Thursday, August 31, 2006
2006 PREVIEW, VERY, VERY QUICKLY: THE BIG EAST
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If this is getting done, the time is now.
Check here and here for SMQ's previous thoughts on the Big East's power couple, Louisville and West Virginia, and why the Mountaineer hype will be up in smoke in short order.
1. Louisville (#14)
In reality, SMQ believes Louisville will finish in the top ten if it loses only to Miami, pending the bowl match-up. The Cardinals deserve the role of favorite a year removed from losing the league title in overtime after an admittedly fouled-up onside kick call and returning the league's leading passer (Brian Brohm), rusher (Michael Bush) and receiver (Mario Urrutia). The defense gets a little bit worse rep than it deserves, though the numbers were skewed favorably by Elvis Dumervil's pass rush prowess, and three new defensive linemen with Phil Steele notations PS#330 by their names aren't likely to match that production. Six of the back seven, however, are back. Miami and West Virginia=coming to Louisville.
2. West Virginia (#18)
SMQ's "prove it" team of the year. A stellar choice on paper, and would be a disappointment even to SMQ if it were to win fewer than nine. But history says WVU has never been able to sustain year-to-year momentum following a "breakthrough" season like the one it clearly produced in 2005. When you've got ten starters back from an offense that ended last season by kicking ass to the tune of at least six yards per carry in each of the final four games (SMQ will spot them .1 yard against Cincinnati), that is reason for optimism, but a carbon copy is probably too optimistic. Pat White's one-dimensional nature is a burden, but will not necessarily be a problem in more than two or three games if the veteran offensive line handles its business against the teams it's supposed to. SMQ thinks we'll know pretty quickly how much merit his doubts carry.
A bowl game beckons with any semblance of a run game. The Thanksgiving turnstile effort at West Virginia skewed some not-horrible numbers against the run, where the Panthers are pretty experienced this time around. Linebacker H.B. Blades and cornerback Darrelle Revis are a couple of the best defensive players in the country in terms of production and "expert" ratings. Tyler Palko can still be one of the top ten quarterbacks in the country, depending on what's going on at any given moment with the offensive line and his receivers' health/hands. A more experienced line (four returning starters) that improved towards the end of last year will help him out.
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I need a running back!
4. South Florida
All defense here. The offense was weak and lost its one legit star, running back Andre Hall, which makes the Spring benching and conversion to receiver of super-hyped/flummoxed quarterback Carlton Hill in favor of the imminently replaceable Pat Julmiste all the more painful. Linebackers and secondary should be good; a second bowl bid should be coming, even if the Bulls are at just six wins again, if only to make up for past snubs when they were in Conference USA.
The Knights could make a top 25 list or two if Ryan Hart returned, because Mike Teel threw ten interceptions to just two touchdowns in limited injury replacement time. The running backs, Raymell Rice and Brian Leonard, are an excellent combo, though, and a lot of catches return. The biggest hit may be on the defensive line, which was very solid, aggressive (47 sacks!) and now 75 percent new, but probably not very improved.
Should have a competent running game, but with some quarterback issues; Dan Hernandez or Matt Bonislawski could both play. Unsung linebacker Danny Lansanah received no honors as a freshman despite leading the team with 80 tackles and collecting three sacks, eight tackles for loss, five pass breakups and two interceptions. The top ten defense will miss its other star, James Hargrave, but should be easily one of the top two or three in the conference. Good things can happen here if the offense can get its act together.
SMQ guarantees one upset by 2005's youngest team, one that was terrible but that also returns everyone and should be much improved. This may not be monumental upset, but will inch the team up to near .500. Cincy had a four-year bowl streak prior to last season with Gino Guidugli at the helm, and is not a pushover in this spot. This may not show on the final record.
menare pushovers. Or were, at least, and there's no reason to think they won't be again. Statistically, as bad as any team in the nation lasat season.
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