Conference Preview: Big East

Louisville sophomore quarterback Teddy Bridgewater (Andy Lyons, Getty Images)

Projected Order of Finish

1. Louisville Cardinals

2. Rutgers Scarlet Knights

3. South Florida Bulls

4. Pittsburgh Panthers

5. Cincinnati Bearcats

6. Connecticut Huskies

7. Syracuse Orange

8. Temple Owls

Conference Champion: Louisville Cardinals

Offensive Player of the Year: Running Back Ray Graham – Pittsburgh

     The 5’9 shifty senior was second in the nation in rushing (958 yards) through eight games last season until an ACL injury derailed Graham’s 2011/2012 campaign. With Pitt returning to a traditional pro-style offense under the tutelage of new coach Paul Chryst, opponents should expect an even heavier dose of a healthy Ray Graham in 2012/2013.

Defensive Player of the Year: Linebacker Khaseem Greene – Rutgers

     The returning Big East co-Defensive Player of the Year tallied 141 tackles a season ago; the fifth-highest total in school history. Greene and fellow starters Steve Beauharnais and Jamal Merrell form one of the best overall position units in the entire conference.

Surprise Team: Connecticut Huskies

     Few teams were as bad offensively as UConn was in 2011/2012; The Huskies finished 97th in rush offense, 84th in pass offense, and 108th in total offense. Despite these dreadful numbers, UConn fans have good reason to be optimistic about this upcoming season. 1,000 yard rusher Lyle McCombs returns along with four starters on the offensive line, and three incoming transfers are primed to make a big impact in the Husky passing game. Former Illinois quarterback Chandler Whitmer arrives in Storrs via the junior college route and was a top performer in the spring game. The sophomore will have two potentially dynamic receiving weapons in Boston College transfer Shakim Phillips and Clemson transfer Bryce McNeal. Both players were 4-star recruits coming out of high school. On the defensive side of the ball, eight starters are back from a unit that was third in the nation in rushing. A secondary that was shredded for the majority of last season returns fully intact and looks to be much improved. The Huskies should be more competitive in 2012/2013 than they were a year ago, but a brutal schedule that features road tests at South Florida, Rutgers, and Louisville could prevent UConn from reaching a bowl game for the second straight season under Paul Pasqualoni.

Best Game: Louisville at Rutgers- November 29th

    The Big East conference schedule ends with a bang as arguably the conference’s two best teams face off during the last week of the regular season in a game that could have championship implications. Teddy Bridgewater, Eli Rogers, and the potent Cardinal offense will butt heads with a Scarlet Knight defense that is absolutely loaded with talent in the back seven. Weather could play a factor here too, as late November games in Piscataway have proven to be an adventure in recent years.

     Honorable Mentions: Rutgers at South Florida – September 15th

     Louisville at Pittsburgh – October 13th

     Pittsburgh at South Florida – December 1st

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