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2010 Big East conference report

Big East Conference Report
Can Pitt keep it together all season? Will Cincinnati win without Brian Kelly? Are the Huskies ready to contend? SI.com's 2010 conference reports continue with Andy Staples' Big East breakdown.
 
How They'll Finish
 
 ConferenceOverall
Pittsburgh 6-110-2
Cincinnati5-29-3
Connecticut 5-29-3
West Virginia 5-29-3
 
 ConferenceOverall
Rutgers3-47-5
Louisville2-55-7
South Florida2-55-7
Syracuse0-73-9
 
Offensive MVP
 
RB
Dion Lewis
2009 Season Stats: 325 carries, 1,799 rushing yards, 17 TDs
2010 Projected Stats: 310 carries, 1,850 rushing yards, 20 TDs
During his freshman season, Lewis gained more yards and scored just as many rushing touchdowns as 2009 Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram. This year, Lewis will be running behind a revamped offensive line, but with receiver Jonathan Baldwin on the outside waiting to catch passes from Tino Sunseri, defenses won't be able to load up to stop Lewis.
STAPLES: Pitt's diamond in the rough
 
Defensive MVP
 
LB
Lawrence Wilson
2009 Season Stats: 140 tackles, 11 for loss, 5 sacks
2010 Projected Stats: 130 tackles, 12 for loss, 6 sacks
Wilson grew up in Tuscaloosa, Ala., but he wasn't recruited by anyone in the SEC. Too bad for Big East ballcarriers. Wilson led the league in tackles in 2009, and he also showed a knack for making plays in the backfield. He'll be the rock of a sound Connecticut defense that should have the Huskies thinking about a conference title.
GALLERY: Wilson headlines SI.com's All-Big East Team
 
Impact Freshman
 
WR
Ivan McCartney
High School Stats: 37 catches, 747 yards, 10 TDs
2010 Projected Stats: 40 catches, 810 yards, 6 TDs
McCartney took official visits to Florida, Miami and Oregon, but the four-star prospect signed with the Mountaineers. The 6-1 speedster should have little trouble getting in sync with sophomore quarterback Geno Smith; McCartney and Smith were teammates at Miramar (Fla.) High.
VIDEO: Will a Big East team ever play for the title?
 
Coach On The Hot Seat
 
Doug Marrone
Last Season: 4-8 (1-6 Big East)
Career at Syracuse: 4-8 (1-6 Big East)
With Steve Kragthorpe gone at Louisville and Jim Leavitt gone at USF, the coaches in the Big East are relatively safe. Marrone probably is safe as well, but he falls into this spot simply because his job is so difficult. It gets harder to win at Syracuse every year, but the Orange have a proud tradition, and they may not be as patient with Marrone as they were with Greg Robinson.
 
Three Key Nonconference Games
 
South Florida at Florida
Saturday, Sept. 11
TBD
The Bulls went to Tallahassee and beat Florida State last season. If they can go to Gainesville and beat Florida, it would give Coach Skip Holtz a better chance to land some of the state's best players, most of whom still dream of becoming Gators, Hurricanes or Seminoles.
 
Miami at Pittsburgh
Thursday, Sept. 23
7:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)
The Panthers certainly didn't make things easy on themselves outside the Big East. They open at Utah. Then, three weeks later, they get a visit from the Hurricanes, who should open the season in the top 15. On Oct. 9, Pitt also plays at Notre Dame.
 
West Virginia at LSU
Saturday, Sept. 25
8 p.m. ET (TBD)
The Mountaineers have carried the out-of-conference torch for the Big East in recent years, beating Georgia in the Sugar Bowl after the 2005 season and Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl after the 2007 season. A win on a Saturday night in Tiger Stadium would further that reputation.
 
Three Key Conference Games
 
West Virginia at Connecticut
Friday, Oct. 29
8 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
Is UConn finally ready to compete for the Big East title? The best way to prove it is to beat the Mountaineers on national television. These Friday games have become a boon for the Big East, and this could be one of the best yet.
 
Cincinnati at Connecticut
Saturday, Nov. 27
TBD
The second of what could be two Big East semifinals -- the Backyard Brawl a day earlier is the other -- should provide some great drama. Last season, these two teams combined to score 92 points in Cincinnati's two-point win.
 
Pittsburgh at Cincinnati
Saturday, Dec. 4
TBD
This is a rematch of the Championship Saturday classic the Panthers and Bearcats staged last season for the Big East title. There is a good chance this contest could be the de facto conference title game for a second consecutive season.
 
Did You Know?
 
Big East officials gave their coaches expansion talking points at the conference's media days earlier this month, but the coaches didn't have to try too hard to stick to them. Realignment decisions are made at the presidential level, leaving coaches out of the equation. "As coaches, we have no say in the matter," UConn's Randy Edsall said.
West Virginia players and coaches have spent the offseason raving about juco transfer Bruce Irvin, a 6-3, 235-pound defensive end who racked up 16 sacks, 21 tackles for loss and 10 quarterback hurries as a junior college All-American last season. "He's on a mission," said head coach Bill Stewart. "He's very in tune with what he needs to do ... and he's quickly become one of our team leaders.
Cincinnati quarterback Zach Collaros, who went 4-0 last season in relief of injured starter Tony Pike, hasn't lost as a starter since his sophomore year of high school.
 
Big East Video Preview
Top Contenders
Source: SI
SI.com examines if Pitt, UConn or West Virginia has what it takes to unseat Cincy as conference champ.

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