Louisville In a year when the Big East is loaded with very talented teams, the Cardinals are my pick to win the conference title. Louisville has 15 returning starters, led by Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater who returns after throwing for 2,129 yards and 14 TDs last season. With four offensive linemen back, along with the top two receivers, if Louisville can run the ball, I look for big improvement over last year’s 21.9 PPG. Defensively, eight starters return. The secondary looks to be the strength of the defense, huge in a league which features several returning QBs. Freshman John Wallace will handle both the kicking and punting duties.
Big game: October 20 host South Florida My prediction 11-1
South Florida (USF) The Bulls are loaded with 15 returning starters, including dual-threat Quarterback B.J. Daniels who passed for more than 2,500 yards and added 769 on the ground. He also gets back three big guys up front and six of leading receivers! The Bulls put up 29.3 PPG last year, and they should come close to that figure again. The defense should hold steady, the strength will be the linebackers. The non-conference schedule is tough, including Miami and games at Florida State and Nevada. This very well could be the best team Skip Holtz as ever fielded and I would not be surprised if they win the conference!
Big game: October 20 at Louisville My prediction – 9-3
Pittsburgh (Pitt) I am going to go out on a limb and call for a three-way tie for the conference title, because I think the Panthers are going to surprise the world. Paul Chryst takes over as head coach, coming from Wisconsin, where he was the offensive coordinator. We all know what his guidance did for the Badgers prolific offense. He inherits Senior Quarterback Tino Sunseri, who threw for 2,616 yards, but had more interceptions than touchdowns (11-10). But he is talented and if takes to Chryst’s offense, the sky could be the limit. Also returning are Running Back Ray Graham, an All-American candidate, the top five receivers from last year, and three lineman. Under Chryst, the Panthers should blow by the 24.2 PPG from last year! The defense will present the biggest problem for the new coaching staff, with only five starters returning. The Panthers play a tough non-conference slate, including a game against Virgina Tech and a trip to Notre Dame. This team has pull an upset or two and make things interesting.
Big game: October 13 host Louisville. My prediction – 9-3
Rutgers Kyle Flood moves up from offensive coordinator, taking over for Greg Schiano who moved to the NFL. Rutgers is another team loaded with returning starters (15) The offense returns the quarterback, the top three rushers and most of the offensive line. The Scarlet Knights allowed only 18.3 PPG last year, and that number could actually get better, as the defense is loaded with talent! Co-Big East Player of the Year Khaseem Greene anchors a linebacking corps that returns intact, along with three of four in the secondary. The Knights should have the best defense in the league! A soft non-conference slate gives Rutgers a chance at eight wins, and if they can pull an upset, they might challenge for a conference title.
Big game: Thursday, September 13 at USF My prediction – 8-4
Syracuse The Orange play a tough non-conference schedule, including a game against Northwestern, trips to Missouri and Minnesota, and a neutral field game with USC. The Orange are led by returning Quarterback Ryan Nassib. Last year, he passed for 2.685 yards and an outstanding 22/9 TD/INT ratio! The Orange lose 1,000 yard rusher Antwon Bailey and most of their receiving corp. The Orange are in better shape on the defensive side of the ball. Seven starters return, including the entire linebacking group and a pretty good nucleus up front. I see improvement over last year’s 28.5 PPG allowed.
Big game: September 1 host Northwestern My prediction – 5-7
Connecticut (UCONN) The Huskies could easily exceed expectations. The offense will be led by Second- team All-Big East Running Back Lyle McCombs, who ran for 1,244 yards last year as a freshman. With only a few other starters returning, I expect the offense to struggle and not come close to the 24.3 PPG of last year. The strength of the Huskies will be on defense, where seven starters return, led by the linebackers and secondary which returns intact.
Big game: Friday, November 9 host Pitt My prediction – 5-7
Temple The Owls enter the Big East with only eight returning starters on the roster, including only two on offense. Last year, the Owls averaged 30.6 PPG last year; I expect a double digit deduction. The defense was also hit hard by graduation, losing the top five tacklers! Last year, the defense allowed only 13.9 PPG. With new players facing better offenses, expect a big jump in points allowed.
Big game: November 10 host Cincinnati My prediction – 5-7
Cincinnati The Bearcats, we’re also hit hard by graduation! They lose all-everything Quarterback Zach Colleros and Running Back Isaiah Pead, who combined for most of the offense last year! With only four starters returning, I see a huge drop in the 33.3 PPG scored last year. If the Bearcats are going to be competitive, they are going to have to do it with defense. Seven starters return from a unit that allowed only 20.3 PPG last year. They do play a soft non-conference schedule, which could build confidence heading into league play.
Big game: November 17 host Rutgers My prediction – 4-8