With spring practices wrapping up across the nation, I'll be running down my post-spring conference power rankings. After breaking down the Big Ten, let's take a look at how things shape up in the Big East.
Be sure to check back with the NFP on Saturday morning for my full Big East spring review.
1. West Virginia: Quarterback Geno Smith looked very comfortable in new coordinator Dana Holgorsen’s spread offense this spring, throwing for 388 yards and four touchdowns in the team’s spring game. With Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey as key playmakers, this offense is going to be fun to watch in the fall. Meanwhile, defensive ends Bruce Irvin and Julian Miller pace the defense. But can the Mountaineers avoid slipping up in conference play like they have so many times in the past against inferior opponents? With their talent across the board, there's no reason why the Mountaineers can't send head coach Bill Stewart out a Big East champion in his final season.
ICONCan QB Tino Sunseri carry his spring game performance into next fall?
2. Pittsburgh: Tino Sunseri had an up-and-down 2010 season under center but really elevated his play this spring, culminating in a big spring game where he completed 35 of 55 passes for 416 yards and two scores. The high-powered offense certainly looked like one coached by Todd Graham, who takes over for Dave Wannstedt. But how will the defense fare under their new leader, especially without defensive linemen Jabaal Sheard and Greg Romeus?
3. South Florida: When Skip Holtz was hired before last season, he said he wanted to run the ball more effectively. He’ll be able to do that in 2011 with Darrell Scott and Demetris Murray providing a nice 1-2 punch in the backfield. Quarterback B.J. Daniels struggled to perform in the new offense early in the 2010 season but played better by the end of the year. However, he didn’t have great chemistry with the receivers this spring.
4. Louisville: Remember Victor Anderson, the 2008 Big East newcomer of the year? With Bilal Powell gone, Anderson could be ready to assume the lead running back role again after a strong spring. The Cardinals have good running back depth, which is huge considering their question under center. However, the defense still lacks depth. And injuries were a concern this spring. Head coach Charlie Strong did a heckuva job in his first year. Can he continue the momentum?
5. Cincinnati: Butch Jones' squad struggled their way through a 4-8 season in 2010, specifically on defense. The Bearcats didn't generate a strong pass rush, but their defensive line depth seemed to improve this spring. Offensively, junior-college transfer Kenbrell Thompkins seems to be the real deal at wide receiver. Quarterback Zach Collaros led the Big East in passing yards (2,902) and touchdowns (26), but he also had a league-high 14 interceptions. Getting better line play will be imperative.
6. Syracuse: Doug Marrone performed one of the best coaching jobs in the country last season in leading the Orange to the Pinstripe Bowl. The defense lost several starters, and defensive tackle and linebacker remain areas of concern. Replacing Doug Hogue and Derrell Smith at linebacker will be difficult. But Marrone remains optimistic. Can he deliver back-to-back bowl appearances?
7. Connecticut: The defending Big East champion Huskies are now being led by new head coach Paul Pasqualoni and two new coordinators. The offense didn’t look great in the spring game, though the playing conditions weren’t ideal. However, the battle continues under center and it will be difficult to replace star running back Jordan Todman. The strength of the Huskies is on the defensive side of the ball, which returns its front four. Also, keep an eye on Sio Moore, who should deliver another big season at linebacker.
8. Rutgers: The Scarlet Knights struggled to a 4-8 campaign in 2010, and head coach Greg Schiano’s squad really looked slow and unathletic at times throughout that trying campaign. Schiano moved some players around on defense to become a speedier unit, but it remains to be seen how good this defense can be in the fall. The offense struggled throughout the spring, but quarterback Chas Dodd and running back De’Antwan Williams finished with strong spring games. Can the offensive line develop cohesion in the fall?
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