Early Big East Football Predictions for 2013

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Louisville is the Big East's clear favorite for 2013.

<p> Early Big East Football Predictions for 2013</p>

With college football’s 2012 season in the books, it’s never too early to start thinking about 2013.

The Big East has gone through a lot of changes since 2011 and more shuffling is expected in the next year.

With Syracuse and Pittsburgh joining the ACC, the Big East will welcome four teams from Conference USA – Memphis, Houston, SMU and UCF – into the fold for 2013. UCF will be the top contender out of the new Big East teams and could push for a spot among the top three in the final standings.

After finishing 2012 with a Sugar Bowl victory over Florida, Louisville is a clear favorite to win the Big East in 2013. The Cardinals return a Heisman contender at quarterback (Teddy Bridgewater) and could make a run at the national championship with a favorable schedule.

Very Early Big East Predictions for 2013

1. Louisville

Key Returnees: QB Teddy Bridgewater, RB Senorise Perry, WR DeVante Parker, WR Eli Rogers, RG Jake Smith, DE Lorenzo Mauldin, DT Roy Philon, LB Preston Brown, LB Keith Brown, S Hakeem Smith, S Calvin Pryor

Key Departures: LT Alex Kupper, C Mario Benavides, CB Adrian Bushell

Coming off a Sugar Bowl victory against Florida, Louisville enters 2013 with momentum on its side. The Cardinals will be a heavy favorite to win the Big East and returns most of its core from 2012’s 11-2 team. Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater should make a run at All-American and Heisman honors, while the return of Senorise Perry should boost the team’s rushing attack. Finding replacements for center Mario Benavides and tackle Alex Kupper will be the top priority for offensive coordinator Shawn Watson. The defense loses only one starter (cornerback Adrian Bushell), so improvement can be expected from a unit that allowed 23.8 points a game in 2012. With the Big East losing Syracuse and Pittsburgh and gaining SMU, UCF, Houston and Memphis, Louisville’s path to an unbeaten record is favorable.

2. Cincinnati

Key Returnees: QB Brendon Kay, RB Ralph David Abernathy IV, WR Anthony McClung, LT Eric Lefeld, LG Austen Bujnoch, DT Jordan Stepp, DT Camaron Beard, LB Nick Temple, LB Greg Blair

Key Departures: RB George Winn, WR Kenbrell Thompkins, TE Travis Kelce, DE Dan Giordano, DE Brandon Mills, LB Maalik Bomar, CB Camerron Cheatham, S Drew Frey

There’s no question Louisville is the No. 1 team in the Big East for next season. As for second place? Well, that’s anyone’s guess at this point. For now, a slight edge goes to Cincinnati. There will be a coaching transition from Butch Jones to Tommy Tuberville, but the Bearcats bring back quarterback Brendon Kay and all five starters on the offensive line. Running back Ralph David Abernathy IV should have a bigger role in the offense next season, especially as Cincinnati looks to replace 1,000-yard rusher George Winn. The Bearcats finished second in the Big East in scoring defense in 2012 but must replace ends Brandon Mills and Dan Giordano, linebacker Maalik Bomar and couple of key contributors in the secondary. Tuberville is a proven winner and should keep Cincinnati among the best in the Big East in 2013.

3. Rutgers

Key Returnees: QB Gary Nova, RB Savon Huggins, WR Brandon Coleman, LT Kaleb Johnson, LG Antwan Lowery, DT Jamil Merrell, LB Jamal Merrell, SS Lorenzo Waters

Key Departures: RB Jawan Jamison, WR Mark Harrison, WR Tim Wright, RT R.J. Dill, DE Ka’Lial Glaud, DT Scott Vallone, LB Khaseem Greene, LB Steve Beauharnais, CB Logan Ryan, CB Marcus Cooper, S Duron Harmon

The Scarlet Knights started 2012 with a lot of promise but finished on a down note. After opening 9-1, Rutgers lost its final three games, including a de facto Big East title game against Louisville. The defense allowed just 14.2 points a game but must replace standouts in linebacker Khaseem Greene, cornerback Logan Ryan and defensive lineman Scott Vallone. With the defense reloading, coach Kyle Flood and his staff need to find a way to jumpstart the offense. Running back Jawan Jamison left early for the NFL, but Savon Huggins is capable of picking up the slack on the ground next year. Quarterback Gary Nova threw 13 interceptions in the final seven games and with the losses on defense, he will be counted on for a bigger role in 2013. Rutgers isn’t short on talent, but is Flood and his staff capable of finding the right answers for this team next year?

4. UCF

Key Returnees: QB Blake Bortles, RB Storm Johnson, WR Rannell Hall, WR J.J. Worton, WR Jeff Godfrey, LT Torrian Wilson, LG Jordan McCray, DE Victor Gray, DE Deion Green, DT Thomas Niles, DT E.J. Dunston, LB Terrance Plummer, CB Brandon Alexander, SS Clayton Geathers

Key Departures: RB Latavius Murray, WR Quincy McDuffie, C Jordan Rae, RT Phil Smith, DE Troy Davis, LB Jonathan Davis, LB Ray Shipman, CB A.J. Bouye, S Kemal Ishmael

The Knights are the first of the new Big East teams to factor in the preseason predictions for 2013. Making the move from Conference USA is a step up in competition, but UCF returns most of its core and its four losses from 2012 came against good competition – Ohio State, Missouri and Tulsa (twice). Quarterback Blake Bortles threw for 3,059 yards and 25 scores in his first full season as the starter and will be joined by Miami transfer Storm Johnson in the backfield. The Knights also return their top three receivers and second-team All-Conference USA left tackle Torrian Wilson on the offensive line. The defense loses a couple of key players but shouldn’t suffer a huge drop in performance. UCF has upside, so this team could easily surpass Rutgers and Cincinnati for the second spot in the Big East in 2013.

5. South Florida

Key Returnees: WR Andre Davis, WR Terrence Mitchell, C Austin Reiter, RT Quinterrius Eatmon, DE Ryne Giddins, DE Tevin Mims, DT Elkino Watson, LB DeDe Lattimore, LB Reshard Cliett, FS Mark Joyce, SS JaQuez Jenkins

Key Departures: QB B.J. Daniels, RB Demetris Murray, OL Mark Popek, DT Cory Grissom, LB Sam Barrington, LB Michael Lanaris, CB Kayvon Webster

Even though the Bulls are coming off back-to-back disappointing seasons, they could be the Big East’s surprise team in 2013. New coach Willie Taggart was one of the offseason’s best hires and should work a quick turnaround in Tampa. Taggart’s background on offense will help spark an attack that averaged just 20.6 points a game in 2012. However, the Bulls need to break in a new quarterback, as well as find a running back that can handle 20-25 carries a game. The defense ranked a disappointing seventh in the Big East in yards and points allowed but returns most of its starting core. With question marks on offense, expect South Florida to lean on its defense early in the year to win games.

6. Connecticut

Key Returnees: QB Chandler Whitmer, RB Lyle McCombs, WR Geremy Davis, WR Shakim Phillips, DE Angelo Pruitt, DT Shamar Stephen, LB Yawin Smallwood, S Byron Jones, S Ty-Meer Brown

Key Departures: WR Michael Smith, WR Nick Williams, TE Ryan Griffin, OG Adam Masters, DE Trevardo Williams, DT Ryan Wirth, LB Sio Moore, LB Jory Johnson, CB Blidi Wreh-Wilson, CB Dwayne Gratz

After back-to-back 5-7 seasons, Connecticut coach Paul Pasqualoni will be on the hot seat entering 2013. Pasqualoni probably needs to get to a bowl game to save his job, but that task won’t be easy with heavy personnel losses. The offense has ranked among the worst in college football over the last two years and fixing this unit largely rests with finding answers on the offensive line. Quarterback Chandler Whitmer showed some promise but has to cut down on the interceptions (16). The Huskies led the Big East in total defense but loses two first-team All-Big East selections and both starting cornerbacks. Unless the offense makes major strides, it’s hard to see Connecticut getting bowl eligible in 2013.

7. Houston

Key Returnees: QB David Piland, RB Charles Sims, RB Kenneth Farrow, WR Dewayne Peace, WR Deontay Greenberry, WR Larry McDuffey, LT Rowdy Harper, C Bryce Redman, DE Zeke Riser, DT Joey Mbu, LB Derrick Matthews, CB Zach McMillian, FS Trevon Stewart, SS Kent Brooks

Key Departures: RG Jacolby Ashworth, DE Lloyd Allen, LB Phillip Steward, LB Everett Daniels

The last few spots in the early Big East power rankings are really a tossup at this point. Here’s the good news for Houston: Nearly all of its starting lineup from 2012 returns for 2013. However, the Cougars went 5-7 last year and ranked near the bottom of college football in total defense. And there’s also plenty of doubt surrounding coach Tony Levine and whether or not he can pickup where Kevin Sumlin left off. Add all of those factors in and it’s easy to see why Houston will be picked near the bottom of the Big East in 2013. The offense averaged 479.6 yards a game but lost 35 turnovers and struggled to get consistency from quarterback David Piland. The defense will be the under the direction of a new coordinator, who will be tasked to find immediate improvement after the Cougars allowed 36 points a game in 2012. 

8. Temple

Key Returnees: QB Chris Coyer, QB Juice Granger, WR Jalen Fitzpatrick, TE Cody Booth, LT Zach Hooks, LG Jeff Whittingham, NT Hershey Walton, NT Levi Brown, LB Tyler Matakevich, LB Nate D. Smith, CB Anthony Robey, CB Zamel Johnson

Key Departures: RB Montel Harris, RB Matt Brown, RT Martin Wallace, DE John Youboty, DE Marcus Green, FS Vaughn Carraway, SS Justin Gildea, K/P Brandon McManus

Steve Addazio left for Boston College, so Temple turned to a familiar face for its next head coach. Matt Rhule returns to Philadelphia after one year in the NFL, and the former Penn State linebacker will have his hands full in 2013. The Owls averaged only 322 yards a game in 2012 and must replace running backs Montel Harris and Matt Brown. Quarterback Chris Coyer was benched in favor of Juice Granger late in the year, and both will compete for the starting job in the spring. The Owls were young in some spots on defense last season and allowed 31.2 points a game. The linebacking corps is the strength, especially with Tyler Matakevich and Nate D. Smith returning after standout freshman campaigns. 

9. SMU

Key Returnees: QB Garrett Gilbert, WR Jeremy Johnson, WR Der’rikk Thompson, LT Ben Gottschalk, LB Randall Joyner, LB Stephon Sanders, CB Kenneth Acker, CB Chris Parks, S Jay Scott

Key Departures: RB Zach Line, WR Darius Johnson, LG Jordan Free, RT Bryan Collins, DE Margus Hunt, NT Torian Pittman, LB Ja’Gared Davis, LB Taylor Reed

The Mustangs haven’t quite made the jump most expected when June Jones arrived in Dallas, yet have made four consecutive bowl appearances and have at least seven victories in each of their last four seasons. SMU could be a bowl team once again in 2012, but this team has some significant holes to address. Running back Zach Line (4,185 career yards) is gone, and quarterback Garrett Gilbert never got comfortable as a passer in Jones’ offense. Gilbert is back and will have plenty of help at receiver, but SMU loses three starters on the line. In addition to the question marks on offense, the Mustangs must replace impact defenders like end Margus Hunt and linebackers Ja’Gared Davis and Taylor Reed.

10. Memphis

Key Returnees:
QB Jacob Karam, RB Brandon Hayes, RB Jai Steib, WR Keiwone Malone, TE Alan Cross, RT Al Bond, DE Martin Ifedi, NT Johnnie Farms, NT Terry Redden, LB Anthony Brown, LB Charles Harris, LB Tank Jakes, SS Lonnie Ballentine, P Tom Hornsey

Key Departures: WR Marcus Rucker, LT Jordan Devey, LB Akeem Davis, CB Robert Steeples, S Cannon Smith

Behind second-year coach Justin Fuente, there’s no doubt Memphis is on the right track. The Tigers closed 2012 on a three-game winning streak and showcased a much-improved defense by finishing third in Conference USA in yards allowed. The offense still has a ways to go, but quarterback Jacob Karam and running backs Jai Steib and Brandon Hayes are back in 2013. The Tigers lose only five starters off the defensive two-deep and returns three of its top four tacklers from 2012. Expect more improvement from Memphis in 2013, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Tigers escape the basement in the Big East.


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