Big East spring recap

Originally Published: April 28, 2005
By Brett Edgerton | Special to ESPN.com

In the ever-changing landscape of this league, it looks like things are finally stable ... at least in the foreseeable future. As for this fall, Boston College officially joins ol' pals Miami and Virginia Tech in the ACC, while league newcomers Louisville, Cincinnati and South Florida gladly took the first train out of Conference USA. And in case you were wondering, Rutgers is in fact still around. Not only that, but the Knights are even thinking bowl game this year. Yes, it certainly is a brave new world in the Big East Conference.

Cincinnati Bearcats
2005 Schedule
9/1 Eastern Michigan
9/10 at Penn State
9/17 Western Carolina
9/28 at Miami (Ohio)
10/8 at Pittsburgh
10/15 Connecticut
10/22 Louisville
10/29 at Syracuse
11/9 West Virginia
11/19 at South Florida
11/26 at Rutgers

2004 overall record:
7-5
Conference record: 5-3 (C-USA)
Returning starters
Offense: 3, Defense: 2, Kicker/punter: 2

2004 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Richard Hall (1,012 yds)
Passing: Gino Guidugli (2,633 yds)
Receiving: Hannibal Thomas (1,028 yds)
Tackles: Tyjuan Hagler (82)
Sacks: Trent Cole (8.5)
Interceptions: Doug Monaghan (4)

Spring Answers: Believe it or not, there are a few. For starters, the situation at running back should be fine. There are no 1,000-yarders in the bunch, but Butler Benton and Bradley Glatthaar are serviceable and Delbert Ferguson, a stud recruit who was redshirted last season after a nasty high school injury, will be in the mix. And don't forget about senior Carl Jones, who's played about every position on the field the last few years and was UC's second-leading rusher in '03. ... With the depth at running back, John Carpenter was moved to outside linebacker and made an instant impact this spring. He'll play right away. ... On a team searching for standouts in so many areas, there are at least two places the Bearcats don't need to look. TE Brent Celek and kicker Kevin Lovell will be certainties in what might be an uncertain autumn.

Fall Questions: Well, where shall we begin? The team graduated 26 seniors and 17 starters and features 53 freshmen and sophomores – a really nice way to start its new life in the Big East. At quarterback, longtime starter Gino Guidugli needs a replacement. Redshirt freshman Dustin Grutza, who showed early signs of poise and leadership this spring, presently has the edge over JC All-American Nick Davila. It's not over yet, though. Todd Spitzer is still in the picture and three freshmen arrive in August to join the fray. ... At receiver, coach Mark Dantonio better hope someone emerges as the go-to guy once the season starts, much like Thomas did last season. ... Both lines are a mess. The O-line lost four starters and is undersized. The D-line features a legit pass rusher in Adam Roberts, but not much else as of yet. ... And yes, the Bearcats lost all their starting linebackers and nearly all their backups, along with three of four starters in the secondary. Position battles at nearly all those spots will resume this summer.

Connecticut Huskies
2005 Schedule
9/1 Buffalo
9/10 Liberty
9/17 at Georgia Tech
10/1 at Army
10/7 Syracuse
10/15 at Cincinnati
10/22 Rutgers
11/2 at West Virginia
11/12 at Pittsburgh
11/26 South Florida
12/3 Louisville

2004 overall record:
8-4
Conference record:
3-3

Returning starters
Offense: 5, Defense: 6, Kicker/punter: 2

2004 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Cornell Brockington* (1,218 yds)
Passing: Dan Orlovsky (3,354 yds)
Receiving: Keron Henry (891 yds)
Tackles: Alfred Fincher (140)
Sacks: Shawn Mayne* (5.5)
Interceptions: Justin Perkins (5)

Spring Answers: After missing a season and a half recovering from an awful knee injury, Terry Caulley is back. The speedy slasher was the nation's leading freshman rusher in 2002 and looked confident and quick in scrimmages. He and Cornell Brockington – don't forget about him – will team up with sophomore Larry Taylor to form what could truly be one of the nation's elite running games. And Taylor is the type of talented athlete who will find touches somewhere on the field, in the backfield or otherwise. In that same regard, don't be surprised to see Caulley lining up at receiver on occasion. ... Still recovering from a serious car accident, WR Brandon Young wasn't at full speed during the spring, but should be fine come fall. That's welcome news for a receiving corps without much experience and one that coach Randy Edsall is pleading for to get better. ... Sophomore Ryan Henegan has taken advantage of injury-depleted linebacking corps and made a major move up the depth chart.

Fall Questions: And so it begins. QB Dan Orlovsky, who for the most part represents America's knowledge of UConn football, is off to the National Football League. In his place steps either a redshirt freshman (D.J. Hernandez) or a guy nicknamed "Bones" (junior Matt Bonislawski). Because of his experience in the program, the latter had the edge coming out of spring, but don't expect an official announcement from Edsall until late August. ... Whoever ends up at quarterback will likely have to play behind a shaky interior line. The tackles are veterans, but that's hardly the case with all the young pups competing for time at center and both guard spots. At center, UConn lost its starter and backup and is looking at Joe Akers, who would be preparing for prom at this point, but instead enrolled to college early. Oh by the way, the three seniors departing from the interior started a combined 127 games. ... Punter Shane Hussar struggled last fall and he struggled this offseason. Walk-on Chris Pavasaris was easily the better performer during the spring and has made this an interesting battle.

Louisville Cardinals
2005 Schedule
9/4 at Kentucky
9/17 Oregon State
9/24 at South Florida
10/1 Florida Atlantic
10/8 North Carolina
10/15 at West Virginia
10/22 at Cincinnati
11/3 Pittsburgh
11/11 Rutgers
11/26 Syracuse
12/3 Connecticut

2004 overall record:
11-1
Conference record:
8-0 (C-USA)

Returning starters
Offense: 6, Defense: 5, Kicker/punter: 1

2004 statistical leaders (* returners) Rushing: Eric Shelton (938 yds)
Passing: Stefan LeFors (2,596 yds)
Receiving: J.R. Russell (968 yds)
Tackles: Robert McCune (115)
Sacks: Elvis Dumervil* (10)
Interceptions: Kerry Rhodes (6)

Spring Answers: Stefan LeFors was great for Louisville and should be given plenty of credit for the program's rapid rise. But no one inside Cardinal camp thinks it'll take a long time to recover from his graduation. Sophomore QB Brian Brohm is the real deal and shows maturity beyond his age. He's a keeper. ... Brohm will have plenty of weapons for target practice, even with the loss of J. R. Russell. Coaches and players alike are hyping 6-foot-6 Mario Urrutia, a redshirt freshman who might have Big East corners fretting this fall. ... No nightmares about the loss of two key running backs. Michael Bush hasn't lost a step and Kolby Smith and redshirt freshman George Stripling, who both looked stunningly good at times this spring, are paving the way for another group effort at tailback. ... Coach Bobby Petrino is no longer worried about depth on the defensive line, a pressing issue throughout 2004. Young backups like Adrian Grady, Maurice Mitchell and Brandon Cox are bolstering what should turn out to be one of the stronger units on the team.

Fall Questions: The Cards better be happy they return most of their offensive line. While just a sophomore, Brohm might be the most valuable player on the team. One only needs to scan down the depth chart to understand why. ... While the defensive front is solid, there are some questions behind it. One of the team's biggest question marks is at middle linebacker, where it lost Robert McCune, its defensive leader and a tackling machine. Either sophomore Matt Sanders or junior college transfer Nate Harris has some rather large shoes to fill. ... The secondary could develop into a problem if two starters aren't found at the safety spots. Replacing Kerry Rhodes will be especially difficult. ... You can be assured the fans in Louisville have seen this fall's schedule. Expectations in the city are at an all-time high. They want 11-0, a BCS berth and maybe even a shutout of Kentucky for kicks. Can the Cardinals handle such a heavy burden from the start of the season to the finish? Only time will tell.

Pittsburgh Panthers
2005 Schedule
9/3 Notre Dame
9/10 at Ohio
9/17 at Nebraska
9/24 Youngstown State
9/30 at Rutgers
10/8 Cincinnati
10/15 South Florida
10/22 Syracuse
11/3 at Louisville
11/12 Connecticut
11/24 at West Virginia

2004 overall record:
8-4
Conference record:
4-2

Returning starters
Offense: 9, Defense: 7, Kicker/punter: 2

2004 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Raymond Kirkley (560 yds)
Passing: Tyler Palko* (3,067 yds)
Receiving: Greg Lee* (1,297 yds)
Tackles: H.B. Blades* (108)
Sacks: J.J. Horne (3.5)
Interceptions: Malcolm Postell (4)

Spring Answers: New coach Dave Wannstedt tried to install a physical, power-running game this spring and the team will run much more than under Walt Harris. So do the Panthers have the horses? Maybe so. Hard-to-tackle freshman Rashad Jennings had a phenomenal spring and quick sophomore Brandon Mason wasn't far behind. ... While needing to improve in the blocking department, former receiver Darrell Strong turned heads in practice with some dazzling catches at tight end. ... The D-linemen need to get to the quarterback in Wannstedt's defense and they appear ready to do just that. Senior tackle Thomas Smith looked strong at his new position and young ends Joe Clermond and Chris McKillop should have a major impact. ... Mike Phillips has looked good at strong safety in place of H. B. Blades, who could easily move back there but for now is at middle linebacker, where coaches hope he is putting some pressure on the often-inconsistent Clint Session. ... We can call them Pitt again. Yes, after eight long years, the athletic department has decided to embrace the term "Pitt" once more. Bringing back Johnny Majors for a third go-around is apparently not part of the deal.

Fall Questions: Junior WRs Greg Lee and Joe DelSardo are excellent, but there's a combined five catches behind them. A reliable third and fourth option has yet to be found among the young group. ... If they can stay healthy, the starting five on the O-line are decent. It's the reserves that have the coaching staff worried. The Panthers need to develop some depth here and they also need to shore up their run blocking. When it disappeared last season, the running game naturally went with it. ... The problem in the secondary isn't talent or experience. The Panthers certainly have the latter and they've got at least glimpses of the former. Why, then, did they give up an average of 255 yards through the air last season? That's a question that needs answering this fall. As mentioned before, the existence of a pass rush would help.

Rutgers Scarlet Knights
2005 Schedule
9/3 at Illinois
9/10 Villanova
9/17 at Buffalo
9/30 Pittsburgh
10/8 West Virginia
10/15 at Syracuse
10/22 at Connecticut
10/29 Navy
11/5 South Florida
11/11 at Louisville
11/26 Cincinnati

2004 overall record:
4-7
Conference record:
1-5

Returning starters
Offense: 9, Defense: 8, Kicker/punter: 2

2004 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Brian Leonard* (732 yds)
Passing: Ryan Hart* (3,154 yds)
Receiving: Tres Moses* (1,056 yds)
Tackles: Jarvis Johnson (75)
Sacks: Ryan Neill* (8)
Interceptions: Joe Porter* (5)

Spring Answers: Minor injuries or not, Brian Leonard will have NFL scouts coming out in droves (and really, how many times does that happen in Piscataway?). At 6-2, 240, Leonard is not only a tough runner with good speed, but he also led the country's running backs with 61 catches and 518 receiving yards last year. Impress your friends by telling them about this kid. ... Shawn Tucker, the team's leading receiver in 2003 before a pair of surgeries on the groin, is back and better than ever. Teaming with the record-setting Tres Moses could make for a lethal combination. ... And don't forget about senior TE Clark Harris, who beefed up and added blocking to his already impressive repertoire. He said he wants to be known as the best tight end in the country by the end of the season. If he can avoid the injury bug that hit him this spring, that just might happen. ... One of the reasons head coach Greg Schiano is so excited about the running game is because he's convinced the O-line's run-blocking is vastly improved. If that's the case, he can probably take having to wait until August for a starting center to emerge.

Fall Questions: Longtime QB Ryan Hart was a bit interception-happy last season. His nagging shoulder all but fully healed, though, he didn't appear to be in any mood to give up his job this spring. Nevertheless, Terrence Shawell and the big and strong Mike Teel aren't going away and the coaching staff loves Jersey high school star Jabu Lovelace, who arrives in August. Safe to say Hart can't throw 19 picks again. ... On a team that held out more than two dozen players from the spring game because of injury, no position was hit harder than tailback. As much as he tries, Leonard can't possibly do it all. So that's why it was frustrating that only Clarence Pittman survived until the end of spring practice. The fifth-year senior had his usual solid spring, but they've turned into autumn duds in the past. So the Knights need Justise Hairston and Markis Facyson to not only churn out some yards, but also display the pass-catching ability they've shown flashes of in the past. ... When likely starter Nate Robinson, quite possibly the most heralded recruit in RU history, was recently dismissed from the squad for a violation of team rules, filling those two vacated starting spots at defensive tackle became a bit more challenging. Cameron Stephenson has arrived from the O-line and joins Luis Rivas, a walk-on, a transfer from Virginia Tech and a wrestler. ... Don't look now, but a wealth of returning starters and an accommodating schedule make the State University of New Jersey an honest-to-goodness candidate for a winning record and even (please sit down) a bowl bid. We've heard it all before, though. Can the Knights finally take that next step?

South Florida Bulls
2005 Schedule
9/3 at Penn State
9/10 Florida A&M
9/17 Central Florida
9/24 Louisville
10/1 at Miami (Fla.)
10/15 at Pittsburgh
10/22 West Virginia
11/5 at Rutgers
11/12 at Syracuse
11/19 Cincinnati
11/26 at Connecticut

2004 overall record:
4-7
Conference record:
3-5 (C-USA)

Returning starters
Offense: 8, Defense: 9, Kicker/punter: 1

2004 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Andre Hall* (1,384 yds)
Passing: Pat Julmiste* (1,570 yds)
Receiving: Johnny Peyton* (469 yds)
Tackles: Javon Camon (101)
Sacks: Craig Kobel (6)
Interceptions: Sidney Simpson (2)

Spring Answers: Andre Hall looked like his usual self during the offseason. And that's a good thing if you're a fan of the Bulls. If the team can shore up a potential problem area at tackle, there's no reason to think Hall won't push 1,400 yards again. ... Coming into the spring, coach Jim Leavitt was adamant his baby, the USF defense, would be night-and-day better than its awful 2004 showing. When he left for the summer, he didn't feel any differently. A surprisingly quick defensive line, led by end Terrence Royal, was particularly uplifting. ... Last season, SS Johnnie Jones took a redshirt while recovering from a shooting incident. DT Tim Jones took one because he simply wanted to compete in the Big East. Both could've made a difference for the team's beleaguered defense last season. If this spring was any indication, both will more than make up for it in '05.

Fall Questions: After the spring game, offensive coordinator Mike Hobbie abruptly left the program to pursue business interests. Although it's likely his replacement will come from within, it's not known whether the offense will change at all. ... Of course, this is an offense that doesn't know who its quarterback on the field will be, either. Pat Julmiste is the incumbent, but Auburn transfer Courtney Denson reminds some in the program of former USF standout Marques Blackwell, which is not good news for Mr. Julmiste. This one might not be decided until the last week of August. ... The Bulls have some OK talent at receiver, but no one has established himself as a legitimate, big-play scoring threat. Whoever ends up at quarterback could use one of those. ... While Leavitt might feel good about his D, the South Florida secondary snared a grand total of four interceptions in 2004. The returnees combined for a total of one. Some big plays from the defensive backfield would be nice. ... As shocking as it sounds, there will not be a Gramatica kicking for the Bulls this fall. Santiago finally graduated and now USF might have to rely on a true freshman, since none of the potential replacements made any gains in the spring.

Syracuse Orange
2005 Schedule
9/4 West Virginia
9/10 Buffalo
9/17 Virginia
10/1 at Florida State
10/7 at Connecticut
10/15 Rutgers
10/22 at Pittsburgh
10/29 Cincinnati
11/12 South Florida
11/19 at Notre Dame
11/26 at Louisville

2004 overall record:
6-6
Conference record:
4-2

Returning starters
Offense: 5, Defense: 9, Kicker/punter: 1

2004 statistical leaders (* returners) Rushing: Damien Rhodes* (870 yds)
Passing: Perry Patterson* (1,851 yds)
Receiving: Jared Jones (621 yds)
Tackles: Jerry Mackey* (106)
Sacks: James Wyche* (5.5)
Interceptions: Diamond Ferri (4)

Spring Answers: Not that he wasn't outstanding last season, but now that Damien Rhodes has the show all to himself, he's bulked up and looks better than ever. The Orange might be pitching it around a lot, but Rhodes will get plenty of chances to shine. ... Some question whether the 'Cuse have enough receivers to adequately run the new West Coast offense. New coach Greg Robinson doesn't seem to share the same worries. Experience isn't a strength, but he liked what he saw this spring from Tim Lane, Rice Moss, Quentin Brown and others. He's also got a nice batch of freshmen coming in this summer. ... The seeds for the Robinson hire might have been sown back when Georgia Tech was racking up touchdown after touchdown in that nightmare that was the Champs Sports Bowl. Robinson earned his reputation as defensive coordinator of the Denver Broncos' title teams of the late 1990s and his aggressive style was immediately embraced by the Orange. It took about half the spring to get the intricacies down, but the hits were hard and the potential is real. ... Also expect an upgrade on special teams, especially in the coverage units. Robinson, at one time a special teams coach, has come in and scrapped the old spread formations. At the very least, the team should be able to cut down on blocked punts. As for a return specialist to replace Ferri, Bedle and Brown have looked particularly impressive.

Fall Questions: How will the Orange respond to coordinator Brian Pariani's pass-driven system? And just who will be leading that new attack anyway? The quarterback race between Patterson and sophomore Joe Fields, who contemplated transferring before a change of heart, was pretty much a dead-heat all spring and Robinson indicated it will pick back up in August without a definitive leader. ... Robinson has made it clear he's not a big fan of rotating his linebackers in and out of the game. That's what makes the competition in the middle between Tommy Harris, Jake Flaherty and Luke Cain all the more important. The most interesting story is Harris, the fifth-year senior now at his third position and pushing for that long-awaited chance to start. Nothing here will be decided until well into August. ... In Robinson's swarming defense, the strong safety needs to be strong in run support and pass coverage. That's why it is crucial to find a viable replacement for Diamond Ferri, really the only major loss on that side of the ball. Reggie McCoy and converted corner Dowayne Davis, both sophomores, are in a heated competition. ... Syracuse still isn't quite sure whether Brendan Carney will need to again handle the job at place-kicker, in addition to his punting and kickoff duties. The coaching staff is hoping either junior Ricky Krautman or incoming freshman Patrick Shadle can perform well enough in August to take over the job.

West Virginia Mountaineers
2005 Schedule
9/4 at Syracuse
9/10 Wofford
9/17 at Maryland
9/24 East Carolina
10/1 Virginia Tech
10/8 at Rutgers
10/15 Louisville
10/22 at South Florida
11/2 Connecticut
11/9 at Cincinnati
11/24 Pittsburgh

2004 overall record:
8-4
Conference record:
4-2

Returning starters
Offense: 4, Defense: 5, Kicker/punter: 1

2004 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Kay-Jay Harris (959 yds)
Passing: Rasheed Marshall (1,886 yds)
Receiving: Chris Henry (872 yds)
Tackles: Adam "Pac-Man" Jones (76)
Sacks: Jason Hardee (4)
Interceptions: Jones and Dee McCann* (3 each)

Spring Answers: One of the biggest surprises of practice was sophomore FB Owen Schmitt. Coach Rich Rodriguez never gives his fullback many carries, but the 250-pounder will bring a much-needed physical presence to the Mountaineer backfield. ... At a position that needed an injection of energy, Vaughn Rivers moved over to the receiving corps from cornerback and made a move to the top of the depth chart. He's small in stature, but he made a big impression with his obvious athletic ability. ... The offensive skill positions took a major hit, but whoever ends up the quarterback will at least be playing behind a fairly experienced line, led by all-conference selection Dan Mozes. In fact, both lines look deep and talented, something you can't exactly say about a lot of areas on this team. ... The return game is one thing, but the secondary should be fine even without the electrifying Adam "Pac-Man" Jones. Jahmile Addae and Mike Lorello are standouts at safety and Dee McCann leads a veteran group of corners.

Fall Questions: Where to begin? The Mountaineers put an incredible 12 players on the first and second teams in the Big East last season. It was fun while it lasted, but only three of those players return. ... Rodriguez said coming in that nothing would be decided until August with the quarterbacks, none of whom has ever lined up under center in college. There's sophomore Dwayne Thompson, converted receiver Pat White and the injured Adam Bednarik, who is battling shoulder problems. Granted the hobbled O-line was a trainwreck in the spring, but it was obvious no one distinguished himself from the others. The longshot sleeper is J.R. House, a former West Virginia high school legend who long ago chose baseball over football. Now 25, House is coming off his fourth surgery, but is an intriguing prospect down the road if he can ever stay healthy. ... Big receiver Rayshawn Bolden has shown flashes of quality play, but never on a consistent basis – frustrating Rodriguez to no end. Someone has to emerge from the pack at receiver. Will it finally be Bolden's time? And will Rodriguez move back White if he's not behind center, as he suggested after the spring game? ... West Virginia still needs some answers at the two linebacker spots vacated by Adam Lehnortt and Scott Gyorko. The offense was at times inept this spring and it'll be essential for the Mountaineer defense to carry the load at times this season. If not, it could get ugly in Morgantown.

Brett Edgerton is a researcher for ESPN. He can be reached at Brett.M.Edgerton.-ND@espn.com.