As we look ahead to the 2011 college football season, we take with us the lessons we learned from seasons past. We calculate, scrutinize, dissect and digest schedules, returning starters, coaching changes, injuries, and yes, even hunches, and spew it back in the form of how we think each of the 11 Division 1 FBS conferences — and the independents — will pan out by year’s end.
Of course, these are merely our opinions. Feel free, as we know you will, to disagree. We know that’s why you really come here anyway.
Here are our predictions for the Big East:
The Mountaineers are the early favorites to win the Big East, and there are plenty of reasons to feel good about them. WVU returns quarterback Geno Smith and a talented group of receivers in new coach Dana Holgorsen’s pass-happy offense. But West Virginia is frighteningly thin at offensive line — a position they’ve struggled with the last few years — and loses eight defensive starters from a stingy 2010 defense.
The conference schedule is manageable, clearly, but if I were a Mountaineer fan, I’d be worried if Smith got hurt. Or, if Holgorsen bought a beer during a game.
I had South Florida winning the Big East at first (and I might change my mind again), but you never know what you’re quite going to get out of the Bulls, although quarterback B.J. Daniels should be improved. Syracuse is on the rise under Doug Marrone and Cincinnati should be plenty good in Butch Jones’ second year with Zach Callaros at quarterback.
Pitt is breaking in Todd Graham at coach, but the Panthers always have talent. Charlie Strong still has his work cut out for him at Louisville as they try to desperately recover from the Steve Kragthorpe era, but he’ll get the Cardinals there eventually.
As for Rutgers and defending champion UConn? I have a feeling it’s going to be a long season for both.
John Taylor’s take
If you went by the way each team in the Big East looks on paper entering the 2011 season, you would have to say there’s little doubt that West Virginia is the creme de la creme of the conference. Of course, as we all know, the game of football is not played on paper but rather… ahhh, who the hell am I kidding; the Mountaineers — on paper, on a football field, in a casino inebriated — are the class of the Big East this year, and it’s not even really close.
When you look at WVU’s schedule, the two biggest conference tests don’t come until the final two games of the season — the Backyard Brawl against Pittsburgh at home and on the road against USF — and those twin tilts won’t exactly strike fear into the hearts of, well, anyone really. In fact, WVU’s biggest hurdle could be the game before those two as a road trip to Cincinnati has the look, feel and smell of a look-ahead, trap game.
Short of WVU stubbing their own toe — and that’ll sometimes happen early in the morning when you’ve had one too many — this should be a very successful first season for Holgorsen, which would/should leave Pittsburgh, USF and Cincinnati fighting for second-place scraps. Louisville and Syracuse are probably a year away from making any type of conference noise — keep an eye on the Orange in ’11; I have a feeling they may surprise — while UConn is in line for a precipitous free fall from a BcS appearance at the end of last season.
That said, WVU, and every other member for that matter, should enjoy this year while they can as, next year, the talent level will be ratcheted up a notch or eight with the addition of TCU. From the looks of it, based on last year’s play as well as what it looks like on paper outside of the Mountaineers this year, the Horned Frogs should be able to come right in and prop up their feet, muddy or not, comfortably on the conference couch. And have the other schools serve them drinks. And make them sandwiches.