tampabay.com

Big East at a glance

By GREG AUMAN
Published September 1, 2006


1. WEST VIRGINIA

2005 RECORD: 11-1 (7-0, Big East champions). Beat Georgia 38-35 in Sugar Bowl. Final AP ranking, No. 5.

Coach: Rich Rodriguez (39-22, sixth season; 84-58-2 14th overall).

Starters Returning: Offense 9, defense 5.

WILL WIN THE LEAGUE IF ... they can win at Louisville on Nov. 2. Hard to find another troublesome game on their conference schedule. With weak non-conference opponents, would a 12-0 record be good enough to play for a national title?

2. LOUISVILLE

2005 RECORD: 9-3 (5-2, second). Lost to Virginia Tech 35-24 in Gator Bowl. Ranked No. 19.

Coach: Bobby Petrino (29-8, fourth season).

Starters Returning: Offense 8, defense 9.

WILL WIN THE LEAGUE IF ... they don't stumble and can avenge last year's heartbreaker at West Virginia. Louisville has dominated at home, and that's where it plays the Mountaineers. Beat Miami at home and Louisville could run the table.

3. PITTSBURGH

2005 RECORD: 5-6 (4-3, tied for third). Coach: Dave Wannstedt (5-6, second season).

Starters Returning: Offense 6, defense 6.

WILL SHOW THEY'RE BACK IF ... a strong recruiting class helps push Wannstedt to the top of the league's second tier. The Panthers close the season with West Virginia and Louisville - both at home - and two wins there could mean a Big East crown and complete the turnaround.

4. SOUTH FLORIDA

2005 RECORD: 6-6 (4-3, tied for third). Lost in first-ever bowl appearance against North Carolina State 14-0 in Meineke Car Care Bowl in Charlotte.

Coach: Jim Leavitt (61-39, 10th season).

Starters Returning: Offense 7, defense 7.

WILL REACH A BETTER BOWL IF ... they can take care of close games at home, starting with Rutgers and Connecticut. The Bulls need to pile up those wins early, because the season ends at Louisville and West Virginia.

5. RUTGERS

2005 RECORD: 7-5 (4-3, tied for third). Lost first bowl game since 1978 to Arizona State, 45-40 in the Insight Bowl.

Coach: Greg Schiano (19-39, sixth season).

Starters Returning: Offense 7, defense 7.

WILL VALIDATE LAST SEASON IF ... they can pick up key league wins on the road at USF and Pittsburgh and not trail off in November. RBs Brian Leonard and Ray Rice form one of the league's best rushing attacks.

6. CINCINNATI

2005 RECORD: 4-7 (2-5, tied for sixth).

Coach: Mark Dantonio (11-12, third season).

Starters Returning: Offense 7, defense 10.

WILL BE THE SURPRISE OF THE LEAGUE IF ... the tough non-conference schedule (at Ohio State and Virginia Tech) helps them and doesn't destroy last bits of confidence. Cincinnati could go 4-3 in league play and still not be bowl-eligible.

7. CONNECTICUT

2005 RECORD: 5-6 (2-5, tied for sixth).

Coach: Randy Edsall (37-43, seventh season).

Starters Returning: Offense 7, defense 7.

WILL GET BACK TO A BOWL IF ... UConn's offense can come together for one good upset and the defense can stay strong enough for a sweep of back-to-back November games against Syracuse and Cincinnati.

8. SYRACUSE

2005 RECORD: 1-10 (0-7, last).

Coach: Greg Robinson (1-10, second season).

Starters Returning: Offense 6, defense 4.

WILL START MOVING TOWARD MEDIOCRITY IF ... the Orange can find a quarterback after passing for only six touchdowns last year. Best bet for Robinson's first league win? Home against Connecticut on Nov. 18.