With the 2012 college football season officially kicking off on Thursday, it's time to release the first power rankings for each conference.
Every Tuesday during the season I will release league power rankings, which you can find under the College tab at the top of this page. The six BCS conferences will all have their own power rankings, while I will also rank the best of the non-BCS squads.
With that in mind, let's take a look at how the Big East shapes up:
US PRESSWIRETeddy Bridgewater and the Cardinals are rising in the Big East.
1. Louisville: Charlie Strong has the Cardinals on the rise as he enters his third season, and there’s no question that the program remains marketable to a Big 12 that may eventually move back to 12 members in time. Strong continues to build a solid defense, with run-stopping being the key. Offensively, Teddy Bridgewater will continue to mature and improve as a quarterback, and he is coming off of a strong offseason. Because of Bridgewater, expected improvement across the offensive line and a solid defense, Louisville is the team to beat in the Big East.
2. South Florida: Skip Holtz's Bulls have plenty of talent and experience with a boatload of starters returning, but can they put it all together and seriously compete for a Big East crown? Chris Cosh is the team’s third defensive coordinator in four years, and his main priority is making sure his unit is able to finish games after some late fades in 2011. Defensive line depth is also a concern. Meanwhile, can quarterback B.J. Daniels finally deliver a consistently strong season? He'll need help from an improved run game.
3. Pittsburgh: All eyes will be on former Wisconsin offensive coordinator Paul Chryst as he makes his head-coaching debut. Chryst is exceptional at maximizing the talent of his QB, so we’ll see if Tino Sunseri can play better in a more traditional offense. But can the offensive line consistently protect Sunseri? Ray Graham will eventually return after undergoing knee surgery, and there is backfield depth in the meantime. But do the Panthers have enough playmakers and depth along the defensive line?
4. Rutgers: The Scarlet Knights have been seamlessly adjusting to new head coach Kyle Flood and a reshuffled staff. The offense will remain a pro-style scheme under new coordinator Dave Brock, while newly promoted defensive coordinator Robb Smith will use a similar 4-3 scheme for his very sound unit. Hence, the Scarlet Knights will remain physical on both sides of the ball. The biggest reason for concern with Rutgers is the quarterback position. Can Gary Nova be a full-time, 12-week starter? Replacing star receiver Mohamed Sanu will be difficult, and the offensive line and rushing attack are question marks.
5. Cincinnati: The Bearcats lost a lot of veteran talent, including quarterback Zach Collaros and running back Isaiah Pead. But they also have a lot of players returning who logged significant playing time last fall. Munchie Legaux is the likely starter at QB, and there is good depth in the backfield. On defense, Butch Jones hopes his unit can continue to play well after rebounding nicely from a disastrous 2010.
6. Connecticut: Huskies offensive coordinator George DeLeone is now coaching the offensive line in an attempt to straighten out that unit after the departures of a couple of key veterans. But the biggest concern for UConn is the play at the quarterback position, where junior-college transfer Chandler Whitmer was brought in to help out. He performed well in the spring game and won the job this fall. But highly touted freshman Casey Cochran is waiting for his chance. Meanwhile, the Huskies will be very good defensively, but will the unit get any help from the offense?
7. Temple: Steve Addazio had a tremendous first season in Philadelphia, but the Owls head coach is transitioning his team from the MAC to the Big East. Say what you want about the Big East, but it's a step up in competition from the MAC. The Owls lost stud running back Bernard Pierce, but the team received a huge boost when Boston College transfer Montel Harris arrived to complement Matt Brown. The arrival of the former Eagle boosted Temple past Syracuse in these rankings. However, there are depth concerns on both lines. Will the defensive front four wear down against better competition?
8. Syracuse: Doug Marrone and the Orange need to establish a better presence along the defensive line, where pass rushing was a weakness last fall. Chandler Jones and Mikhail Marinovich are gone, so keep an eye on junior college transfers Zian Jones and Markus Pierce-Brewster. Offensively, the Orange need to get back on track on the ground to complement the passing of quarterback Ryan Nassib. Keep an eye on Ashton Broyld, the true freshman who arrived on campus as a quarterback. You could see him lined up all over the field so the team can take advantage of his dynamic athleticism.
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