The Miami Hurricanes have arguably been one of the top three teams in the entire country each of the last three years. In 2000, the 'Canes were left out of the national title game with a 10-1 record but came back to win the championship in 2001. Last season, Miami was defeated by Ohio State in overtime and fell short of the national title. This season, I'm predicting Miami to finish in the top three - but not in the country, in the conference. The 'Canes have plenty of holes to fill even though thirteen starters return. All-Americans QB Ken Dorsey and RB Willis McGahee have both moved on, but their replacements are solid. QB Brock Berlin transferred from Florida and sat out last year, while RB Frank Gore also sat out last year due to a knee injury following a tremendous high school career. The 'Canes have too many tough tests on the road, both in the conference (Virginia Tech and Pittsburgh) and out (Florida State) to make another appearance in the national championship game.
The Pittsburgh Panthers are one of the up and coming teams in America. Fourteen starters return for Pitt, eight of which are on offense. Three of those, QB Rod Rutherford, RB Brandon Miree (a transfar from Alabama), and WR Larry Fitzgerald, are big-time players who should make the Pitt offense even more dynamic. One of the best names in college football is Pitt's FB, Lousaka Polite. The Panthers must take on two tough non-conference games, at Texas A&M and vs Notre Dame, before beginning a tough Big East slate that includes visits from Virginia Tech and Miami.
The Virginia Tech Hokies, after falling short in the national title game just a few years ago, are coming off a 10-4 season in 2002 that ended with a San Francisco Bowl win over Air Force. As usual, the defense and special teams should be good for Virginia Tech; nine defensive starters return. Seven offensive starters are back, including junior QB Bryan Randall, who should sling a few passes in the direction of all-conference candidate WR Ernest Wilford. Wilford caught 51 passes for 925 yards and seven TDs last season. Though not considered a returning starter, RB Kevin Jones gained over 900 yards last season on his way to 9 TDs. The toughest non-conference game is a season-ending contest at Virginia; road trips to West Virginia and Pittsburgh, as well as a home visits from Miami, will make the Big East schedule a challenge.
The Syracuse Orangemen got off to a slow start last year, hit a good stride in mid-season including a thrilling three-overtime win over Virginia Tech, and then finished the season with an overall 4-8 record. Seven starters return on each side of the ball. One of those on offense is RB Walter Reyes. The junior scored 17 TDs while rushing for more than 1,100 yards in 2001. QB R.J. Anderson began '02 as the starter but was replaced about two-thirds of the way through the season. SU will be counting on Anderson to work some of his magic in 2003. The non-conference games are all winnable, but all are against good D-I competition (at North Carolina, vs Louisville, vs UCF, vs Toledo, and vs Notre Dame). The Big East schedule is very unkind with road trips to Virginia Tech, Pittsburgh, and Miami. However, all of the home conference games could be won by SU: BC, Temple, and WVU.
Boston College finished the 2002 season 9-4 and with an impressive Motor City Bowl win over Toledo. The Eagles return 11 starters from that team, five on offense and six on 'D'. Senior RB Derrick Knight will have to produce a lot this season after the departure of QB Brian St. Pierre. Knight had twelve TDs last year while rushing for 1432 yards, a 5.5 yard per carry average. BC will be trying to make it to a bowl game for the fifth straight season. The non-conference schedule has challenges this year with a trip to Penn State and a visit from Notre Dame. The Eagles host Miami and Pittsburgh before traveling to Virginia Tech for their season finale.
West Virginia was a surprise team in 2002. The Mountaineers finished 9-4 following a disappointing blowout loss to Virginia in the Continental Tire Bowl. RB Avon Cobourne, one of the top rushers in the NCAA, is one of six offensive starters gone; 7 players from the defensive side must be replaced. Coach Rich Rodriguez will have to find a solid replacement for WVU to have another successful season. A trip to Maryland follows a trip to Wisconsin earlier in the year on the out-of-conference slate. Last year's record will be hard to match, but WVU should still finish right around the .500 mark both in the conference and overall.
Temple and Rutgers will continue to bring up the rear in the Big East this season. The Owls lost 13 of their 22 starters in 2002, and a tough non-conference schedule won't help their chances to approach .500. Trips to Penn State, Cincinnati, Louisville, and Middle Tennessee could all result in losses. More than one win in Big East play is unlikely. The Scarlet Knights won only one game last season, a shutout over Army. More surprising than winning only one game was the fact that they lost to barely - D-I Buffalo and not - even D-I Villanova, both convincingly. This year, the Knights should be able to pick up a couple wins overall, but more than one Big East victory is highly unlikely.