Big East Football Preview: Mediocre is the New Black [11 Days of Summer]
The Big East is a conference that has been holding on for dear life. Boise State cannot join the conference soon enough. West Virginia left for greener pastures in the Big-12, effectively breaking any geographic reasoning to conferences. TCU spurned the Big East and actually paid to not be a member, instead joining the Big-12 and almost coming close to remaking the Southwestern conference. This conference is nothing to write him about and will be a staple of mid-week football this whole season. Otherwise, nobody would watch.
Head Coach Charlie Strong has his best team since he got to Louisville. Bringing his defensive philosophies from Florida he has brought a ton of speed to the defense that ranks tops in the Big East and has improved every year.
Sophomore Teddy Bridgewater may be the best quarterback in the league after completing almost 65% of his passes last season. If he can cut down on his interceptions (12) this offense could take a bigger step. Leading rusher Dominique Brown is returning who had 588 yards from scrimmage and 4 touchdowns. Also back is running back Jeremy Wright who averaged 4.6 yards a carry. The top two receivers from last year, Michaelee Harris and Eli Rogers, also return. Together they had 900 yards receiving and three touchdowns. DeVante Parker may be a starter but is best at getting in the end zone. In 18 receptions last year he had 6 touchdowns. The line has a total of 74 starts among them. The Cardinals return 3 of 5 starting linemen from last year and have to replace two tackles.
Defense is the strength of Louisville. They play fast and disciplined. Dexter Heyman was their leading tackler last year with 90. Hakeem Smith, the strong safety, recorded 84 tackles last year along with middle linebacker Preston Brown. With 15 returning starters this is a very experienced Cardinal squad. With four conference games at home, including Southern Florida, the stars probably align for Louisville this year.
I will never forgive USF for blowing a 10-team teaser I may or may not have made when they played Florida in the season opener and turned the ball over six times, three of which went for Florida touchdowns. In an attempt to move on I will only say positive things about them here. Head coach Skip Holtz came from ECU where he coached Chris Johnson and had one of the best offenses in the country. The team has 15 returning starters.
BJ Daniels threw for almost 2600 yards last season and 13 touchdowns, posting a completion percentage of 58.9%. He was also the second leading rusher with 769 yards on 132 carries. Demetris Murray is the starting running back with 8 touchdowns and 503 rushing yards. Almost every receiver who caught a pass last season returns. Sterling Griffin was the leader with 530 yards receiving along with three touchdowns. Three returning starters return to the offensive line in what should be a high-powered rushing attack.
On defense the Bulls run a 4-3 and return 5 of the 8 linemen on the two-deep. WILL linebacker DeDe Lattimore returns as the team’s leading tackler with 94 tackles and 7 sacks. 5 of the back 7 from last year also return. The Bulls are a new team, just started playing football in 1997 and have made huge strides since then.
Greg Schiano, now head coach at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Thank God Chip Kelly didn’t take the job), did a killer job with Rutgers. After being awful for years, in 2007 Rutgers had a 3,000-yard passer, 2,000-yard rusher, and two, 1,000-yard receivers. Kyle Flood takes over for Schiano on a team that was in a lot of close games last season.
Chad Dodd is the projected starter and last year completed 51.1% of his passes for 1553 yards and 11 touchdowns. If you combined both quarterbacks from last season you would get a quarterback that threw for over 3,000 yards, 21 touchdowns, and 16 interceptions. All the leading rushers return and Huggins especially is reason for excitement. The top receivers from last year return making up 7 returning starters on offense. The rough part is that the Scarlet Knights only have 2 starters back on the offensive line, which is a sign of a slight regression.
Linebacker Khaseem Greene is the leading returning tackler from last season after he almost doubled the second highest tackler on the team with 141. Justin Francis who totaled 6.5 sacks is gone but tackle Scott Vallone also registered 2.5 sacks last year. The defensive unit has 8 returning starters on defense including 7 of their top 8 in the defensive secondary.
Paul Chryst takes over for Todd Graham. Graham is a serial-program leaver and is now at Arizona State, so have fun with that Sun Devils. This was a team last year plagued with injuries and second half losses, even though they had the yardage advantage.
Ray Graham is the workhorse on offense who totaled 958 yards and 9 touchdowns for 5.8 yards per carry average before getting lost for the season. Tino Sunseri is a quarterback who struggled at times with interceptions but threw for 2616 and 10 touchdowns. Every significant receiver from last year returns, highlighted by Devin Street who had 53 receptions for 754 yards and 2 touchdowns. Three starters are lost on offense but with 52 career starts the line should be a little better, and they will need to be better to help Ray Graham.
On defense the Panthers only return 5 starters compared to the 9 they return on offense. Max Gruder, who provided 116 tackles last season won’t return but free safety Jarred Holly does who recorded 67 tackles last year along with cornerback K’Waun Williams. Pitt is moving back to a 4-3 but the entire defense is a little inexperienced besides the secondary.
Cincinnati had a sneaky good season last year, recording 10 wins, also going 8-5 against the spread. The Bearcats lose starting quarterback Zach Collaros but Munchie Legaux got considerable time last year after injuries. The running backs coming in all took less than 50 carries last season. Receivers Anthony McClung and Kembrell Thompkins return who had 49 and 44 receptions for 683 and 536 yards, respectively. Only 2 returning starters on the offensive line and 4 starters total on offense could spell some problems.
On defense there are 7 returning starters, 2 on the defensive line, 2 linebackers, and 3 defensive backs. Drew Frey is the leading tackler returning who recorded 73 tackles at strong safety.
The Huskies are two years removed from being the worst BCS team in the history of college football. By virtue of winning the conference they were selected to get stomped on by Oklahoma after going 8-5 that season.
Lyle Combs returns who totaled 1151 yards on 275 carries last season and seven touchdowns. Starting quarterback Johnny McEntee also returns with a 51.3%, 2110 yards passing and 12 touchdowns. Although some think he will lose his job to Chandler Whitmer. The offensive line loses starters and experience but Phil Steele still thinks they’ll improve. I don’t know how that happens but he also works 102 hours a week. On defense SAM linebacker Jory Johnson comes back with 97 tackles along with MIKE linebacker Yawin Smallwood who had 94 tackles last season. The defense returns 8 starters. The Huskies were just short of being bowl eligible last season and they have a good shot at making a bowl this year.
Quick aside, I almost went to a Syracuse-Penn State game so that I could see Joe Paterno in person. My connection at the school went away and now kind of wish I had gone to it. But I digress.
The Orange have 12 starters returning, 5 on offense, 7 on defense. Ryan Nassib was one of the lone bright spots last year with a 62.4% completion rate with 22 touchdowns to only 9 interceptions along with 2685 yards through the air. Three starters return on the offensive line along with Alec Lemon, a receiver who had 68 receptions for 834 yards and 6 touchdowns. On defense they lose Phillip Thomas but return all their linebackers, two defensive backs, and two linemen.
The Owls are fresh off of MACtion. They went 9-4 last year against MAC competition after playing Penn State pretty close at the beginning of the season. With only 8 returning starters, one of which is on the offensive line, this could be a rough year for the Owls. But then again, it is the Big East, so anything is possible.