John Roberts College Football

Monday, August 08, 2005

Preseason 2005: A Look at the Big East

It's been a long, strange road for the Big East. The loss of Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College (particularly this year) really hurts the Big East. The addition of Louisville, South Florida, and Cincinnati moderately helps it. Dropping Temple sure does help. With Rutgers apparently ready for a breakout year, Syracuse on their way back up, and Connecticut turning into a pretty good football program, the Big East is on their way to be a very solid conference. Maybe not great, but solid.

1. Louisville (10-1, 7-0)- In the Cardinals first year in the Big East, they look to be the team to beat. Brian Brohm is the new starting quarterback. He played a considerable amount last year, and has the potential to bring a Heisman Trophy to Louisville before he graduates. He is only a sophomore. He had phenomenal receivers to throw to as well. Montrell Jones, Joshua Tinch, and Broderick Clark all are on pace to have sensational seasons. The running game is lead by Michael Bush and Kolby Smith, both of which are tremendous players. Four starters also return along the offensive. In other words, there is no weakness in this offense. The defense, on the other hand, has several questions. Nate Harris is a junior college transfer and should start immediately at linebacker, alongside of Abe Brown and Brandon Johnson. That should make up a solid linebacker unit. Montavius Stanley and Elvis Dumervil are returning on the defensive line. They should help make the defensive stout against the run and also provide pressure on the quarterbacks. William Gay and Rod Council are the expected starters at cornerback. Those two could be shut down corners in the Big East. The safety positions are manned by two brothers, Antoine and Brandon Sharp. They are one of the bigger question marks on the team. With a paper thin schedule that features a road trip to Kentucky and home dates with Oregon State, Florida Atlantic, and North Carolina as their out of conference schedule, big things are possible. Trips to West Virginia and Connecticut and a home date with Pittsburgh on November 3 are the biggest conference games. The out of conference schedule may cause a trip up and there may even be a loss somewhere along the way in the Big East, but it is virtually impossible not to consider this team the favorite in the watered down Big East.

2. West Virginia (7-4, 5-2)- The Mountaineers are one of the more intriguing teams in the Big East this season. Adam Bednarik appears to be the favorite to become the starting quarterback. The wide receivers are all inexperienced. It is unclear who the starters will be. Brandon Myles has the most experience of all of them with six catches last year. The offensive line returns three starters, but the back-ups are very inexperienced. The running game is still loaded, with Jason Colson leading the way. Pernell Williams is a more than adequate back up. The Mountaineers defense looks to be very stout. With six capable lineman to start on the defensive line's front three, this unit looks to be solid. Keilen Dykes is probably the best of the bunch. He's only a sophomore, but appears to be on his way to a solid NFL career. The secondary, despite the loss of Adam "Pac Man" Jones, appears to be deep enough and strong enough to be a real strength again, behind the likes of Alton McCann, Anthony Mims, Mike Lorello, Jahmile Addae, and Erick Wicks. The linebackers are the real weakness. Kevin McLee is probably the most talented linebacker, but there is little depth, and hardly anyone else worth noticing for the position. Jeff Noechel is a returning starter at linebacker as well. The season opens at Syracuse, and is followed shortly by dates at Maryland and at home with Virginia Tech. Smashed in between there is two sure wins over Wofford and East Carolina. A road trip to Rutgers next won't be easy, but after that, things get very interesting. At this point, the offense will have gained some experience, and with five games left, only South Florida and Cincinnati are road games. Louisville and Pittsburgh both come to Morgantown, which gives this team a chance. This is one of the most interesting teams in the Big East. They could come out on top of the conference, or they could finish down towards the bottom of the conference.

3. Pittsburgh (7-4, 4-3)- At the skill positions, the Panthers are set. Tyler Palko is one of the premier quarterbacks in the country. With Greg Lee to throw to, things really are pretty easy for Palko. Joe Delsardo also is a very capable second receiver. The running game was a real weakness a year ago, but Raymond Kirkley, Marcus Furman, and Tim Murphy all have plenty of game experience and could improve, particularly in new coach Dave Wanstedt's system. The offensive line returns three starters, including Charles Spencer, who was All Big East a year ago. Defense is where Wanstedt normally makes his mark, and this team needs that mark. H.B. Blades and Clint Session both are very talented linebackers. They may be one of the better linebacker duos in the country. The secondary is lead by sophomore Darrelle Revis and returns two other starters as well. Of course, they ranked 100th in the country last year in passing defense, so improvement is imperative. The key will be the defensive line. Thomas Smith is the best starter up front. The rest of the line is full of nothing but question marks. This will be the position that defines the Panthers defense, and eventually determine how much success the Panthers have this season. The Panthers open with Notre Dame and visit Nebraska on September 17. In conference road games are Rutgers, Louisville, and West Virginia. Yikes. The schedule is not nice, but this team did make it to a BCS bowl game a year ago. They have a shot to make another run at it.

4. Connecticut (7-4, 4-3)- Not much is expectd from these Huskies this year. After the loss of Dan Orlovsky at quarterback, there is a huge vacancy. Matt Bonislawski, D.J. Hernandez, Billy Cundiff, and Dennis Brown could all compete for the starting quarterback position. Bonislawski and Hernandez are the favorites at this point. The offensive line returns only two starters, and Joe Akers is straight out of high school. But the unit could still be a strength by midseason. Brandon Young is an outstanding talent at receiver, but has struggled to stay healthy. Jason Williams was a solid receiver a year ago. The real talent is at running back, where Cornell Brockington and Terry Caulley both reside. Caulley was leading the nation in rushing when he went down with an injury halway through 2003. Brockington rushed for over 1200 yards last year. This position will be in solid hands regardless of who the starter is. The defense will be lead by the defensive line. There is experience and depth there, though there are no real all stars on the line at this point. This could be good in the end. James Hargrave returns to lead the linebackers. The rest of the linebackers are relatively inexperienced. The secondary is also very inexperienced. Ernest Cole and M.J. Estep both were starters a year ago and both will need to step up their game. Like West Virginia, Connecticut could sink or swim this year. Home dates with Buffalo and Liberty to open the year, and a game at Army on October 1 mean a 3-1 start is a distinct possibility. A home date with Syracuse follows, and that is when we will learn all we need to know about the Huskies. A win, and the Huskies will be looking at a bowl season and maybe contending for the conference crown. A loss, and it could be a long season. They travel to both West Virginia and Pittsburgh, but get Louisville at home on December 3.

5. Syracuse (5-6, 4-3)- The Orange are looking to rebuild under Greg Robinson. This team has talent, but may be a year away from returning to contention in the Big East. The offensive scheme looks like it may take advantage of the speedy surface of the Carrier Dome. Damien Rhodes is a high quality running back that is very speedy. The offensive line returns four starters, meaning Rhodes could have a huge year. The quarterback will be Perry Patterson or Joe Fields, who are both inconsistent. One needs to step up and take control of the job. The receivers are fairly inexperienced. Tim Lane, Landel Bembo, and Quinton Brown all figure to be the main targets, other than tight ened Joe Kowalewski. The defense could be very solid. Kelvin Smith, Kellen Pruitt, and Jerry Mackey are all returning starters at linebacker, but have been reshuffled. James Wyche is the dominant force on the defensive line which returns three starters. The secondary will be lead by Anthony Smith, Tanard Jackson, and potentially Steve Gregory, who was a receiver a year ago. The defense is expected to make huge leaps this season. A home date with Virginia and road dates with Florida State and Notre Dame make this schedule brutally tough. That doesn't include conference road games against Pittsburgh and Louisville. As it was with Connecticut, the game on October 7 with the Huskies is huge. Following the games with Virginia and Florida State, if the Orange can get up and beat the Huskies, a bowl season is a real possibility and maybe something more. A loss, and the team will go back to the drawing board, possibly looking at a 1-4 start.

6. Rutgers (7-4, 3-4)- This year could be special for the Scarlet Knights. If the defense, rushing game, and turnover margin improves from last year, this team might even make a run at the Big East title. Ryan Hart will be the starting quarterback, and he looks poised to have an absolutely monster senior season. Tres Moss is one of the top receivers in the country, Brian Leonard is one of the top running backs in the country if he stays healthy, and Clark Harris is one of the better tight ends. The offensive line returns two starters, anchored by John Glass. The center position is the biggest question mark. The defense has been taken over by head coach Greg Schiano. Ryan Neill and Val Barnaby return to the defensive line, making it a position that could look at a lot of improvement. The linebacker position is as deep as they come, with six players who have started returning. Devraun Thompson is the best linebacker on the team. The secondary is lead by the returns of Joe Porter, Derrick Roberson, and Ron Girault. Girault is the team's leading returning tackler after starting as a true freshman a year ago. If the Scarley Knights can win at Illinois to start the season, then a 3-0 start is very likely. With Pittsburgh and West Virginia coming to New Jersey to open the Big East season, a 5-0 start may be unlikely. But if they are 5-0 on October 9, then they may be in the Big East title chase until they face Louisville on November 11. This may finally be the year to be a Rutgers football fan.

7. South Florida (3-8, 1-6)- The Bulls are known for their home field advantage, but the talent has to be there to provide some sort of advantage. Paul Julmiste appears to finally have a grasp on the offense. Courtney Denson could challenge Julmiste to be the starter at quarterback, as Denson's athleticism plays well into the offense. Johnny Peyton and S.J. Green are the leading returning receivers. Peyton is a deep threat. The offensive line returns just two starters, but also returns John Miller, who has a lot of starting experience. The group could be even better than last year's. The offense revolves around Andre Hall, the running back. He averaged 181 yards per game in the final four games of last season. The defense needs to get stronger on the lines. They could with the return of Tim Jones, Terrence Royal, and Tavarious Robinson. The secondary needs to find a way to come up with more interceptions, after having just four a year ago. D'Juan Brown and Johnnie Jones are the returning seniors to the secondary. The linebackers are the strong suit of the defense. Stephn Nicholas and Patrick St. Louis are the groups two best players. With only three conference home games, things are going to be tough. This is especially true since those home games are against Louisville, West Virginia, and Cincinnati. Florida A&M, UCF, and Cincinnati give the Bulls a chance to win a few games, but a push for a bowl season appears highly unlikely. They played three teams currently in the Big East last year. They went 0-3, getting outscored by an average of 43-15. Ouch.

8. Cincinnati (2-9, 0-7)- The Bearcats picked a bad year to join the Big East. Gino Guidugli is gone as the Bearcats quarterback, and seven QB's are challenging to replace him. None have ever thrown a college pass. Dustin Grutza is the early favorite. The offensive line returns just one starter, but has three seniors on it. The tight end position is manned by Brent Celek, one of the better tight ends in the conference. The receivers are lead b y Earnest Jackson, who has shown a lot of promise. The ground game is the strength of the offense, with Bradley Glatthaar, Butler Benton, and Mike Daniels all in the stable. The defense needs to step it up to help out the inexperienced offense. However, there is just as much inexperience on the defense. Adam Roberts is the defense's best player at defensive end. Anthony Hoke has also shown a lot of potential. The linebackers return no starters or back ups from a year ago. Jon Carpenter has moved from fullback to linebacker to try to brace those losses. JaJuan Hall, Dominic Ross, and Antoine Horton all return in a more experienced secondary. The problem is, no team may ever have to pass on this bunch. Eastern Michigan and Western Carolina are potential wins early in the season. After that, there is not a game that the Bearcats will be favored in. Four conference road games also are not appealing to this group of Bearcats. Next year, things may be better.

ALL BIG EAST
Offense
QB Tyler Palko, Pittsburgh
RB Brian Leonard, Rutgers
RB Damien Rhodes, Syracuse
WR Greg Lee, Pittsburgh
WR Montrell Jones, Louisville
TE Clark Harris, Rutgers
OL John Glass, Rutgers
OL Jason Spitz, Louisville
OL Dan Mozes, West Virginia
OL Charles Spencer, Pittsburgh
OL Steve Franklin, Syracuse

Defense
DL Adam Roberts, Cincinnati
DL Elvis Dumervil, Louisville
DL James Wyche, Syracuse
DL Keilen Dykes, West Virginia
LB H.B. Blades, Pittsburgh
LB Brandon Johnson, Louisville
LB James Hargrave, Connecticut
DB Ron Girault, Rutgers
DB Mike Lorello, West Virginia
DB Anthony Smith, Syracuse
DB Jahmile Addae, West Virginia

Specialists
K Josh Cummings, Pittsburgh
P Adam Graessle, Pittsburgh
KR Marcus Furman, Pittsburgh
PR Montrell Jones, Louisville

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