Cardinal Football

Rivals/Yahoo: Big East Preview

FIRST TEAM OFFENSE
QB B.J. Daniels, USF (5-11/215, Soph.)
RB Noel Devine, West Virginia (5-8/180, Sr.)
RB Dion Lewis, Pittsburgh (5-8/195, Soph.)
WR Jonathan Baldwin, Pittsburgh (6-5/230, Jr.)
WR Armon Binns, Cincinnati (6-4/200, Jr.)
TE Ben Guidugli, Cincinnati (6-1/237, Sr.)
T Art Forst, Rutgers (6-8/311, Jr.)
T Jason Pinkston, Pittsburgh (6-4/305, Sr.)
G Zach Hurd, Connecticut (6-7/316, Sr.)
G Jason Kelce, Cincinnati (6-4/290, Jr.)
C Moe Petrus, Connecticut (6-2/293, Jr.)
FIRST TEAM DEFENSE
E Julian Miller, West Virginia (6-4/260, Jr.)
T Chris Neild, West Virginia (6-2/301, Sr.)
T Derek Wolfe, Cincinnati (6-5/302, Soph.)
E Greg Romeus, Pittsburgh (6-6/270, Sr.)
LB Scott Lutrus, Connecticut (6-3/243, Sr.)
LB J.T. Thomas, West Virginia (6-2/225, Sr.)
LB Lawrence Wilson, Connecticut (6-1/223, Sr.)
CB Brandon Hogan, West Virginia (5-10/189, Sr.)
CB Johnny Patrick, Louisville (6-0/190, Sr.)
FS Robert Sands, West Virginia (6-5/221, Jr.)
SS Dom DeCicco, Pittsburgh (6-4/230, Sr.)
FIRST TEAM SPECIALISTS
K Tyler Bitancurt, West Virginia (6-1/198, Soph.)
P Rob Long, Syracuse (6-3/190, Sr.)
KR Cameron Saddler, Pittsburgh (5-7/170, Soph.)
PR Jock Sanders, West Virginia (5-7/179, Sr.)

OFFENSIVE BACKFIELD

1. Cincinnati: QBs Zach Collaros and Chazz Anderson have starting experience at Cincinnati, and Collaros has lost only one game as a starter since high school. RB Isaiah Pead could flourish in the new offense.

2. West Virginia: Explosive Noel Devine leads the way in the backfield. Ryan Clarke bruised his way to eight touchdowns last season. QB Geno Smith is green, and he will be pressured by sophomore Coley White – Pat’s brother – and redshirt freshman Barry Brunetti.

3. Pittsburgh: The strategy will be hand the ball to Dion Lewis and see what happens. Ray Graham is a quality backup. Tino Sunseri beat out former starter Pat Bostick and will start quarterback.

4. Connecticut: Don’t count on Jordan Todman becoming another Donald Brown. He will be productive, but D.J. Shoemate, Kelmetrus Wylie and Robbie Frey are hungry for carries. The Huskies still are looking for QBs Zach Frazer and Cody Endres to play with more consistency.

5. Rutgers: Strong-armed Tom Savage will be the face of the Scarlet Knights for at least two more seasons, but Rutgers lacks depth behind him. RB Joe Martinek isn’t a home-run threat, but he rushed for 967 yards and nine touchdowns last season.

6. USF: B.J. Daniels (772 rushing yards, nine touchdowns) might be less of a runner under Skip Holtz. Veteran Mo Plancher is a serviceable tailback but little more.

7. Louisville: Victor Anderson and Bilal Powell should be an effective tailback tandem if they can stay healthy. Adam Froman, Justin Burke and Will Stein are competing to start at quarterback. Neither reminds anyone of Brian Brohm or even Stefan LeFors.

8. Syracuse: The unit will get a boost if RB Delone Carter returns from a suspension. Otherwise, it could be a long year for the Orange.

RECEIVERS

1. Cincinnati: Armon Binns and D.J. Woods combined for 112 catches for 1,528 yards and 15 touchdowns on a team that had star Mardy Gilyard last season. While Gilyard is gone, USC transfer Vidal Hazelton will be added to the mix. TE Ben Guidugli is a weapon, too.

2. Pittsburgh: Jonathan Baldwin will make a bid to be Pitt’s third Biletnikoff winner, joining Larry Fitzgerald and Antonio Bryant. A No. 2 guy needs to step up, though.

3. West Virginia: Jock Sanders and Tavon Austin are good slot receivers, but the Mountaineers are looking for a flanker to team with Brad Starks.

4. Rutgers: Mohamed Sanu, who also takes direct snaps out of the “wildcat” formation, is one of the Big East’s best athletes. The Scarlet Knights are still looking for secondary receivers and hoping that 6-6, 258-pound TE D.C. Jefferson asserts himself.

5. Louisville: WR Josh Chichester is huge (6-8/240) but hasn’t done much. Meanwhile, Doug Beaumont will look to reclaim his sophomore-season form in the new offense.

6. USF: Losing WR A.J. Love to an injury is devastating. The Bulls need Lindsey Lamar to become a big-time playmaker.

7. Connecticut: The Huskies are searching for another Marcus Easley to come out of nowhere. Kashif Moore and Isiah Moore have been around the block, and Dwayne Difton was a four-star recruit.

8. Syracuse: Marcus Sales and Alec Lemon took advantage of the early departure of Mike Williams, but who will get them the ball?

OFFENSIVE LINE

1. Connecticut: Losing Mike Hicks is big, but four starters return, including all-conference G Zach Hurd and C Moe Petrus.

2. West Virginia: Four starters return. The left side (T Don Barclay and G Josh Jenkins) could be the best in the conference.

3. Pittsburgh: Jason Pinkston and Lucas Nix form the best tackle tandem, but the interior is new, which could affect Dion Lewis. Pinkston should be one of the best tackles in the nation.

4. USF: The Bulls lost one of their best linemen, tackle Zach Hermann, to a neck injury. Sampson Genus is one of the Big East’s best centers. Four linemen started at least six games season.

5. Cincinnati: Can the pass-happy Bearcats’ trade with Pittsburgh? Cincinnati has the best guard duo (Alex Hoffman and Jason Kelce) but lost all-conference T Jeff Linkenbach and C Chris Jurek.

6. Louisville: The Cardinals’ line could be one of the most underrated units in the league. They expect to start four seniors, but the best of the group is sophomore C Mario Benavides.

7. Rutgers: Even with first-round draft pick Anthony Davis at tackle and veteran C Ryan Blaszczyk, the Scarlet Knights allowed more than three sacks per game. How will a depth-shy group respond?

8. Syracuse: Injuries decimated this group last season. The best lineman, Ryan Bartholomew, moves from guard to center this season.

DEFENSIVE LINE

1. Rutgers: Only one starter is gone. The new starter at end is Jonathan Freeny, who had 9.5 sacks last season in a reserve role.

2. West Virginia: T Scooter Berry sat for much of last season, but T Chris Neild and E Julian Miller did just fine without him. The group should be better with Berry on the field.

3. Pittsburgh: Es Greg Romeus and Jabaal Sheard will keep Big East quarterbacks up at night; Romeus has All-America potential. Veterans Myles Caragein and Chas Alecxih have big shoes to fill at tackle.

4. Connecticut: Tackle is in good shape with Twyon Martin, Kendall Reyes and Alex Polito. The pass rush will be a concern now that E Greg Lloyd is out for the season.

5. Cincinnati: The Bearcats are back in the 4-3, moving OLB Walter Stewart to end. He and T Derek Wolfe could cause problems for offensive lines. E Brandon Mills is short (5-10), but he had eight tackles for loss last season.

6. USF: The pass rush will take a dip without Es George Selvie and Jason Pierre-Paul, but at least the Bulls have good depth at the position. T Terrell McClain is one of the league’s best.

7. Syracuse: Coaches hope E Chandler Jones (10 TFL last season) picks up where his brother, Arthur, left off.

8. Louisville: Starters Greg Scruggs, Malcolm Tatum and William Savoy are back, but Louisville ranked last in the Big East in sacks and rush defense last season.

LINEBACKERS

1. Connecticut: With Scott Lutrus battling injuries, Lawrence Wilson shouldered a bigger load, leading the Big East with 140 tackles, including 11 for loss. Lutrus, who had 69 tackles in eight games, is healthy, and sophomore Jory Johnson saw ample time as a rookie.

2. Rutgers: Steve Beauharnais is one of the Big East’s rising stars. Antonio Lowery is Rutgers’ returning leading tackler (55 stops). Manny Abreu needs to live up to his four-star billing or lose ground to Morgan Carter.

3. Syracuse: Derrell Smith and Doug Hogue were a productive duo with 16 sacks and 26.5 tackles for loss last season. Others need to become more consistent contributors.

4. West Virginia: Losing Reed Williams is big, but J.T. Thomas has become one of the best ‘backers in the conference. Pat Lazear, who led the team with 78 tackles, moves from the strongside to Williams’ spot in the middle.

5. Pittsburgh: MLB Dan Mason performed admirably in limited duty. Now he takes over a full-time role. Max Gruder led Pitt last season with 91 tackles. Greg Williams showed flashes as a freshman but was inconsistent as a sophomore starter.

6. USF: Sabbath Joseph is a reliable veteran. Otherwise, USF is counting on youth. Sam Barrington has all-conference potential. DeDe Lattimore could start as a redshirt freshman.

7. Cincinnati: J.K. Schaffer is a legitimate playmaker. The unit was depleted when projected starting MLB Dorian Davis left the team.

8. Louisville: Jon Dempsey and Chris Campa were bright spots defensively last season, but they’re gone. It’s time for Antwon Canady and Brandon Heath, a former safety, to contribute in major ways.

SECONDARY

1. West Virginia: Brandon Hogan is the Big East’s best cover corner, and FS Robert Sands could be the best playmaker in the secondary. S Sidney Glover is a two-year starter and a big hitter in WVU’s 3-3-5 scheme.

2. Rutgers: Departed CB Devin McCourty was the heart and soul of the defense, so projected starting CBs David Rowe and Brandon Bing have their work cut out for them. SS Joe Lefeged is a fearsome hitter.

3. USF: The Bulls led the league in pass efficiency defense last season. The departures of pass rushers George Selvie and Jason Pierre-Paul and FS Nate Allen will put more pressure on the corner tandem of Quenton Washington and Kayvon Webster.

4. Connecticut: CBs Blidi Wreh-Wilson and Dwayne Gratz and SS Jerome Junior were pressed into major roles as freshmen. The Huskies should be much improved in the secondary with a full season to prepare.

5. Pittsburgh: The safety tandem of Dom DeCicco and Jarred Holley (six combined interceptions) is back. Cornerback is a concern, though.

6. Syracuse: A mix of youth and experience. Ss Mike Holmes and Max Suter have been contributors since their freshman season.

7. Cincinnati: CB Dominique Battle and SS Drew Frey are back, but did you see Florida torch the Bearcats in the Sugar Bowl?

8. Louisville: Johnny Patrick is one of the best cornerbacks in the Big East and the best player on the Louisville defense. Beyond him, Louisville is seeking answers.

SPECIAL TEAMS

1. Rutgers: The Scarlet Knights return a solid kicker/punter tandem in San San Te and Teddy Dellaganna. Joe Lefeged averaged 32.4 yards per kickoff return with a touchdown. Rutgers also led the Big East with five blocked kicks and finished first or second in punt and kickoff coverage in the league.

2. Syracuse: Rob Long has a career average of 43.1 yards per punt in three seasons. Ryan Lichtenstein converted 13-of-17 field-goal attempts last season.

3. West Virginia: Tyler Bitancurt was the best kicker in the Big East as a freshman, converting 13-of-15 attempts. The Mountaineers must replace productive P Scott Koslowski. Jock Sanders is a top return man.

4. Pittsburgh: Dan Hutchins doubled as the punter and kicker with moderate success. Cameron Saddler and Aaron Smith have all-conference potential in the return game.

5. Cincinnati: Jake Rogers is another punter/kicker, though he may give up punting duties this season. Losing ace return man Mardy Gilyard – and coach Brian Kelly – means Cincinnati needs to regroup on special teams.

6. Connecticut: Robbie Frey and Jordan Todman form the top kick-return tandem in the Big East. After claiming the kicking job as a freshman, Dave Teggart was inconsistent as a sophomore (14-of-23). The Huskies will miss P Desi Cullen.

7. USF: The Bulls have a kicking competition between Maikon Bonani, who missed last season with an injury, and incumbent Eric Schwartz. Neither return man was particularly impressive, and USF is looking for a punter.

8. Louisville: Kickoff specialist Chris Philpott becomes the full-time kicker after converting 6-of-8 field-goal attempts and just 10-of-13 extra points.

COACHING STAFFS

1. Connecticut: No one gets more out of his talent than Randy Edsall. He has winning seasons, bowl wins and draft picks. All that is missing is a Big East title.

2. Pittsburgh: Dave Wannstedt and his staff unearthed Dion Lewis and Greg Romeus and landed five-star Jon Baldwin. But despite numerous recruiting successes, the Panthers must avoid inexplicable losses (such as North Carolina State in ’09, Bowling Green in ’08 and Ohio U. in ’05).

3. USF: After winning two consecutive Conference USA titles at East Carolina, Skip Holtz relishes working at a place that isn’t a rebuilding job.

4. Rutgers: Greg Schiano shuffles through assistants at a high clip, but Rutgers is a consistent bowl team. (Did you ever think anyone would say that?) Like Edsall, Schiano is hungry for a Big East title.

5. Cincinnati: Butch Jones followed Brian Kelly at Central Michigan and won two MAC titles. Can he do the same at Cincinnati?

6. West Virginia: Hey, West Virginia is in better shape than Michigan right now. That works in Bill Stewart’s favor. Returning to the BCS would really make a difference.

7. Syracuse: The attitude at Syracuse has turned around, but the talent still needs to catch up.

8. Louisville: The long wait is over for Charlie Strong, who finally is overseeing his own program. The talent level must get better.

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