Sunday, August 31, 2008

ACC Falls Hard, while Alabama, Utah and East Carolina Score Big Wins

Bearcatmark’s Top 25 after the first Saturday of College Football:

1. USC- USC was very impressive in dominating Virginia this weekend, not that Virginia is that great a team. USC has the most talent in the country and will be very difficult to beat this season.

2. Oklahoma- Another team loaded with talent, they took care of business this weekend, but will have a much tougher time with the Bearcats next week.

3. “One of the” Ohio State Universities (the one in Columbus) - OSU falls from the top spot due to injury. They are still incredibly good on defense. Terrell Prior looked solid in his debut, but with an injured Beanie Wells I cannot justify keeping them in the number 1 spot.

4. Georgia- The AP preseason number one. I still just do not trust them to take care of business week in and week out like I trust the top 3.

5. West Virginia- Pat White threw more and was efficient doing so. WVU’s offense will not be a question, but the defense still has some work to do. ECU should provide a nice test this week.

6. Florida- The SEC is really good.

7. Missouri- Offensively they were very impressive in one of the more marquee games of week one. Chase Daniels and Jeremy Maclin proved to be two of the more explosive players in the country. Still any time you give up 42 points that is cause for concern. Missouri cannot win the Big 12 playing defense like that.

8. Auburn- Tony Franklin was unhappy with how Auburn looked in their new offense. They still managed to run for over 300 yards against Louisiana Monroe.

9. Texas Tech- Giving up 17 second quarter points to Eastern Washington is not good. If Texas Tech wants to take the next step this year and be a top 10 team they are going to have to play better. They did manage to throw for over 500 yards as usual.

10. LSU- The defending champs did what they were supposed to do (and what Michigan could not do last season) and handled Appalachian State. Their schedule is pretty much a cakewalk non-conference, but they have plenty of tests once they get into the absolutely loaded SEC.

11. Arizona State- A very businesslike first game. They jumped out to a 27-0 halftime lead and the game was really never in doubt.

12. Cincinnati- Yea I am very high on the Bearcats and we will have a pretty good idea of how smart that is after this weekend. Grutza played very well against EKU, but still seemed to hold onto the ball a bit long too at times. He is going to have to make quicker decisions in Norman for the Bearcats to be successful. I think the key to the Bearcats will continue to be the defense. They did not force turnovers against EKU, but did not show much either. I think they have to make some plays if the Cats are going to steal one this week.

13. Wisconsin- The Badgers were not overly impressive against Akron, who is generally picked to finish dead last in the MAC East. Wisconsin struggled to stop the shotgun spread, something that bothered the Badgers throughout 2007. This team definitely has some questions to answer.

14. South Florida- The Bulls puts 28 points on the board in the first quarter and dominated all aspects of the game this week. They should have more of a test next week against UCF, before a big game against Kansas.

15. Kansas- Kansas and USF are side by side in my poll. Should make for a very good matchup in two weeks.

16. Tennessee- Picked behind both Georgia and Florida, it was the Vols that actually won the SEC East last year. The SEC is really good.

17. Texas- Not much to say about the Long Horns yet. They did handle a fairly decent Florida Atlantic team, but I remain a bit skeptical of them because of last season.

18. Alabama- They make the biggest jump this week after their dismantling of Pre-Season ACC favorite, Clemson. Clemson makes the biggest fall dropping out of the polls completely. Bama is going to be in a fight to finish in the top 3 in the SEC West… The SEC is really good.

19. Oregon- Good start to the season for the Ducks.

20. Illinois- I really did not penalize Illinois for losing to a team they were supposed to lose to. That is one of my biggest pet peeves with top 25 polls; teams dropping in the rankings after losing to teams ahead of them. Missouri was ranked 7 in my poll, Illinois was ranked 19, a ten point loss seems pretty reasonable. They drop 1 spot because of Alabama’s impressive performance against Clemson, but Illinois still seems like a top 20 team to me. Their offense certainly looked tough to stop last night.

21. Wake Forest-
They are the only ACC team I have ranked this week.

22. Penn State- They put up 38 points in the first half this week, but lets face it Coastal Carolina is really bad.

23. Rutgers- I am anxious to see their game against Fresno State on Monday. I do not understand how so many people could sleep on the Bearcats and the Scarlet Knights going into the season, but be gung ho about Pitt. Rutgers has an explosive offense and a very talented defense. Their schedule worries me once they get to Big East play, but I think you are going to see them really play well in the non-conference.

24. Utah- They beat Michigan in the Big House and while that is not quite the feat it was a few years ago it is still a big time win. For now, I am ranking them ahead of BYU for that very reason.

25. ECU- They beat Virginia Tech on what essentially was a neutral field (A few of my friends were at the game and said it was about 75% Hokie fans for this “home” ECU game). That’s a good win. In all honesty they looked like the better team throughout that game, but really gave some gifts to VT in the form of turnovers. ECU played from behind all game long, but I really felt they were better throughout. They have a tough one this week against WVU, so we will know more about them next week.

Clemson and VT both dropped out after dreadful performances. VT is clearly lacking in playmakers on the offensive side of the ball. They also allowed the Pirates to run all over them. Clemson is a very talented team and if I were a betting man I would say they get back in the top 25 at some point, but after this weeks performance I cannot in good faith justify it by what I saw on the field.

Pitt was, well what any fan who actually follows the Big East expected. I want Pitt to take a step up this season for the sake of the Big East. Pitt and Syracuse are basically the only schools in the conference that can be defined in any sense as traditional powers. I think the media clamors for tradition powers and immediately jumped the shark on Pitt based on 1 game. What that one game showed was that Pitt is talented and therefore dangerous, but what the rest of the season showed was that Pitt is not a good football team. They were just awful in the second half against Bowling Green. Their receivers could not catch anything and their defense could not stop anyone. Pitt was a trendy pick to win the Big East and even make a BCS bowl. In reality they are a 5-7 team from last year with an immensely talented running back and nothing else. I was baffled how a team like Pitt could be preseason top 25 and a team like Cincinnati which went 10-3, finished the year ranked 17 in the country, and returned a ton of experience particularly on defense could be sitting outside in nearly all major polls. I think what it shows is the lack of knowledge the media really has about the Big East Conference.

I just had no room for BYU this week. I thought Utah, Alabama, and ECU played their way into the top 25. If Rutgers or Penn State played BYU on a neutral cite I would not be picking the Mormons. So as of this week they are out.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Scared Buckeyes Pay Bearcats to Avoid Ass Beating

Here is how it happened:

After Maurice Clarrett shared with the world the crazy cheating that goes on in Columbus the NCAA searched for evidence. Ohio State had become so good at covering up their tracks from years and years of boosters hiding their corruption in clever ways the NCAA was unable to find anything of substance. Under normal circumstances a player’s word about improper benefits would probably be enough, however Maurice Clarrett’s “unique” off the field incidents made him just a tad less trustworthy than O.J. Simpson.

With that in mind the NCAA starting tapping the phones of all people involved with “one of the: Ohio State University Football teams (in this case the Columbus branch). They wanted to hear what they said, hoping to get leads, hoping they would slip up. Courtesy of the fine people at the NCAA I have managed to piece together the conversations that led to “one of” the Ohio State Universities (the one in Columbus) paying the University of Cincinnati 1 million dollars to move their 2012 meeting from Cincinnati to Columbus. Their hope was to avoid the ass beating that was bound to ensue. I doubt it will work, but here is how everything transpired.

A Worried Nancy Zimpher Calls Some Old Friends in Columbus:

Ohio State President E. Gordon Gee: NZ, to what do I owe this great pleasure?

Nancy: Gordo, it’s been too long. Honestly, I hate to call under this kind of circumstance but I have been doing some thinking. You remember my original plan to sabotage UC sports?

Gordon: Yes it’s been working wonders for the basketball program, but you’ve got some trouble brewing in football. Who would have thought that pushing Michigan State to hire Dantonio would have been the end? I know you don’t know much about football but how could you let them get Brian Kelly? Have you been pushing for him to take other jobs?

Nancy: So far I’ve pushed, but nothings come. Nebraska wanted to talk to him among other schools. Brian seems intent on making this team a winner. That is why I am calling. If Brian Kelly is the coach of the University of Cincinnati in 2012 I can conceive of no way the Buckeyes can get out of Cincinnati with a victory. You need to consider calling off the game.

Gordon: Is it that serious NZ?

Nancy: I would not be telling you if it was not. The UC fans really want this game. They will probably outnumber you by a good amount at Paul Brown Stadium. By that time they will have SEC type speed… I think we both know how Ohio State tends to fair against the SEC.

Gordon: Sure we have had a “small” string of bad luck against that conference, but you cannot believe it will come to this. Nancy, other jobs will come up you have to get Kelly out the door…start taking funs from the athletic department, delay the construction of a practice bubble, just get him out of the way by 2012.

Nancy: Kelly seems to be Bob Huggins 2.0. Everyone who is involved with the university in any way loves him. He owns this town. At the same time there has not been an inaccurate sports illustrated story to start lowering his credibility. I do not think I can beat the guy. Short of him getting arrested he is going to be at UC for a long time.

Gordon: You talked to the NCAA right? There is not a chance he is getting another season. This Bearcat team is a national title contender with Mauk at the QB.

Nancy: We do not have to worry about that. I have been assured that it will be a long, drawn out process, but in the end Ben will not be granted another season. The NCAA figures if they wait a long time, he will not be able to sue, because there is no way he would play this season anyways.

Gordon: The NCAA knows how to handle all of its shit doesn’t it?

Nancy: They are good there is no doubt; maybe they’d give me some advice on how to get Coach Kelly out of here.

Gordon: That is a little risky, NZ. We cannot afford to have our plans revealed to the world. It would really put a black eye on both you and the Ohio State University.

Nancy: I understand, Gordo. Just cancel the game.

A confused Brian Kelly receives a call from Ohio State athletics:

Brian Kelly: Gene, I hear you needed to talk to me over a scheduling issue in 2012. What is that all about?

Gene Smith (OSU Athletic Director): Ohio State can no longer afford to play UC. Honestly, it’s simply a financial thing. We will make more money in a home game.

Brian: Gene, I hear the financial part and I know Ohio State is “constantly” strapped for cash in football, but you had a deal to come play us. UC has played more than our fair share in Columbus. The school understood it benefited them to do so, but part of the deal was for you to come back here again. You have traveled to the little MAC schools in state no problem. Gene, we are going to have to hold you to the contract you signed. I expect a school of “integrity” like Ohio State would stay committed to its word.

Gene: Brian, I am truly sorry, but there is no way we can do it. We just make way more money for games in Columbus, even after whatever buyout we give you and whatever we pay the 1AA School we choose for another guarantee game.

Brian: Gene, if it is finances you are worried about we can split the profit with you. Whatever profits are made down at PBS we’ll give you half. That also avoids you having to pay off another 1AA team for a guarantee game in Columbus. You are sure to come out on top that way.

Gene: Our fans will not be happy. We just need more home games. Our fans will not be able to get tickets like last time. UC fans are going to get all the tickets.

Brian: Gene, I thought this was purely about finances. OK, what if we called it a neutral site game. We split the profits and the ticket distribution 50/50, right down the middle. If we do that the Buckeyes will certainly have at least as many fans as they had last time you came to Cincinnati…probably more.

Gene: I am sorry, Brian. There is just no way we can play this game.

Brian: Gene lets play in Cleveland, or, Detroit, or in a parking lot somewhere. This is a game people want to see. It’s a game that can get national exposure. It would be a game between two BCS schools in the same conference. Let’s look at the states around us: Louisville and Kentucky play, Michigan and Michigan State play, Purdue and Notre Dame play, Tennessee and Vanderbilt play, Illinois and Northwestern play. All of these BCS schools in the same state play each other. It provides great TV games. I know your fans may not be excited for the game now, but if we started playing every year they would look forward to the game. UK did not always want to play Louisville in basketball, but now it is a marquee must see game every year. Our football program is going to be great some day, Gene. Let’s get this game going now, let’s start building the anticipation. Gameday is going to want to be at this game before it is all said and done.

Gene: Brian, we are the Ohio State University. We are not Michigan or Notre Dame. They can play other BCS teams in the state, we are better than the rest of the state and we get to dictate our games.

Brian: Gene, maybe a team like Notre Dame understands the value in promoting a regional non-conference rivalry. It can be a selling point down the road; it creates excitement for the games.

Gene: We are the Ohio State University

Brian: I heard you the first time. You are one of the Ohio State Universities.

Gene: We are the Ohio State University

Brian: Gene, I am going to give you a chance to save face. You do not want to look like you are ducking us and I want to build anticipation for this game. I want there to be pressure to play this game. What if we were to come to OSU to play in 2012? It would be a home game for you, plus you could tell everyone it was purely financial and I’ll stay quiet about all the offers I made you hear today so you could fulfill your contract. I know I could get people all over asking you why OSU ducked UC if they knew the full truth. However, I think when we go up there and play a great game people are going to want to see more. There will be pressure to continue the rivalry. So I am giving you this chance to save face. Play us in Columbus. I will keep quiet. But mark my words…this game will be played annually some day, when OSU is wishing they were the program UC has become.

Gene: Not much of a choice there. I am not sure how I will explain this to the President, but we’ll see.

The UC vs. OSU football game scheduled for 2012 was officially moved back to Columbus. Coach Kelly kept his word and kept the entire conversation to himself. But who knows…maybe one day Coach Kelly will be right. Maybe one day people will ask the question: Why do OSU and UC, two teams who consistently win BCS conference championships, not play each other every year? And eventually maybe Kelly will get his wish and OSU will see the value in coming to Cincinnati to get their butts whooped every two years.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Bearcatmark's Preseason Top 25

Bearcatmark’s Preseason Top 25

I have agreed to submit a top 25 ballot every week for NCAAbbs. With a desire for openness in mind I am going to post my top 25 every week so I can get some feedback and scrutiny. If you believe there was a gross omission let me know (it is possible to forget someone unwillingly). If you disagree make an argument, I’d like to hear thoughts one way or the other.

For my preseason poll I really looked at last year's results and who each team has returning. I did not consider what they may do this season based on their schedule, nor what I think the poll will look like at the end of the season. My main criteria was this: if these two teams met head to head on a neutral field who would I pick to win. The team I would pick was ranked hire.

This will not be how I always conduct the poll. It will have more influence early in the season, but as I see more and more games and teams begin to prove themselves I will factor results in. To me late in the season what “I think” teams can do is less important than what teams did. So since I am a Bearcat fan let me use this example. If UC goes to Oklahoma and beats the Sooners and then later in the season beats WVU they will be rewarded for that. I may think both Oklahoma and WVU had off games and would bet on those teams on a neutral field, but I would use the actually results more so than my feeling on who would win. Beating good teams will weigh heavily in my poll.

With that in mind… here is my preseason top 25:

1. “One of the” Ohio State Universities… in the case the Columbus branch- I know everyone hates on Ohio State and I hope I am very very wrong about them, but they are good. Really good. The defense is going to be stacked. I know the last two National Title games makes them look bad and they have had some trouble against spread offenses, but this team is more experienced than anyone else in the country. They really do know how to win. Laurinaitis is the best defensive player in the country. On a neutral cite I would not bet against them this season. I think they are the most proven team out of the entire top 25. (I also think the LSU game was closer than the score indicated for what that is worth)
2. USC - Makes for a great matchup early in the season doesn’t it? They have so much talent. I just trust them more than the other teams.
3. Oklahoma- The WVU game from last year scares me a bit, but everyone looks dreadful against WVU's offense. They return 15 starters including a QB that was a freshman last season and will surely be even better this year in Sam Bradford. Their offensive line is as good as there is in the country.
4. Georgia- Great season last year and they return 17 starters this year. They seemingly have not been able to get over the hump in big games though. The thrashing they took from Tennessee last year scares me. I do not know that they are much better than Florida, LSU, or Auburn. Honestly I am just a little too skeptical of Georgia to put them any higher than 4 (still really high and they will have plenty of chances to prove me wrong).
5. West Virginia- It’s always a question when a new coach takes over, but their offense is second to none and I think they have enough back on defense to maintain their success.
6. Florida- I trust Urban Meyer. I love the offense, I think the defense is ready to step up this year.
7. Missouri- A ton of experience back from a team that was oh so close to playing for the National Championship last year.
8. Auburn- They are always tough defensively. They return 17 starters. The QB position is a question mark, especially in a new system that will be more dependent on QB play, however I think this is a sleeper National Title contender.
9. Texas Tech- 19 starters back, prolific offense, and they actually played defense last year.
10. LSU- Defending National Champs…they have enough talent to warrant top 10 consideration. There are, however, questions at the QB position. This makes 4 of the top 10 from the SEC and 3 for the Big 12. Those conferences are going to be very tough this season.
11. Virginia Tech- I like them more then Clemson. I think the offense will be better than last year, and the defense always seems to reload. There is a lot of talent in that secondary.
12. Arizona State- They were a tough one for me. They did not prove they could win away from home last season which is worrisome. In the end they return a bunch of talent and Erickson always seems to get a ton out of his players.
13. Cincinnati- They finished 17 last year. I think this is the best team UC has ever had. QB questions are the only thing holding me back from predictions of a top ten season. Their defense is as good as any and they have the weapons on offense to compete. Kevin Huber and Jake Rodgers should continue to force teams to drive the ball a long way through great punting and deep kickoffs.
14. Clemson- A lot of people love Clemson. They have never convinced me.
15. Wisconsin- Someone has to be number 2 in the Big 10.
16. South Florida- Doesn’t have the questions at QB that UC has, but doesn’t have the weapons on offense or special teams either. Their defense is really good, but I also think UC’s secondary is superior. Ultimately that’s why they are a few spots below the Bearcats.
17. Kansas- They’ll have a better schedule to be judged against this season.
18.Tennessee- They looked great in beating Georgia and awful in getting thrashed by Florida. I tend to be optimistic about Tennessee, but it is hard to put them any higher at this point.
19. Illinois- They lose a bunch of starters, but still have the talent to finish top 3 in the Big 10.
20. Texas- They have a ton of talent, but have an uphill battle in the loaded Big 12.
21. Oregon- As deep as the PAC ten was last season, I do not think it’s as good this year.
22. Wake Forest- Look out Clemson, I really think Wake Forest can win the ACC Atlantic.
23. BYU- I am not being very friendly to the non-BSC teams. I considered a few and am sure Fresno State, Utah, TCU, and East Carolina will have ample opportunity to put themselves in the top 25. Right now BYU is just the team I am most sure about.
24. Penn State- I think the Nittanys have a ton to prove and the talent to do it.
25. Rutgers- I like this Rutgers team more than most do. I think Pitt and Rutgers will do battle for 4th in the Big East. If I was ranking based on who would win on a Neutral cite I would give Rutgers the edge. Their biggest problem is they have to travel to WVU, Pitt, South Florida, and Cincinnati… ouch. They also have nonconference games against Fresno State and UNC. If Rutgers is going to be viewed as a top team this year they are really going to have to earn it.

Other teams considered but missing (In no order): Utah, Fresno State, UCF, ECU, Pitt, Boston College, UCLA, South Carolina and Michigan.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Friday Morning Hangover

(Bearcatmark tries to get you to the weekend)

Thank You Ben Mauk:

According to 1530 homer Ben Mauk has officially been denied his 6th year of eligibility by the NCAA. Ridiculous that it took this long, but it was certainly a decision that should come as no surprise to anyone involved. Ben Mauk gave UC one great year. He led our Bearcats to their first 10 win season since the 1960’s. He dealt with the frequent offensive line lapses (resulting from having to play in a completely different system) with great poise, continually evading pressure and making good decisions. He provided the leadership from the Quarterback position necessary to make UC a Big East contender and the number 17 team in the country at season's end. Thank you Ben Mauk for your time here at the University of Cincinnati. Now it’s time for Grutza to win us a Big East title.

Favre Traded?

So I was scouring through all my favorite sports websites and noticed that Brett Favre has been traded. This may be news to everyone, because it has been largely ignored by the national media. It was my understanding that Brett Favre had retired after a tremendous year, leading the Green Bay Packers to the brink of a Super Bowl birth. Apparently he decided recently that he wanted to come back. Brett Favre has not missed a start since Lincoln was president, so maybe this development should not have been so shocking. It seems Brett Favre likes to play football.

One would think any reasonable team would jump at the chance to bring back their hall of fame quarterback, who nearly led his team to the Super Bowl the prior season, but the Packers have other plans. The Packers seem to have everything in place to make another run this season, but have elected to put the ball in the hands of a young, unproven quarterback in the hopes of making a decision on whether he is the future of the franchise. I do not really understand this… if you were that close to going to the Super Bowl last season…WHY RISK THIS SEASON? No one knows how large a window they have. This is the NFL after all. Not bringing Brett Favre back when he wants back in utter insanity.

The Jets traded a fourth round pick for Brett Favre…kinda. The pick can actually go up to a first round pick if the Jets make the Super Bowl, Brett takes 80 percent of the snaps, George Bush finds Osama Bin Ladin, and Al Gore decides to shut down the three power plans he needs to provide electricity to his house. I think the last two are possibilities, but for some reason I do not have as much confidence in the 4-12 Jets to turn it around and make a Super Bowl in the stacked AFC. I guess we’ll find out. For now lets watch Broadway Brett/Jet Favre/Jersey B(rett) try to lead the New York Brett’s to a .500 season. That seems a little more reasonable.

Dunn Watch

Picture this, you get invited to the Playboy Mansion. You get to hang out in the grotto to party with Hef and all his hunnies. You come back and you’re buddy asks you “How was it?” and your response is “Well, there was free booze, I had access to pools, hot tubs, and the most beautiful women in the world were wearing practically nothing everywhere I went… BUT I didn’t have a chance with them so it was not worth it.” Yea that is crazy right…but it is basically the attitude of a large portion of Reds fans towards Adam Dunn. “Yea Dunn hits 40 homeruns, scores 100 runs, and drives in 100 runs every year... Plus he is in the top 6 in baseball in runs created over the last 5 years, BUT he strikes out too much and the Reds do not win with him.”

Ok it would be nice if Dunn struck out less, but at the end of the day he is still giving you top of the line production when it comes to the most important part of being a hitter…PRODUCING RUNS. As for the Reds not winning with him, well you may want to look at the lack of run production from the rest of the team, and maybe, just maybe the below average pitching. Just a thought. So for this week's Dunn Watch lets reiterate what Dunn is doing so far this year:

32 HR, 74 RBI, .381 OBP, .540 SLG, 58 runs

Yea he’s good.

What to expect the rest of August

1. The University of Cincinnati Bearcat Football team will beat EKU to move to 1-0. (Duh)
2. The USA will win the medal count at the Olympics. (Duh 2)
3. The Cubs will end the month still in first place in the Central. (Duh 3)
4. Chad Johnson will continue to impress people at camp and will continue talking about having his best season ever. Fans will wear Chad Johnson jerseys and act like they never ragged on him a few months earlier.
5. Paul Daugherty will be replaced at the Cincinnati Enquirer by Joe Posnanski (please God please).
6. New evidence will come out detailing Ohio State’s plot to destroy the University of Cincinnati forever and how it is backfiring to the point that they had to bail out on a football game in Cincinnati for fear of losing. (more coming soon)
7. Adam Dunn will continue to be the most important hitter in the Reds lineup and continue to be underutilized by his manager (get him out of the 5 spot and into the 3 or 4).
8. I will unveil my preseason top 25 for college football as well as my favorites to make it to the National Championship.
9. The NFL preseason will be as meaningless as it always is.
10. The United States will have at least two games decided by 7 points or less in Olympic Basketball. Spain, Argentina and Greece are all capable of beating them. I think the United States will reclaim their gold medal, but they are going to have to fight to do so.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

2008 Big East Preview

The last two years have been great for the Big East Conference. Two seasons ago Rutgers, WVU and Louisville all went late into the season unbeaten. In back to back weeks the Big East had memorably great football games with Louisville beating West Virginia to put them firmly in the Big East driver’s seat and in the National Title picture. The following week Rutgers pulled off their biggest win in school history defeating Louisville in Piscataway on a last second field goal. Three Big East teams finished in the top 15 nationally that season and the Big East went on to post a 5-0 Bowl Record.

Despite that the Big East was not without skeptics. Many viewed the Big East’s success in their bowls only as the result of favorable Bowl Match-ups. There was also a strong belief that the Big East was merely a top heavy conference where teams like Louisville and West Virginia just beat up on also-rans. I would argue that was a completely asinine belief even then. South Florida went into West Virginia late in the season and crushed the Mountaineers BCS hopes. The University of Cincinnati played 5 games against top 10 teams that season with a very young team and was competitive in nearly all of them (though eventually letting the game get away against WVU and OSU). Cincinnati capped off those 5 games (the first four on the road), with a 30-11 spanking of Rutgers, costing the Scarlet Knights any National Title dreams they may have had.

For all those skeptics 2007 really highlighted the emerging depth of the Big East conference. The Big East continued to establish itself both inside and outside of the conference. Eventual third place Pac Ten finishing Oregon State traveled to Cincinnati for an early Thursday night battle. They left that night on the wrong end of a 34-3 beating from Brian Kelly’s Bearcats. South Florida traveled into SEC runner up Auburn in a much hyped game. Leading up to the game the national media talked about South Florida as a team ready to step up onto the national stage…this was not the case of an Auburn team over looking a small Big East squad. South Florida had been talked about ad nausea, by much of the National Media. South Florida walked out of Auburn with a big victory and eventually made it as high as number 2 in the national polls.

A conference viewed by many as dominated by WVU and Louisville suddenly had other emerging powers. Rutgers had emerged the prior season. South Florida and Cincinnati emerged early in the season and by the end of the season it was actually the Uconn Huskies who would share the Big East Title with West Virginia. The Big East went 3-2 in Bowl games last season improving to 8-2 over the last two seasons. The Big East Bowl season was highlighted by West Virginia’s 48-28 shellacking of Oklahoma. The Big East Champion has now beaten the SEC, ACC, and Big 12 conference champion in their last three BCS Bowl games. In the end 6 of the 8 (75%) Big East teams were ranked at some point in the 2007 season. In 2008 the Big East looks to continue the upward trend that has erased many of the doubters across the country. With its lack of traditional powers the Big East still has many skeptics, but the results on the field have spoke volumes for the conference. West Virginia is once again a National Title Contender, while South Florida and Cincinnati could be poised for top 15 seasons. Last year’s Big East co-champion Connecticut Huskies return 19 starters, the Pitt Panthers hope to finally cash in on the promise of multiple top recruiting classes, Rutgers returns their QB and top 3 wide receivers, and Louisville hopes to show that last season was merely a bump in road on their way to being a national power. This is an exciting seasons for the Big East and has the potential to boast even more accomplishments than the previous two seasons.

Best Non-Conference Games:

The Big East has several excellent opportunities to showcase their talents out of conference this season.

Louisville vs. Kentucky (Saturday August 31 @ 3:30 pm) - If Louisville wants to get back to national prominence they need to win this game.

Cincinnati @ Oklahoma (Saturday September 6 at 3:30) - The Bearcats take their fast paced offense and fast, talented, experienced defense to Norman for a nationally televised early season battle. This game will be a great measuring stick for where the Bearcats are on a national level.

South Florida vs. Kansas (Friday September 12 at 8pm) - A second major non-conference game the Big East gets against a BCS team from the prior season. South Florida has a ton of experience back on offense and a knack for performing in these Big Games.

Uconn vs. Virginia (Saturday September 13 at 7:30 pm) - This is an important game for the Huskies to get. They were the Big East Co-Champions last season; they are home against a middle of the road ACC team. They should win this game.

Louisville vs. Kansas State (Wednesday September 17 at 7:30 pm) – Another home game against a BCS team for Louisville to show last year was a mere aberration.

Pitt vs. Iowa (Saturday September 20) – The Panthers are to me the biggest question in the Big East this season. I could see their season going so many different ways. If they are ready to live up to their potential this is a game they should win.

West Virginia vs. Auburn (Thursday October 23 at 7:30 pm) - For the second straight season Auburn is involved in a marquee game for the Big East Conference. This will be a Thursday night game on ESPN and is huge for a team in West Virginia with National Title aspirations.

Cincinnati @ Hawaii (Saturday December 6) – The Bearcats do what they never should have done and go back to Hawaii. This is the third and final non-conference game for Big East teams against BCS teams from last season. It is also the final game of the season. I would love to see an absolute beat down.

Projected Order of Finish:

  1. West Virginia - Let me be clear there are a number of questions for this year’s West Virginia Football team. They lost 7 defensive starters from a defense that was the best seen at WVU in recent years. That defense really allowed WVU to be as good as they were. The secondary for their 3-3-5 defense will have to completely reinvent itself this season having lost all of their starters. For a conference that boasts some dangerous passing attacks that could be troubling for the Mountaineers. The Mountaineers have enough experience with the defensive line and linebackers that they should at least be able to get pressure on the QB giving the secondary a better opportunity to succeed.

We also only need to look back to Louisville last season and see how hard it can be to replace a successful and talented college football coach. Rich Rodriguez was taking the WVU program to new heights. He had established them as the power in the Big East conference. Bill Stewart, a man with no successful head coaching experience, takes over. In one sense this could really help this year’s team. He will have a strong knowledge of the players and personnel. He will understand the strengths and weakness and I cannot see him messing up this incredibly talented offense.

In the end it is that offense that makes me stick with West Virginia as the pre-season favorites to win the Big East Conference. When they are clicking there is no one that can stop Pat White and this offense. They are incredibly frustrating for opposing teams as they can methodically move the ball down the field on 6 and 7 yards runs and continually break long runs throughout the course of every game. The offensive line returns 8 men with starting experience, so they have the guys to protect Pat White and open up holes for this running game. West Virginia really should not miss Steve Slaton much because Noel Devine is an absolute burner. But clearly, the key to this offense is Pat White. He has to be a favorite (along with Florida’s Tim Tebow) to win the Heisman Trophy this season. I cannot see an offense with this much experience not performing at a top level again this season. Bill Stewart knows their strengths and he’ll have them ready to pick up where they left off.

So while I worry about the defense and you never know what can happen when a new coach steps in…the Mountaineers still have too much talent to ignore. I have the range of West Virginia projected records anywhere from 8-4 to 12-0. That’s a Big Range My official projection: 11-1 (6-1 Big East), Conference Champion.

  1. Cincinnati- The Bearcats have made the jump the last two seasons. They gained valuable experience two years ago as a very young squad playing 4 top ten teams on the road and eventually beating number 6 Rutgers at Nippert. They quickly learned new systems on offense and defense last season and put together their first 10 win season since the 1960s. This Bearcat squad is the best of the bunch.

Defensively the Biggest concerns for the Bearcats come from having to replace both starting safeties, particularly Haruki Nakurmura and both starting defensive ends. The strength of the Bearcats other positions should allow them to do so. Terrill Byrd and Adam Hoppel are as good a set of defensive tackles as there are in the Big East, maybe the country. Their ability will really allow the inexperienced ends a chance to rush the quarterback. There is a ton of optimism concerning the Bearcat defensive ends this season. In is transfer Alex Daniels from Minnesota who should have the athleticism and skill set to be a force early on. Lamont Nelms played a significant amount at defensive end last season and was very effective, often every bit as effective as Anthony Hoke and DeAngelo Craig. Conner Barwin and Craig Carey have made the switch from offense to defensive end and their athleticism should offer a different look from the end position. The experience the Bearcats have at linebacker and the skills they possess at CB should allow the safeties great opportunities to make plays. The Bearcats expect to give All Conference cornerback DeAngelo Smith ample time at safety this season in order to get he, All American CB Mike Mickens, and OSU transfer Brandon Underwood on the field as much as possible. This is an even more experienced and skilled defense than the Bearcats had last season. Simply put the 2008 Bearcat defense should be even better than the 2007 version.

On offense, everything is set for the Bearcats to be even better than they were last year. They are now in year two of Brian Kelly’s spread attack. Last year was a big switch for the Bearcat offense, going from Mark Dantonio’s three yards and a cloud of dust I-formation power attack, to Brian Kelly spread it out, play fast, run a bunch of plays and create mismatches attack. Perhaps the biggest strides this Bearcat team will make should be with the offensive line. Last season the offensive line was asked to play a completely different brand of football than they had been brought here to play. They were asked to slim down, to play fast, to learn different blocking schemes and get comfortable blocking in a more athletic, faster offense. This season the offensive line should be far ahead of where they were at this time last year. This should allow for whoever the UC QB is to have more time to throw the football and allow the younger, more athletic Bearcat running backs a chance to make more plays. The Bearcat’s wide receivers should be the strength of the unit, returning senior Dominick Goodman and a pair of exciting sophomores in Marcus Barnett and Marty Gilyard. The Bearcats also will see the return of the immensely talented Tight End Kazeem Ali. He should add yet another threat to an already dangerous offense. So the stage is set for the offense, but they will need a quarterback. It looks like 5th year senior Dustin Grutza is the guy, unless Ben Mauk is granted a 6th year of eligibility. Grutza looked good in limited action last season, but has often had a problem with making quick decisions. This did not hurt him against Marshall and Miami (Ohio) last season, but he’ll need to be decisive against teams like Oklahoma, WVU and the rest of the Big East.

I have the Bearcats predicted to go anywhere from 9-4 to 12-0. The 12-0 would be a Big Time stretch because I cannot see them beating both Oklahoma and WVU on the road. I just do not see that. With good production from the quarterback position this Bearcat team should be better across the board than last years 10-3 team. With that in mind my prediction for the Cincinnati Bearcats: 10-3 (5-2 Big East 2nd place). My more detailed preview for this years Bearcat team is available here and here.

  1. South Florida- The Bulls are back and they have staying power. Jim Leavitt continues to bring talent into South Florida and perhaps has the most experienced, diverse offense in his tenor at the university. Matt Grothe is back for his junior season. He ran for over 800 yards last season and threw for over 2500. He will be aided by a very deep running back position that includes sophomore Mike Ford (4.7 yards per carry and 12 TDs last season) and senior Ben Williams (425 yards and 6 TDs). The South Florida offensive line is anchored by three senior starters. Needless to say there is experience across the board for the USF offense, which should be improved from last season.

Probably the biggest question for the Bulls is how do they replace the defensive backfield of Mike Jenkins and Trae Williams. Mike Jenkins was a first round draft pick of the Dallas Cowboys and was first team All Big East last season. The corners will be aided by a fairly experienced front seven. All Big East performer George Selvie and leading tackler Tyrone McKenzie are back and should allow the front seven both stop the run and get pressure on the quarterback. If South Florida gets good production from the corner back position this defense should be one of the Big East’s best.

I believe South Florida should be the Big East’s third best team and are one of four teams I could see potentially winning the Big East title. They are experienced and have won big games in the past. The biggest snag I see for the Bulls is that they must face the teams they are competing with for a Big East championship on the road. They travel to Cincinnati on October 30 and then to West Virginia for the potentially freezing December 6 match-up (this match–up could very well be for the conference title). I have South Florida projected to finish anywhere from 7-5 to 10-2. My official projection: 9-3 (4-3 Big East, 3rd Place)

T-4. Pittsburgh- Here is to Pittsburgh the hardest team to figure in the Big East conference. They are getting a bunch of preseason love this season from the National Media. Here is what we know about Pittsburgh that is cause for optimism:

1. They have recruited amazingly well under Dave Wannstedt. In fact they have recruited better than anyone else in the Big East.

2. Last season they had victories over 10-3 Cincinnati and most memorably a road victory over Big East co-champion West Virginia. That win prevented West Virginia from getting a national championship game match-up with “one of the” Ohio State Universities (the Columbus branch if you were wondering), a game I could have seen them dominating.

3. They are bringing back the immensely talented LaSean McCoy at running back. McCoy gave Big East defenses fits. He is probably the top NFL prospect among Big East running backs having broken Tony Dorsett’s freshman record for TDs and points and he did all this with little production from the passing game.

4. The Panthers get Bill Stull back, the projected starter from last year, whom Pittsburgh views as the guy to lead their team. Ultimately Stull has little real experience as a college QB so it will be interesting to see how he does.

All that being said it is hard for me to predict the meteoric rise of Pitt Panther football this season, because I have not seen enough evidence to warrant it. Pitt admitted looked legit against Cincinnati and West Virginia last year, but their other wins were against Eastern Michigan, Grambling State and Syracuse. Here is what the Panthers did against everyone else:

@Michigan State- 17-14 LOSS

Uconn- 34-14 BIG TIME LOSS

@Virginia- 44-14 ABYSMAL LOSS

Navy- 48-45 Loss to a not very good Navy team

@Louisville- 24-17 Loss

@Rutgers- 20-16 Loss

USF 48-37 Loss

I guess my point is that Pitt had 2 wins last year against reasonably good competition (actually very very good competition), but in their other 7 games against reasonably good competition they lost every time. 2 for 9 against good teams does not show me much. On top of that, they were absolutely destroyed twice, and beat handily another time. I guess you can look at the Cincinnati game and say that starting with that game they played better, but did they really play well enough to warrant all this optimism. I am at a loss on Pittsburgh. I do not know where to pick them. I do not trust Wanny, I am not sold on their ability to play consistently good football, and yet I, like everyone else have seen the highs. I watched them against WVU and Cincinnati last year and they have the players to compete for a conference title.

In the end Pitt is one of four teams I could see winning a conference title, but the one I have the least confidence in. I have their range of records anywhere from 5-7 to 10-2. My official prediction: 7-5 (3-4 Big East Tie for 4th place)

T-4. Rutgers- Last season was a bit of a disappointment for the Scarlet Knights. They were projected to compete for a Big East Championship (Kurt Herbstreet had them winning it) and yet that never materialized. An early loss to Maryland really set the tone for a season full of missed opportunities. Rutgers took a 17-7 halftime lead into the locker room against Cincinnati only to have the Bearcats explode for 21 third quarter points and leave Piscataway with a win. They then recovered by beating Syracuse and then number 2 South Florida only to be beaten pretty badly by Uconn and West Virginia.

I think Rutgers’ offense is going to be awfully good this season. Mike Teel and his top 3 receivers from last year all are back. Last season both Tiquan Underwood and Kenny Britt had over 1000 yards receiving, so though replacing a player as good as Ray Rice should be tough, this offense will not lack for big play ability. There are questions on the offensive line that need to be resolved, but Rutgers should be able to put up some points.

The defense has continually been one of the best in the Big East. Schiano’s teams seem to always get pressure on the QB and make it hard on opposing running backs to gain positive yards. The secondary and defensive line figure to be strong, while the biggest question marks for the defense are at the linebacker position. Rutgers struggled against the run last season and will need better performance in that area if they are to compete for a Big East title.

In truth I believe too much is going against Rutgers to be much of a factor in the Big East this season. First, they play much of the top of the conference on the road. The Scarlet Knights travel to West Virginia, Cincinnati, South Florida and Pittsburgh. That is a tall order for any team wanting to compete for a conference title. Even 2-2 in those games could prove difficult. In the end there are just too many questions for this Rutgers team. I have their projected record anywhere from 5-7 to 9-3. My official prediction: 8-4 (3-4 Big East, Tie for 4th place).

T-4. Uconn - Adding to my jumble of Big East teams at 3-4 in the conference are the Uconn Huskies. The Huskies were the Big East co-champions last season and return 19 starters from that team if you include the kicker and punter. Much of last season was marked by the Huskies playing good, smart, field position football and making the plays they needed to win games (they also had a few breaks against Temple and Louisville). The Huskies also took advantage of home field last season. The Huskies were 7-0 at home and 2-4 away from home. If they are going to compete for a Big East tile this season they must find a way to win outside of Storrs, Connecticut.

My impression from watching the Huskies last season was that they were a solid, well coach team that the national media underestimated (there were people picking them to finish last in the conference). That being said, I believe the Huskies overachieved last year. When I watched them against Cincinnati and West Virginia they just did not seem to have the team speed some of the other Big East Teams had. They lacked true playmakers on offense and game changers on defense. I think they are a solid team that will come to play every game and win some games in the Big East, but I do not see them repeating last year’s performance. They lost their last 3 games away from Storrs by a combined score of 117 to 34, never coming with two touchdowns. This year they do have the advantage of playing Cincinnati and WVU at home, but still have road games against UNC, Rutgers and South Florida.

I firmly expect the Huskies to take a step back this season. My range for the Huskies is anywhere from 5-7 to 8-4. My official prediction: 7-5 (3-4 Big East, Tie for 4th place)

T-4. Louisville - Like Pitt, Louisville is another team I am having a hard time getting a feel for. Louisville was dreadful on defense last season and as a result wasted one of college football’s most talented offenses lead by QB Brian Brohm. Brohm is now gone, replaced by Hunter Cantwell. Cantwell is more than capable of leading this Louisville offense forward. I do not expect them to be as dynamic as they were with Brohm at the helm, but they should still be a very good offense.

Because of this it comes down to the defense. Can Ron English get production from defense? I suspect you will see improvement from last year’s defense, but not drastic improvement. Louisville seemingly has a long way to go before they are back to competing for Big East titles. It really is hard to believe that just two seasons ago they won their BCS game.

With all of these 3-4 teams I put them in order by who I believe is most likely to finish highest. I believe Pitt has more upside potential than Rutgers, Uconn and Louisville. I had Louisville lowest, because I could potentially see them doing even worse than last year, but I have to believe there is talent at a school two years removed from a BCS bid. Maybe a second year under Kragthorpe’s tutelage and a new defensive coordinator will make Louisville a better football team. My range for Louisville is anywhere from 3-9 to 8-4. My official prediction: 6-6 (3-4 Big East, Tie for 4th place)

8. Syracuse- They are bad. Can they win one conference game again? I say yes. My range prediction 1-11 to 4-12. My prediction: 3-9 (1-6 Big East, Last Place)

Get stoked everyone Big East football is coming. This promises to be an exciting year for the Big East as they try to continue to improve on their recent successes. WVU has National Title aspirations. I believe Cincinnati, USF, and Pitt all have top 15 upside. The middle of the league is very muddled in my predictions. I believe someone is going to probably emerge from that pack and be better than 3-4 (Pitt is the most likely candidate) and someone is likely to do worse than the 3-4 (Louisville the most likely candidate), but these projections are based on where I see each team most likely to finish. Anyways… I am ready for some football. Go Bearcats!!!