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Sunday Morning Quarterback

Sunday Morning Quarterback

Sunday, August 21, 2005

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Out with the old, in with the, well, with the new, though certainly not improved in the case of the Big East, which suffered dramatically last year: the league had to send Pitt, only one of four teams with a claim to the Big East championship - and not even the best one - to the BCS, where it was murdered by a mid-major school. Louisville figures to fare somewhat better should the Cards make it as far as everyone predicts they will, but wouldn't it be nice to at least have Boston College around to make things interesting? Should the BCS and all its merciless tyranny survive the inevitable revolt rumbling in the streets, the league should not be long for automatic membership into the palace - enjoy it while you can, Big East.

PROJECTED ORDER OF FINISH (As determined by this system)
1. Louisville
2. Pittsburgh
3. West Virginia
4. Connecticut
5. Syracuse
6. South Florida
7. Rutgers
8. Cincinnati

Player his team can least afford to lose: TYLER PALKO came on big late last year to get Pitt into the BCS. His backup is named 'Flacco.' Keep No. 3 healthy, Panthers.
Most Likely to Prove SMQ Wrong: CINCINNATI looks just God awful on paper, with all the new starters, but the Bearcats have been to three bowl games in four years and never failed when SMQ came across them to hand it to Southern Miss, even in losses. Will the 'Cats really be worse than Rutgers?
Most Likely to be Benched: South Florida's PAT JULMISTE can move a bit, and hurl the ball like 400 yards, but can't put it in the right spors. A former DB from Auburn is behind him, and apparently closing fast.
Least Informed Prediction: Cincinnati players may not actually wear diapers on the field. SMQ has no way of knowing this information for sure, he hasn't attended nap time...er, Bearcat practices.
Surest Bet: Louisville will average 40 points again. The Cards lost their leading passer, rusher and receiver, record-breaking type guys, and will not suffer one iota of drop-off. Not an iota, you hear? Not a single iota (SMQ relishes typing 'iota'...)
Why All the Hype About: Louisville as No. 1? Eh, those crazy pollsters!
Why is No One Talking About: ANDRE HALL, whose all-around performance as rusher, receiver, and return man will make the USF senior Reggie Bush East - only with slightly better numbers.
No One Will be Missed More Than: Four-year starters at quarterback are hard to come by, and Cincinnati rode GINO GUIDUGLI pretty hard to some decent success. Whatever criticism he faced over that span, Bearcat fans would kill to have him coming back.
Put Up or Shut Up: Louisville's got it's chance to dominate and play with the big boys in January. This league is ripe for the taking - the Cards have looked like this before, in 2002 in Conference USA, and wound up in the Mobile Bowl. For their own sake, and probably the league's, they'd best not let history repeat.
SMQ Will be Watching: Louisville's simulataneously beautiful, obscene offense...South Florida's and Cincinnati's adjustment to the league, which will tell a lot about where the Big East is compared to Conference USA, and vice versa...Pitt-West Virginia, a nice rivalry for second place.
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SMQ National Rank: #15 - 2004: 11-1 - 2005 Schedule
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Best Player: RB Michael Bush, a huge (250 lbs.) freak who's fast enough to have played some receiver and smart enough to have played some quarterback his first two years.
Season Hinges On: Continuity with new QB Brian Brohm, who need only play his role in the attack that popped out eyeballs everywhere last year.
SMQ Likes: Most everything, including Brohm, one of the most can't-miss new quarterbacks in the country (it was he, not healthy senior Stefan LeFors, who as a true freshman led the Cards to a critical late score that put U of L ahead of Miami in that eventual loss), and he has Bush and receivers Montrell Jones, Broderick Clark and Joshua Clark back. Plus four starting o-linemen. They'll score tons and tons again, without question. The schedule is nice, too.
SMQ Doesn't Like: Three secondary starters are gone. And as for the schedule, it's nice for more blowout wins, but not really for picking up any strength of schedule points.
Best-case: The Cards score 45 a game and cruise to an undefeated season and a BCS berth. As far as national title hopes go, there was that one guy who ranked them number one because he figured L'ville would be the nation's only undefeated team, so presumably there is some chance at a Rose Bowl. A remote, remote chance.
Worst-case: Brohm unexpectedly struggles some, they only average 34 a game and drop one or two. Gator Bowl.
Why They'll Be Left Out of Title Talk: Louisville doesn't look good enough on paper to seem like an undefeated team, but then neither did Utah or Boise State last year, and the Cards were (and look to be again) better than either of those teams. No one on the schedule is in the same class, which is a major reason they'll look so good, and why no one filling in the space beside "No. 1" will pay that much attention. Except maybe that guy.

SMQ National Rank: #40 - 2004: 8-4 - 2005 Schedule
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Best Player: WR Greg Lee, who can only hope to keep the recent Pitt receiver tradition (Latef Grim, Antonio Bryant, Larry Fitzgerald) alive under new, less pass-oriented coach Dave Wannstedt.
Season Hinges On: Wannstedt's transition back to the college game, especially on a team designed to throw the ball.
SMQ Likes: The passing game, with Tyler Palko tossing it to Lee and Joe DelSardo, might rival Louisville's as the best in the league. Good linebackers and corners. These guys also won six of seven against the tougher part of the schedule to win the league last year.
SMQ Doesn't Like: The defensive line is a question mark, as well as the running game. Was the passing game's consistent success a testament to Walt Harris, now at Stanford? Why'd he leave, anyway? And if Utah can school Pitt by four touchdowns, why won't Louisville?
Best-case: The transition to Wannstedt is smooth and Palko plays like he did at the end of the regular season, with some more balance from the ground attack. It's a pretty good schedule - no upsets required to win ten (really). Find a way to beat Louisville, most likely win the league.
Worst-case: Growing pains, regression from Palko. The Panthers don't have to upset anybody, but it wouldn't be an upset if they fell to Nebraska, Notre Dame or West Virginia, either. A minor bowl is probably as bad as it will get.
Why They Won't Crash the BCS Again: Let's hope not, at least, because it was agreed by all they didn't belong last year; Louisville's already measuring its fingers for rings, anyway. Pitt could, however, be one of those "surprise" teams with a nice resume at the end of the year, however much of a surprise it would be to repeat the solid records of the past couple years.

SMQ National Rank: #44 - 2004: 8-4 - 2005 Schedule
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Best Player: Guard Dan Mozes, one of those Grizzly Adams types who's played pretty much every spot on the line.
Season Hinges On: Development of a quarterback and running back, positions that have been strong for this offense over the last couple (winning) years.
SMQ Likes: The Rodriguez system has produced pretty good results with mobile quarterbacks and strong running backs the past four years. Jason Gwaltney apparently is expected to make a big splash as a freshman, and a potentially exciting new face is a better unknown than a mediocre-looking old one (in this case, Jason Colson or Pernell Williams).
SMQ Doesn't Like: Everyone thought the Mountaineers would cruise to the Big East title last year, and they fizzled by losing three straight to end the season. Nothing seems to be any better about this bunch, and the backfield inexperience indicates that key facet of the spread rushing attack, at least for a while, will be worse. The defense is depleted.
Best-case: The schedule sets up for a good start, which is crucial for purposes of momentum and breaking in the new dudes. Eight or nine wins is definitely possible, but not a league title. A return trip to Jacksonville would mean a successful year.
Worst-case: The defense probably doesn't have enough to keep it close if the offense has trouble. There are enough potential pitfalls to drop WVU out of the postseason altogether.
Why the Bowl Streak Will Continue: Mainly because the rest of this ailing league is still so weak. If Boston College, Miami or V-Tech were still around, this Mountaineer squad wouldn't be on the radar at all.

SMQ National Rank: #63 - 2004: 8-4 - 2005 Schedule
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Best Player: Backs Cornell Brockington and Terry Caulley have taken turns the last two years being stars out of the Huskie backfield; both healthy at once would be fairly dangerous.
Season Hinges On: Adequately replacing leaders on offense - Dan Orlovsky - and defense - Alfred Fincher and Maurice Lloyd.
SMQ Likes: The running back combo and the defensive line, which returns fully intact. Generally, the team's fast acclamation to the big time - from I-AA to an eight-win bowl team in a BCS conference in five years - is pretty impressive.
SMQ Doesn't Like: Orlovsky was such a huge part of the team's success the past two years, his absence could totally deflate the team (another big Polish midwesterner, Matt Bonislawski, takes over). Fincher and Lloyd's loss could have the same effect on the defense. There's still the question of how talented this bunch is compared to the rest of the conference.
Best-case: The schedule allows an outside chance at repeating last year's 8-4 mark, with an upset or two. Advancing the 3-3 league mark would be a surprise step forward, but finding another bowl game wouldn't.
Worst-case: There are no gimme games within the conference, even Rutgers, if the new quarterback doesn't pan out.If Orlovsky's actual worth to the team matches his hype, the Huskies might finish last in the league.
Why the Ascent Ends: Every year during its brief stay in I-A, UConn's been better than the year before. Winning eight again, though, with a tougher schedule and without the anchors of last year's squad, is out of reach.

SMQ National Rank: #75 - 2004: 6-6 - 2005 Schedule
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Best Player: DE James Wyche, apparently, about whom SMQ has nothing to say except, he's probably no Dwight Freeney.
Season Hinges On: Finding a quarterback consistent enough for the...[eerie organ]...West Coast Offense! Aieeeeeee!!!
SMQ Likes: Running back Dominic Rhodes was productive in Walter Reyes' shadow,and a couple big, athletic quarterbacks who played are back. Good linebackers, three of four back in the secondary.
SMQ Doesn't Like: The quarterbacks were awful, and the move from an offense that incorporated some option play to one that relies on precision reads and passing doesn't make sense given their struggles in those areas. The defense was terrible in every facet, and didn't improve (51 points allowed in both the first and last games).
Best-case: Teams with new coaches are always dangerous, and require careful vigil. If Greg Robinson can turn the Orangemen - whoops, just Orange, sorry persons of, um, Orange descent - into a disciplined, ball control team that plays good defense, they could muscle their way back into the league's top two or three. Short of an attitude and system overhaul, SU is playing for the Big East's last bowl spot.
Worst-case: West Virginia, Virginia and Florida State are three of the first four games, and Notre Dame and Louisville are the last two, so a fast start or finish isn't going to happen. If the Orange can't get their (its?) kicks in during October, we could be looking at 4-7, maybe 3-8.
Why They Won't Come Close to Sharing the League Title Again: Yeah, Syracuse shared the league title with B.C., Pitt and West Virginia despite being only 6-5 - and not a good 6-5 - which shows how weak the league is at this point. There's some indication the conference could be improved this year, but none that this team will be.

SMQ National Rank: #83 - 2004: 4-7 - 2005 Schedule
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Best Player: RB Andre Hall, former JC superstar and one of the top all-purpose types in the country.
Season Hinges On: Pat Julmiste settling in at quarterback.
SMQ Likes: SMQ respects the Bull program for its fast ascent, even more so than UConn's, and the track record of success Jim Leavitt has put up (six winning seasons in eight years). USF is always competitive. Hall is a tough, versatile back, probably the best in the Big East.
SMQ Doesn't Like: Julmiste can't hit the side of a barn. Everybody lit up the secondary, big time. Plus, offensive coordinator: TBA.
Best-case: SMQ is a Conference USA guy, and knows USF is always lurking around, being better than it's supposed to be - they adjusted well (7-4) to C-USA in their first year there, and if Julmiste is better, could make the same kind of surprise impact on this league.
Worst-case: There's Miami and Penn State in the season's first month, plus Louisville - not the best way to engender confidence entering the league slate. Bad showings could lead to a tailspin.
Why They'll be Home for the Holidays - Again: The fact USF hasn't been to a bowl game, in this bloated bowl era, is fairly ludicrous. But being a program perverbially on the rise won't get them far enough with less talent in a tougher league - the non-conference slate means the team will have to win four or maybe even five league games, which would be damn close to winning the conference title. Not happening. Soon, though.

SMQ National Rank: #91 - 2004: 4-7 - 2005 Schedule
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Best Player: FB Brian Leonard, apparently.
Season Hinges On: A little defense, just a little.
SMQ Likes: The passing game, statistically, was really good, and all its key parts are back. QB Ryan Hart is a three-year starter.
SMQ Doesn't Like: The numbers were inflated because the Knights had to throw so much - the run game ranked 113th. Defense: very poor. Very poor indeed.
Best-case: There's a chance to upset Illinois in the opener, which could lead to a 3-0 start and total bedlam in Joisey. If a winning record is on the line against Cincinnati to close the year, it would be a minor miracle.
Worst-case: The Knights could lose every league game. Wouldn't be the first time.
Make It Twenty-Eight: No bowl since 1978, and counting. Nothing new here.

SMQ National Rank: #92 - 2004: 7-5 - 2005 Schedule
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Best Player: Uh, uh...okay, DE Adam Roberts.
Season Hinges On: Lining up correctly, getting the snap off, et cetera.
SMQ Likes: Well, this team had developed into a somewhat consistent bowl team in Conference USA.
SMQ Doesn't Like: God, the backfield, defensive line and linebackers are going to be in diapers, and even most of the upperclassmen are new starters. Nobody is back; most important of the many, many departures is quarterback Gino Guidugli, who carried this program the last four years.
Best-case: SMQ supposes the new guys, since they haven't shown themselves as terrible players, could be amazing. Could be. But...four wins max.
Worst-case: Cincy will beat Western Carolina, probably Eastern Michigan, and maybe no one else. A murderer's row of Penn State, Miami U. of Ohio, Pitt, Connecticut and Louisville will not help.
Why They'll Finish Last: Not because they're nice guys, though SMQ certainly does not mean to suggest that they are not, but because there's so little experience. If Cincy wins more than two league games, Mark Dantonio is Coach of the Year.
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8:14 PM

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