Conference Preview: The Big East  

Posted by Walter

We're back.

From now until the end of the season, the 323 will be cooking along, because our time is now. We're starting our intensive coverage with a our conference previews, and we'll continue our coverage by handicapping the Heisman race, picking our sleepers and duds, and finally making our typically bold predictions. We're starting with our old home conference, the Big East.

It's amazing just how far the Big East has come in a single year. At this time one season ago, the Big East was thought of as an afterthought. A BCS conference in name only, that certainly wasn't worthy of its automatic BCS bid. But with the continued development of West Virginia and Louisville into college football elite, and the sudden and shocking emergence of teams like Rutgers and South Florida, all of a sudden the Big East is back and humming as a college football hotbed.

Best Team

Walter: West Virginia

For me this isn't even close. Yes the Mountaineers return a defense that couldn't stop anyone last year. Yes they also lost several starters from the offensive line, including longtime stalwart center Dan Mozes. And yes the Mountaineers tend to play their worst when they have the most on the line. But those fans who insist on focusing on all the negative, refuse to recognize the obvious; namely that West Virginia has the best quarterback-running back combination this side of the NFL. Pat White, quite frankly, is the best quarterback in all of college football right now (best college player mind you, not the best pro prospect). White is dynamic with the ball and has improved his passing more than enough to make him nearly undefensible. Patrick White is the closest thing to Tommie Frazier we will ever see. Add in Steve Slaton and soon to be household name Noel Devine, and West Virginia has a running game that simply won't ever be slowed down let alone stopped. Devine gives the Mountaineers spread offense a new dimension, in that they can now put three gamebreakers on the field at one time. With Louisville at home, a tough road trip to Rutgers should be all that stands in West Virginia's way for a perfect season and a shot at the national title.

Frazier: West Virginia

This is a team out of excuses. They are absolutely STACKED on the offensive side of the ball. Pat White is one of the most underrated players in the country, but everyone is going to know his name after this year. He's the real deal. The best part is, he has a plethora of weapons around him. Steve Slaton is probably the second best running back in the country, behind only the Swiss-Army Running Back (McFadden). Add to that the super-talented Noel Devine and the hammering Owen Schmitt in the backfield, plus the speedy, game-breaking Darius Reynaud split out wide, and we're talking about a juggernaut. Add this to the fact that they have their toughest game of the year at home, and we're talking about a team with a chance to win the title. Just like last year....

Worst Team

Walter: Syracuse

How the mighty have fallen. It doesn't seem so long ago that Donovan Mcnabb was leading the Orange to a BCS Bowl game, yet its been years since Syracuse was even respectable on the gridiron. Count me as one who thought Paul Pasqualoni was an absolute joke of a coach, but things haven't gotten any better in upstate NY since his firing. Greg Robinson (former defensive coordinator of the Denver Broncos and Texas Longhorns) was a name with a lot of cache, but he hasn't produced anything on the field. The biggest problem for Syracuse has been an absolute deficiency in recruiting, and they simply will not turn this program around until they make sure homegrown talent like Mike Hart sticks around.

Frazier: Syracuse

Ugh. What can I say that the big man hasn't already? How about the fact that a team who is 1-13 in the Big East over the past two seasons (and while the conference was better than some suspected, it was still very weak) also lost their best offensive player (Delone Carter) for the season. That is absolutely TERRIBLE news. They won a single game after September of last year. They were bad, are bad, and will continue to be bad. Also, they don't have an excuse like the UConn's of the world. Syracuse used to be an elite program, they aren't some young bunch coming from bottom up. Instead, they are careening out of control down the mountain.

Offensive Player of the Year

Walter: Patrick White, QB West Virginia

All the preseason hype is Brian Brohm, but it's White who is the better college player.....and frankly it's not close. White deserves a lot of credit for improving his game drastically these past two seasons. As a freshman he won the starting job because he could run fast, but he's turned himself into a solid if unspectacular passer allowing Rich Rodriguez to open up the passing game against teams that stick 9 or 10 men in the box to stop the run. I expect White to run for 1,000 yards and throw for another 2,000 with close to a 60% completion rate. If he does, those numbers should be more than sufficient to garner White serious Heisman consideration, especially if the Mountaineers are undefeated.

Frazier: Steve Slaton

As much as I love Pat White, and I do, Steve Slaton is the BEST player on that team, in the conference, and possibly in the nation (although we're unabashed McFadden lovers). Slaton accrued over 2,000 yards of offense last year, and they've only scratched the surface of his receiving ability. With a more confident White throwing the ball, expect Slaton to make some waves through the air this year. He averaged seven yards a rush, and was THE player opposing offenses tried (and failed) to stop. We all know that White is driving the car, but Steve Slaton is the tires. Without him, this team goes nowhere. He is a home-run hitter. Just when you think he's down, he'll burst a sixty yard touchdown and break your heart. He might be the only quick-strike runner in the country. He's one-man momentum, and with teams having to spread their focus around the field, he may be *gulp* even more dangerous this year.

Defensive Player of the Year

Walter: Ben Moffit, LB South Florida

For the past three seasons Moffit has lived in the shadow of South Florida legend Stephen Nicholas. But with Nicholas now playing on Sundays, Moffit has the show all to himself and will definitely deliver. Moffit has been a three year starter for the Bulls, amassing nearly 300 career tackles. With Nicholas' departure he becomes the vocal and physical leader of a defense that sports several future NFL players and should be very effective in the Big East. Moffit is your typical college middle linebacker. Not the biggest guy in the room, or the fastest, but he is a warrior, and a sure tackler. Moffit is the type of player every coach wants on their team.

Frazier: Trae Williams, CB South Florida

Yeah, those boys from Florida can PLAY. It's a team littered with talent at multiple positions, but hasn't built up their offense, and lacks depth. However, Trae Williams is the real deal. On a stacked USF defense last year, he was selected as their player of the year. Seven interceptions (leading the Big East) and nine pass breakups will do that for you. Not only that, but Williams is aggressive against the run, and not afraid to get his nose dirty. He has excellent speed and quickness, and his coverage skills are excellent. Williams will be turning lots of heads this fall.

Sleeper Team

Walter: South Florida

South Florida really made some noise last season when they beat West Virginia in Morgantown to close out the regular season. Though Stephen Nicholas is gone, the defense is still loaded, and they return Matt Grothe, their tough as nails true sophomore quarterback. Grothe is a true football player, who leads an offense that should be good enough running the spread attack to put some points on the board against anyone, but it is the defense that makes this team a true sleeper. Despite losing Nicholas, the Bulls have a slew of NFL talent on this side of the ball including Ben Moffit, lockdown corners Trae Williams and Mike Jenkins, along with sophomore end George Selvie. The schedule doesn't do South Florida any favors, but an early road trip to an overrated Auburn team could set a positive tone for the season, and with Louisville and West Virginia at home, South Florida may have as much to say as anyone about the Big East championship.

Frazier: South Florida

Well, not a ton of options here, so I'm going with the obvious pick. WVU, Louisville and Rutgers really can't be "sleepers". Syracuse it beyond terrible. Cincy doesn't have an offense AND lost their coach. I picked UConn last year (let's not talk about it). So that leaves us Pitt and USF. The biggest problem with Pitt is they lost their totally overrated QB and still have Wanny. So USF it is. Not that USF is a bad choice, just not a terribly original one. We both picked USF defensive players to be the best in the conference this year. Grothe does have a ton of guts, and I'd be proud to have him on my team, and you know that roster is going to have tons of talent from south Florida. Still, I get nervous about sleepers who get too much hype, they can't sneak up on you, and they have a tendency to read the press clippings. This team has a chance to do something special, but that's all it is, an opportunity.

Disappointing Team

Walter: Louisville

It may be unfair to call a team that will likely go 11-1 a disappointment, but if they lose to West Virginia (which I believe they will) that is exactly what they will be. Brian Brohm's return to Louisville, coupled with the best receiving tandem in the nation (Harry Douglas and Mario Urutia) makes the Cardinals offense something scary. However, Louisville has way too many ifs right now to predict a win at a veteran West Virginia team that is just aching to make up for the clunker they dropped in Louisville last season. However, IF the program doesn't lose a step breaking in new coach Steve Kragthorpe, and IF the defense can pull things together late in the season, and IF the running back situation can work itself out without Kolby Smith and Mike Bush, this Louisville team will definitely be national championship caliber and not a disappointment.

Frazier: Rutgers

Either WVU or Louisville HAS to lose a game this year. So, while I agree that whichever team loses will be disappointed with their season, that doesn't mean that they will be a disappointment. The real disappointment is when Rutgers comes crashing down to earth. This was a team playing with house money last year. They snuck up on people, pulled off a huge win, and rode the spotlight awhile. The problem is, it's harder the second time. Now they're the team everyone else is gunning for. WVU and Louisville will be taking them seriously this time around. South Florida is improved, and everyone else is taking their best shots. Of course, they can still win nine games without breaking a sweat. It's not exactly a challenging schedule. They have Army AND Navy, Buffalo and something called "Norfolk St." On the other hand, they also have the incredibly unreliable Mike Teel tossing the ball around, to virtually anyone on the field. Teel who completed 55% of his passes last year, and had 12 td's to 13 int's. To have a record like they did, with that kind of performance, points to a soft schedule and more than a little luck. Ray Rice is back, but isn't any bigger, and he's lost Brian Leonard to look out for him. While Schiano has dug this team out from the bottle of the barrel, expect them to regress to the mean this season.


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