Conference realignment has brought changes to the Big East in 2012 and more is coming for 2013 and beyond. West Virginia departed for the Big 12, while Syracuse and Pittsburgh will be joining the ACC (most likely before the 2013 season). Temple was brought in to replace West Virginia, which kept the conference at eight football members for the 2012 season. The Big East will get bigger next year, as UCF, Houston, SMU, Memphis, Boise State and San Diego State will join to give the conference two divisions and a title game.
Louisville got off to a slow start last season, but Charlie Strong’s team finished with a share of the Big East title. Much of the core returns intact, and big things are expected from quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. The sophomore should be more comfortable in his second year as the starter and will be throwing to a talented group of receivers. The Cardinals need to improve their rushing attack, and there’s no shortage of options with Jeremy Wright, Dominique Brown and Senorise Perry returning. The defense returns six starters from a unit that ranked 17th nationally in points allowed last year.
With a new coach and two new coordinators, Rutgers might be the biggest mystery team in the Big East. Greg Schiano’s departure to the NFL just before Signing Day left Rutgers in a difficult position, which promoted assistant Kyle Flood to head coach. The Scarlet Knights have the talent to win the conference title, but there’s also a lot of uncertainty with a first-year coach. Chas Dodd and Gary Nova shared the quarterback duties last season, and this battle is expected to continue into fall camp. The Scarlet Knights should have a stingy defense, led by senior linebacker Khaseem Greene. If Nova or Dodd is able to provide steady play at quarterback, the Nov. 29 showdown against Louisville in Piscataway could be a de facto Big East title game.
South Florida had an up-and-down 2011 season, starting 4-0 in non-conference play, but posting a disappointing 1-7 record in the final eight contests. Although the Bulls went 1-6 in Big East play, four of the losses were by six points or less – which gives hope for a quick turnaround in 2012. Quarterback B.J. Daniels is back after passing for a career high 2,604 yards last season and should be throwing to one of the Big East’s top receiving corps. Running back Darrell Scott is gone after rushing for 814 yards last year, but Demetris Murray and Lindsey Lamar form a capable one-two punch. The Bulls have an intriguing non-conference schedule, which features matchups at Nevada and Miami, along with a home date against Florida State. The conference slate isn’t overwhelming, but a date at Louisville on Oct. 20 could decide the Big East crown.
Pittsburgh could be the sleeper team to watch in the Big East race. Former coach Todd Graham’s schemes were a bad fit for the personnel in place, and the team was hit hard by bad luck in late October when running back Ray Graham was lost for the season with a torn ACL. New coach Paul Chryst was one of college football’s top offensive minds at Wisconsin and will adapt his scheme to fit quarterback Tino Sunseri’s strengths. There’s no question Sunseri needs to play better, but the Panthers also have to stabilize the offensive line. Defense is usually a strength in Pittsburgh, but six starters are gone, including end Brandon Lindsey, linebacker Max Gruder and defensive tackle Chas Alecxih. The Panthers have a favorable Big East schedule, catching expected frontrunners Louisville and Rutgers in Heinz Field.
Athlon's 2012 Big East Team Previews
With quarterback Zach Collaros, running back Isaiah Pead and defensive tackle Derek Wolfe departing, 2012 appears to be a rebuilding year in Cincinnati. The Bearcats bring back 11 starters, but replacing Collaros’ production and leadership won’t be an easy task. While the offense may take a step back, Cincinnati’s defense should remain solid, especially with seven starters returning. Wolfe and linebacker JK Schaffer will be missed, but ends Dan Giordano and Walter Stewart will create plenty of havoc up front.
Syracuse was one of the Big East’s biggest disappointments last season, but there’s hope for improvement in 2012. Quarterback Ryan Nassib is back after throwing for 2,685 yards and 22 touchdowns, while the receiving corps gets a boost with the return of receiver Marcus Sales from suspension. Finding a running back to replace Antwon Bailey and filling voids on the defensive line will be some of the top priorities for coach Doug Marrone.
Connecticut wasn’t able to build on its 2010 Big East title, falling to a 5-7 record and missing out on a bowl game for the first time since 2006. If the Huskies want to get back to the postseason, they have to find a way to jumpstart a sluggish offense. Junior college transfer Chandler Whitmer is expected to start at quarterback, while receiver Michael Smith is back from academic issues that sidelined him all of 2011. Running back Lyle McCombs is one of the best in the conference, and the defense returns eight starters. If the offense is better, the Huskies should easily improve upon last year’s five wins.
Temple re-enters the Big East in much better shape than how it left in 2004. However, the Owls were hit hard by losses on both sides of the ball. Bernard Pierce was one of the nation’s most underrated running backs over the last three years, and his production will be missed. Although Pierce is gone, Matt Brown is back after rushing for 916 yards last season, while quarterback Chris Coyer is a dangerous runner. The offensive line is a big concern with just one starter returning. Temple will be competitive, but with only seven starters returning, it may need a year to rebuild before contending for a bowl appearance.
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