...An additional look into the conference from a different perspective...
The Bearcats were disappointing last season, but they look to make more of an impact this year. Ten starters return on defense, but they are still young and still need to improve. Sophomore QB Dustin Grutza should be better this year, but that might not be good enough for UC to make a serious run.
The worst part of 2006 for the Bearcats is the schedule: road games at West Virginia, Louisville, Virginia Tech, and Ohio State. When you play three probable major conference champions on the road, it looks like making a bowl game would require a miracle season.
D.J. Hernandez has officially taken the starting QB slot from last year's injured starter Matt Bonislawski, and Hernandez will hopefully play as mistake free as he did last year. The offense has a lot of question marks, too many to be considered a Big East contender. The defense will keep them in a lot of games again this season, and do not be surprised if the Huskies play spoiler for one of the big boys in conference play this year.
The out-of-conference schedule is pretty easy, so UConn might find themselves in a bowl game this year, a slight improvement from a season ago.
Huge expectations last season were dashed as WVU was not ready to just pass off the Big East crown to a new member. Of course, losing Brian Brohm to injury did not help matters, but he should make them tough again this year. They appear to have reloaded at receiver with three big transfers, but the offensive line will be shaky. Another big loss is the leadership of the great DL Elvis Dumervil.
Nonetheless, Miami and West Virginia come to UL this season, and that may be just enough to vault the Cardinals to the league title. They cannot afford to lose at Rutgers and Pittsburgh though, and those games will not be as easy as they look.
Spring ball showed that the Panthers appear to finally be getting into the groove of the new coaching system. Make no mistake, 5-6 and being embarrassed by rival WVU is not acceptable. Despite not having very many returning starters, the Panthers looked improved during spring ball.
With 4 out of 5 out-of-conference games at home and waiting until the end of the year to get WVU and Louisville at home, Pittsburgh could find themselves with just a couple losses, or perhaps undefeated, coming into the last two critical games of the season. If they split those games correctly, Pittsburgh might make the BCS appearance.
Nobody really expected much from the Scarlet Knights last season, but they rewarded their fans with their first bowl appearance in many years. This team may very well have the best set of running backs in the league this season, and success should be expected.
New QB Mike Teel and some new defensive linemen have to step up quickly, but the schedule is rather forgiving in September. They do have to compete with a tough Big East road schedule that includes trips to USF, WVU, and Pittsburgh, but anything less than competing for a league title would be disappointing.
This squad was a lot better than they probably should have been last year, and they only return 14 starters, many of whom are injured going into summer practices. This is bad news and will probably have the Bulls off on the wrong foot despite having some easy opening games.
Even if they get it together later on, ending the season at Louisville and WVU should put the nail in the coffin. A bowl bid would be a success this season.
I guess the Orange can only go up from 2005. They return just 12 starters, a number that includes the punter and the kicker, so trouble is apparent in the numbers alone. The offense was abysmal last season and will have to improve. The defense was not all that bad, but when you do not score points, you do not win games.
This team should get more wins than one this season, but probably not in Big East play. The Orange will struggle once again, and a bowl bid would be miraculous.
And now for the opposite of the Orange (literally last season), the Mountaineers nearly ran the table in 2005 and did run Georgia out of the Sugar Bowl (in Atlanta) in the first half last January. The worst news for Big East competitors is nine returning starters on an explosive offense led by Pat White and Steve Slaton.
Most opponents on the schedule do not appear ready to stop the running game in Morgantown, so the national title contender logo is legitimate. Opening with three games in Morgantown should give this team enough momentum to probably get 10 or 11 wins this season. The major questions will be answered at Louisville and Pittsburgh in November, but I expect the Mountaineers will definitely be BCS-bound, perhaps as an at-large if Louisville steals the league title.