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Louisville is the clear favorite in the revamped Big East for 2013.
Another year brings more changes for the Big East. And if you are having trouble keeping up with the changes, you certainly aren’t alone. West Virginia departed for the Big 12 before the 2012 season, while Pittsburgh and Syracuse are joining the ACC in time for 2013. Louisville and Rutgers will have new homes in 2014, as the Cardinals are joining the ACC, while the Scarlet Knights are joining the Big Ten.
With all of the changes, it has been difficult to keep track of which teams are in the Big East for 2013. Making the jump from Conference USA to the Big East is UCF, Houston, Memphis and SMU, with East Carolina and Tulane coming board in 2014.
While realignment has dominated most of the headlines in the Big East, Louisville has quietly emerged as a top-10 team for 2013. The Cardinals have one of the nation’s top quarterbacks returning (Teddy Bridgewater) and are coming off a huge bowl victory over Florida.
There’s no clear No. 2 team in the Big East for 2013, but Cincinnati, Rutgers and UCF could each make a strong case to claim that spot.
The Big East will welcome two new head coaches for next season, as Willie Taggart takes over at South Florida, and Tommy Tuberville moves from Texas Tech to Cincinnati. Taggart appears to be a perfect fit for the Bulls, while Tuberville has been successful at each of his head coaching stops.
Big East Spring Storylines and Quarterback Battles to Watch
Replacing running back George Winn
The fans in Cincinnati were accustomed to a spread offense that leaned on the pass under Brian Kelly and Butch Jones, but Tommy Tuberville has made his living off pro-style power football. In order to make that switch, the Bearcats need to find a suitable workhorse tailback. Isaiah Pead gave way to George Winn without a hiccup, but Winn is off to the NFL. Ralph David Abernathy IV is a big-time playmaker, but can he handle 25 touches per game? Tion Green, Dionte Buckley and early enrollee Rodriguez Moore will battle for time behind what should be a very solid offensive line.
Quarterback Battle Breakdown: Brendon Kay (SR) vs. Munchie Legaux (SR)
With a new coaching staff taking over at Cincinnati, all positions are up for grabs this spring. Legaux was replaced in favor of Kay last season, but the new coaching staff plans to open up the competition. However, Kay was clearly the better quarterback last season and should be Cincinnati’s starter in 2013.
Figure out a way to score points
The worst scoring offense in the conference a year ago has undergone a dramatic change this offseason. And after scoring just 17.8 points per game, change was desperately needed. Coordinator George DeLeone was demoted to OL coach and former Cincinnati receivers coach T.J. Weist is now calling plays. Finding players on the outside to catch passes will go a long way to helping returning signal caller Chandler Whitmer. After tight end Ryan Griffin and his six touchdowns departed, there are two total receiving touchdowns coming back to the offense.
Can the defense find some answers this spring?
Tony Levine’s first season wasn’t a total disaster, but 2012 wasn’t a good year for Houston. As a result of a 5-7 record, Levine revamped the coaching staff and hired David Gibbs to coordinate the Cougars’ defense. Gibbs has not been a coordinator since 2005 (Auburn) but worked with the Chiefs and Texans as an assistant from 2006-10. Needless to say, he will have his hands full this spring, as the Cougars return only four starters and will be switching to a 3-4 scheme. The linebacking corps needs to be revamped, as Phillip Stewart and Everett Daniels depart after combining for 240 tackles last year. Derrick Matthews and LSU transfer Trevon Randle isn’t a bad place to start rebuilding, but Houston needs a big season from hybrid end/linebacker Eric Eiland. With the Cougars moving to a tougher league, struggling to get any improvement on defense is a good way to equal another losing record.
Quarterback Battle Breakdown: Billy Cosh (JR) vs. Rex Dausin (FR) vs. D’Juan Hines (FR) vs. Brom Kohlhausen (SO) vs. John O’Korn (FR) vs. David Piland (JR)
Even though the Cougars averaged 328.4 passing yards per game, there’s still plenty of room for improvement. Doug Meacham should be an upgrade at offensive coordinator and plans to install a similar system to the one Houston used successfully under Kevin Sumlin. Piland is expected to open spring practice as the starter, but the battle likely won’t begin in earnest until the fall when freshmen John O’Korn and D’Juan Hines arrive.
Who replaces center Mario Benavides and left tackle Alex Kupper?
With nine starters returning on defense, most of Louisville’s offseason concerns rest with the offense. While that seems strange to mention with quarterback Teddy Bridgewater returning, the Cardinals are losing two key offensive linemen, while running back Jeremy Wright decided to leave the team after rushing for 824 yards last season. With Dominique Brown coming off a redshirt year, and Senorise Perry likely to be 100 percent at the season opener from a torn ACL, Louisville’s biggest issue will be the offensive line. Center Mario Benavides and left tackle Alex Kupper depart after standout 2012 seasons, which leaves the offensive line with some uncertainty heading into spring practice. John Miller and Jake Smith are expected to hold down the guard spots, while Jamon Brown returns after starting all 13 games at right tackle. Sophomore Mike Romano was the backup to Benavides last season but is out for spring practice due to injury. Senior Kamran Joyer and redshirt freshman T.C. Klusman will top the depth chart at center in spring practice. Sophomore Abraham Garcia (6-5, 352 pounds) has the size to be Louisville’s left tackle and played in seven games last year. Keeping Bridgewater upright in the pocket is the Cardinals’ best shot at making a run at a 12-0 regular season mark.
Can the Tigers continue to build momentum?
While a three-game winning streak over Tulane, UAB and Southern Miss to close the season isn’t the gauntlet of schedules, Memphis was able to use that stretch to build momentum for the offseason and for its first year of Big East play. Justin Fuente had a solid year in his debut, but the Tigers are still behind the rest of the conference in terms of talent. Both sides of the ball enter spring practice with question marks, as the offense needs more from quarterback Jacob Karam, while the defense needs to address a secondary that loses a couple of key players. Memphis is headed in the right direction, so another offseason to find a few answers should help this team as it builds to its first season of Big East play. Even if the Tigers fail to match last year’s four-win mark, Fuente should keep pushing this team in the right direction in 2013.
Related Content: Memphis Tigers 2013 Spring Preview
Filling the voids at linebacker
Khaseem Greene was a star for the Scarlet Knights, leading the defense and earning Big East Defensive Player of the Year honors. Steve Beauharnais was a stalwart alongside Greene as well, posting 272 tackles in his esteemed career. Filling the gaping void left by these two dependable tacklers will be paramount this spring. Kyle Flood signed a deep and talented haul of linebackers last year and veterans Nick DePaola, Marcus Thompson and Jamal Merrell will have to hold off the young talent to earn starting spots this spring.
Who will replace running back Zach Line?
Although June Jones is a pass-first coach, SMU had a 1,000-yard rusher in each of the last three seasons. However, the Mustangs are starting from scratch this offseason, as Zach Line finished his eligibility after the Hawaii Bowl. Luke Seeker, Rishaad Wimbley, Jared Williams, redshirt freshman Prescott Line and junior college recruit (and former Texas Longhorn) Traylon Shead will get the first crack at replacing Line. Williams missed last season recovering from a broken leg, while Seeker and Wimbley combined for just 87 yards in 2012. Considering Garrett Gilbert has been inconsistent during his starting tenure, generating production from the rushing attack will be crucial for SMU.
Develop a secondary that competes
A new coach and a new quarterback will be the focus of the spring, but the defensive backfield also needs attention. This unit got torched all season long as opposing quarterbacks threw for an average of 251.9 yards per game at an alarmingly efficient rate (110th in pass efficiency defense). Opposing quarterbacks threw 17 touchdowns and only two interceptions against the Bulls a year ago — a number that was the worst in the nation.
Quarterback Battle Breakdown: Bobby Eveld (SR) vs. Matt Floyd (SO) vs. Mike White (FR)
While B.J. Daniels had his share of ups and downs over the last few seasons, he will certainly be missed in 2013. The Bulls have an unsettled quarterback situation and could turn to White once he arrives on campus this summer. Eveld was injured in his only appearance last season, while Floyd tossed zero touchdowns and five interceptions on 110 attempts.
Rebuild the running game
Matt Brown and Montel Harris are both gone from the Owls backfield that averaged over 200 yards rushing per game a season ago. The duo combined for 246 carries, 1,426 yards and 16 of the team’s 21 rushing touchdowns. With a quarterback battle brewing between Chris Coyer, Juice Granger and Kevin Newsome, a sound ground game will go along way to improving the 107th-ranked total offense from a year ago. New coach Matt Rhule’s first order of business is establishing a pecking order in the running game.
Quarterback Battle Breakdown: Chris Coyer (SR) vs. Juice Granger (SR) vs. Kevin Newsome (SR)
Not only are the Owls losing their top two running backs from last season, but the offense also has a glaring question mark under center. Chris Coyer started the first nine games of last season and was benched in favor of Juice Granger for the final two contests. Coyer finished the year with 946 passing yards, while Granger recorded 370 yards. With a new coaching staff coming in, this battle is expected to extend until the fall.
Filling the gaps on defense
Could UCF be the biggest challenger to Louisville in the revamped Big East for 2013? It’s certainly possible, especially with Cincinnati and Rutgers losing key pieces from last season’s team. However, the Knights have some key voids to fill, especially on defense where end Troy Davis, linebacker Jonathan Davis, cornerback A.J. Bouye and safety Kemal Ishmael depart. UCF ranked first in Conference USA in scoring defense last season, so replicating those numbers could be difficult with the personnel losses. Rebuilding the defense will start up front, as the Knights will lean more E.J. Dunston, while Clayton Geathers needs to become the leader in the secondary after recording 117 stops last season. If coordinator Jim Fleming can quickly reload this side of the ball, UCF will be a dangerous team.
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