NFP Director of College Scouting Wes Bunting contributed to this preview.
Pittsburgh: The Panthers have all the skill-position players in place to complement a tough defense and deliver head coach Dave Wannstedt a Big East championship at his alma mater. Offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti Jr. will have sophomore quarterback Tino Sunseri ready to direct an explosive offense — just as Bill Stull thrived last season when there were concerns under center for the Panthers. The interior of the offensive line, along with overall depth up front, is the biggest question mark. It will be interesting to see how steady the linemen play early in the nonconference season. But with a battle-tested group led by reigning defensive and offensive players of the year Greg Romeus and Dion Lewis, the Panthers have the goods to navigate a difficult closing schedule — at Connecticut, at South Florida, West Virginia at home and at Cincinnati.
ICONNoel Devine helps pace the West Virginia offensive attack.
West Virginia: The Mountaineers return a lot of talented veteran starters, and head coach Bill Stewart loves quarterback Geno Smith’s competitive nature and demeanor in the huddle. While only a sophomore, he is already a leader for the Mountaineers. Receivers Jock Sanders, Bradley Starks and Tavon Austin give him plenty of weapons to throw to, while explosive Noel Devine paces the rushing attack. Replacing right tackle Selvish Capers is of primary concern for WVU, but this is a seasoned team that knows what it takes to compete in the Big East. I cannot wait for the Sept. 25 nonconference tilt at LSU.
Connecticut: The Huskies have as much talent as ever under head coach Randy Edsall, whose name will continue to be linked to big-time coaching vacancies in the offseason. UConn is another veteran team adept at competing in tough league contests. Quarterback Zach Frazer looked more confident with improved mechanics this spring, and running back Jordan Todman will pace the always-productive Huskies rushing attack. The secondary, however, remains a concern. UConn opens the season in Ann Arbor against Michigan, so expect nothing less than a great effort — because you always get a solid showing from an Edsall-coached team, win or lose.
Cincinnati: Quarterback Zach Collaros will have the Bearcats continuing to click on all cylinders offensively under new head coach Butch Jones. Armon Binns and D.J. Woods head a loaded receiving corps, while Isaiah Pead and speedy Darrin Williams will produce out of the backfield to give balance to the spread attack. The major concern for the Bearcats is on the defensive side of the ball, where depth could be an issue after losing five starters. Shifting back to a 4-3 scheme, will the unit take a step back and prevent a Big East three-peat? A brutal schedule that includes games at Fresno State, at N.C. State and against Oklahoma in the first four weeks also could derail the Bearcats’ plans for another marvelous season.
South Florida: New head coach Skip Holtz has Bulls fans excited, and it won’t take long for him to make his mark in Tampa. He has perhaps the best offensive player in the conference in quarterback B.J. Daniels. But can receiver Dontavia Bogan become Daniels’ top target on the outside after the departure of Carlton Mitchell and the loss of senior A.J. Love to a torn ACL? Holtz plans on running the ball more on his watch, so Mo Plancher should get a nice dose of carries. The major concern for the Bulls is on defense. Only four starters return to a unit that lost four standouts to the NFL — defensive ends George Selvie and Jason Pierre-Paul, safety Nate Allen and cornerback Jerome Murphy. How good can coordinator Mark Snyder’s unit be? We know the Bulls have the athletes, so they aren’t too far away.
Rutgers: Under developing quarterback Tom Savage, the Scarlet Knights will continue to improve on offense. Sophomore Mohamed Sanu is a nice go-to option in the passing game, but the loss of sophomore Tim Wright for the season with a right knee injury definitely hurts. He was the breakout player of the spring for the Scarlet Knights. At running back, Joe Martinek looks primed to deliver more big plays on the ground. But, how good can the Scarlet Knights’ offensive line be? Can it protect Savage? Defensively, despite the departures of Devin McCourty, Ryan D'Imperio and George Johnson, head coach Greg Schiano still has good talent and depth, particularly on the line.
ICONThe reinstated Delone Carter will be leaned upon to help Syracuse score points this fall.
Syracuse: Running back Delone Carter will help the team’s chances, but there are still too many holes at too many key positions for the Orange to compete on a consistent basis. Head coach Doug Marrone will be calling the plays on offense this season, so expect the Orange to look down the field more often. The no-huddle and spread are no longer in the playbook, as well, with more two-back and two-tight end sets on the horizon. Will receivers Marcus Sales, Alec Lemon and Van Chew be able to make enough plays, though, when defenses stack the line?
Louisville: Louisville has welcomed in the Charlie Strong era with open arms. There is a newfound energy in the city and rejuvenated hope surrounding the football team after the program fell on hard times under former head coach Steve Kragthorpe. Strong has made it a priority to bring in better recruits, and the former Florida defensive coordinator is focused on bringing the Cardinals back to a BCS game. On the field, the Cards are led by underrated running back Victor Anderson, but the team is unsettled under center with Adam Froman. The defense will once again tell the story for the ‘Ville, as the team was second-to-last in the conference in total defense and last in rushing defense in ‘09. The good news is that Strong will build the unit back up quickly, as he’ll always remain a defensive coach at heart.
Stay with the NFP as we count down the remaining days until the start of the 2010 college football season on Thursday, Sept. 2.
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