The much maligned Big East conference finally gained some respect last season when five of its eight teams earned major college football bowl bids. The expected improvement of the Pittsburgh Panthers could further enhance the Big East conference’s image. Come December don’t be surprised to see two, maybe three Big East conference teams vying for BCS invitations in the 2008 college football season.
2008 Cincinnati College Football Preview:
Following last year’s 10-3 campaign, the school’s best since the Truman administration, the Bearcats enter 2008 the college football season with 16 returning starters.
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The defense, which tied for first nationally with 42 turnovers, again looks fast and aggressive. Cornerbacks Mike Mickens (6 interceptions), a Playboy Preseason All-American, and DeAngelo Smith (8 interceptions) anchor a ball-hawking secondary that led the nation with 26 interceptions. They’ll be joined by linebackers Corey Smith (80 tackles) and Ryan Manalac.
If quarterback Ben Mauk (3,121 yards, 31 touchdowns) loses his appeal for one more year of eligibility, the keys, as it were, will be handed over to senior Dustin Grutza. His experience with the spread offense gives him the edge, for now, over Notre Dame transfer Demetrius Jones. Wide receiver Dominick Goodman (869 yards, 8 TDs) returns as the Bearcats’ number one passing target. And running backs John Goebel and Jacob Ramsey will probably work as a tandem.
Road games against Oklahoma, West Virginia, and Connecticut make repeating last season’s turnover magic imperative.
2008 Connecticut Huskies Football Preview:
Despite shocking the country with an out-of-the-blue 9-4 record in 2007, the Huskies’ bandwagon remains empty. But thanks to a core of returning starters Connecticut should be able to put to rest that last season was no fluke.
Coach Randy Edsall wants to see a better attack from his offense, especially in the passing game. The fact that starting cornerback Darius Butler saw time at wide receiver during the spring game indicates Edsall isn’t impressed with the team’s current group of receivers. Tyler Lorenzen (2,367 yards, 13 TDs) will again be under center, handing the ball off to the rushing duo of Andre Dixon (828 yards, 3 TDs) and Donald Brown (821 yards, 8 TDs).
Last season’s opportunistic defense, which returned five interceptions for scores, returns Freshman All-American linebackers Scott Lutrus (107 tackles, 4 interceptions) and Lawrence Wilson (113 tackles). They’ll be backing defensive ends Julius Williams and Cody Brown who combined for 16 sacks in 2007. Despite such impressive numbers, the interior unit must improve against the run. Runners last year averaged 4.4 yards per carry.
Road games against Rutgers, Louisville, and South Florida will determine whether the Huskies compete for the Big East crown.
2008 Louisville Cardinals Football Preview:
Head coach Steve Kragthorpe’s second season can’t be any worse than last year – or could it?
Louisville was predicted to compete for the Big East crown last season, but stumbled to a 6-6 record and missed a ncaa football bowl game for the first time since the 1997 season. Defense was the team’s biggest ouch, yielding 31 points per game.
To shore up the unit for 2008 Kragthorpe hired Ron English, from Michigan, as his new defensive coordinator. But even with a new 4-3 scheme the defense remains a work in progress. During spring practice two walk-ons were used at linebacker. And cornerback Rod Council was dismissed from the team, leaving the secondary looking vulnerable.
The offense, however, even with only four returning starters, looks lethal. Louisville this year will employ a power-run attack to utilize the talents of a gifted group of running backs led by Brock Bolen (456 yards, 7 TDs), Bilal Powell (187 yards, 2 TDs) and redshirt freshman Victor Anderson, a star in the making. Hunter Cantwell replaces Brian Brohm under center. Despite his inexperience some say he possesses NFL talent.
With the offense being so strong, the defense only needs to be adequate for Louisville to compete. Otherwise it could be a long ncaa football season for the Cardinals, especially with road games against Cincinnati, West Virginia, and South Florida.
2008 Pittsburgh Panthers Football Preview:
After three years of mediocrity (16-19) this could be the season that coach Dave Wannstedt finally guides his alma mater back to gridiron glory.
Senior linebacker Scott McKillop returns as the centerpiece of a defense which finished fifth overall last year. McKillop enters the season as a Lott Trophy candidate after leading the nation in 2007 with 151 tackles. He’ll be getting help along the line from Mick Williams, who had a monster spring, and senior nose tackle Rashaad Duncan.
But for Pitt to elevate to Beasts-of-the-East status it will need improved play from the offense, which averaged only 319 yards per game last season. The line, last year’s weak link, looks revamped with the addition of junior college transfer Robb Houser at center, and John Malecki’s successful move from nose tackle to guard. They’ll be punching holes for LeSean McCoy, a Freshman All-American who shredded defenses for 1,328 yards and 14 TDs. Though unsettled, the quarterback position looks deep. Bill Stull, the current frontrunner, is being challenged by sophomore Pat Bostick and Greg Cross, a junior college transfer who looked like the second-coming of Michael Vick during spring ball.
An easy opening – Bowling Green and Buffalo – will serve as a good warm-up before the Panthers head into the muscle of its schedule.
2008 Rutgers NCAA Football Picks Preview:
After an 8-5 stumble last year, Rutgers looks to rebound this season and return to the top of the Big East conference. But to do so coach Greg Schiano will need to restock his offense.
The Scarlet Knights enter the 2008 campaign wondering if they’ll be hurt by a Rice shortage. The departure of all-world running back Ray Rice (2,012 yards, 24 TDs) leaves a huge hole in the backfield. Mason Robinson has been getting the most reps in practice, but could be challenged by redshirt freshman Jourdan Brooks. If the ground game falters quarterback Mike Teel (3,147 yards, 20 TDs) is more than capable of carrying the offense. He has a talented trio of receivers to throw to – Kenny Britt (62 catches, 8 TDs), Tiquan Underwood (65 catches, 7 TDs) and Tim Brown (24 catches, 2 TDs) – which most rate as the best in the Big East.
The defense welcomes the return of free safety Courtney Green (101 tackles, 2 interceptions) who pondered entering the NFL draft. He’ll lead a strong secondary that finished fifth in the nation in pass defense, allowing only 170 yards per game. The emergence of defensive tackle Pete Tverdov during spring practice will bolster a front line that faltered down the stretch last season.
A rugged four-game span against West Virginia, Cincinnati, Connecticut, and Pittsburgh will determine whether Rutgers challenges for the Big East title.
2008 South Florida NCAA Football Preview:
The South Florida Bulls won’t be sneaking up on opponents in the 2008 college football season. The team that was rated second in the nation at mid-season last year returns 10 starters on offense, giving the Bulls’ the type of vaunted attack that will again put them in BCS contention and on everyone's radar.
Quarterback Matt Grothe’s passing (2,670 yards, 14 TDs) and rushing (872 yards, 10 TDs) skills make him a hellish nightmare to defend against. If he improves on last year’s 14 interceptions he could become an all-league quarterback. He’ll be joined in the backfield by Mike Ford (645 yards, 12 TDs), a 225-pound brute who can wear down defenses with his combination of speed and power.
All-American defensive end George Selvie will again be terrorizing opposing backfields. Last season, as a sophomore, Selvie tallied 14.5 sacks and a staggering 31.5 tackles for a loss. His continued pressure on opposing quarterbacks will help a young secondary left dry by the departures of cornerbacks Mike Jenkins (Dallas first-round pick) and Trae Williams (Jacksonville fifth-round pick).
Non-conference battles against improving North Carolina State and Kansas will test the Bulls. But the deciding game will occur on December 6th when South Florida travels to West Virginia.
2008 Syracuse Orangemen Football Preview:
Since taking over the Syracuse program head coach Greg Robinson has comprised a vile 7-28 record. Patience is running thin amongst Orange fans in central New York. Another repeat of last year’s 2-10 ncaa football season and Syracuse will be spending the 2008 college football bowl season looking for a new coach once again.
Unfortunately, for Robinson and Syracuse fans, this year’s squad provides little reason for hope. The defense, the same one that finished dead last in the conference in every major statistical category, offers very few new faces. Improving on last year’s abysmal 9.5 sacks, the worst number in the nation, will help. But outside of middle linebacker Jake Flaherty (95 tackles) the Orange have no other playmakers.
New offensive coordinator Mitch Browning has the daunting task of improving an anemic offense that, like the defense, finished last in the conference in several major categories, including the least average rushing yards per game (62). The Orange do posses a talented group of running backs led by Doug Hogue (251 yards, 1 TD), freshman Averin Collier, and Delone Carter who missed all of 2007 with a hip injury. Andrew Robinson (2,192 yards, 13 TDs) returns as the starting quarterback, although he’s being pressed by Cameron Dantley (558 yards, 5 TDs) who looked sharp during spring practice.
Non-conference games against Penn State, Northwestern, and Notre Dame will make topping last year’s two-win total difficult.
2008 Penn State NCAA Football Picks Preview:
New head coach Bill Stewart, who replaced Rich Rodriguez, feels confident this year’s team can duplicate last year’s 11-2 record, which included a Fiesta Bowl win over Oklahoma.
Stewart’s confidence stems from having Patrick White as his starting quarterback. White, a Heisman Trophy candidate, is a threat with his arm (1,724 yards, 14 TDs) and legs (1,335 yards, 14 TDs). He’ll be operating behind a massive frontline that includes tackle Ryan Stanchek, a 2007 Walter Camp second-team All-American, and guard Greg Isdaner, an All-Big East selection. The emergence of Will Johnson at tight end during spring practice fits perfectly with Stewart’s desire to open up the passing game in 2008.
The team’s 3-3-5 stack defense features an entirely new secondary led by safeties Boogie Allen, Charles Pugh, and Quinton Andrews. Despite their inexperience Stewart feels confident they can match last year’s numbers when the Mountaineers finished with the 14th best pass defense in the nation, allowing only 188 yards per game. The linebacking remains strong with the return of Reed Williams (107 tackles) and Mortty Ivy (6 sacks).
Even with non-conference games against Colorado and Auburn the Mountaineers should still contend for a major college football BCS bowl game.
2008 Big East Conference Summary
Pitt, West Virginia, Cincinnati, and South Florida all look like legitimate players for the 2008 college football Big East conference throne. Rutgers, Louisville, and Connecticut could surprise if some new faces come through. But when the dust clears, as they say, look for Pitt to be the Big East’s new King of the Mountain.