Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
When a conference looses elite programs like Miami-Florida, Virginia Tech and Boston College, there is sure to be a transition period, at least when it comes to the football product. With the departure of the Hurricanes, Hokies and Eagles to the ACC, the chances of the Big East churning out national championships at a feverish clip is simply unrealistic. However, the powers that be in Providence have done a commendable job in bringing in new members and the Big East Conference should be highly competitive and fun to watch in 2005.
Overall, the Big East raided Conference USA, with new members Cincinnati, DePaul, Louisville, Marquette and South Florida all jumping to what hopes to be greener pastures. The Cardinals, Bearcats and Bulls will be the three teams that join incumbents Connecticut, Pittsburgh, Rutgers, Syracuse and West Virginia to form the eight-team football conference.
Bobby Petrino must replace his starting quarterback, running back and wide receiver from a year ago, but there is every reason to believe that one of the top offenses in the country last year, may be even more potent in 2005.
Louisville is the cream of the crop among the newcomers on the gridiron, as the Cardinals were recently tabbed by the media as the preseason favorite to win the Big East. There are plenty of reasons to think that the Cards will do just that.
Bobby Petrino must replace his starting quarterback, running back and wide receiver from a year ago, but there is every reason to believe that one of the top offenses in the country last year, may be even more potent in 2005. Sophomore Brian Brohm steps in under center, taking over for Stefan LeFors and will be more than happy to hand the ball off early and often to freak-of- nature tailback Michael Bush. Running back Eric Shelton has taken his talents to the NFL and Bush may not be far behind. At 6-3, 250 pounds, he is certainly an intimidating presence in the backfield and could end up leading the Big East in rushing this year. The Cardinals are coming off an 11-1 season in 2004, capped off by a 44-40 shootout win over Boise State in the Liberty Bowl. They are a top-25 team to be sure and perhaps a top-10 team when all is said and done.
While they are not the favorite in the Big East, a new sheriff in the Steel City could have Pittsburgh in the mix all year long. Walt Harris is now on the West Coast (Stanford), ushering in the Dave Wannstedt Era. With early Heisman hopeful Tyler Palko under center and yet another Biletnikoff nominee in wideout Greg Lee (coming off a 2004 season of nearly 1,300 yards and 10 TDs) there is plenty of reason for optimism in Western Pennsylvania. That pitch- and-catch combo should provide plenty of highlights in 2005.
Rich Rodriguez and the Mountaineers have won a share of the Big East title in each of the last two seasons, but the boys from Morgantown will have their work cut out for them if they are to earn a third.
Another new face will pace the sidelines in the Carrier Dome, with Greg Robinson now in place and there are high hopes that he can bring some of the swagger back to Syracuse football. With a solid nucleus on the defensive side of the football, they could take a step forward in 2005.
UConn had a remarkable campaign in its initial foray into Big East football in 2004, going 8-4 under head coach Randy Edsall. The Huskies put an exclamation mark on their fine campaign with their first-ever bowl appearance and victory, a 39-10 thumping of Toledo in the Motor City Bowl.
Even what looks to be second tier teams in Rutgers, USF and Cincinnati, should provide some competition week-in and week-out.
Greg Schiano's Scarlet Knights have offensive talent (QB Ryan Hart, RB Brian Leonard) and bring pressure on the quarterback (led the Big East in sacks in 2004).
The Bulls have only been around since 1997, but they have made huge strides over that time, with an overall record of 55-33. Tailback Andre Hall (1,357 yards in 2004) is the player to watch on Jim Leavitt's squad and he should garner plenty of All-Conference accolades as the season wears on.
The Bearcats went to a bowl last season and won it (Fort Worth Bowl), but duplicating that in his second season will be difficult for head coach Mark Dantonio.
All in all, the Big East is still top heavy, despite the well publicized departures of some of the nation's elite teams in the last two years. It may take some time to get over it, but the Big East can and probably will recover, sooner, rather than later.