Eight hyper-specific predictions for 2011. Wrapping up Big East Week.
• The winner of the "Backyard Brawl" between Pittsburgh and West Virginia will represent the conference in the BCS for the first time since 2006. Either the Panthers or Mountaineers have been tabbed as the preseason favorites to win the conference each of the last six years, and were nearly unanimously tabbed as the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in both 2008 and 2009, but neither has punched its ticket to a BCS game since West Virginia in 2007 — but only after its national championship hopes were dashed by Pitt at the eleventh hour.
• West Virginia will come tantalizingly close to breaking the 1988 squad's records for total offense (466 yards per game) and scoring offense (41.1 points per game) under new head coach Dana Holgorsen, whose pass-happy spread attacks at Houston and Oklahoma State easily surpassed those marks each of the last three years. But after failing to allow more than 23 points in any game in 2010, the Mountaineers will drop at least one shootout in which the rebuilding (and suddenly harried) defense yields 35 or more.
• Cincinnati will average fewer yards on offense but improve scoring by nearly a touchdown per game thanks to a dramatic "correction" in turnover margin. The Bearcats veered manically from one of the most turnover-averse outfits in the country in 2009 to one of the most generous last year, plummeting from more than 38 points per game to a little over 27 despite repeating as the conference's No. 1 total offense.
• Former blue-chip Darrell Scott will finish as South Florida's first 1,000-yard back since 2005. A quarterback led the Bulls in rising four years in a row from 2006-09, but first-year coach Skip Holtz emphasized a far more tailback-centric approach in 2010, and Scott gives USF a big, workhorse back capable of handling a regular 20-carry load in a more downhill attack.
• Louisville will remain mathematically alive for the conference title through the final weekend of the regular season, when it's finally eliminated from the Big East race and bowl eligibility on the same afternoon. The Cardinals have an opportunity for a fast start with Cincinnati, Rutgers and Syracuse lined up as their first three conference games, but will slowly fade against the November gauntlet of West Virginia, Pitt, UConn and South Florida.
• After winning three games by a field goal or less en route to the conference title, Connecticut will drop at least three close games this fall en route to a middling bowl game. One of those losses will come via a late miss by kicker Dave Teggart, who was 10-of-10 on field goals last year in games decided by a field goal or less.
• After miraculously rocketing into the top ten nationally in total defense, Syracuse will fall out of the top 40 by the same measure. Altogether, the Orange lose seven of their top dozen tacklers from the surge, including both starting defensive tackles, both cornerbacks and the top two linebackers, at a moment when the conference is beginning to pick up the pace offensively.
• Freshman tailback Savon Huggins will live up to his billing as "The Next Ray Rice" at Rutgers by shouldering 25 carries per game, despite coming in at least a full yard below Rice's career average of 5.4 yards per carry. Instead, in an effort to simultaneously "shorten the game" against more explosive offenses while also protecting quarterback Chas Dodd from enduring more of the record-breaking beating he took in 2010, the Knights will turn to Huggins to shoulder a heavier share of the offense than any other back in the conference.