Ten things to watch for in the Big East
Ten things to look for this season in the Big East:
1. Pittsburgh will wilt under the weight of expectations
After last season's surprising third-place finish in the conference standings, the Panthers are a fashionable choice to win the Big East this year. But talking about it and doing it are two completely different things. To win the conference, Pittsburgh will have to beat Miami and Virginia Tech, something the Panthers have done only once (1997) in the same season since they joined the Big East in 1991. Pittsburgh will also have to prove it can sidestep the upsets -- West Virginia last season and South Florida in 2001 -- that have been an obstacle to greater success the past two seasons.
2. Watch Frank Beamer watch the Hokies' QBs
Coach Frank Beamer tried to avert potential controversy by naming incumbent Bryan Randall the starter early in fall practice. But if Randall doesn't get off to a fast start, it won't take the Hokies faithful long to begin clamoring for redshirt freshman Marcus Vick, whose older brother put Blacksburg on the college football map. Beamer has said Vick will play regular stints, which could result in Randall looking over his shoulder no matter how well he's playing.
3. Miami QB Brock Berlin has some big shoes to fill
Berlin has a better arm, better feet and may end up being a better quarterback than Ken Dorsey, but he may not get better results immediately. Berlin has played little since completing his legendary high school career at Evangel Christian Academy in Shreveport, La. He threw 87 passes in two seasons at Florida before sitting out last season after transferring to Miami. Aside from rust, Berlin may also be handicapped by the lack of experience among Miami's pass receivers.
4. Mike Tranghese will open a one-man Pitt fan
With Miami and Virginia Tech departing for the ACC after this season, Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese would probably love nothing better than to see the emerging Panthers send the Hurricanes and Hokies packing with their heads between their legs. Imagine the conference title coming down to a last-second kick in the regular season finale between Pittsburgh and Miami. Any doubts which way Tranghese will be leaning?
5. Miami will finally lose a conference game
The Hurricanes have won a Big East-record 24 consecutive league games dating back to a 43-10 loss to Virginia Tech on Nov. 13, 1999. Miami faces three difficult challenges on the road this season beginning with a Sept. 20 date with Boston College. The Eagles haven't beaten Miami since 1984, but have come close to upsets in the last four meetings at Chestnut Hill. The Hurricanes must also travel for potential cold-weather games against Virginia Tech on Nov. 1 and the regular-season finale at Pittsburgh on Nov. 29.
6. Rutgers will finally win a conference game
The Scarlet Knights' streak is nearly as long as Miami's, but in the opposite direction. Rutgers has lost 22 consecutive league games, with its last win coming on Nov. 13, 1999 against Syracuse. So where will the Knights' ignominious streak end? The best bet is at Temple on Oct. 25, although that's no sure thing considering Rutgers has won on the road only once in the last four seasons.
7. Paul Pasqauloni will feel the heat in Syracuse
For some reason, the Orangemen didn't seem to capitalize on the success of the Donovan McNabb era. Sure, there was the surprising 10-3 record in 2001, but that was followed by last year's 4-8 disaster. Even in the best of times, Pasqualoni has been a lightning rod for criticism among the team's fans. If the Orangemen finish with a losing record for the second consecutive season -- something that hasn't happened since 1981-82 -- expect things to get really ugly.
8. Miami linebacker D.J. Williams will have a breakout season
NFL broadcaster John Madden said four years ago that Williams was the only high school player he ever saw that could jump directly to the pros. The enigmatic Williams hasn't quite lived up to those expectations, although he enjoyed a strong season in 2002, finishing second in tackles and tying for the team-lead with 16 stops for lost yardage. If Williams , a senior, improves as much this year as he did between his sophomore to junior seasons, he could take home the Butkus Award as the nation's best linebacker.
9. Temple's attendance will improve, but not enough to keep it in the Big
The Owls are hoping the move to Lincoln Financial Field will translate into a reprieve from Big East, which is booting the school out of the conference following next season. But with the only marquee games -- against Virginia Tech and Pittsburgh -- coming late in the season and Temple likely to struggle as it rebuilds, the expected increase in fan support may not measure up to what school officials hope.
10. West Virginia will have trouble staying grounded
In 2002, the Mountaineers finished second nationally in rushing. But many of the key elements of that success are gone, including career Big East rushing leader Avon Cobourne. West Virginia will also have to replace three starting offensive linemen.
Jorge Milian covers the Big East for the Palm Beach Post.
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