers know what starter Pat White can do: He ran for 1,219 yards and 18 touchdowns and passed for 1,655 yards and 13 scores last season. But coach Rich Rodriguez wasn't sure what backup Jarrett Brown would do if White was hurt until the 2006 regular-season finale against Rutgers. With White nursing a sprained ankle, Brown ran for a touchdown and threw the game-winning score in triple overtime of the Mountaineers' 41-39 victory. Brown picked up where he left off this spring, improving as a passer and dangerous runner. Senior Adam Bednarik, who missed most of the last two seasons after undergoing a pair of surgeries on his shoulder, also is back and threw the ball well.

2. Slaton in the slot: All-America tailback Steve Slaton didn't do much of anything during the spring while recovering from wrist surgery. But Rodriguez still said he plans to use Slaton much more in the slot to take advantage of the junior's speed. Redshirt freshman Eddie Davis seemed to pull ahead of junior Ed Collington and sophomore Jetavious Best for the backup tailback job. Incoming freshman Noel Devine -- seemingly a duplicate of Slaton -- might be a factor this fall.

3. More positions for Schmitt: Underrated fullback Owen Schmitt already does a variety of things for the Mountaineers, mostly blocking for White and Slaton. But Schmitt also runs the ball a lot of out of one- and two-back sets. Rodriguez added a new wrinkle to the offense this spring, moving Schmitt to tight end, where he proved to be a capable receiver.

4. Changes on defense: The Mountaineers' defense allowed 44 points to Louisville, and 39 to Rutgers and later 35 to Georgia Tech in the Gator Bowl. Rodriguez didn't completely overhaul the much-maligned unit, but did make some schematic and personnel changes. The Mountaineers will have more pre-snap movement this coming season, but they'll stick with the 3-3-5 alignment.

5. Immediate help on the way: Ryan Mundy, a former starting safety at Michigan, is expected to enroll at West Virginia for summer school. He would be eligible to play immediately this fall, after the NCAA grandfathered him under its old transfer rule that allowed players who had graduated to transfer to another school without penalty. Mundy started 18 of 35 games at Michigan, before losing his starting job midway through last season.

Fall questions: 1. Offensive line: The Mountaineers must replace consensus All-American Dan Mozes, the Rimington Trophy winner as college football's top center, and All-Big East guard Jeremy Sheffey. Mike Dent, who has added 10 pounds since last season, studied behind Mozes and should be ready to go. Left tackle Ryan Stanchek is a future NFL player, and right tackle Jake Figner is a 300-pounder. Left guard Greg Isdaner missed spring practice after undergoing shoulder surgery, but should be healthy by the fall. Redshirt freshman Eric Rodemoyer beat out junior John Bradshaw for the right guard spot.

2. Pass rush: The Mountaineers are hoping to generate more pass rush this season. West Virginia had 31 sacks last season (Big East leader Louisville had 44), a big reason its defense allowed 243.3 passing yards per game, worst in the league. Seniors Keilen Dykes and Johnny Dingle, sophomore James Ingram and redshirt freshman Thor Merrow will have to produce.

3. Wide receivers: Senior Darius Reynaud is as explosive as White or Slaton in the open field. He caught 39 passes for 520 yards and two touchdowns and averaged 27.1 yards on kickoff returns last season. But the Mountaineers have to find other receviers to go around him, and the search wasn't very fruitful during the spring. After Reynaud, junior Dorrell Jalloh is the top returning receiver with seven catches in 2006. Wes Lyons, a 6-foot-8 sophomore, made spectacular plays but was too inconsistent. Converted quarterback Nate Sowers might help this fall, and Bednarik will see some time at receiver during preseason camp. Rodriguez hopes Darren Brownlee (wrist) and John Maddox (hamstring), each of whom missed the spring, can help some, too.

4. Rebuilt secondary: After getting torched too many times last season, the secondary underwent wholesale changes. Senior Eric Wicks, who was given an additional year of eligibility by the NCAA, moved from strong safety to free safety. He had 73 tackles, seven sacks and three interceptions last season. He might be even more active this fall, as he'll play all three safety spots. Sophomore Quinton Andrews, who led the team with 80 tackles and five interceptions in 2006, moves from free safety to strong safety. Senior Ridwan Malik is the leading candidate to start at the hybrid safety spot. Three seniors return at cornerback (Antonio Lewis, Vaughn Rivers and Larry Williams), but each struggled last season. JUCO transfers Ellis Lankster and Anthony Wood might have to help.

5. Linebackers: Jay Henry and Kevin "Boo" McLee, the players who many would consider to be the heart and soul of the defense the last two seasons, are gone. Junior Reed Williams figures to take over in the middle, and junior John Holmes and J.T. Thomas were surprising starters at the outside spots. Senior Marc Magro missed the spring after having knee surgery.

Mark Schlabach covers college football and men's college basketball for ESPN.com. You can contact him at schlabachma@yahoo.com.