Spring wrap-up: Big East
Cincinnati: No Brian Kelly? No problem. New head coach Butch Jones was one of the more solid hires in recent years, and he’ll have Cincinnati continuing to click on all cylinders offensively in the fall. The loaded receiving corps led by Armon Binns and D.J. Woods received another boost with the addition of USC transfer Vidal Hazelton, while Isaiah Pead and speedy Darrin Williams will produce out of the backfield to give balance to the spread offense. Even the tight end position is loaded with skill, led by Ben Guidugli. Quarterback Zach Collaros looked comfortable with a new playbook this spring and is primed to build off of a breakthrough ’09 season. The major concern for the Bearcats is on the defensive side of the ball, where depth could be an issue after losing five starters. They have shifted back to the 4-3 defense, so the defensive line will need to have fresh bodies on a week-to-week basis. And while the players have embraced Jones, he still must live up to a three-time Big East coach of the year. Will a brutal schedule that includes games at Fresno State, at N.C. State and against Oklahoma in the first four weeks derail the Bearcats’ plans for another marvelous season?
Connecticut: Connecticut returns 18 starters and has as much talent as ever under head coach Randy Edsall. Led by quarterback Zach Frazer, who looked more confident with improved mechanics this spring, and running back Jordan Todman, the Huskies should have a prolific offense in 2010, especially if Kashif Moore plays like the go-to wide receiver that the staff believes he can be this year. The secondary, however, remains a concern. Getting back cornerback Blidi Wreh-Wilson in the fall following shoulder surgery will help, but who will join Jerome Junior at safety? The Huskies will open up in Ann Arbor against Michigan, and expect a solid showing win or lose. There’s a reason why Edsall’s name is linked to big-time coaching vacancies each offseason.
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 loaded at running back, led by underrated Victor Anderson and the slimmed-down Bilal Powell. The team is unsettled under center with Adam Froman and Justin Burke competing for the job this spring and freshman Dominique Brown entering the fold this summer. Former starter Will Stein also remains an option. But the defense will tell the story for the ‘Ville this season, 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.
Pittsburgh: Sophomore Tino Sunseri will be directing the Pittsburgh offense in the fall — and not former starter Pat Bostick. The Panthers will have plenty of weapons for Sunseri, with wide receivers Jonathan Baldwin and Mike Shanahan tearing up opposing secondaries while Dion Lewis and Ray Graham consistently make defensive linemen gasp for air. Former signal-caller Greg Cross and Devin Street should also see the field at wideout, making Frank Cignetti Jr. one of the luckiest offensive coordinators in the nation. The interior of the offensive line, particularly at center and right guard, is a concern for head coach Dave Wannstedt, however, along with overall depth up front. In addition, the Panthers lost two of the nation’s best tight ends to the next level in Dorin Dickerson and Nate Byham. Mike Cruz remains the best option to replace them both, but it will be interesting to see how steady the linemen play early in the nonconference season.
Rutgers: Rutgers had questions about its wide receiving corps entering the spring, with sophomore Mohamed Sanu as its lone proven commodity. But Tim Wright, Mark Harrison and Quron Pratt had stellar spring seasons, giving the Scarlet Knights hope that the passing game will be productive. At running back, Joe Martinek looks primed to deliver more big plays on the ground. However, how good can the Scarlet Knights’ offensive line be? Can it protect sophomore quarterback Tom Savage? The one positive up front is that junior Desmond Stapleton looks ready to take over for Anthony Davis at tackle. 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.
South Florida: New head coach Skip Holtz has perhaps the best offensive player in the conference in quarterback B.J. Daniels. Despite undergoing offseason shoulder surgery, Daniels had a great performance in the spring game and will be fully ready for the start of fall camp. Can wide 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? Sophomore Lindsey Lamar was moved from running back to receiver, where he should thrive in open space because of his speed. Holtz also plans on running the ball more, so Mo Plancher and backup Demetris Murray 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?
Syracuse: Syracuse will have a new-look offense in the fall with head coach Doug Marrone calling the plays. The Orange took a lot of shots down the field in the spring game — in stark contrast to last season, when the team relied on quick passes and screens. The no-huddle and spread are no longer in the playbook, with more two-back and two-tight end sets on the horizon. Big plays lacked big time last season, and that will need to change for the Orange to be able to consistently put points on the board. Who will be under center for the ‘Cuse? Ryan Nassib was pushed by Charley Loeb after a nice spring game, and incoming freshman Jonny Miller could also make things interesting. The biggest question that remains, however, is how much star running back Delone Carter will play after his arrest and suspension from school at the end of spring practice. We know that he will miss all of the team workouts this summer, and there’s a possibility that he’ll be absent for fall camp, as well. Will Marrone issue an even larger punishment?
West Virginia: West Virginia leads the Big East in returning starters with 18, highlighted by running back Noel Devine, who rushed for 1,465 yards in ’09. Shawne Alston and Jock Sanders will also produce out of a backfield that is one of the league’s deepest units. With the losses of Deon Long and Logan Heastie, Sanders’ role in the slot will be even more crucial to the team’s success through the air, while Bradley Starks will be relied on to be the team’s top deep threat. Even though the Mountaineers return four starters on the offensive line, replacing right tackle Selvish Capers is still of primary concern for head coach Bill Stewart. But this is a veteran team that is a lock to be a top contender in the Big East.
Follow me on Twitter at Miller_Dave