2008 Big East Predictions
by Robert Ferringo - 08/23/2008
The Big East is the most underrated football conference in the country, and over the last two years I feel that it has been a better football conference than the Big Ten or the ACC.
I've been saying that for two years now, and for two years the general college football public has ignored this fact. Some might say that I'm biased or that I'm a homer. It's true that I hail from Big East country, but in my profession I don't have the luxury of "bias". I need to be an objective observer of sport and I'm simply offering up my hypothesis based on the empirical data. And what the numbers - and my own experience - has told me is that this league is still the most profitable and least heralded of the Big 6 BCS conferences.
Let's look at the facts:
Over the last two years the Big East has won eight of its 10 bowl games, the best mark in the country. The conference is also 19-14 straight-up against other BCS conference programs and they have had two teams on the cusp of playing in the National Championship Game.
But, perhaps most importantly, the Big East is a collective 50-27 against the spread in nonconference games over the past two years! That's a 64.9-percent success rate over a two-year span, and there isn't a gambler in the country that wouldn't take that straight to the bank. Their record ATS is critical because it offers direct proof that their performance has clearly exceeded their expectations. Hell, even Syracuse is 6-4 ATS in nonconference play since the start of 2006. And their Big Guns during that time - West Virginia, Rutgers, Louisville, and South Florida - are an absolutely incredible 28-12-1 ATS in nonconference affairs.
Simply put, the Big East is better than you think. And I've been screaming about that fact for two years. It remains an absolute ATM machine in nonconference play and should be mined for big selections on a weekly basis.
With that in mind here's my 2008 Big East predictions:
The Favorite: West Virginia
This is where I differ from every pundit, prognosticator, and bobblehead that is making predictions in college football this year: I don't think West Virginia is the best team in the Big East and I don't think that they are even close to being a national title contender. Ask Louisville about the hangover that follows being one game away from a shot at the National Championship and blowing it. And, just like last year's Cardinals club, the Mountaineers have suffered severe attrition from a defense that had finally worked its way to respectability and are working in a new coach. WVU has a dominating o-line and Noel Devine is simply a special player. But they host a tough Auburn team in late October, followed by three of four on the road against tough Big East challengers, before closing against a South Florida team that has owned them over the last few years. The defense simply isn't up to snuff and WVU's window has closed.The Challenger: South Florida
The Bulls are my pick to win the Big East and a home game against Kansas in September could give them a resume worthy of a trip to the national title game. The Bulls welcome back 10 offensive starters, including stud QB Matt Grothe, all of their skill players, and four of five members of a rugged offensive line. Defensively, conference POY George Selvie anchors the best front seven in the league. This team is suspect at the corner spots, and against a lot of experienced receivers in this league that will be something to watch. USF gets Pitt, Rutgers, and Connecticut at home this year and could be undefeated for a Dec. 6 matchup at West Virginia that could decide the conference champ.
The Dark Horse: Pittsburgh
For one second, let's pretend that Dave Wannstedt isn't going to find a way to blow all of the talent he has on this team. Now, in spite of their bumbling head coach, the Panthers are truly a factor in the Big East race. Last year they lost their starting quarterback in the opening game and suffered through some growing pains with a young nucleus. However, they rallied to close the season with one of the biggest upsets of the year with a win over rival WVU. They bring back 15 starters from last year's team, get QB Bill Stull and stud wideout Derek Kinder back from injury, they boast sensational freshman RB LaSean McCoy and All-America candidate Scott McKillop at LB, and, finally, they brought in the best recruiting class in the conference. They get WVU and Rutgers at home, but have to travel to South Florida and have tricky games at Cincy and UConn sandwiching their rematch with the Mountaineers.
The X-Factor: Rutgers
Greg Schiano is the best coach in the conference and you simply cannot underestimate his ability to prepare and motivate his team. The passing attack is led by three-year starters Mike Teal, Kenny Britt and TiQuan Underwood, making up the best group in the league. And the real fulcrum of this team is the eight starters that return from the nation's No. 17 defensive unit. Their schedule does them no favors, as they have to travel to WVU, to Pitt, and to South Florida. But while that will likely keep them from winning the title it also means that any school that wants to claim it will have to get through the rock-hard Scarlet Knights.
The Surprise Team: Cincinnati
No, the Bearcats will not be at the level of last year's club, which I correctly predicted would be one of the surprise teams in the country. But I also don't believe that they will fall off as much as most people expect, and the main reason is that they have a load of experience. Cincy's seven three-year starters are tied for the most in the league and they have an impressive nine senior starters on defense (13 overall). That's a lot of maturity and a lot of guys who have contributed to UC's 18-8 record over the last two years. I don't see them factoring in the race but I do see them springing an upset or two.
The Disappointment: Louisville
While watching this year's team just keep in mind that they are just two seasons removed from a near miss at a National Title shot. One look at the Cardinals' schedule would give you hope for a decent bounceback year out of this group. But the back end of the slate is brutal, as they face South Florida, Pitt, Cincy, West Virginia, and Rutgers in a six-game stretch. The Cards only have nine returning starters but do have 10 seniors on the first team. However, there is a clear drop-off from the talent they've had over the last five years.
Connecticut - How is it that a conference co-champion that finished last year in the Top 25 and brought back 17 starters can be so easily dismissed? However, everyone seems to be blowing off the Huskies heading into this year. Yes, they had a favorable schedule. And yes, they pulled some upsets and plenty of turnovers out of their asses. But this team can hit, is experienced, and they have a lot of confidence heading into the season.
Syracuse - Greg Robinson, take a bow. Much like Ty Willingham in Washington, Robinson has absolutely no prayer of saving his job because the schedule vs. the talent surrounding his team is not even close. Syracuse is physically overmatched and if they don't win at Northwestern to start the year (they are 12-point underdogs) then they likely won't win three games this season. It's a sorry state of affairs for one of the most venerable programs on the East Coast, and this should mark the end of a pathetic era.