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Big East spring review

Looking back at what took place across the conference landscape. Dave Miller

Print This May 07, 2011, 08:00 AM EST

Let’s take a look at some of the storylines that played out this spring in the Big East as well as some of the questions that were answered and unanswered.

In case you missed it on Friday, here are my Big East post-spring power rankings.

Can West Virginia deliver Bill Stewart a BCS bowl berth in his final season?

There’s no question that the Mountaineers are set up to do great things on offense with new coordinator/head-coach-in-waiting Dana Holgorsen. Quarterback Geno Smith looked very comfortable in the new spread attack this spring, throwing for 388 yards and four touchdowns in the team’s spring game. He has playmakers in Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey, and the running game should be just fine no matter who is carrying the rock — Shawne Alston, Trey Johnson, Vernard Roberts or Daquan Hargrett. The Mountaineers will score points in the fall.

On defense, ends Bruce Irvin and Julian Miller could approach double-digit sack totals. They will be a force for opposing tackles all season. However, the suspension of Jorge Wright looms large because he was the leading candidate to replace All-Big East lineman Chris Neild at nose tackle. That situation is one to keep an eye on.

But the major question surrounding West Virginia is whether it can get out of its own way. The Mountaineers let every chance to win the conference slip away last season, and they are clearly the most talented team in the Big East in 2011. Many wondered about potential communication issues between Holgorsen and head coach Bill Stewart. It’s been so far, so good. But will the Mountaineers crumble the first time they are faced with adversity in the fall?

Cincinnati will bounce back from last season’s disastrous campaign if…

Zach CollarosICONZach Collaros threw a league-high 14 interceptions in 2010.

The defense improves even slightly. Seriously, any improvement is a big improvement.

No one expected Butch Jones to go 4-8 in his debut campaign, and the porous defense was the biggest factor in the nightmarish season. All 11 starters return from last year's unit that ranked last in the Big East in scoring defense and next to last in total defense.

Is it a good thing or a bad thing that the entire starting unit is back?

Well, the one thing the Bearcats have going for them is continuity on the coaching staff. The system remains in place from last year, which was not the case the previous few seasons. Working on fundamentals was at the forefront of this camp as the Bearcats gave up big play after big play in 2010. They also struggled to generate a consistent pass rush, but their defensive line depth seemed to improve this spring.

Offensively, quarterback Zach Collaros led the Big East in passing yards and touchdowns, but he also threw a league-high 14 interceptions. Some of that had to do with the fact that he was trying to do too much behind a subpar offensive line. But he also has to play more disciplined. He has the weapons in Kenbrell Thompkins and D.J. Woods at receiver, and Cincy will also run the ball effectively.

It might be asking a lot to expect Cincy to vault all the way up the Big East standings, but a Butch Jones-led team will not suffer back-to-back losing campaigns.

Of course, the defense will tell the tale.

Is that really Pittsburgh’s offense?

Quarterback Tino Sunseri had an inconsistent 2010 season but really made strides this spring. His spring game effort of 416 passing yards and two touchdowns excited Panthers fans, but can they expect similar performances every week in new coach Todd Graham’s offense? No matter what, running back Ray Graham will make a seamless transition to starter with Dion Lewis’ departure. Graham recorded 922 rushing yards and 8 touchdowns while splitting time with Lewis in 2010. Defensively, the team will miss Jabaal Sheard and Greg Romeus. New defensive coordinator Keith Patterson, however, has been happy with the defensive line depth. Brandon Lindsey may be their best defender after leading the team with 17.5 tackles for loss and 10 sacks in 2010. This is a talented squad that can win a league title in Graham’s first season.

Next up: Big 12

Email dave.miller@nationalfootballpost.com or follow me on Twitter at Miller_Dave

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