July 30, 2008

Over/Unders: The Big East

Big East overview - Because these teams are only playing 7 conference games, they have to find 5 nonconference opponents. Since most of these teams are playing multiple MAC teams and other cupcakes, they usually are able to pad their records with 3-4 nonconference wins at least. I like a lot of the overs in the Big East because it only takes some of these teams a couple conference wins to reach their over.

As is the case with the Pac 10, the teams in the Big East play an odd number of conference games. Adjust your picks accordingly and give a little bump to the teams with 4 home games in the league.

One other interesting Big East note from the last week or so. Apparently, the Big East is discussing the idea of bringing Navy and Army in as conference members. If this plan goes down, I would be thrilled as an ND fan. If we could open up the possibility of using one of our Big East commitments for Navy every year, it would give us a little leg room to get some other interesting games on the schedule. Stay tuned. Army would really struggle in the Big East, but Navy could be competitive in that league.

Cincinnati - 7 wins - OVER - I was reading the Cincinnati Enquirer the other day and saw that the preseason Big East media poll had come out with Cincinnati picked 5th in the Big East for the second straight year. Hmmm. Are we really headed for a second straight year where everyone underestimates Brian Kelly and UC football?? It appears to be so.

Whether people want to admit it or not, UC football is going to be a factor nationally and in the Big East as long as Brian Kelly is pacing the sidelines of Nippert Stadium. If you don't know much about Brian Kelly, it's time to start learning more about him. He won 2 Division I-AA championships at Grand Valley State University and then took over an awful Central Michigan program and won the MAC three years later. He ends up taking the Cincinnati job in 2007 and goes 9-3 with a top 25 ranking for the first time that I can ever remember for UC football. Kelly is an unbelievably charismatic guy and has a very innovative offensive scheme. If he stays at UC, he is going to win a Big East title at some point in the near future. Mark that down.

Anyway, I don't know how long UC is going to be able to keep him, but Bearcat fans should enjoy the ride while it lasts . Kelly insists that he plans to stay at UC for the long haul, but I'm not holding my breath. At some point, a Big 10 or Big 12 or ACC type program is going to come calling for him, and he won't be able to pass it up.

As for 2008, take the over on the Bearcats and laugh all the way to the bank. They have to find a replacement for Ben Mauk, but a lot of their other top players on offense and defense are back. I get the impression that Kelly "made" Mauk, so I think the new QB will be fine in the "Cat Attack" offense. Kelly has upgraded the overall talent at UC, and the schedule is not that bad. There are 8-9 wins on this schedule, and I won't be stunned to see UC make a serious run at the conference title.

Game to watch on the schedule. Cincinnati at Oklahoma on September 6. Could be an interesting early season game, and it will be the game of the year for the Bearcats. I have no idea if UC can actually hang with Oklahoma, but I'm impressed that they lined up this game. Can't wait for that return game at Paul Brown Stadium in 2010.

One last note for the ND fans out there. It sounds like Demetrius Jones is not on the radar for the starting QB job. He's still recovering from shoulder surgery, and I don't get the impression that he is going to see the field this year. Might want to keep an eye on the UC quarterback situation this year. Jones was not a good fit in the Weis offense, and I can't see him being missed at ND with Clausen and Crist on board.

Pittsburgh - 6.5 wins - OVER - Am I the only one who thinks everyone is waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay too high on Pitt this year?? They are becoming the Clemson of the Big East. Everyone was talking about them as a breakout candidate LAST YEAR, and yet they end up going 5-7 with a loss at home to Navy (I know, I know, we lost to Navy too) and several bad blowout losses.

Now after one big win against a West Virginia team that choked its guts out, they are suddenly ranked in the preseason and being talked about as the team to beat in the Big East. It seems like every ND prediction I've seen out of the major publications has predicted a loss against Pitt AT HOME. Wow, I just can't see it.

Lasean McCoy is the real deal and might be as good a running back as anyone in the nation, and they are going to ride him for as many carries as possible this year. But can you really win the Big East on the back of one player?? If so, what does that say about the Big East?? Let's not forget that Dave Wannstedt is still prominently involved with this program. I'm not saying that they won't be better, but let's not get crazy here.

The quarterback position is still unresolved, and it sounds like Pitt is hoping that sophomore QB Pat Bostick can step up and win the job. They should have a pretty solid defense, so the pieces are in place for them to be a factor if they are up to the challenge. Guess we'll see what happens.

On that note, their over/under is only 6.5?? Seems like Free Money to me if you look at their nonconference schedule. Bowling Green, Buffalo, and Iowa all at home and road games against Navy and Notre Dame. If they go 4-1 in those games, all they need to do is go 3-4 in conference to get to seven wins. If they are even remotely close to as good as they are being talked about, they should be able to get 7-8 wins this year.

Connecticut - 6.5 wins - OVER - UConn has taken a lot of heat from me on this blog as somehow being unworthy of playing Notre Dame, but I really don't have a problem with UConn football. I actually have a lot of respect for what they hvae been able to accomplish in their limited time at the Division I level.

It seems like that state is rallying around UConn football, and that they are developing a nice little niche in the Northeast. There will probably be some rough patches as they build up depth in the program, but they are on the rise. When you look at the amount of money UConn has invested in football in the last ten years, I wouldn't be surrpised to see them emerge as the premier program in the Northeast someday. With Syracuse floundering and BC focusing on the ACC, maybe UConn can take some portion of that market.

Just looking at their schedule this year, their nonconference opponents are not all that scary. Hofstra, Temple, Virginia, Baylor and at North Carolina. If they go 4-1 against that group, I gotta think UConn can find three more wins. UConn was pretty solid at home last year, and I would almost say I like them more than Pitt this year.

While we're here, am I missing something with some of the polls listing UConn hoops as a top 5 team next year, even as high as #1?? I think UConn will be good, but let's not get ahead of ourselves. UConn was incredibly inconsistent last year, and AJ Price is coming off the ACL tear. They seem like an early candidate for being an overrated team. For all the fuss about Hasheem Thabeet (and I'll admit that he is a shotblocking freak), he hasn't really put it together in terms of being a consistent offensive force.

Louisville- 6.5 wins - UNDER - Louisville is going to be another program that we find out a lot more about this year. It really comes down to one question with them. Is Steve Kragthorpe a little shaky or was Bobby Petrino just that good?? I gotta be honest that I'm leaning toward the latter. Louisville probably peaked 2-3 years ago, and now they are finding their historic level again. I respect what Louisville has done for their football programs, but let's not forget that it's Louisville. They are the second biggest program in a state that doesn't have a whole lot of elite high school talent. The best athletes in Kentucky are either going to UK, Tennessee, Notre Dame, or one of the major SEC schools.

Louisville's schedule is ridiculously easy this year, but I'm not convinced a winning season is ahead for the Cards. With Brohm gone and most of their weapons out and another year away from the Petrino system, it just makes me a little nervous to think that they are going to bounce back right away.

Syracuse - 2.5 wins - UNDER - (see Mike's excellent preview below)

Rutgers - 7.5 wins - OVER - It's going to be an interesting year on the banks of the old Raritan. I was all set to start questioning Rutgers and to start throwing out the Kirk Ferentz comparisons for Greg Schiano as coaches who built up their reputations by building up bad programs but have had trouble keeping their teams near the top. Part of me thinks that Rutgers has already peaked as a program and that they might be falling back to the pack.

I still think that's a strong possibility, but now I'm wavering after hearing Chris Spielman on his local radio show raving about Rutgers and Schiano and QB Mike Teel. Spielman thinks Teel is the most underrated QB in the country, and he's really high on their wide receivers. Schiano loves to run the ball, so they should be ok in the running game even without Ray Rice.

I wasn't real high on Rutgers, but I'm coming around on them a little bit. Schiano's teams really impressed me a couple years ago, so I'm hoping they can get their mojo back. Their nonconference schedule is sort of intriguing with home games against Fresno State and North Carolina and an early road game at Navy. As far as the conference stretch goes, Rutgers has 3 very winnable home games and four pretty tough road games. If they are going to get back into the conversation among the elite of the Big East, they are going to have to do some serious damage on the road against West Virginia and South Florida. I don't see it happening, but 8 wins seems like a good possibility with a veteran team.

South Florida - 9 wins - OVER - Every time South Florida seems to be on the verge of doing something big, they seem to backpedal just a bit. After last year's great start with wins over Auburn and West Virginia that moved them all the way up to #2 in the polls last year, they finished out the season with three losses in their last six games and then got hammered 56-21 in the Sun Bowl against Oregon.

It seems like they are still going through some growing pains, but they are still a program on the rise and could be on the verge of establishing themselves as the premier football program in the Big East. With the talent down in South Florida at their disposal, things are looking good for the fighting Leavitts.

As far as the team goes, their defense will probably be strong as it is every year. That George Selvie dude is a stud, and should be one of the best players in the conference. Matt Grothe is back at QB, so it might be time to induct him into the Jess Settles "Players who seem like they have been around for 10 years" Hall of Fame. He's not even that great, but seems to find ways to get it done and probably leads all quarterbacks in broken noses and bloody jerseys.

Just peeking at their schedule, they have Kansas and a road game at NC State on the schedule and only three road games in the Big East. It appears to be a very favorable schedule, and I wouldn't be surprised if that December 6 game in Morgantown against West Virginia was for the conference championship.

Honestly, I think South Florida could be a real sleeper for the national title game.

Quick story about South Florida basketball while we're here. We here at weisnd.blogspot.com had the privilege to attend a Notre Dame-South Florida basketball last March down in Tampa. Anyway, following the game (which was probably 50% Irish fans), the PA guy announces that South Florida had set a single game attendance record for the game. No joke, the stadium was half full at best!! Good times. Not a whole lot of fan support for Bulls basketball down in Tampa I guess. Stan Heath, you have some work ahead of you as the steward of that program. Can we just make them play in the Sun Belt for basketball and keep them in the Big East for football??

West Virginia - 10.5 wins - UNDER - Look I bear no ill will towards Bill Martin and hope he has a nice career at West Virginia, but I have to say I would be a little nervous if I was a West Virginia fan. It's always a little scary when you hire a guy based on a performance in one game. The only reason Bill Martin even got hired was because of their win in the Fiesta Bowl against Oklahoma. He wasn't even on the athletic director's initial list of replacements for Rich Rodriguez.

It just has a little too much of a Larry Coker feel for me to feel comfortable with that hire. Martin is a first time head coach at age 55, so I just wonder if he is qualified for this type of job. He'll probably be fine for a year or two, but I have my doubts as to whether he can keep West Virginia at the Rich Rodriguez level of performance.

Again, he could prove me totally wrong and keep West Virginia rolling along, but we've seen too many examples of interim coaches who start off well and then get in over their heads. The good news is that Bill Martin is a disciple of the same offensive philosophy that Rich Rodriguez preached, so there won't be any major adjustments this year. With Pat White back and Noel Devine at running back taking over for Steve Slaton, they are going to have tons of weapons. Apparently, Noel Devine is a superstar in the making, so they should have a potent offense.

Game to watch: The Thursday October 23 showdown in Morgantown against the Auburn Tigers. WOW. Color me fired up for that one already. If WVU is undefeated going into that game, the hype is going to be huge.

Another interesting nonconference game could be that game at Colorado on September 18. Colorado seems to be on the rise, so that could be an early test for Bill Martin.

I think WVU will be very good against this year, but I see some losses on that schedule. The Auburn game will be tough, the Colorado and Pitt games will be tough, and they will have some tricky games against Louisville and South Florida.

By the way, good to see West Virginia playing some tough nonconference games this year. I have been a strong critic of WVU in recent years and didn't think they belonged in the national title discussion with the schedules they've played, but they've definitely stepped it up with the Auburn and Colorado games. If WVU runs the table and goes undefeated, they absolutely belong in the national title game (assuming there aren't more than 2 undefeated teams). Wins over Auburn, Colorado, USF, Louisville, Pitt, Cincy, and UConn will earn my respect.


Mike said...

I share the same thoughts regarding West Virginia, especially the Stewart-Coker parallel. Interesting take on Kelly at Cincinnati as well- I thought he had a nice first season but I did not realize that he was such a rising star.

I also agree re:Wanny and Pitt. I think Wanny is a moron and a terrible coach, but I also think that anyone with a pulse could manage 7 wins with Pitt's talent and schedule.

Duane said...

Bill Martin is the AD at Michigan. Bill Stewart is West Virginia University's coach. Nice analysis, dumbass.

Doug said...

Color me embarrassed. I had Michigan on the brain with all the fuss about Bill Martin and Rich Rodriguez here in Columbus.

Adjust your programs accordingly. Bill Stewart.

By the way, I read a great article in the New York Times sports section the other day about Bill Stewart and his recruiting efforts. Sounds like he is doing a great job.