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Ten things to watch for in the Big East

8/27/2003

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.

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    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
    club

    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
    East

    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.