Spring look around the Big East

Updated: April 27, 2006, 3:49 PM ET
By Joe Starkey | Special to ESPN.com

Why will the teams in the Big East improve? Why won't they? What were the major spring developments? The Big East notebook addresses those questions.

Cincinnati Bearcats

Why they'll improve: 1. Experience. The Bearcats have 47 returning lettermen and as many as 17 returning starters -- a drastic departure from last season, when they played 10 true freshmen.
2. More playmakers on offense, particularly if coach Mark Dantonio can find the right position for talented sophomore David Wess.
3. Potentially solid defensive line featuring super soph Terrill Byrd.

Why they won't: 1. Brutal road schedule that includes trips to Ohio State, Virginia Tech, Louisville and West Virginia.
2. Massive uncertainty at quarterback, with as many as four players still in mix.
3. Large question marks on offensive line.

Major spring development: Sophomore Dustin Grutza's already tentative grasp on No. 1 quarterback job loosened considerably.

Connecticut Huskies

Why they'll improve: 1. Speedy tailback Terry Caulley is another year removed from major knee surgery and primed to put up big numbers.
2. Upgraded athleticism, as coach Randy Edsall has mostly players he recruited on the promise of playing in Big East.
3. Favorable schedule that includes seven home games and no back-to-back road games.

Why they won't: 1. Offensive line, a major weakness last season, still an area of concern.
2. Potential for quarterback merry-go-round.
3. Lack of proven big-play capability at receiver, where most candidates had inconsistent spring.

Major spring development: Athletic sophomore D.J. Hernandez moved to front of quarterback battle.

Louisville Cardinals

Why they'll improve: 1. Quarterback Brian Brohm is ahead of schedule on rehab from knee surgery and should combine with tailback Michael Bush to form one of country's top duos.
2. Gobs of game-breaking receivers, including All-America candidate Mario Urrutia.
3. Chance to avenge both of last year's Big East losses (West Virginia, South Florida) at home.

Why they won't: 1. No way to replace Elvis Dumervil's 20 sacks.
2. Secondary doesn't improve as rapidly as necessary.
3. Run defense, missing Montavious Stanley up front, will have its hands full controlling West Virginia in the conference game of the year Nov. 2.

Major spring development: Revamped offensive line appeared to come together, most notably in form of 6-foot-7, 320-pound tackle Renardo Foster, healthy after battling injuries the past two years.

Pittsburgh Panthers

Why they'll improve: 1. More speed on defense to complement linebacker H.B. Blades and cornerback Darrelle Revis.
2. Big year from quarterback Tyler Palko, who feels much more comfortable going into second season with offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh.
3. Talented crew of true freshmen, including potential playmakers in the likes of receiver Dorin Dickerson and tight end Nate Byham.

Why they won't: 1. Like last year, too many question marks on both lines.
2. Too much dependency on inexperienced players; as many as 10 true freshmen could see time.
3. Place-kicker Josh Cummings's accuracy hard to replace.

Major spring development: A healthy Clint Session, in his final year of eligibility, re-emerged and grabbed hold of the strongside linebacker position.

Rutgers Scarlet Knights

Why they'll improve: 1. Tailback Ray Rice and fullback Brian Leonard should be even better in second year together and will combine with other game-changers to make for perhaps most dangerous offense in school history.
2. Program received major booster shot by finally experiencing some success.
3. Radically improved secondary.

Why they won't: 1. Inconsistency at quarterback.
2. Loss of end Ryan Neill on a defense that gave up 146 points in final three losses.
3. Inexperience at linebacker.

Major spring development: Back-up quarterback Jabu Lovelace wowed coaches with athleticism and will see his share of snaps come fall.

South Florida Bulls

Why they'll improve: 1. Chance of having better pure passer (Matt Grothe) at quarterback.
2. Possess arguably top linebacking corps in Big East, intact for second straight season.
3. One or two new faces -- perhaps tailback Ricky Ponton or receiver Amp Hill -- deliver big-play capability.

Why they won't: 1. Nobody comes close to matching production of tailback Andre Hall.
2. Major losses on defensive line could affect linebackers' ability to make plays.
3. Play Big East's best on the road, not to mention Kansas and North Carolina.

Major spring development: Sophomore quarterback Carlton Hill lost his inside track on starting job.

Syracuse Orange

Why they'll improve: 1. It'll be hard not to, given the fact the Orange lost a school-record 10 games last season.
2. More efficient offense under new coordinator Brian White, who has simplified West Coast attack from last season.
3. Better weaponry and health at wide receiver.

Why they won't: 1. Severe losses on defense, including ends James Wyche and Ryan LaCasse, cornerback Steve Gregory and safety Anthony Smith.
2. Still-shaky offensive line.
3. Unknown quantities at tailback, after Damien Rhodes followed Walter Reyes to lend the position stability.

Major spring development: Senior quarterback Perry Patterson's improved conditioning and mastery of the offense.

West Virginia Mountaineers

Why they'll improve: 1. Sophomore quarterback Pat White and sophomore tailback Steve Slaton are a year older, and, presumably, a year better.
2. Charmin-soft schedule -- with one large exception (see: Why they won't).
3. Improved passing attack, as evidenced in spring game, will keep defenses honest.

Why they won't: 1. Heavy losses in secondary.
2. Biggest game is on the road Nov. 2 at Louisville.
3. Unproven offensive tackles who are much lighter than last year's duo.

Major spring development: The new offensive tackles, sophomore Jake Figner and senior Damien Crissey, showed enough for coach Rich Rodriguez to say, "They eased my worries a little bit."

Joe Starkey covers the Big East for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

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