2011 Football Predictions: Big East

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Who will be the top contender to West Virginia in 2011?

Who will be the top contender to West Virginia in 2011?

For the 45th year in a row, Athlon Sports will release its in-depth preseason preview annual complete with coaching changes, behind the scenes features, scouting reports from within the locker room, pages of recruiting rankings, and most importantly, in-depth predictions and previews.

Each year, we order some pizza and lock ourselves in a room until all 120 teams have been hammered into place. And every year, there are some seriously heated discussions that result in not-so-cordial commentary.

The 2011 preseason top-25 countdown will begin with No. 25 on Monday May 2. But every day until then, we will offer the college football fan a peek behind the curtain at some of the most heated debates that we the editors at Athlon had to work through.

Check out all the debates linked below.

The Debate: Who will finish second in the Big East in 2011?

Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch)
This one was tough. I liked Syracuse early on, but I think the Orange might take a small step back before another big step forward. I think Pitt could surprise with Todd Graham taking over, but in the end, I went with South Florida. This team has a lot of talent and should be very, very good on offense.

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Not much separates Syracuse, South Florida and Pittsburgh for the No. 2 spot in the Big East. After finishing 5-2 in the final seven weeks of last year, I'm going to give the edge to the Bulls. There's not a lot that stands out about South Florida, but Skip Holtz has this team headed in the right direction, and B.J. Daniels should be better in his second year in this system. I like the Graham hire at Pittsburgh, but think the Panthers need a year adjusting to the new schemes, and Syracuse suffered some key losses on defense to prevent me from picking them No. 2 in the conference.

Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden)
I have literally had four different teams on the two-line in the Big East. It started with South Florida - they have plenty of talent and I like what Skip Holtz is doing. They must get more consistent quarterback play, however. Todd Graham could have Pitt - and arguably the most talented roster in the league - back near the top, but there are holes on defense line. The offense should get a bump if Graham can also improve his team's the quarterback play. Then it was Syracuse. This team returns an intrigiung offense and seems to have a rising star in head coach Doug Marrone, but the Cuse also has its own holes on defense. I am going out on a limb with UConn. They claim best combination of offensive and defensive lines in the league and I think they can over come the loss of Randy Edsall - for this year at least. A team just doesn't forget how be a champion, which has to count for something. Of course, then the Pasqualoni effect will send the Huskies back to pre-2004 in year two.

Nathan Rush
Assuming West Virginia is the beast of the East, I’ll run with the Bulls of South Florida as the top also-ran in a conference that doesn’t measure up to either division in the SEC. Coach Skip Holtz’s squad is led by inconsistent dual-threat quarterback B.J. Daniels, who will be joined by Colorado transfer running back Darrell Scott — the nation’s top tailback recruit in 2007 — in what could be the most explosive backfield in the Big East. Defensively, the Bulls are loaded with playmakers in the secondary and ath-a-letes on every level. Road trips to Pitt and UConn won’t be easy, but if USF can maneuver its way well enough, the season finale against WVU could be a de facto Big East title game in Tampa.

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
With West Virginia being the top selection in the Big East, I was torn between Pittsburgh and South Florida for the second spot. Skip Holtz is building a solid foundation in Tampa, but there are concerns with the inconsistency on offense and a tough league schedule (at Pitt, at UConn, at Syracuse). The Panthers welcome Todd Graham to the Steel City, and the offense should get a much-needed spark. Graham’s former team, Tulsa, lit up C-USA scoreboards, and the Pitt offense should be much more effective in 2011. Additionally, the Panthers had a top 20 defense last year and return eight starters. With home games against the other teams (USF, UConn, Cincinnati, Syracuse) vying for Big East runner-up, I’ll take Pittsburgh to finish second to West Virginia in the Big East.

Debate: What is Ohio State's record after five games in 2011?
Debate: Who is the first-team All-Big 12 quarterback this year?

Debate: Who will finish second in the ACC Atlantic?
Debate: How far will Auburn fall in 2011?

Pre-order your team’s Athlon Sports cover here (athlonsports.com/store) and find out where Athlon has your team picked when the 2011 Top 25 countdown begins on Monday, May 2.

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<p> Athlon's editors debate who will challenge the Mountaineers for Big East conference supremacy in 2011?</p>
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