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State of the Big East: Week Zero

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...the hell's a DePaul?

...the hell's a DePaul?

Wherein we take a look at the football conference that’s electrifying crowds from the northern Mid-Atlantic to southern New England. Also Tampa.

Howdy, y’all. Welcome to the 2009 preseason edition of everyone’s favorite feature, "State of the Big East". For those of you who weren’t around last year, SoBE was a weekly bi-weekly whenever-I-had-time piece with all the greatest elements of sports blogging: lists, pop-culture comparisons and wacky mix-em-ups.

I make no promises this season as to the regularity or entertainment value of SoBE, only to say that I think my teams-as-The-Office-characters thing still holds up.

Ideally, this will be out each Tuesday, with recaps from the weekend and a look-ahead to the next week’s games. As you might expect, our benevolent rankings are the only true system for measuring each team’s greatness, and I’m looking into ways to get SoBE in the BCS. So far, my plans include bribing whoever runs the BCS computer.

This week, we’ll take the no-frills approach to Week One, which gets underway Saturday afternoon. This week, we’ll learn:

  • Which teams’ fans will jump off a cliff after they lose to bad teams from the Midwest
  • Who will embarrass the conference by playing a competitive game with a I-AA team
  • There’s an important in-conference game this weekend? Wha?
  • What in the name of the beard of Zeus the Wannstache is doing at the top of the inaugural SoBE Poll…of Power!

All that and more after the jump.

The Big East gets things started off properly with all eight teams in action, playing seven games. We’ll get to all those games in the poll section, but first, let’s take a look back at the summer of the league’s discontent:

Week Zero Results

Thanks to the graduation of well-known faces like Pat White and Donald Brown, as well as the fact that a less-than-sexy Cincinnati team became the first team to lose to an ACC team in a BCS game since 1999, conventional wisdom is that the Big East is garbage. True, everyone got worse (read: less-experienced) between January and now, and last year wasn’t exactly a banner season for the league, in terms of having national title-caliber teams (e.g. Cincinnati’s 52-26 drubbing at Oklahoma).

Thus the Big East’s BCS credentials are once again being questioned, as it was after the 2004 season. Judging by the pattern, I believe that means that Pittsburgh, UConn and South Florida will be top-10 teams playing a Thursday-night round-robin two years from now.

If you believe the coaches and the media, no Big East team merits discussion among the top 25 (i.e. the top 21 percent of FBS football). If you believe the bloggers, the Mountain West should not only take the Big East’s BCS bid, but also its lunch money. And if you believe USF coach Jim Leavitt, then you are crazy beans.

Week Zero Poll…of Power! / Week One Schedule

OK, really, with no results, this isn’t a power poll at all. It’s just my preseason BE Blogpoll ballot. Actual fluctuations begin next week.

  • 1. Pittsburgh (9-4, 5-2 last season)

Last time: L, 3-0 vs. Oregon State in the Sun Bowl (Dec. 31)
This week: vs. Youngstown State (0-0); Saturday, 1 p.m. (no TV)

Formerly a perennial I-AA contender under current Ohio State coach Jim Tressel, Youngstown State (which holds the distinction of having the alphabetically last name in college football) hasn’t been to the FCS playoffs in three years, and they were 4-8 last year. Pitt should of course roll here.

Prediction: Pittsburgh 41, Youngstown State 7

  • 2. South Florida (8-5, 2-5 last season)

Last time: W, 41-14 vs. Memphis in the St. Petersburg Bowl (Dec. 20)
This week: vs. Wofford (0-0); Saturday, 7 p.m. (ESPN360.com)

USF won’t be tested until the Sept. 26 showdown with Florida State in Tallahassee. Until then, yawn.

Prediction: USF 44, Wofford 17

  • 3. Rutgers (8-5, 5-2 last season)

Last time: W, 29-23 vs. NC State in the Papajohns.com Bowl (Dec. 29)
This week: vs. Cincinnati (0-0); Monday, 4 p.m. (ESPN)

I’ve said my piece on Rutgers today. Monday, I think RU struggles to score early, the defense contains Cincinnati’s offense and the Scarlet Knights make enough plays to pick up a big early win heading into the post-preseason exhibition schedule.

Prediction: Rutgers 21, Cincinnati 17

  • 4. West Virginia (0-0, 0-0)

Last time: W, 31-30 vs. North Carolina in the Meineke Car Care Bowl (Dec. 27)
This week: vs. Liberty (0-0); Saturday, noon (ESPN360.com)

You might know Liberty for that time in 2005 when they amassed 239 total yards against the Huskies. UConn won that game 59-0 en route to a 5-6 finish. You also might know them for school founder Jerry Falwell, whose crusade against a possibly-homosexual children’s television character showed America the true meaning of the sentence "that is the dumbest thing I’ve heard anyone say."

I feel as though it is likely that West Virginia might score many points Saturday, but I’m not certain that Liberty’s school paper would be able to capitalize on that situation with the proper amount of lame jokes. (We’ll never let go, Joke! We’ll never let go!)

The Flames were 10-2 and won the Big South last year, for what it’s worth. But seriously?

Prediction: West Virginia 49, Liberty 10

  • 5. UConn (8-5, 3-4 last season)

Last time: W, 38-20 vs. Buffalo in the International Bowl (Jan. 3)
This week: at Ohio (0-0); Saturday, 7 p.m. (ESPN360.com)

Yes, note the homerish poll placement.

As will become the usual, the UConn space here will remain largely empty. I’ll have a preview of the Ohio game, and a score prediction, up early Saturday.

  • 6. Cincinnati (11-3, 6-1 last season)

Last time: L, 20-7 vs. Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl (Jan. 1)
This week: at Rutgers (0-0); Monday, 4 p.m. (ESPN)

This is the most interesting of the three possibly competitive Big East games this week; both teams are among the five teams projected to scramble for the BCS spoils, and neither can afford to get into a hole before.

Cincinnati has an immediate chance to show everyone they were not a fluke champion last year; Tony Pike (19 TD passes) and Mardy Gilyard (11 TD receptions) are among 8 starters back on offense.

On the other hand, the Bearcats were fortunate to go 6-0 in games decided by a touchdown or less, and the defense has just one starter back. If I had to pick one of the top 5 teams to drop into the second tier this year, Cincinnati might be it.

Prediction: See above

  • 7. Louisville (5-7, 1-6 last season)

Last time: L, 63-14 at Rutgers (Dec. 4)
This week: vs. Indiana State (0-1); Saturday, 7:30 p.m. (ESPN360.com)

Points for effort: as a way to build his team’s confidence, Louisville scheduled Indiana State for its season opener. How bad is Indiana State? I defer to a Card Chronicle post conveniently entitled "How bad is Indiana State?" (And don’t think I’m not upset over that crack about He Got Game, Mike Rutherford.)

And to top it off, Indiana State kicked off their season a week early with a 26-20 overtime loss to Quincy. Not this guy, but the team in the NAIA Mid-States Football Association. For those of you who are not up on your NAIA, Quincy lost to teams like St. Ambrose University, NAIA semifinalist St. Francis (IN) and their half-brother, St. Francis (IL) last season.

Prediction: Louisville 66, Indiana State 7

  • 8. Syracuse (3-9, 1-6 last season)

Last time: L, 30-10 at Cincinnati (Nov. 29)
This week: vs. Minnesota (0-0); Saturday, noon (ESPN2)

So begins the Doug Marrone era in upstate New York. He and the Orange program have so very far to travel to bring the Orange back to respectability. Like the voyage of the Mayflower, Marrone’s journey will be a long one in which some passengers give birth and others are massacred by wary natives. And like the Syracuse football team, I don’t think the Mayflower passengers could beat Minnesota in a football game either.

Prediction: Minnesota 24, Syracuse 14

And that will wrap it up. Can Saturday come quicker now?