College Football 2013: Big East spring preview
Plenty of schools are set to start their spring practice this afternoon, with the latest being April 3. Spring games usually take place in the latter end of April, but there will be some played in March.
That said, I will be releasing pre-spring power rankings for every major conference, while giving a short explanation for my decision.
Here is a spring preview of the Big East Conference.
1. Louisville Cardinals (11-2, 5-2 Big East in 2012)
Louisville is riding on its high horse ever since it handled No. 3 Florida in the Sugar Bowl – as it should be. That was the most complete game the Cardinals had played all year long, and a lot of credit goes to Charlie Strong, who had his team ready. With a lot of experience back – and what looks to be a much better defense – the Cards should have no problem taking the Big East outright in 2013.
2. Central Florida Knights (10-4, 7-1 C-USA in 2012)
The Knights are poised to be the best newcomer this upcoming season for one reason: QB Blayke Bortles. He’s definitely an under-the-radar playmaker and could be right behind Teddy Bridgewater as the second-best passer in the conference. UCF returns just 11 starters, but the offense should be explosive and the massive defensive front seven should provide matchup problems for opposing offensive lines.
3. Cincinnati Bearcats (10-3, 5-2)
There’s a lot to like about this upcoming Cincinnati squad. For one, QB Brendon is set to return after begin granted a sixth year of eligibility. He really came up big for the Bearcats down the stretch after replacing Munchie Legaux under center, especially in the bowl game against Duke. UC brings back its entire offensive line and should have a strong running game with what could be the tag-team of junior backs Ralph Albernathy and Jameel Poteat.
4. Rutgers Scarlet Knights (9-4, 5-2)
Rutgers really struggled down the stretch last season, losing its final three games of the season. The main cause for this was an overall lack of offense, as the Scarlet Knights scored just 33 points in those final outings. There should be an open quarterback battle this spring between Gary Nova (the returning starter) and Chas Dodd – the defense can’t be relied upon every game.
5. Houston Cougars (5-7, 4-4 C-USA in 2012)
The Cougars should be back to their high-scoring ways this season with nine returning starters on offense, including gunslinger QB David Piland and shifty RB Charles Sims in the backfield. Whether Houston bounces back and earns a bowl bid will depend on how the defense develops this offseason after allowing 36.0 points per game last season (110th in the nation).
6. Connecticut Huskies (5-7, 2-5)
UConn brings back eight offensive starters this year, including Chandler Whitmer. However, I’m not so sure any of this matters – the Huskies were the fourth-worst team at finding the end zone in 2012, scoring just 17.8 points per game. If they can’t find some consistency here, it won’t matter how good the defense is (which has proved to be a solid unit year-in and out).
7. South Florida Bulls (3-9, 1-6)
Skip Holtz is out and Willie Taggart is in. B.J. Daniels is out and _____ is in? Before USF can even think about joining the ranks as one of the top Big East programs again, it needs to find a replacement under center – and fast. We could be looking at an intense four-way battle for this position, but it’s likely that upcoming senior Bobby Eveld will emerge as the best candidate. The Bulls just need a game manager that keeps the ball away from the opposing offense.
8. SMU Mustangs (7-6, 5-3 C-USA in 2012)
SMU’s transition year to the Big East may not be all that great for coach June Jones, who only brings back nine starters in what looks to be a rebuilding phase. The Mustangs do return QB Garrett Gilbert, however, who really turned it on in the latter half of the 2012 season and led his team to a bowl appearance (and win).
9. Temple Owls (4-7, 2-5)
Other than Louisville, Temple brings back the most starting players in the conference (15). Nonetheless, its losses are major – the Owls lose RBs Montel Harris and Matt Brown, along with an extraordinary kicker/punter in Brandon McManus. Tie in a coaching change and an open QB battle, and you have some major issues.
10. Memphis Tigers (4-8, 4-4 C-USA in 2012)
The Memphis football program hadn’t won more than two games since 2008 until Justin Fuente’s arrival last year. He’s got something positive going on in the River City – and plenty of returning experience to work with this fall – but it’s going to take some more time before the Tigers make any major progress in the win column.