Big East Preseason Media Poll
Three Big East teams will begin new coaching eras in 2010 - Cincinnati, Louisville and USF.
Butch Jones is the new man in charge at Cincinnati after Brian Kelly was lured away to what he called "my dream job" at Notre Dame. Jones was also Kelly's replacement at Central Michigan when Kelly left the Chippewas to take over the Bearcats at the end of the 2006 season. In both instances, Kelly left prior to a bowl game.
Over the last two seasons, Kelly led Cincinnati to unprecedented heights with back-to-back Big East titles and BCS bowl berths. He guided last year's Bearcats team to an undefeated regular season (12-0) and 3rd-place finish in the BCS Standings. He was rewarded for his success with the Home Depot Coach of the Year Award the night before his departure to Notre Dame was officially announced. Cincinnati went on to get blown out 51-24 by Florida in the Sugar Bowl with Jeff Quinn serving as interim head coach. Quinn was later hired by Buffalo as its new head coach when he was passed over in favor of Jones, repeating the earlier scenario at Central Michigan.
Kelly's 3-year record at Central Michigan was 19-16, but the Chippewas had even greater success under Jones as they captured a pair of MAC titles (2007, 2009) and compiled a 3-year record of 27-13. CMU was 11-2 last year under Jones and went on to defeat Troy 44-41 in the GMAC Bowl with Steve Stripling serving as its interim head coach.
Jones faces a tough rookie year schedule at Cincinnati as the Bearcats open at Fresno State as 3.20-point favorites, travel to N.C. State less than two weeks later as a 13.19-point pick, and then return home to face Oklahoma as surprisingly narrow 3.57-point underdogs. A week two game vs. FCS member Indiana State provides a breather.
Louisville canned Steve Kragthorpe on November 28, a day after the Cards completed the regular season at 4-8 with a 34-14 home loss to Rutgers. Kragthorpe was just 15-21 in three seasons with the Cardinals after replacing the highly successful Bobby Petrino when he left to take the head coaching job with the NFL's Atlanta Falcons. Petrino returned to the college ranks with Arkansas a year later. Kragthorpe was 6-6 in his first season and 5-7 last year. His conference record at The Ville was just 5-16, including 1-6 in each of the past two seasons. It was quite a reversal of fortune from the Petrino tenure that saw the Cardinals go 41-9 in his 4 seasons at the helm.
Charlie Strong was named the new head coach at Louisville on December 9. Considered to be one of the top defensive coordinators in the country, Strong spent the last seven seasons in that position at Florida and held the additional post of Associate Head Coach for the last two seasons. It was his fourth different stint at UF, having coached at Florida from 1991-94; 1988-89 and 1983-84. He served as Florida's interim head coach in the Gators' 27-10 loss to Miami in the 2004 Peach Bowl.
Skip Holtz was hired away from East Carolina by USF on January 14, just six days after Jim Leavitt was fired by the Bulls. Holtz, the son of coaching icon Lou Holtz, was 38-27 in five season with the Pirates. He took over a East Carolina program that had suffered four straight non-winning seasons and was a combined 3-20 in the two seasons prior to his arrival. East Carolina was 5-6 in Holtz' inaugural year, but went to bowl games in each of his final four seasons and captured the last two CUSA championships.
Leavitt's dismissal from South Florida came on January 8 after a review concluded that he physically mistreated a player. Leavitt continues to deny the allegation and insists he has never struck a player. Leavitt started the USF football program and his remarkable 95-57 overall record includes a 68-40 mark during the 9 seasons that the Bulls have participated as a full-fledged member of the FBS. USF has gone to five straight bowl games since joining the Big East conference in 2005.
Holtz will have time to settle in as USF's early schedule is light on challenges, except for a week 2 road date at Florida. The Bulls open with Stony Brook, a school that has been competing at the lower FCS level for only 3 years. The Seawolves of Long Island, New York were 6-5 a year ago while competing in the Big South conference with the likes of VMI (Lexington, Va.) Liberty (Lynchburg, Va.) and Charleston Southern (Charleston, S.C.).
The Bulls' non-conference schedule also includes FAU, and a Western Kentucky team that has lost 25 straight to FBS schools. USF finishes the year with a brutal 3-game stretch that features home games against Pitt and UConn sandwiching an OOC game at Miami (Fla.). The Bulls turned some heads by winning at Florida State last year, but are big underdogs against the Gators (+18.23) this year. The game at Miami is within reach with the computer forecasting a respectable 7.68-point loss.
Pitt has a national schedule that sends it to perennial Mountain West power Utah as a 3.83-point loser in the season opener. The teams last played in the 2004 Fiesta Bowl which Utah won 35-7. The Panthers also have a home game with Miami (Fla.) and a road date with Notre Dame, both of which are in the computer's win column for Pitt.
UConn opens as a shocking 6.65-point favorite over Michigan in the Big House. To further illustrate how far the Wolverines have tumbled, the Huskies are 2.03-point dogs at Temple two weeks later. The Big East schedule up well for UConn as it draws home games against the the top three projected challengers - West Virginia, Pitt and Cincinnati.
That's why, when the last game's been played and the smoke has cleared, the computer projects UConn as a narrow winner. How narrow? The Huskies are favored by 0.69 over Cincinnati in the next-to-last game of the year to secure the Big East title. A week later, the Huskies are a mere 0.004 (that's 4 one-thousandths of a point) underdog at USF in the season finale.
The top four teams in the conference are separated by a scant 2.31 power points, and the top six teams are only 5.54 points apart.
Three teams are projected to finish in a dead heat for second place. Cincinnati, Pitt and West Virginia are all forecasted to go 5-2 in league play, 9-3 overal, and 1-1 against each other.
While such parity makes for an interesting season, it prevents any one Big East team from finishing high in the national rankings. At best, a 10-win UConn team would likely finish around 10th. Last year, 9-3 records put West Virginia and Pitt at 16th and 17th in the BCS Standings heading into the bowl season.
West Virginia will open the season under a cloud of uncertainty regarding what action may be taken by the NCAA after an investigation concluded that the Mountaineers committed one secondary and five major rules violations from 2005 to 2009. The violations occurred under both former head coach Rich Rodriguez and current head coach Bill Stewart. West Virginia last won or shared the Big East title in 2007.
USF falls into 5th-place in the computer's forecast, only a game behind the Bearcats, Panthers and Mountaineers.
Rutgers' 6th-place finish includes the aforementioned 0.23-point home loss to Connecticut and a 3.23-point road setback at USF.
The computer model has Syracuse and Louisville bringing up the rear for the third year in-a-row.
Syracuse was the last FBS team to finish compiling its 2010 schedule. As such, the Orange had to schedule a second FCS team and winds up hosting Maine and Colgate on back-to-back September weekends. The Orange has a 14-45 record in the 5 years since its firing of Paul Pasqualoni who was 107-59-1 in 14 seasons.
The Big East landed a contract with the newly-formed Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium, rendering it unnecessary to renew an agreement to supply a team to the International Bowl which subsequently announced on March 25th that it was folding. The International Bowl was played in Toronto each of the last four seasons, matching a Big East opponent with a MAC school. The Pinstripe Bowl will match the 4th selection from the Big East with the 7th choice from the Big 12.