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THE BIG EAST

8/14/2008
The projected order of finish in the Big East. Planet size indicates average finish (number) in conference since 2003. ESPN The Magazine design

This is the most depth the Big East has ever had, with seven legit bowl contenders. (Sorry, Syracuse.) For the third straight year, West Virginia is the fave. RB Noel Devine will be great, and QB Pat White already is. But WVU's D is vulnerable. Meanwhile, South Florida is loaded: DE George Selvie may be the nation's most disruptive defender. At Pitt, RB LeSean McCoy and LB Scott McKillop are the conference's dominant players at their positions. My wild-card team? Louisville. The offense is green, but QB Hunter Cantwell makes the Cards troublesome. Sort of like predicting the Big East.
- MIKE GOTTFRIED

THE ELIMINATOR

The following four benchmarks were reached by each of the past five Big East title winners. Based on returning players and last year's stats, we predict where all but one team will find trouble.

THE PUNTER ADVANTAGE

BREAKAWAY BACKFIELD

West Virginia had the top rushing attack in the country last season among BCS conference teams. It also held a larger advantage over the Big East's second-best rushing team, Rutgers, than any other conference's top rushing attack did against its No. 2. And even though 1,000-yard RB Steve Slaton is gone, Noel Devine (8.6 ypc) should fill Slaton's void just fine.

TEAM BY TEAM

1. WEST VIRGINIA
Rich Rodriguez is gone (Mounties fans say, "Don't let the Big House door hit you on the way in…"). But he left behind Heisman hopeful QB Pat White, RB Noel Devine and top tackler LB Reed Williams. Everybody wins!

2. SOUTH FLORIDA
Overachieving QB Matt Grothe's career-passing numbers aren't impressive: 29 TDs, 28 INTs. His 18—8 record as a starter is. Forget the BCS. Put this man in the Super Bowl.

3. PITTSBURGH
Good defense: check. Good offense: check. Dave Wannstedt's first winning season: Check back.

4. CINCINNATI
New quarterback Demetrius Jones was ND's opening day signal-caller last year. Too bad he lasted just one game and had more fumbles (two) than completions (one).

5. CONNECTICUT
A fast start (Hofstra, Temple, Virginia, Baylor) is assured. But with five of its final eight games on the road—plus home dates against WVU and Pitt—so is a slow finish.

6. LOUISVILLE
There's a Brohm running the Cardinals offense. But it's new coordinator Jeff, who doesn't have baby brother Brian to make his schemes go—or last season's best four receivers.

7. RUTGERS
Two 1,000-yard receivers (Tiquan Underwood and Kenny Britt) minus one 2,000-yard rusher (Ray Rice) equals two 1,500-yard receivers (and fewer wins).

8. SYRACUSE
The only benefit of a bad defense? Sophomore Max Suter has a shot at breaking his NCAA single-season record of 1,299 kickoff return yards!