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White gives Mountaineers the early edge

No Steve Slaton? No problem. No Ray Rice? We'll get back to you. The Big East is missing some big names, but the top two quarterbacks -- Pat White and Matt Grothe -- are back, and they've got what it takes to distance West Virginia and South Florida from the rest of the pack. The teams lumped in spots 3-7 can shake out in just about any order, with Louisville, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Rutgers and Connecticut each able to make a case for moving up -- or down.

Here's the ranking based on what we know, and what we don't:

1. West Virginia Mountaineers

What we know: With the entire offensive line back, along with White and Noel Devine, the Mountaineers can again have a high-powered offense.
What we don't know: WVU runs a 3-3-5 stack defense, and four of the five players in the secondary must be replaced. The Mountaineers also lost two of three up front.
How the Mountaineers can win the Big East: Keep the offense moving forward and reload the defense. Oh, and beat Pitt.

2. USF Bulls

What we know: The defense will be powered by junior defensive end George Selvie, who led the nation in tackles for loss (31.5) and was second nationally in sacks (14.5).
What we don't know: How will the defense adjust to the loss of assistant head coach and defensive line coach Dan McCarney?
How the Bulls can win the Big East: On the right shoulder of Matt Grothe.

3. Louisville Cardinals

What we know: The Cardinals have strong depth at running back with Brock Bolen and George Stripling. They should be productive behind center Eric Wood, who has started 37 straight games, and offensive tackle George Bussey.
What we don't know: If the defense will rebound in 2008. The linebacker position is completely depleted, and the defensive staff has a new look with former Michigan coordinator Ron English at the helm.
How the Cardinals can win the Big East: Louisville has to take advantage of its eight home games and get back to playing sound defense.

4. Rutgers Scarlet Knights

What we know: The Scarlet Knights had a 3,000-yard passer, 2,000-yard rusher and a pair of 1,000-yard receivers last season -- and three of those four players are back. Three of four starters return to a secondary that ranked fifth nationally in pass defense.
What we don't know: The offensive line will be missing three starters from the group that paved the way for Ray Rice. How quickly will their replacements adjust?
How the Scarlet Knights can win the Big East: Keep quarterback Mike Teel healthy. There was a noticeable difference in his game after he hurt his thumb in the third game of the season, and his backups are unproven.

5. Cincinnati Bearcats

What we know: Gone is quarterback Ben Mauk, but 16 starters return, including Kevin Huber, the nation's top punter, and standout defenders Mike Mickens (six interceptions) and Terrill Byrd (eight sacks).
What we don't know: Who will take over at quarterback.
How the Bearcats can win the Big East: Continue to adhere to coach Brian Kelly's philosophies and develop consistency at quarterback quickly.

6. Pittsburgh Panthers

What we know: Two of the best players at their respective positions return in linebacker Scott McKillop, who led the country in tackles, and tailback LeSean McCoy, the leading freshman rusher in the country with 110.7 yards per game.
What we don't know: The Panthers haven't been an effective passing team because of the inexperience. Can this year's quarterback change that, and who will it be?
How the Panthers can win the Big East: Find the balanced offense that was missing last year and play the same stingy defense.

7. Connecticut Huskies

What we know: The Huskies will be able to run the ball with juniors Donald Brown and Andre Dixon -- the team's top two rushers -- back.
What we don't know: Will the receivers be more of a passing threat and can the team sustain its momentum from its share of the 2007 Big East title?
How the Huskies can win the Big East: Road wins at South Florida, Rutgers and Louisville would help.

8. Syracuse Orange

What we know: After winning just two games last season and only seven total in his first three years, coach Greg Robinson needs a miracle season to save his job.
What we don't know: How on earth the Orange can dramatically and quickly improve upon their 2007 rankings in total offense (No. 114) and total defense (No. 111).
How the Orange can win the Big East: Start with a coaching change.

Heather Dinich is a college football writer for ESPN.com. Send your questions and comments to Heather at espn.hd@hotmail.com.