Previewing the Big East

Aug. 4, 2006

By Adam Caparell



Adam is's football editor and national football writer.
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West Virginia


Rich Rodriguez knows expectations can weigh heavily on a team. That's why he refuses to set team goals when the season begins.


"I've never been one to stand up and say these are our goals. We talk about one thing at the beginning of the year: We want to play as well as we can and take it one play at a time. The goal we talk about is winning the Big East Conference."


And that goal will be attained - again - this season. West Virginia has won a share of the league championship the last three seasons and there's no reason why things should be any different this year. The Mountaineers are the class of the Big East and could easily challenge for the national championship with super sophomores Pat White and Steve Slaton looking to pick up where they left off last season. The solid offensive line will be lead by center Dan Mozes, and the potent Mountaineers defense will have to replace talent lost in the secondary, but has the means to be one of the better units in the country again.


Coupled with an easy schedule, West Virginia should be on its way to a BCS bowl. The only question seems to be is this: just which BCS game will they be playing in?


2006 West Virginia Schedule




Louisville will have as dynamic a duo in quarterback Brian Brohm and running back Michael Bush as anyone in the nation.


The two Heisman Trophy candidates will make the Cardinals the most potent offensive attack in the Big East. Bush combines his ridiculous size with surprising speed to make him one of the best backs in the nation. But how Brohm's surgically repaired knee responds - he has assured everyone it is 100 percent - will warrant close observation.


The Cardinals won't be able to replace Elvis Dumervil and his 20 sacks from last season, and have lost some size up front. But Louisville will return a more experienced linebacking corps and secondary.


Bobby Petrino has a new 10-year contract and the "Derby City Duo," but a much tougher schedule than West Virginia could be the only thing preventing Louisville from taking the Big East's BCS spot.


2006 Louisville Schedule




Year One of the Dave Wannstedt era didn't get off to the kind of start Pittsburgh had envisioned when they hired the former NFL coach. Pittsburgh's 5-6 record was disappointing, to say the least.


Quarterback Tyler Palko, in his senior season, is more determined than ever to make the Panthers a winner. He has another year under offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh to fully grasp the offense, but his supporting cast will have to pick up their play - especially the running game, which finished 93rd in the nation last year. 


The Panthers will face Rutgers, West Virginia and Louisville all at home, which will make things a little easier. But finding a balance on defense will be much more important. The Panthers finished second in the nation in pass defense, but 94th in rush defense in 2005.


2006 Pittsburgh Schedule




The challenge for Rutgers in 2006 is to prevent at all costs regressing from the considerable progress made in 2005.


Coach Greg Schiano led the Scarlet Knights to a 7-5 record and the program's first bowl game since 1978,  and they very nearly beat Arizona State in the Insight Bowl.


But there's no reason why Rutgers shouldn't be just as good, if not better, than last year with the offensive players they're bringing back. They'll feature the best backfield duo in the conference with RB Ray Rice and FB Brian Leonard, who turned down the NFL to return for his senior campaign. Sophomore QB Mike Teel figures to take over for Ryan Hart, and he'll be throwing to two time All-Big East TE Clark Harris frequently.


Defense will be the biggest concern for Rutgers with question marks on the line and linebacking units. The schedule isn't kind to the Scarlet Knights either as they'll face USF, Pittsburgh and West Virginia on the road.


2006 Rutgers Schedule




USF had a monumental year in 2005, earning the program's first bowl berth.


To get back tough, the Bulls will need to be more consistent offensively. The offense struggled down the stretch of the season to put points on the board and was shutout in the Meineke Car Care Bowl against N.C. State. Pat Julmiste should have the inside track on keeping the QB job, but who replaces Andre Hall, holder of numerous USF rushing records, will be one of the biggest concerns.


The defense will be the strength of the Bulls, especially the linebacking unit that returns a trio who combined for 264 tackles last season. The Bulls finished 2005 ranked 17th in total defense (sixth in passing defense) and return an athletic and experienced secondary.


But closing the year at Louisville and West Virginia could put dreams of a second straight bowl game on ice.


2006 USF Schedule




Who's the quarterback? That's the question coach Randy Edsall and the Huskies will enter training camp with and hope to have answered when the season begins at the end of the month.


Matt Bonislawski and D.J. Hernandez split time last year because of injury. Dennis Brown also saw time behind center and redshirt freshman Billy Cundiff is waiting on the sidelines. It all makes for one big jumbled competition for the right to start. Don't be surprised if the QB who starts the season opener is on the bench come October. Edsall has options.


The Huskies will look toward Terry Caulley to be the featured back with Cornell Brockington gone and provide some stability for the offense.


The Huskies will feature an experienced defensive unit that finished seventh in the nation in total defense last season. Led by tackle Rhema Fuller, the defense will be leaned upon heavily to keep the Huskies in their games.   


2006 Connecticut Schedule




Coach Mark Dantonio can commiserate with Randy Edsall, in that he too will be forced to deal with a tenuous quarterback situation.


It looks to be Dustin Grutza's job to lose. After an inconsistent year in 2005, Nick Davila and Craig Carey are both capable of taking the job from Grutza if he struggles. 


Cincinnati featured a very young team last season, starting six freshmen during the year. But that means they return a more experienced squad, including a defense that returns the bulk of its roster. Safety Haruki Nakamura - who led Cincinnati in tackles last season - is back and will be joined by three other returnees to solidify the secondary.


The schedule doesn't offer Cincinnati any favors. The Bearcats will play Pittsburgh, Ohio State, Virginia Tech and Miami (Ohio) the final four weeks of September.


2006 Cincinnati Schedule




You know you've fallen on hard times when your best player is a punter. But that's no knock on Brendan Carney, Syracuse's All-Big East punter. 


Greg Robinson, in his second season as coach, will need to improve on the Orange's dismal 1-10 record from last season. It'll depend heavily on the development of QB Perry Patterson and new coordinator Brian White, who has been brought in from Wisconsin and put in charge of jumpstarting a unit that finished 115th nationally in total offense last season. Big questions on the offensive line won't make White's and Patterson's job an easier.


While improvement is expected, winning three games would be an achievement.


2006 Syracuse Schedule


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