After studying the relative merits of most teams in the non BCS leagues, I have finally done a little bit of analysis on arguably the weakest of the BCS conferences. The Big East has some pretty darn good football teams that are somewhat under rated probably but still, except for perhaps two or three are not up to the level of the SEC, Big XXII, ACC Coastal Division, or even the PAC 10. The ACC raided some of the more high profile teams in the Big East a few years back which in turn caused the Big East to raid some of the better CUSA programs. The Big East gave Temple the boot at about the same time which has turned out to be a boon for the Owl program. When it is all said and done there are probably only two to four teams here that are of true BCS calibre and none at this time that will challenge for the national title. On to the predictions.
1. West Virgina: This year's team looks to me to be the best in conference. They return most starters, although they will have a fresh face at QB. The non conference schedule is pretty light with only LSU posing a problem. They play South Florida in October with Cincinnati and Pitt in November. Look for 4-1 in non conference play and perhaps only one loss in conference play. I bet Rich Rodriguez wishes he had not made the move to Michigan.
2. Pitt: Most publications rate the Panthers as the number one team in the Big East. I disagree. Recent history has shown that this team can get close but can not close the deal on the conference crown. The non conference schedule is tough with the opener at Utah, with Miami and a New Hampshire (a good IAA program) at home. They do meet the fighting Irish also in a road game and that may be a disadvantage. Classless Coach K knows how to beat the Panthers from his years in the Big East. I would look for this squad to go 3-2 in non conference play with victories likely over Florida International, New Hampshire and perhaps Notre Dame. They will likely lose to Miami and Utah. They should be competitive in the Big East with perhaps only two losses. That will depend on their morale after the rough non conference schedule.
3. Connecticut: The Huskies return most starters on offense and a good many on D. They may have what it takes to compete for the Big East title. They will get a boost from their non conference schedule. The only teams that look like they may pose a problem are Michigan (doubtful) and Temple (even less likely). They should have no trouble with the remaining three non conference games. The test will come in conference play. If they can stay healthy and surprise WVU or Pitt then they are have a better than "dark horse" shot at taking the conference title.
4.. Cincinnati: The Bearcats return quite a few players on both offense and defense. Tony Pike is gone but the back up last year stepped in and did a fine job. He will be the starter this year. Butch Jones inherits a team that has a shot at competing for the top spot again. He is a proven coach and is a winner. With that being said, I think there will be somewhat of a let down and that they will finish in the fourth slot. The demoralizing defeat to Florida in last years Sugar Bowl may still linger in the mind of the players. Perhaps not. It would have been interesting to see if the Cats would have had a better game had Brian Kelly not deserted his team in a lurch. What a classless individual. An exceptional coach with absolutely no class. It is kind of a shame really. At any rate, the non conference schedule is fairly tough with dates at Fresno State and NC State. They also meet the Sooners, IAA Indiana State and Miami of Ohio. It is conceivable that they lose three games here. I will look for them to go 3-2 in non conference play with 2-3 not out of the question. They will have trouble with Pitt, S. Florida, WVU, and perhaps Rutgers or Connecticut. I think they will prevail in some of these games but probably will wind up no better than the fourth spot.
5. Rutgers: Greg Schiano is a good coach and there are those that think he should have moved on to "bigger and better" things when the iron was hot, They have an outside shot at competing for the Big East crown. Doubtful but not out of the question. Still they are a fine football team that is well coached. Their non conference schedule is favorable with only North Carolina the likely problem. The problem comes in conference play. Will they be able to match last years record with only four losses. We will see. They do return key starters on both offense and defence. If anyone falters, they should move up in the standings with again, an outside shot at competing for conference honors.
6. South Florida: The Bulls are another pretty good football team that has a very small shot at finishing number one in conference. The return a good many starters on offense including a very good QB in B.J. Daniels, but perhaps only four on defense. New coach, Skip Holtz, is a proven winner but will he be able to get things together for his first year in the Tampa Bay area? We will see. The non conference schedule is not too bad with the exception of the loss they will take to home after their trip to "Gatorland" and a likely loss to Miami. They should easily wind up 3-2 in non conference play. Like the NJ team above, will they be able to run with the top dogs in the Big East? Time will tell.
7. Louisville: Someone has to wind up in the cellar and I don't thik it will be the Cardinals. Thankfully Kragthorpe is gone and Charlie Strong makes his debut. The reason I did not pick these guys for the last spot is the number of starters that return. Granted, the team was 4-8 last year but they retain more experienced players than the team that will finish in the dungeon. They should be able to handle some of the teams in non conference play but that is not a given. Games with Kentucky and Oregon State are likely losses and Arkansas State has been known to surprise the big boys of the BCS. The game with Memphis should be a toss up. They also meet IAA Eastern Kentucky. They will probably not be able to keep up with most teams Big East play. How the mighty have fallen. Kragthorpe had some success at Tulsa but could not keep the magic going in Louisville. Will Coach Strong be able to make a difference? Impossible to say at this point.
8. Syracuse: Someone has to finish last and I predict it will the the Orange. They lose quite a few key players on both sides of the ball and that may not be such a bad thing. This looks like a total rebuild. Coach Marrone may be able to have some success here if he is allowed a few years to do so. In today's world of college football that is unlikely. The non conference schedule is the one bright spot. All the games with the exception of Boston College may result in a win. Well Washington may be a bit of problem. A few years ago I would have said that IAA Maine would be difficult also, but that program has fallen off some in recent years. They should be either 4-1 or 3-2 in non conference play but will not be able to compete in the league. If they win more than one or two league games that would be an accomplishment.