Big East

2011 Football Predictions: Big East

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.

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

'11 Team Rankings: Big East

How did the class of 2011 shake-out in the Big East?

Since conference realignment took place back in 2004, either Pitt or West Virginia has won every Big East recruiting crown. In fact, in four of those six years since, the Panthers and Mountaineers claimed the top two spots in the team rankings. But 2011 is a different year and for the first time someone other than those two will claim the recruiting conference championship.

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'11 Predictions: Big East

The Orange could be the wild card in the Big East in 2011.
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Athlon takes a way too early look at the Big East in 2011.

That leaves the improving Syracuse Orange as a big wild card. Ryan Nassib showed the ability to manage the game and will need to take the next step in his development if the Cuse expects to compete for a conference title. Antwon Bailey should be able to fill the void left by Delone Carter. So replacing a couple of starters along the offensive line will be the only issue for what should be a relatively intact offense. The defense is a different story, however, as six seniors started in the Pinstripe Bowl. A reworked defense could be the difference between contending for a BCS bowl and heading to the St. Petersburg Bowl.

2011 Big East Predictions (key losses):

1. West Virginia: RB Noel Devine, WR Jock Sanders, OL Eric Jobe, DT Scooter Berry, DT Chris Neild, LB Pat Lazear, LB J.T. Thomas, CB Brandon Hogan, S Robert Sands*, CB Keith Tandy*

2. South Florida: OL Sampson Genus, OL Jake Sims, WR Dontavia Bogan, DE Craig Marshall, DT Terrell McClain, LB Jacquian Williams, LB Sabbath Joseph

3. Syracuse: RB Delone Carter, OL Ryan Bartholomew, OL Andrew Tiller, DT Andrew Lewis, NT Bud Tribbey, S Mike Holmes, CB Da’Mon Merkerson, LB Derrell Smith, LB Doug Hogue, P Rob Long

4. Pitt: WR Jonathan Baldwin*, OL Jason Pinkston, OL Alex Karabin, DE Greg Romeus, DE Jabaal Sheard, DE Brandon Lindsey*, S Dom DeCicco, K/P Dan Hutchins

5. Cincinnati: WR Armon Binns, WR Marcus Barnett, TE Ben Guidugli, RB John Goebel, OL Sam Griffin, OL Jason Kelce, OL C.J. Cobb, LB Dorian Davis, K Jake Rogers,

6. UConn: QB Zach Frazer, RB Jordan Todman*, FB Anthony Sherman, OL Zach Hurd, OL Mathieu Olivier, LB Lawrence Wilson, LB Greg Lloyd, LB Scott Lutrus, S Kijuna Dabney

7. Rutgers: OL Howard Barbieri, DE Alex Silvestro, DT Charlie Noonan, DE Jonathan Freeny, LB Antonio Lowery, S Joe Lefeged

8. Louisville: RB Bilal Powell, TE Cameron Graham, DE Malcolm Tatum, LB Antwon Canady, LB Brandon Heath, CB Johnny Patrick, QB Adam Froman, QB Justin Burke


The Big East's Best

UConn dominated the postseason awards in the Big East.
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Athlon looks back on the 2010 season in the Big East.

Dick Butkus Award (LB): Lawrence Wilson, UConn
The Husky backer led the league in tackles at nearly 10 per game and was instrumental in UConn’s first-ever BCS bowl berth. He returned an interception for a touchdown in the season finale against USF (a 19-16 win), posted 10 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks and two forced fumbles for the year.

Jim Thorpe Award (DB): Keith Tandy, West Virginia
Tandy led the league in interceptions with six and was second in passes defensed with nine. He finished with 45.5 total tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble. The season ended on a four-game winning streak for WVU and Tandy was at his best during that span. He tallied two picks, a sack, seven passes deflected and 20 total tackles to end the year.

Lombardi Award (D-Lineman): Jabaal Sheard, Pitt
See Bednarik above.

Adrian Peterson Award (freshman): Bruce Irvin, West Virginia
Yeah, I know, Irvin is not a freshman. But he is a Big East rookie and newcomer. And since they are my awards, Irvin is the guy. He led the league in sacks despite only playing on third downs for most of the year. His 12 total sacks were good for third-best nationally. Hakeem Smith, a safety for Louisville, posted 68 total tackles and would be the top freshman in the Big East.

Lou Groza Award (K): Ross Krautman, Syracuse
UConn’s Dave Teggart led the league in field goal makes (23) but also missed six kicks. Krautman went 17-for-18 in field goals as only a freshman. His 17 makes were No. 2 in the league and the 94-percent kick rate tops the 79-percent number everytime.

Ray Guy Award (P): Rob Long, Syracuse
The appropriately named punter led the league with a 43.8 average with a second-best (worst?) 64 punts and second-best 2,806 yards.

Desmond Howard Award (KR/PR): Lindsey Lamar, South Florida
Lamar was 13th nationally in kick returns this year with a 28.1-yard average. He finished second in the conference to Vic Anderson’s 30.8 average, but had more than double the number of returns (30 to 12). Lamar also returned two kicks for scores — no other Big East player who was eligible returned a kick for points.

Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year (HC): Doug Marrone, Syracuse
Randy Edsall is the easy pick here but all he did was accomplish what we thought he should have. Syracuse was picked seventh in the league. They had arguably the worst offensive and defensive lines in the league. The quarterbacks, pass-catchers and secondary were considered amongst the league’s worst as well. The seven wins were as many as the two previous years combined and were the school’s most since the 10-win 2001 campaign.

Broyles Award (Asst Coach): Jeff Casteel, West Virginia
The Mountaineers boasted the nation’s No. 3 rated total defense and obviously led the conference on that side of the ball. The 251 yards allowed per game were nearly 50 yards better than Syracuse’s 295 ypg allowed. WVU also finished second in the league in takaways with 22.

Big East Preview: Wk 12

Every game counts in the wide open Big East.

West Virginia (6-3, 2-2) at Louisville (5-5, 2-3), Saturday, noon EST

Since Bill Stewart has taken over at West Virginia, his teams are 18–2 at home, 2–1 in neutral-site bowls — and 5–8 on the road. This week, he’s trying to relieve some of the pressure on his job status and get the Mountaineers back in the Big East title hunt by winning at 5–5 Louisville.

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Athlon previews Week 12 in the Big East.