Posted 06/22/2011 at 03:53 PM
College football may be the only game in town this fall and it is never too early to start analyzing the schedules that are in place for the season. It can be tough in the summer to start assessing teams based on personnel as there are still many position battles to be won and roster spots to sort out but the schedule can just as easily make or break a season. Here is a snapshot at the schedule for each team in the Big East. The landscape in the Big East changes dramatically next year with TCU in the mix but a BCS spot is still up for grabs between these eight teams.
Cincinnati Bearcats: After a dream 12-1 season in 2009 it was a clear rebuilding year with a new coach for Cincinnati last season, falling to 4-8. The Bearcats were competitive until late in the season however and improving on the 2-5 conference record will be critical this season. Cincinnati has a tough Big East draw with four road games and only three home games and they must play at Pittsburgh and at South Florida. The non-conference slate features two marquee match-ups playing at Tennessee and hosting NC State. Improving on 4-8 is very possible and the Cincinnati defense should be greatly improved. After an underachieving season this could be a team to watch out for although the schedule likely prevents a huge rise in the standings.
Connecticut Huskies: Randy Edsall’s surprising departure to Maryland rocked the Connecticut program but former Syracuse coach Paul Pasqualoni knows the conference well and after coaching in the NFL he returns to lead the Huskies. Connecticut has enjoyed three consecutive 8-5 seasons but it will be tough to get this program to the next level given some of the limitations but it has been a great rise for a younger FBS program. Connecticut was 6-0 at home last season and the Huskies draw four home games in the conference slate including winnable games. Road games at West Virginia and at Pittsburgh will be difficult but matching last year’s 5-2 conference record should be a possibility for a veteran squad. This was a fortunate team in 2010 and with a very weak non-conference schedule another winning season is more than likely.
Louisville Cardinals: The Cardinals were a bit of a surprise team to make a bowl game last year but Charlie Strong’s first season had to be deemed a success. A step back could be waiting this season however as the non-conference schedule features two road games against major conference teams and the Big East schedule features just three home games. None of the road games will be easy and the Cardinals match Cincinnati as the only teams in the conference playing six total away games this season. Louisville went just 3-4 in conference play last season so a similar year is very possible but the Cardinals will have a tough closing schedule and could falter late in the season.
Pittsburgh Panthers: Todd Graham steps into a good situation as the new coach at Pittsburgh as this should be a very good defensive team and his offensive expertise should help the Panthers be a productive team. The schedule features three high quality non-conference opponents, going to Iowa and hosting Notre Dame and Utah so the Panthers will not likely get through that gauntlet without a loss but this team has to be considered a contender in the Big East even in a transition year. Pittsburgh has four home games in the conference schedule and road games at Rutgers and at Louisville are not overly threatening. The big game with West Virginia is on the road but that will be a big revenge situation for the Panthers after losing badly in that match-up last season. Pittsburgh won’t likely be a national player but a 10-win season and a BCS bowl spot is a possibility.
Rutgers Scarlet Knights: If you are someone that likes to look for ultra long shot sleepers, Rutgers might be a team to watch this season. After building the program to prominence in recent years Greg Schiano passed on several other job possibilities and stayed at Rutgers. He may have regretted that move last season in a tough 4-8 season that included a 1-6 Big East mark. The offense has almost all the pieces back in place and a very favorable conference schedule is waiting. There are only four road games on the schedule all season, a non-conference game at North Carolina early in the year and then three winnable road games in Big East play, at Syracuse, at Louisville, and at Connecticut, meaning the top teams in the conference will all head to Rutgers. With 12:1 or better odds Rutgers may be worth a long shot play to win the conference given the schedule and the transitions taking place with the top teams and Schiano is the only coach in the conference that has been with his team more than two years.
South Florida Bulls: With Pittsburgh and West Virginia in coaching transitions South Florida is the team that may be able to take advantage. The Bulls made a coaching move before last season after consistently good but not great results from Jim Leavitt and a similar 8-5 year was the first showing for Skip Holtz. The Bulls were just 3-4 in the Big East and the schedule will present serious challenges this season with four conference road games including going to Pittsburgh as well as a tough non-conference slate facing Norte Dame, UTEP, and Miami. South Florida should have a talented team this season with a lot of quality players back in action but a similar unfulfilling season may be the ultimate result given a much tougher slate than some of the other top contenders in the league and the history of inconsistency with this program.
Syracuse Orange: 2010 was a breakthrough season for Syracuse with its first bowl trip since 2004 and first winning season since 2001. The Orange benefited from a favorable schedule and a veteran team that allowed for several narrow wins with four wins by five points or less. Syracuse amazingly went 5-1 in road games last season, seemingly catching some teams off guard last season and this year there will be a little more respect given to the Orange in Doug Marrone’s third year. Syracuse does play three of four conference games at home but the home games are some of the tougher teams in the league and the non-conference slate has some challenges including a road game at USC. Another winning season is possible but a small step back and a near .500 record is likely the way it plays out.
West Virginia Mountaineers: The coaching fiasco for the Mountaineers adds some concerns to what was to be a promising team capable of winning the Big East. West Virginia has many quality pieces in place on offense but the defense could take a step back this season after great numbers in conference play a year ago. The Mountaineers will be tested early with non-conference games against Maryland and LSU and the conference schedule features four road games in the final six games of the season. West Virginia has to play Pittsburgh and South Florida back-to-back to close the year in what could be very meaningful games with a BCS bowl berth at stake. West Virginia will likely emerge as the consensus favorite in the conference despite the coaching situation but overall it appears to be a tougher road to the title than some of the other contenders.