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A better-than-expected 2005 campaign has left the Mountaineers and coach Rich Rodriguez with high expectations for 2006. Sophomore studs Pat White and Steve Slaton are among nine offensive starters back after combining to score 34 TDs last year. The former ran for over 1200 yards, while the latter threw for over 800 and ran for 1000 more after taking over under center at mid-season. Five defensive starters are also back from that squad that finished with a momentum-building Sugar Bowl win over SEC champ Georgia.
WVU should be favored to win every time they take the field until a trip to Louisville the first week in November. A second road trip, this one to Pittsburgh, follows two weeks later. That pair of contests will decide who comes out on top in the Big East this season.
Projected Wins: MAR, E.WA, MD, at ECU, at MissSt, SYR, at CONN, CIN, USF, RUT
Like WVU, the Cardinals are led by their dynamic one-two punch at QB and RB. Junior Brian Brohm threw for nearly 2900 yards and 19 TD last fall, while Michael Bush chose to return for his senior season after dashing for almost 1200 yards and 23 scores a year ago. Those two are among the thirteen starters back for the '06 season. Two of the team's top three wideouts will have to be replaced, however. Sophomore WR Mario Urrutia will be counted on to step up after a quality freshman campaign that saw him compile nearly 800 yards and 7 scores.
A home game with Miami in mid-September should be the Cards' first big test, though a home game with in-state rival Kentucky and a road trip to Kansas State won't be push-overs early in the season either. The Mountaineers come to town in early November before UL concludes the season with two tough road trips to Rutgers and Pittsburgh. As mentioned above, this year's Big East title will come down to the final month of the schedule.
Projected Wins: KY, at TEMP, at KSU, MTSU, CIN, at SYR, at RUT, USF, CONN
Coach Dave Wannstedt's tenure got off to a shaky 1-4 start last season, but the squad battled back to win four of their last six games, coming up just a single victory short of a winning record. A dozen starters are back for the 2006 season, six on each side of the ball. Senior QB Tyler Palko will lead the offensive unit after throwing for nearly 2400 yards and 17 TDs a season ago. The Panthers need someone to step up at RB and will also have to replace star WR Greg Lee, who had almost 1000 receiving yards in '05.
Two tough non-conference games at home against Virginia and Michigan State will tell where this team stands early on. Getting off to a good start will be crucial after last year's early season struggles. A road trip to UCF in mid-October won't be easy, nor will back-to-back home games with West Virginia and Louisville to conclude the season. Though the Panthers don't look as good as UL or WVU on paper, having both of those games at home late in the season could make the difference.
Projected Wins: at CIN, CITADEL, at SYR, RUT, at USF, at CONN
Coach Greg Schiano took his squad bowling for the first time in nearly 30 years last season, and with fourteen starters returning this fall, expectations will be a bit more lofty than usual in New Brunswick this fall. QB Ryan Hart is one of those that will have to be replaced, though. The most likely candidate is sophomore Mike Teel, who saw action last year but had a horrendous 2:10 TD to interception ratio. RB Raymell Rice (1100 yards, 5 TD) and FB Brian Leonard (700 yards, 11 TD) will be expected to carry the load, while TE Clark Harris will likely be the favorite target downfield.
A winnable road trip to North Carolina opens the season and could be the Knights' toughest game of the first half of the schedule before three consecutive road trips to South Florida, Navy, and Pittsburgh in October. Rutgers gets Louisville at home in early November before closing out the season on the road at West Virginia. Another winning season should be expected, though keeping pace with the league leaders probably won't happen.
Projected Wins: ILL, Ohio, Howard, CONN, at CIN, SYR
Thirteen starters are back from a squad that won six games last year and went bowling for the first time in school history. However, gone is star RB Andre Hall who had back-to-back 1300 yard seasons. Not only did he carry the load out of the backfield, but he was also the team's leading receiver in 2005. QBs Pat Julmiste and Carlton Hill will likely both see time this year, though each needs to improve on his numbers from a season ago. Seven defensive starters will have to help carry the load early on.
The squad should get the season started with two victories before consecutive road trips to UCF and Kansas. Rutgers comes to town the next week, and by that point, we should have a good idea regarding the '06 Bulls' hopes of earning another bowl trip. That's because four of the team's last six games of the season are on the road, including trips to North Carolina, Louisville, and West Virginia.
Projected Wins: McNeese, FIU, CONN, at CIN, SYR
After winning 8 games and going bowling for the first time in school history in 2004, the Huskies had to replace star QB Dan Orlovsky last fall. Combine that with the fact that the RB duo of Terry Caulley and Cornell Brockington never lived up to the hype, and it's easy to understand why UConn came up a game short of bowl eligibility in 2005. Caulley is back this season, however, and whoever takes most of the snaps under center should make that position better than it was a season ago. With fourteen total starters returning, another season right around the .500 mark should be expected.
The second game of the season at home against Wake Forest is a winnable matchup against a team from the ACC and will go a long way in deciding how the Huskies' season plays out. The same could be said for the next week's road trip to Indiana and the following week's home contest with Navy. Winning some of those games early in the year will be crucial as the team finishes with three of their last five on the road while also mixing in a tough home game with Pittsburgh.
Projected Wins: RI, Army, at SYR, CIN
After winning 7 games in 2004, the Bearcats had to replace record-setting QB Gino Guidugli last fall and finished the season just 4-7. Consider that three of the those four wins came by 6 points or less (and that none of the team's 7 losses were decided by less than two touchdowns), and it's easy to see that this program has a long way to go to become a contender in the Big East. However, the good news is that 17 starters are back this fall, including 10 on defense. QB Dustin Grutza had a decent freshman campaign and will return with his top two wideout targets and the team's top three RBs.
A winnable opener against Eastern Kentucky is followed by a murderous stretch that sees the squad host Pittsburgh before traveling to Ohio State and Virginia Tech in consecutive weeks. It will likely be a two-game stretch against in-state MAC foes Miami (Ohio) and Akron that decides the fate of this year's season, though. A pair of wins there gives Cincy a shot at approaching six wins, while two losses would seriously demoralize the squad early on.
Projected Wins: EKY
A pair of consecutive six-win seasons led to the departure of coach Paul Pasqualoni after the '04 season, and Greg Robinson took over last year but led the squad to just a single win all season long. Only ten total starters are back this fall, and one of those that left after last season is RB Damien Rhodes, who dashed for 900 yards and 7 scores a season ago. QB Perry Patterson is back under center but must improve his turnover margin. The team's top wideouts are also back for the 2006 campaign.
The squad opens with five challenging, but mostly winnable, games: at WF, vs Iowa, at Illinois, vs Miami (Ohio), vs Wyoming. The matchup against the Hawkeyes likely won't be pretty, but the others could get the Orange's season off to a good start if they can win two or three and gain some early-season confidence. If they can survive a three-game stretch vs Pitt, at WVU, and vs UL in mid-October, the schedule gets a bit easier from that point forward. Still, more than three or four wins should not be expected at this point.
Projected Wins: (none)
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