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August 16, 2004

Mathias Kiwanuka. Walter Reyes. Chris Henry. Dan Orlovsky. Rob Petitti. These are names of Big East standouts, players who might not be too well known at the national level, but you can bet the new 7-team Big East knows all about these studs. Something else these spectacular athletes share in common: each one of their teams has a ‘realistic’ shot this year at winning the Big East championship, and that was not the case in previous years.
QB Dan Orlovsky gives UCONN hopes of winning the Big East.
Obviously we know with the departure of Virginia Tech, Miami, and soon-to-be Boston College to the ACC, this conference is described as “watered-down” and “unexciting” now to the rest of the college football world. However, what the majority of the people don’t recognize is that in reality, this conference has one team who should certainly compete for the national title in West Virginia, one team with the best defensive lineman in the nation in Boston College, and two teams with legitimate Heisman Trophy contenders in Dan Orlovsky (UCONN) and Walter Reyes (Syracuse).

Enjoy folks, because this certainly looks to be an exciting and interesting year in college football and especially the Big East Conference!

Here is an early look at my predicted standings and overall records of each team in this conference.

#1. West Virginia (11-0, 6-0) - This may be the year that West Virginia gets to play for the National Title, with a legitimate shot at going unbeaten, which hasn’t happened since the glory days of 1988 and 1993.

They return most of the best players on both sides of the ball including star quarterback Rasheed Marshall, who hasn’t lit up the stat book in his career, but the Mountaineers have gone 12-2 the past two years in conference play with him at the helm. WR Chris Henry (1,006 yards), who is on my first team All-American list, returns to anchor the receiving corps, also led by transfer Eddie Jackson (from Washington). Kay Jay Harris (540 yards) and sophomore speedster Jason Colson look to anchor what should be a very dangerous backfield for the Mountaineers, led by one of the best offensive lines in the country. Junior DB Adam “Pacman” Jones (4 INT) will lead the defensive secondary, while stud senior linebacker Adam Lehnortt (139 tackles) takes hold of the linebacker unit. Senior Brad Cooper returns to kick field goals for the Mounties, as well.

Overall, the talent and schedule is definitely there to go undefeated, as I see this team’s only true contests being at home against Maryland and Boston College, and away at Virginia Tech and Pittsburgh. However, I also predict two other teams to go unbeaten (USC and Georgia), so I’ll place the Mountaineers in the Sugar Bowl, where they will be able to claim a share of the national title with a bowl victory.

Losses: none

#2. Boston College (9-2, 5-1) - This is the last chance for the Eagles to gain some national spotlight, because they'll soon bolt for the powerful Atlantic Coast Conference for the 2005-2006 season and have no shot at winning the crown down south.

BC returns starting QB Paul Peterson (1,124 yards, 10 TD), who will make a run at first team all-conference, but looks to start a fresh running back in sophomore Jeff Ross with the loss of stud Derrick Knight to the NFL. Senior Grant Adams should lead the Eagles’ receivers, while sophomore OT Jeremy Trueblood helps anchor an offensive line with very little depth behind it. Will Blackmon and T.J. Stancil mold together a nice defensive secondary, while true freshman LB Brian Toal will help add depth to a young linebacker unit led by junior Ray Henderson, who will need to emerge as a star for BC. All-American Mathias Kiwanuka and senior Phillip Mettling lead the DL, while Mike Fassel will replace Sandro Sciortino for the kicking duties.

This will be the year BC has a true shot at the conference title, and with a few breaks here and there, they are very worthy of knocking off West Virginia for the Big East crown.

Losses: West Virginia, Notre Dame

T#3. Connecticut (7-4, 3-3) - 2004 will be the year UCONN starts getting national recognition, and there’s a possibility of being 5-0 and having a top 25 showdown between two unbeatens, Connecticut and WVU, at Mountaineer Field on October 13th.

UCONN is led by what might be the most talented returning QB in the nation in Dan Orlovsky (3,485 yards, 33 TD). Sophomore Cornell Brockington (643 yards), Terry Caulley, Chris Bellamy, and Matt Lawrence will all see playing time at tailback, while WR Keron Henry (662 yards) will return to catch Orlovsky’s passes. Senior linebackers Marcus Floyd and Alfred Fincher should anchor this defense, with UCONN’s main concerns being on the defensive line where Deon McPhee, Rhema Fuller, and Tyler King will all step into new roles on the defensive front. John Fletcher and Allan Barnes give much needed help to the secondary, while sophomore Matt Nuzie will continue the kicking job.

UCONN is the team in the Big East this year that could finish 8-3 or 9-2 with a few good breaks, or 5-6 and under .500 with some bad ones. I, however, feel that this year Connecticut will surprise everyone and tie Syracuse for third in the conference.

Losses: West Virginia, Boston College, Georgia Tech, Rutgers

T#3. Syracuse (6-5, 3-3) - Not only do they have a new nickname, but the Orange will also have to replace their signalcaller, as long-time starter R.J. Anderson is gone.

As of now, it looks like Xzavier Gaines will be the heir to Anderson’s throne, while senior RB Walter Reyes (1,347 yards, 20 TD), one of the best backs in the country, will do the duties on the ground for Syracuse. Andre Fontenette leads a very inexperienced WR corps, while OT Adam Terry guides a very solid offensive line. The defense is headed by strong safety Diamond Ferri who will patrol the secondary for the Orange along with FS Anthony Smith. Talented Kellen Pruitt will attempt to harness the middle of the defensive pack while junior DL James Wyche is the only returning starter up front for Syracuse. They also return what may be the best kicker in senior Collin Barber.

All in all, I think Syracuse will struggle with games against UCONN and BC and slip past teams like Pitt and Rutgers. However, this is another team that has the possibility of going 5-1 in conference play and giving WVU all it can handle.

Losses: Virginia, Florida State, West Virginia, Connecticut, Boston College

T#5. Pittsburgh (6-5, 2-4) - With road games at Connecticut, Syracuse, and Notre Dame, it will be tough this season for the Panthers to match last seasons’ number of victories at eight, although it’s quite achievable.

With the loss of Rod Rutherford and Larry Fitzgerald, the best player on the eleven-man offense is definitely OT Rob Petitti, whom you may find as an All-American at the end of the year. However, at QB this year you’ll discover two men battling for the job all season long with junior Luke Getsy and highly touted Tyler Palko. Senior Raymond Kirkley takes over at running back. With the recent loss of standout WR Princell Brockenbrough (626 yards, 4 TD), likely out for the season, sophomores Greg Lee and Joe DelSardo hope to stabilize the Panthers’ passing game. Defensively, DL Thomas Smith, FS Tez Morris, and LB Clint Session should all lead their respective units this season, while PK David Abdul is back to resume the kicking duties.

Overall, this Pitt team is one of the most talented in the Big East, but the main question is whether or not Walt Harris can mold together his new offensive stars quick enough to become a conference title contender or if another 6-5 or 7-4 season looms in the near future.

Losses: Nebraska, Connecticut, Boston College, Syracuse, West Virginia

T#5. Rutgers (7-4, 2-4) – Is Rutgers finally starting to turn the corner, like they have been trying to do for the past three or four years? Maybe so, but traveling to Pitt, BC, and Syracuse doesn’t help matters either.

The Scarlet Knights return a young but experienced backfield with junior QB Ryan Hart (2,714 yards, 15 TD), FB Brian Leonard (1,348 total yards, 14 TD), and sophomore RB Justise Hairston (550 yards) leading the way. Also, they return WR Shawn Tucker, who turned into a dangerous threat while catching for 726 yards and two TD’s last season. Up front, guard John Glass should patrol the OL for Rutgers. Senior defensive tackles Gary Gibson and David Harley should be dominant for the Scarlet Knights this season, while the young linebacker corps made up of Terry Bynes, Devraun Thompson, and William Beckford should start for Rutgers in the middle. The Scarlet Knights contain one of the best strong safeties in football in Jarvis Johnson who will head this secondary, and they should be alright in special teams with junior Michael Cortese taking over the kicking reigns.

This year Rutgers will make it to a bowl game and has a shot at an eight-game winning season if it can knock off Syracuse and Michigan State and handle Vanderbilt on the road.

Losses: Syracuse, Pittsburgh, West Virginia, Boston College

#7. Temple (2-9, 0-6) – Temple’s team is mostly made up of junior college transfers, and if they can come together, they have a shot at winning four or five games on the schedule.

Offensively, the Owls claim to have one of the top two or three most dangerous players in the conference in junior QB Walter Washington, who lead the team in rushing yards (579) last season and managed to throw for 1,285 yards in the air as well. At tailback, Temple will look to both Umar Ferguson and Tim Brown, while they’ll rely on senior WR Phil Goodman to anchor the receiving unit which was led by Zamir Cobb last year. They also return one of the best centers in the league with C.J. Blomvall holding together that O-line. Linebacker Troy Bennett and All-American Rian Wallace look to be the best linebackers in the middle, while Lawrence Wade and CB Pete McBride make up part of the secondary. On the D-front, junior Rodney Wormley looks to start at one of the end sports for the Owls, while on special teams, kickers Ryan Lux and Roger Price should compete for the starting kicker job.

To recap, it looks like the best Temple will do this season is to knock off one of the MAC teams it plays and win a couple contests in conference play, which is certainly possible depending on the play of their quarterback.

Losses: Virginia, Maryland, Toledo, Pittsburgh, Rutgers, Connecticut, West Virginia, Syracuse, Boston College

My 2004 Big East Preseason All-Conference Team...

QB - Dan Orlovsky, Connecticut
RB - Walter Reyes, Syracuse
RB - Kay Jay Harris, West Virginia
WR - Chris Henry, West Virginia
WR - Phil Goodman, Temple
WR - Shawn Tucker, Rutgers
OL - Jeff Berk, West Virginia
OL - Rob Petitti, Pittsburgh
OL - Tim Brown, West Virginia
OL - Ryan Krug, Connecticut
OL - Dan Mozes, West Virginia

DL- Mathias Kiwanuka, Boston College
DL- Thomas Smith, Pittsburgh
DL- Phillip Mettling, Boston College
DL- Vince Crochunis, Pittsburgh
LB- Rian Wallace, Temple
LB- Marcus Lloyd, Connecticut
LB- Adam Lehnortt, West Virginia
DB- Adam Jones, West Virginia
DB- Diamond Ferri, Syracuse
DB- Jarvis Johnson, Rutgers
DB- Will Blackmon, Boston College

K- Collin Barber, Syracuse
P- Brendan Carney, Syracuse
KR/PR- Adam Jones, West Virginia

Some Interesting Notes...

  • Best Team- West Virginia…undefeated in 2004
  • Best Coach- Rich Rodriguez, West Virginia…not only can he out-coach anybody in this league, he is starting to out-recruit everybody as well
  • Best Player- Rian Wallace, Temple…one of the top 2 linebackers in the country
  • Best Stadiuim- West Virginia…only holds 60,000 with the new luxury suites, but one of the loudest in the country
  • Best Fans- West Virginia…are they winning every category so far?
  • Best Game of the upcoming season- West Virginia @ Pitt…the Backyard Brawl…Thanksgiving Night…ESPN 7:30 ET…Gameday Crew will be there…possibility of being for Big East Title
  • Best Tradition- Syracuse…though still looking to get back to the glory days of the 90’s
  • Best Bet to Under-Achieve-West Virginia…picked by many publications to go 10-1 and 11-0 and to the BCS, anything less than a one-loss season will be a major disappointment
  • Best Bet to Over-Achieve- Rutgers…they definitely have the pieces to finish top 3 in the conference and a nice bowl
  • Most Dangerous Player(s)- QB’s Walter Washington (Temple) and Rasheed Marshall (West Virginia)…both have the ability to beat you in the air and the ground
  • Recap...

    This conference may not have the best talent like the Big Ten, SEC, ACC, or Big XII, but it probably does have one thing the other BCS conferences don’t share: all but practically one team has a realistic shot for the conference crown. This, in my opinion, will make this season very special for the Big East before the additions of two new schools next year, Louisville and South Florida. However, for this season, I think you can expect West Virginia to walk away the champ, unless BC can find a way to beat them on the road or Pitt can hold their own until late in the game and make something happen in the annual Backyard Brawl on Thanksgiving evening.

    Enjoy folks, because this certainly looks to be an exciting and interesting year in college football and especially the Big East Conference!

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