By Neal Ternes
The College Football Preview Show picks are back again with the Big East! This week we will be going team by team and explaining our selections.
- Neal: South Florida Lars: West Virginia
For the second year in a row I have the Bulls as surprise picks to win the Big East. Skip Holtz is a phenomenal coach and I think this team will be light years ahead of where they were last season. BJ Daniels showed marked improvement as a passer in the new offensive scheme by the end of last year and I think the South Florida offense breaks out this year on the way to their first Big East Championship. Lars believes West Virginia will be the victor based on the success of Dana Holgorsen’s spread offense and the high level of talent in Morgantown. The Mountaineers were statistically the best squad in the conference last season and will be a tough matchup for everyone on their schedule.
- Neal: West Virginia Lars: Pittsburgh
Lars takes the Panthers here despite concerns about the unnecessary transition on defense. New Head Coach Todd Graham has a track record of success with his spread offense so there is good chance the Panthers could be a title contender in year one of his tenure. Lars believes the Big East title will come down to the Backyard Brawl in Morgantown. I have the Mountaineers here because of their talent but think they could be lower if they have issues with their defensive staff which is made up of mostly holdovers from Bill Stewart’s tenure. I agree with Lars that the offense will be prolific but I see WVU taking a step back on defense, making them a less complete team than USF.
- Neal: Cincinnati Lars: Cincinnati
Lars and I both like the Bearcats as a team on the way up and they check in third on both our predictions. Butch Jones took over for Brian Kelly at Central Michigan when Kelly went to Cincinnati and last year when Kelly left Cincy for South Bend. The Bearcats return a veteran offense which was successful last season and a veteran defense that they are hoping will improve. Lars and I agree that the defense and offense should both improve; resulting in a dramatic change in this teams fortune in 2011. While they won’t quite be title contenders this season, Cincy has all the tools to be a solid bowl team this season.
- Neal: Pittsburgh Lars: South Florida
Things got interesting here as we both have very different opinions on these two teams. Lars thinks South Florida and QB BJ Daniels are still a year away from being truly competitive and that Daniels will struggle during the 2011 campaign. I think Pitts unnecessary change in defensive philosophy (switching to the 3-4) and the personnel adjustments required on both sides of the ball will slow their progress this season and that they will struggle to meet fans expectations for 2011.
- Neal: Connecticut Lars: Rutgers
There is a clear gap between the top half of the conference and the bottom half of the conference this season and it bears out in our rankings. I like Paul Pasqualoni at UConn but the Huskies have a lot to reload on offense and will fail to repeat as Big East champs. Their new HC is veteran and I think that and their history of success playing at home will smooth the transition. Lars sided with Greg Schiano, a 10 yer vet with the Scarlet Knights who has proven he is capable of making quick turnarounds. Rutgers had horrible defense last season which landed them in the Big East basement but Lars thinks Rutgers will rebound a bit this season.
- Neal: Syracuse Lars: Syracuse
Doug Marrone has had some luck the past few seasons rebuilding the Orange, finishing high in the conference standings despite a negative yards per game and a high turnover ratio two years in a row. Phil Steele tabs the Orange as the bottom team in the conference but Lars and I disagree. This is a team with a veteran offense and a coaching staff which has proven that they can always field a solid defense. Syracuse will not reach eight wins like they did last season but they should still get to a bowl game this year.
- Neal: Rutgers Lars: Louisville
Lars tabs the Cardinals here as they lose the largest number of players this season and have to reload nearly their entire offense after losing their starting quarterback, running back, and the majority of their offensive line. I tab Rutgers here since I don’t think the Scarlet Knights will be able to improve on their poor defense from last season and their offense will continue to struggle to be effective. If Rutgers fails to make a bowl game this season like I project them too, there might be some serious discussions about Greg Schiano’s future at the school.
- Neal: Louisville Lars: Connecticut
I like Charlie Strong as a coach, but replacing an entire offense in the second year of your head coaching tenure is not an easy task. I think Strong will be a solid head coach for Louisville but this year will be a mulligan for him. Lars tabs the Huskies for the conference basement because of the combination of a new head coach and a new starting quarterback which he believes will slow a team which relied heavily on luck last year. Lars also cited the issues with Connecticut boosters who demanded a different coach as a potential distraction for the team going in to the 2011 season.