The Big East got off to an inauspicious start in 2009 -- and things didn't end much better.
The season began with no Big East teams in either preseason poll. It ended with unbeaten champion Cincinnati, a team that was one second from potentially playing for the national title, getting shellacked by Florida in the Sugar Bowl.
But as tough as '09 was for a conference that has been fighting to earn respect since the 2005 realignment, there were positives. Namely, the emergence of young stars. There's Pitt's
There's also no lack of burning questions as the league works to break in three new coaches, one of whom will try to help his two-time defending champion squad get the bad taste of the Sugar Bowl out of its mouth.
Pitt turned a corner under
Pitt proved in last year's de facto title game that it can hang with Cincy. Now, the Panthers will look to supplant a Bearcats program in transition.
But the Bearcats' biggest concern isn't offense; it's a defense returning just five starters and transitioning to a 4-3 scheme. Of course, considering the unit surrendered 39.4 points per game over the last five games of 2009, wiping the slate clean might not be such a bad thing.
The Panthers have their own holes. They must replace three starters on the offensive line as well as both tackles on the defensive side. More importantly, they need a successor for QB
With Pitt, there's also the matter of mental hurdles. Did this group learn from the three-point loss to West Virginia and the one-point loss to Cincinnati that kept it out of a BCS game? If so, the Panthers could be legit contenders. If not, the real threat to Cincinnati's throne might be...
The Mountaineers haven't exactly fallen off under
Stewart has flirted with a BCS berth, but simply flirting may not be good enough for the couch-burners in Morgantown this year. WVU returns sparkplug back
More than anything, West Virginia needs its offense to live up to its explosive potential. That didn't happen last season, when the Mountaineers ranked 61st nationally in total offense (377.4 yards per game) and 67th in scoring (26.1 points per).
Though they boast plenty of playmakers, quarterback remains a question, as
There's no downplaying the coaching job
UConn ended the season on a four-game winning streak, during which it showed a markedly improved ability to close out close games. The Huskies had lost five games by four points or less before earning a come-from-behind win over Notre Dame and beating South Florida with a field goal as time expired.
Those close wins helped UConn reach at least eight wins for the third straight season and set the stage for a potential breakthrough 2010 season. The Huskies return 17 starters, and after a year-and-a-half of
Though Todman broke out with 1,188 yards and 14 TDs, the Huskies must replace
Rutgers may have lost 11 starters from a year ago, but this team could be a Big East sleeper behind emerging sophomores Sanu and Savage.
Sanu averaged 17 touches a game over the final three games as a receiver and running back, finishing with 985 yards and eight touchdowns, while Savage threw for 2,211 yards and 14 scores.
There's no doubt about their potential, but building on last season may hinge on an offensive line tasked with replacing three starters, including both tackles and center.
How well those inexperienced pieces gel could be a sticking point for how much Sanu and Savage excel -- and how much this team can progress.
South Florida coach
Holtz is replacing the fired
As for the present, the Bulls may have to fight for bowl eligibility while replacing five defensive players who were invited to the NFL combine, including ends
Strong built an impressive résumé as the architect of Florida's national title defenses, and he brought in an offensive coordinator schooled in the