Big East Preseason Media Poll
Last year's preseason forecast nailed the exact records of Cincinnati, Louisville and Rutgers. It came within 1 loss of nailing UConn and Pitt. The computer's projections were one of just two preseason forecasters that put Cincinnati in the Top 20.
The conference loses several top offensive performers, including West Virginia QB Pat White, UConn RB Donald Brown, Pitt RB LeSean McCoy and Rutgers QB Mike Teel. Top returners include USF QB Matt Grothe, Cincinnati QB Tony Pike and West Virginia RB Noel Devine.
This year's forecast sees Pittsburgh rising to the top in Dave Wannstedt's 5th year at the helm, but the race is wide open. Rutgers, West Virginia and Cincinnati trail the Panthers by 4.16 power points or less. UConn and USF are within 8 power points of the top spot, and Louisville only trails by 12. Syracuse lags more than 10 points behind the next closest team in the field.
The computer (about the computer) has Pittsburgh going 6-1 in conference play, just a game ahead of the Scarlet Knights, Mountaineers and Bearcats.
Last year, Pitt enjoyed its' first winning season under Wannstedt, going 9-4 with bookend losses to Bowling Green and Oregon State. The 3-0 defeat to the Beavers at the Sun Bowl wasn't the season-ending result that the Panther faithful were looking for, but at least their team returned to the postseason for the first time since 2004 when Walt Harris' last campaign ended with a 35-7 los to Utah in the Fiesta Bowl.
The biggest hurdles for Pitt will come on road trips to Rutgers and West Virginia. The Panthers are a slim 1.16-point choice in Piscataway, and a narrow 1.78-point underdog in Morgantown. Pitt is favored by at least 6.24 points in its' other nine games.
We'll find out right away what Rutgers and Cincy have to offer. They face-off on opening weekend with the Scarlet Knights installed as 2.53-point home favorites to extend their winning streak to eight games. Rutgers' projected loss at UConn is basically a toss-up pick with the Huskies favored by less than one-tenth of a point (0.08). Add it up and the Scarlet Knights were just 1.25 points away from being forecasted to win the Big East title.
One of the easiest wins in the recent history of college football should come Rutgers' way on October 3 when it hosts Texas Southern, a FCS member school that lost 83-10 to Arkansas State last season. The Scarlet Knights also host FCS member Howard and Sun Belt member FIU as part of a weak slate that ranks 100th nationally.
West Virginia was even closer to being tabbed as the favorite with the margins on its' two losses totaling 0.59 points. The expected setbacks are on trips to Cincinnati (+0.53) and Rutgers (+0.06) in two of its' last three games.
Meanwhile, Cincinnati has two extremely tight wins in its' forecast. The Bearcats are a mere 1.35-point pick at USF, in addition to the 0.53-point home edge over WVU.
USF must hit the road to face Pitt, Rutgers and UConn for projected losses. The Bulls are also narrow underdogs at home to Cincinnati (+1.35) and West Virginia (+3.83). South Florida's non-conference slate includes a pair of games against FCS foes, but also presents the unenviable task of battling in-state juggernauts Florida State (away) and Miami (home). Somewhat surprisingly, the computer gives the Bulls a 0.18-point edge over the Hurricanes.
Steve Kragthorpe's coaching days at Louisville may be coming to an end if the computer's forecast for the Cardinals holds true. The good news is that the prediction for a 3-9 overall record, and 1-6 conference campaign, includes three home losses and one road defeat by fewer than 6 points. The road contest is against in-state rival Kentucky (+5.77), and the home setbacks are to Southern Miss (+0.78), Arkansas State (+5.60), and Rutgers (+4.88). Louisville has missed the postseason the last two years after going bowling for nine straight seasons prior to Kragthorpe's arrival.
Syracuse gets a fresh start after the four-year debacle of the Greg Robinson tenure. The Orange were so bad under Robinson (10-37) that it is difficult for the computer, or even any human, to grasp how much of a turnaround could be gleened just by bringing in a new staff. Unfortunately, the Orange face the toughest schedule of any school in the conference as they open with three straight games against Big Ten schools that went bowling last year - Minnesota, Penn State and Northwestern.