Maize n Brew's 2007 Misguided and Misinformed Preview of the Big East
To be honest, I wasn't a particularly big fan of the Big East going into last year. Matter of fact, I was one of the many bloggers and media type persons who openly questioned whether the Big East deserved a BCS berth.
I was wrong. The Big East champion deserves a BCS berth.
One of the nice things about the Big East last year was the fact it was always on television. Wednesday through Saturday you could always find a Big East game on ESPN, ESPN2, or FoxSports. And it was because of this that I had the opportunity to see the conference's top dogs play. I admit it. I saddled up on the couch and watched the Louisville/Rutgers game. I saw Louisville/West Virginia. West Virginia/Rutgers? Watched it start to finish. It really made me appreciate the quality of the three teams that dominated the Big East last year. It made me a HUGE Pat White fan. Made me realize just how good Louisville was. And made me think about my perceptions of the State School of New Jersey.
Adding to the list of accolades heaped on the Big East was a sterling bowl record, a BCS victory (Louisville), head coaches everyone seems to want, and a stockpile of talent at the top of the conference. The regular season was extremely competitive with the Conference Champion being decided at literally the last second. When WVU beat Rutgers in overtime in handed the Big East title to Louisville at the expense of of Rutgers. The prime time games were very entertaining and five teams went bowling last season. Not bad for a conference everyone left for dead.
The pleasantries now cease.
RANK BIG EAST BASHING
After the top three, the Big East was abysmal. In an eight team conference you've got to have more power than two teams and a one decent school. University of South Florida, Cincinnati, Pitt, UConn and once proud Syracuse just aren't cutting it. The popular refrain of "5-0 in bowls!" and "12-6 against BCS schools in non-conference play!" was more than adequately answered by Mike over at Black Shoe Diaries. To borrow from his excellent piece loathing the Big East:
South Florida defeated East Carolina 24-7 in the PapaJohns.com Bowl.
Rutgers defeated Kansas State 37-10 in the Texas Bowl.
West Virginia defeated Georgia Tech 38-35 in the Gator Bowl.
Louisville defeated Wake Forest 24-13 in the Orange Bowl.
Cincinnati defeated Western Michigan 27-24 in the International Bowl.
This is hardly a murderers row of opponents. The only ranked opponent in this entire group was Wake Forest who was number 18 only because they won an extremely weak ACC. Sure the Big Ten went 2-5 in bowl season, but look who we played: Florida, USC, Tennessee, Arkasas, Texas, Texas Tech and Maryland. How would the Big East have faired over a schedule like that? Take Louisville or West Virginia and put them in the Big Ten and they instantly become three loss teams. Rutgers probably loses four or five.
Knowing the Big East teams played a bunch of cream puffs in their bowl games, Bracken throws in the 14-7 stat against BCS conference schools to prove his point. He figures nobody has the time to look into those games. He overestimates my social life and underestimates my hatred for the Big East lovefest.
Wins: Indiana, Kentucky, Miami, Kansas State (2), Illinois, North Carolina (2), Maryland, Mississippi State, Virginia, and the bowl games previously mentioned.
Losses: Ohio State, Virginia Tech, Wake Forest (2), Iowa, Kansas, Michigan State
What are the best wins there? Louisville's win over a 6-6 Miami team that barely earned a bowl bid to the MPC Computers Bowl where they barely squeaked out a 21-20 win against Nevada? Really their best win as a conference is probably West Virginia's 45-24 win over the Maryland Terrapins, a team that also beat Miami as well as Clemson and Florida State before beating Purdue in the Citrus Bowl.
The Ohio State and Virginia Tech losses are both credited to Cincinnati. Kudos to the Bearcats, the only Big East team with the balls to schedule tough out of conference opponents. The rest of them have no excuse losing to BCS conference also-rans like Iowa, Kansas, and Michigan State.
And how does the out of conference schedule look for the Big East's "Big Three" this year?
|Big East Team||Toughest(?)||Weakest(?)|
|Louisville||NC State||at Kentucky||Utah||Middle Tenn. State||Murray State|
|Rutgers||Maryland||Navy||at Army||Norfolk State||Buffalo|
|West Virginia||at Maryland||at Marshall||East Carolina||Western Michigan||Mississippi State|
Seriously. Did anyone from the Big East beat a single decent BCS school last year? Don't tell me Louisville's 11 point win over Wake proves anything,
and DON'T tell me West Virginia deserves credit for watching Reggie Ball implode one last time (No excuse for this screw up, Ball didn't play in the game. Apologies - Ed.). WVU should've lost and had Louisville faced anyone other than Wake, it is easily arguable the outcome would've been different. The remaining bowl wins were nothing to write home about.
As Mike also pointed out, the conference's record against BCS conference teams was misleading as well. While it's true the conference was 12-6 against BCS schools, the only victory of note was Louisville's thumping of a 6-6 Miami squad that couldn't find its ass with both hands, a compass, a map, and a GPS. WVU accounted for wins over Maryland, Mississippi State and Georgia Tech. Louisville took out Kentucky and Wake. USF beat UNC but lost to Kansas. Rutgers beat UNC and Illinois. Pitt beat Virginia but lost to Michigan State. Cinci got throttled by OSU and Virginia Tech. UConn lost to Wake and won at Indiana. Syracuse somehow managed to lose the worst game ever played to Iowa, then bounced back to beat Illinois. Not to point out the obvious, but the Big East's premier BCS conference victories were nothing spectacular. Further, the top of the Big East isn't playing anyone special either. A fairly strong argument can be made that for a program to contend for a national championship Maryland and Marshall shouldn't be your OOC toughies. NC State and Kentucky are great basketball rivalries with Louisville, but in football? I'm not oblivious to the fact that App State is on my schedule, but so are Notre Dame and Oregon. Respek comes when your schedule is tough. These schedules do not meet that requirement.
The Big East's bottom half is loaded with questionable MAC type teams. Cincinnati only recently moved from Conference USA where it was a perienial mid to bottom feeder. UConn's been in Division IA football for about a week and a half. 'Cuse? Why do you suck? Please tell me. I want you to be so much better. I remember when going to the Carrier Dome was a death sentence for opposing teams. Now it's a joke. USF is not ready for primetime. No. I don't care if they've got a couple of good players and a schedule made out of balsa wood. That doesn't mean they're a legit program.
Now the Big East faithful will tell me that I'm dissing their programs, they're a conference on the rise, a media giant in waiting, three teams will compete for the national championship this year, M Go Blow jackass! w00t!
I just calls 'em as I sees 'em.
Now back to the preview.
The off-season for the Big East was just as important for the things that didn't happen as for the things that did.
Exhibit 1: Rich Rodriguez open flirtation with the Alabama job. Upon the conclusion of the season Rich Rodriguez was immediately named as a front runner for the HC job at Alabama and just about any other top tier opening that was even rumored over the winter and spring. After a considerable amount of back and forth, the internets went ape-shit predicting his departure and West Virginia's fall from glory. After all it was Bama we were talking about. Rodriguez shocked the hell out of everyone (including WFV) by staying put. The only place Rodriguez went was out on the recruiting trail where he hauled in a pretty decent recruiting class. WFVU is now a legitimate National Championship threat with Pat White and Steve Slaton back and healthy. Rebuild traditional SEC power with overbearing fan base or compete for national championship in a place where a MNC guarantees him exemption to the law. All of it. Tough choice...
Exhibit 2: After seven years at Rutgers, Greg Schiano finally had Rutgers in the national discussion. Despite plenty of people wanting Rutgers to pack up their Trans Am and go home, the Knights went 11-2 last year. In the off season Schiano's program was now big time and big program schools were lining up to throw money at him. The front runner was Larry Coker-less Miami, who offered Schiano a reported $2.2 million. Schiano turned it down to stay at Rutgers. Scarily, he seems to mean it when he says he wants to stay put. Schiano's making it hell for Big Ten and SEC schools who routinely pulled New Jersey's top talent out of state to continue to do so. Schiano's got Rutgers listed in serious contention for everyone of New Jersey's top players. That has never happened before. If he stays put, this could be the start of something. However, all Rutgers fans need to look at to keep their heads from getting too big is the example of Illinois. Even the downtrodden reach the summit from time to time. It's easier to reach the summit than stay there. Still, Schiano's staying put was a fairly significant surprise considering Miami's offer.
Exhibit 3: The return of Brian Brohm. It was a pretty legit probability, given Brady Quinn's freefall, that Brohm could've been the second QB taken in this year's NFL draft had he left early. His coach left, Michael Bush was gone, money (glorious, wonderful money) was being heaped at him by NFL teams. Instead, Brohm turned it down for one last crack at a Big East title and the possibility of competing for a MNC. Louisville has all the weapons this year to legitimately compete for the MNC and if not for WFVU being so loaded would be my pick in the Big East. Brohm's got all the tools to be a Pro-Bowl QB at the next level, but his collapse against Rutgers after beating West Virginia had me shaking my head. How could he look so good for six quarters and suck so bad for the two that cost his team a shot at the MNC. Give Brohm credit he's coming back to finish what he started.
On the other side of the coin, some of the things that did happen may very well shift the balance of power in the conference.
Exhibit A: The most notable change was Bobby Petrino leaving Louisville to coach the Atlanta Falcons. In hindsight, holy hell was that a bad decision. Unless you like dog fighting. Then it could be cool.
Replacing Petrino is Steve Kragthorpe who previously manned the helm at Tulsa. Kragthorpe guided Tulsa to three bowls in four years including three 8-4 records. Kragthorpe isn't much of a defense oriented coach, but his offenses light up scoreboards in a hurry. In his four years at Tulsa his offenses posted 30, 28, 33, 27 points per game. He'll blend right in at Louisville.
Exhibit B: One of the more important changes was Mark Dantonio leaving Cincinnati for Michigan State. Replacing him is former Central Michigan HC Brian Kelly. Kelly is one of the better "unknown" coaches in D1-A. As head coach at Grand Valley State, Kelly captured two national titles (DII) and also logged a second place finish. Leaving GVSU for Central Michigan, Kelly turned the Chipewas around where he posted two winning seasons, a MAC championship and a Motor City Bowl win. Kelly is excellent on both sides of the ball. CMU's defense improved every year under Kelly and their offense averaged 29.7 point per game last year. Kelly is probably one of the better hires of the off season in any conference.
HELLO MY NAME IS... (PLAYERS TO WATCH)
Pat White and Steve Slaton, WFVU - These two top my list as the best RB/QB tandem in the Big East and rank among the best in the country. As a sophomore White rushed for 1219 yards and 18 TDs while throwing for 1655 yards and 13 TDs. He's friggin amazing and will only be better this year with experience and a veteran line in his pocket. Slaton is a whole `nother level of running back. Insanely fast and capable of running through walls when necessary. I think he can conceivably break the 2000 yard/20TD barrier this year. Combine White and Slaton and I'm convinced you have a robot capable of interstellar flight and defeating the Invid.
Awwww, Hell Yeah......
Jamel McClain, Syracuse - I can't wait to see what this guy does for a follow up season. 9.5 sacks last year on a Syracuse defense that got no help from its offense. McClain notched 65 stops as a defensive end and totaled 14.5 tackles for loss. This year his linemates return in full and Cuse should have one of the better D-Lines in the conference. He'll post awesome number this season and wreck havoc in opposing backfields, but be unable to keep his side from losing the war for Cybertron.
McClain lines up versus UConn
Ray Rice, Rutgers - The east coast Mike Hart. No one thought he could, so he did it just to make you shut your mouth. The word "can't" isn't in his vocabulary. Rice went for 1794 yards and 20 touchdowns last year. While I don't think he's a 2000 yard candidate (because I do expect Teel to improve and take some of the pressure off Rice), he'll be close to 20 touchdowns again this year. Small and powerful, Rice ranks just behind Slaton as the Conference's best back.
I'll catch you yet, Slaton!
Malik Jackson, Louisville - While Brohm is going to get all the hype, Jackson was nothing short of spectacular for the Cardinals last year. 9 sacks as a linebacker. 9. Amobi Okoye's departure will put a lot more pressure on Jackson not only because he won't have the run protection Okoye provided but because opposing teams will be much more capable of game planning for him. If Jackson turns in a performance even remotely close to last season, it's a sign Louisville will contend for the MNC. Jackson's a physical freak a-la Sean Crable. Fast, hits with bad intentions, and don't give a shit about your hovertank.
Jackson Contemplating Your Doom
Fearless and Hopelessly Incorrect Predictions For The Big East 2007 Season
|1||15 returning starters. The best coach in the conference (and arguably the best east coast coach north of
|2||Every thing would normally be in place for a serious title contention. Unfortunately for the Cards, the key component missing in the championship puzzle is the absence of Bobby Petrino. Kragthorpe is a good hire and keeping Brohm (Co-OC) and Cassity (DC) were serious steps in the right direction. Still, Louisville has a Michigan-esque tendency to drop games it shouldn't. The Rutgers loss last year was inexcusable (especially when you're leading 25-7). Defense will be a big question this year with the Cards missing 4 of last years top five tacklers. The loss of CB William Gay will hurt more than you think. 11-1 (6-1).|
|3||I realize I'm not exactly going out on a limb by picking Rutgers here, but the conference really does stack up this way. The return of out-of-nowhere-back Ray Rice and the continued development of Mike Teel mean Rutgers has an outside shot at winning the Big East. However, Rutgers' defense was hit just as hard by graduation/NFL as Louisville. 2 of the top 5 tacklers and 6 of the top ten return. The biggest loss was quarterback terror (at DT!) Ramel Meekins who posted 8 sacks and 68 tackles. Without Meekins plugging the holes and Rutgers replacing its top two LB's I can't see their run defense being anywhere as good as it was last year. However, this is a very good offense and may be enough to carry them to a title. 10-2 (5-2).|
|4||Finally, a surprise. Dantonio may have bolted but I personally rate Brian Kelly as the next BIG coaching hire by a high major D1 program. Kelly's won everywhere he's been and his only losing season was his first at CMU. Two years later he's winning the MAC and a bowl game in dominating fashion. Cinci returns 16 starters (8 on each side) and two of those loses are kickers. Don't forget this is the same team that limited Rutgers to 50 rushing yards. The loss of chief linebacker Kevin McCullough will hurt a tad but 5 of the top 6 backers return. The biggest question is Cinci's QB position. Incumbent Dustin Grutza was bad last year. Any improvement will make this a dangerous team, and it may come in the form of Wake transfer Ben Mauk. The rest of the offense is back intact. Unless Kelly completely overhauls everything, this could be the surprise team of the conference. 8-4 (4-3).|
|5||Da 'Stache leads Pitt into another mediocre season. However, there is potential to surprise. Pitt's offensive line is one of the better units in the conference and returns intact from last year. This will mean good things for RB LaRod Stephens-Howling who average 5 a carry last year. Also making Pitt a formidable ground force is freshman LeSean McCoy who could be starting by mid season if LS-H sputters out of the gate. They'll be the focus of the offense as the Stache breaks in a new QB, likely freshman Pat Bostick. Working against Pitt are two factors: 1) defensive backfield and 2) schedule. Though Pitt's defensive line will be among the best in the Big East, Pitt replaces its entire linebacking crew and top cover man Darrelle Revis. Pitt gave up a 63% completion percentage last year, but only 182 in the air a game. I expect those numbers to flop with yards a game going up but completion percentage going down. The schedule is the big nail in the coffin. @ Michigan State, @ Virginia, @ Louisville, @ Rutgers, and @ West Virginia. I call four conference losses and (possibly) two non-conf losses (however, I'll give them MSU at this point). 7-5 (3-4).|
|6||A couple of pundits including Phil Steele are ga-ga over this group. Personally, I don't see it. USF was a decent team last year. This year a veteran offensive line returns, but it's the same line that gave up 5 sacks to UCF, 6 to Louisville and 4 to Cinci. You'll see improvement, but don't expect the world out of this group. The Bulls' offense will revolve Sophomore QB Matt Grothe and newcomer RB Mike Ford. Ford's a nice addition but I can't see him going crazy enough to take the pressure off Grothe to carry the team. If the line buys Grothe any time, there are receiving threats to throw to, including Honorable Mention Big East WR Taurus
|7||Another upstart football program that found itself in a bowl in 2004 but has come back to earth since. The Huskies return 9 starters on offense including surprising little burner Donald Brown at RB. The QB position is somewhat in the air, but JUCO transfer Tyler Lorenzen should take the starting job based on his 26-3 TD/INT ratio in JC last year. The line was (basically) all freshmen last year. This year they're basically all sophomores. Whether there's a) enough beef; or b) enough experience, remains to be seen. Four of the top six tacklers return to the defense, including the squad's top three. Unfortunately, the defensive line is young and small, meaning top Linebackers Danny Lansanah and Ryan Henegan will be very busy this year. Making matters a little tougher will be the fact UConn will be breaking in two new safeties, however Butler and Branch are excellent corners. UConn will improve, but they're not going to surprise anyone. Based on a Kleenex of a schedule, UConn should flirt with bowl eligibility. 5-7 (2-5)|
|8||Please, `Cuse, for the love of God, stop sucking! Syracuse used to be an excellent program. Every now and then a preseason 10 or 11, but usually a top 25 team. Then the bottom fell out. Sadly, last year things actually went right more often than wrong for Cuse. They were +11 in the turnover department and their defense held opponents to 24 a game despite being outgained by 135 yards a game. I wouldn't expect such good fortune this year (if you can call it that). During spring practice the Orange lost their leading rusher Delone Carter to a dislocated hip. Graduation cost the Orange their entire defensive midfield (LBs and corners). Combine that with an O-line that gave up 45 sacks last year and is replacing two components and you have a recipe for another long season. I will give Cuse credit, if they're going down they go down in style. Their non-conf schedule includes Illinois, Iowa, Washington, and Miami (OH). Not bad at all. However, it does doom them this year. 4-8 (2-5)|
As a result, your Big East Champion will be...