Big East preview: Cardinals can complicate things

Big East preview: Cardinals can complicate things
By Terry Bowden, Yahoo Sports
August 8, 2005

Terry Bowden
Yahoo Sports
Big East predictions
   1. Louisville
   2. Pittsburgh
   3. West Virginia
   4. Syracuse
   5. Rutgers
   6. South Florida
   7. Connecticut
   8. Cincinnati
More Season Preview featuring Terry Bowden:
What to watch for | Preseason Sweet 16

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The transition is complete in the Big East, with Boston College, Miami, Temple and Virginia Tech out and Cincinnati, Connecticut, Louisville and South Florida in. Now it's time for the Big East to prove it still deserves an automatic BCS bowl game.

Based on recent history, Louisville, Pittsburgh, Syracuse and West Virginia already have proven their qualifications as BCS-level schools. However, Cincinnati, Connecticut, Rutgers and South Florida still must show us what they are going to bring to the table.

Louisville enters the league as the team to beat and has a chance to run the table. The Cardinals also may end up being the thorn in the side of the BCS as it attempts to crown an NCAA champion. What if Louisville ends up being the only team, or maybe one of only two teams in the country, to go undefeated? Would the BCS put the Cardinals in the championship game? What if USC, Texas, Tennessee, Michigan and Miami all have one loss? Would the Cardinals still get a shot at the Rose Bowl?

What a mess if the BCS passed over an undefeated Louisville.

Go Louisville go!

Louisville1. Louisville Cardinals   Team page | Schedule | Roster | SportingNews.com preview

Ranked 16th in Terry's Preseason Sweet 16

Even though the Cardinals lost their leading quarterback, running back and wide receiver, this year's team could be just as explosive as the one that led the nation in scoring and total offense last season. Quarterback Brian Brohm, USA Today's Offensive Player of the Year coming out of high school, received plenty of playing time last season behind C-USA Co-Offensive Player of the Year Stefan LeFors. Brohm is a better pure passer than LeFors and will have a veteran group of backs and receivers behind an experienced offensive line. Add the fact that head coach Bobby Petrino is one of the most innovative offensive minds in the business, and the Big East should be in for a real treat.

Defensively, Louisville made its smartest move last season when it hired defensive coordinator Mike Cassity from Illinois. The Cardinals jumped from 93rd to 15th in total defense and gave up less than 20 points per game. Although only five starters return, the front seven will be quite formidable, led by defensive tackle Montavious Stanley and linebacker Brandon Johnson. The biggest concern will be in the secondary with the loss of three defensive backs. There are several teams in the league with the ability to exploit an inexperienced secondary.

If Louisville can handle the added pressure of playing for an automatic BCS berth, it should be undefeated going into the Nov. 3 Thursday night showdown with Pittsburgh. A home win there positions the Cardinals for a perfect season and possible shot at a national title.

Pittsburgh2. Pittsburgh Panthers   Team page | Schedule | Roster

Dave Wannstedt takes over the head-coaching reins of the defending Big East champions, and he definitely has enough talent to contend with Louisville for another league crown. The big question is whether, as he attempts to transform the Panthers into a more physical running team, Wannstedt will ignore the fact that the Panthers' best chance to win this season is with the arm of Tyler Palko and the hands of wideout Greg Lee.

With nine starters back on an offense that was 105th in rushing last season, Pitt must find a way to slowly merge this new run philosophy into a roster that is much more suited to the passing game – or the Panthers won't repeat as conference champs.

The defense will be led by the secondary, including cornerbacks Josh Lay and Darrelle Revis, and hard-hitting linebacker H.B. Blades. And if Coach Wannstedt really makes a big impact on this team, it will be with his successful background in the NFL as a defensive coordinator. I look for a leaner, meaner defense with an emphasis on speed and aggression.

West Virginia3. West Virginia Mountaineers   Team page | Schedule | Roster

You talk about expectations. Last year West Virginia went 8-4, and it was a disappointing season. This year, with only nine starters returning, the Mountaineers have a highway full of potholes to fill. Seven wins would be a blessing.

This definitely is a rebuilding year, but if WVU can win the ones it's supposed to and capitalize on home-field advantage against Virginia Tech, Louisville and Pittsburgh, I still can see this team going bowling for a fourth straight year.

The biggest hole to fill is the one left by Big East Offensive Player of the Year Rasheed Marshall at quarterback. Adam Bednarik, who is more of a prototype straight-dropback passer, looks to be his replacement, but he missed the entire spring due to a bad shoulder and still has a lot of proving to do on the field. All four of the top wide receivers from last year are gone, and not one newcomer stepped up in the spring. The good news is that West Virginia looks to have another outstanding running game, with a nasty offensive line under the tutelage of the nation's best O-line coach, Rick Trickett, and an explosive backfield led by tailback Jason Colson and super blue-chip recruit Jason Gwaltney. Don't be surprised to see a lot more screens and draws to take the pressure off a more stationary QB.

Defensively, even with the loss of cornerback Adam "Pac-Man" Jones, the No. 6 pick in the NFL draft, WVU must lean heavily on a veteran defensive backfield. Both returning safeties, Mike Lorello and Jahmile Addae, are all-conference material, and the corners have a ton of snaps under their belts. With only two returning starters on the front seven, and no experience at linebacker, this may be the year to load the box to stop the run and pressure the QB and let the DBs take care of the rest.

Syracuse4. Syracuse Orange   Team page | Schedule | Roster

Paul Pasqualoni had only one losing season in 14 years as the head coach at Syracuse, but his style points definitely were going down over the last few years. There just seemed to be no hope within the program that the team was making strides in getting closer to the next level. So, out with Pasqualoni and in with Greg Robinson, who is known mostly as a defensive specialist from the NFL. Like many other successful defensive coaches turned college head coaches (see Bob Stoops, Pete Carroll, Nick Saban), he will try to make his imprint on the defense while hiring an offensive guru to implement the West Coast offense.

With nine starters back on defense, you would think this is what Syracuse would hang its hat on. However, Syracuse was 91st nationally in defense with those same starters. It's obvious the scheme has to change if things are going to get better. That scheme, Robinson promises, will be one that is attacking, aggressive and relentless. Regardless of how you label it, the defense had better take charge immediately because when you change from an option/play-action offense to a West Coast offense, it's going to take time.

Don't expect Syracuse to challenge this year for the Big East crown, but if Robinson will do his magic on the defense and let the running game, with TB Damien Rhodes, lead the offense, the Orange might just slide into a nice little bowl game.

Rutgers5. Rutgers Scarlet Knights   Team page | Schedule | Roster

Head coach Greg Schiano finds himself on the hot seat after going 4-7 last year, giving him a four-year record of 12-34. There are too many quality football players in New Jersey for the Scarlet Knights to continue their losing ways – if they just stick to fundamentals and quit finding ways to lose games.

Offensively, quarterback Ryan Hart returns to lead a record-setting offense that scores a lot of points but turns the ball over at a rate much too high to overcome. With Schiano's background as a defensive coach there is no excuse for being the nation's 103rd-ranked defense. Maybe this is why he named himself defensive coordinator in the offseason.

Rutgers has not had a winning record since 1992 or gone to a bowl in 27 years. But there are six wins in this schedule, and my guess is that Schiano needs to find them.

South Florida6. South Florida Bulls   Team page | Schedule | Roster

South Florida is in the Big East not necessarily because of how good it has been but because of the potential for what it can become. If there has been any recent addition to Division I-A that really has a chance to prosper at college football's highest level, it is USF. Tampa not only is a great college football town but also has an abundance of athletes in the area from which to recruit.

As for this year, South Florida has 17 starters returning and could be competitive if it can make defensive improvements. It doesn't help that the Bulls play Pittsburgh on the road and have a non-conference schedule that includes Penn State and Miami.

Connecticut7. Connecticut Huskies   Team page | Schedule | Roster

This is another team that has had some quick Division I-A success, going 8-4 last season with a 39-10 bowl victory over Toledo in only its fourth year in I-A. However, with the loss of record-setting four-year starting quarterback Dan Orlovsky, the quick ascension may slow down just a bit. The offense also takes a big hit at wide receiver and offensive line. Six starters return to one of the league's top defenses, and hopefully, it will slow down the opposition until the offense begins to gel.

The good news is that with four home games in conference play and a soft non-conference schedule, look for the Huskies to have a third straight winning season.

Cincinnati8. Cincinnati Bearcats   Team page | Schedule | Roster

The Bearcats have pretty much earned the right to join the Big East by going to bowls in four of the last five years. Whether they will be able to continue that success depends on just how well second-year head coach Mark Dantonio does.

There are replacements needed everywhere on offense with the loss of sensational quarterback Gino Guidugli, most of the offensive line and the leading running back and wide receiver. Defensively, the top eight starters also are nowhere to be found. In other words, this is a classic rebuilding year.

However, UC fans should be happy and just a little bit patient knowing the Bearcats now are a part of the haves – as opposed to the have-nots – when it comes to getting a piece of the BCS pie.

Terry Bowden is Yahoo! Sports' college football analyst. For more information about Terry, visit his official web site.

Send Terry a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.

Updated on Monday, Aug 8, 2005 11:11 pm, EDT

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