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In what was considered the weakest conference out of the elite six in college football just three years ago, the Big East has quietly gained a great deal of respect around the country.

And in 2008, the Big East should be well represented again come January where everyone in the conference outside of Syracuse should finish with a winning record and a berth in a bowl game.

Note: Teams are listed in predicted order of finish.

West Virginia Mountaineers

Offense: It will be tough to replace the likes of RB Steve Slaton and WR Darius Reynaud, but with dual threat Pat White and electrifying RB Noel Devine the Mountaineers should put up nearly 40 points a game and once again be heading back to a BCS bowl.

Defense: With only four starters returning to a unit that ranked seventh best nationally in total defense at 18.1 points per game, there is no question that the defense will determine how far this talented team can go.

Schedule: Home – Villanova, Marshall, Rutgers, Syracuse, Auburn, Cincinnati, South Florida. Away – East Carolina, Colorado, Connecticut, Louisville, Pittsburgh.

Outlook: Based on their schedule, I do not see the Mountaineers losing at home at all this season. However, Auburn, Cincinnati or South Florida, all of whom in my eyes are top 25 teams could walk in Morgantown and easily steal a victory, I just don’t see it happening. The Mountaineers away games will all surely be tough contests again the Buffaloes, Huskies, Cardinals and Panthers. I just see WVU finding a way to earn a victory in all of them except one – Pittsburgh. In what is always a heated rivalry known as the “backyard brawl”, I expect Pittsburgh who is one of my sleeper teams of the year to be fired up and ruin West Virginia’s quest for an undefeated season. I know this wont sit well with the folks in Morgantown considering the Panthers ruined the Mountaineers national championship dreams just last year, but being 11-1 and heading back to a BCS bowl game after losing Slaton, Reynaud and coach Rich Rodriquez, it could have been a lot worse.

South Florida Bulls

Offense: QB Matt Grothe simply does it all for the Bulls both through the air and on the ground where he lead the team in both passing and rushing in 2007. The key however to the Bulls offense in 2008, will be at the RB position where either Benjamin Williams or Mike Ford must step up to take the pressure and pounding on Grothe. This will enable Grothe to be more effective and to throw to the quartet of big athletic receivers who are returning in 2008.

Defense: With both of the Bulls CB’s Michael Jenkins and Trae Williams graduate and in the NFL, the Bulls will surely have some big shoes and experience to fill in the secondary. DE George Selvie who was second in the nation with 14.5 sacks will look to pick up most of the slack, however others must step up if the Bulls hope to take the next step as a program.

Schedule: Home – Tennessee-Martin, Kansas, Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Rutgers, Connecticut. Away – Central Florida, Florida International, North Carolina State, Louisville, Cincinnati, West Virginia.

Outlook: The Bulls will surely score with the top offenses in the nation, but just how successful the Bulls are will be decided by the play of their RB and defense. If these two areas perform well, the Bulls could again be a 10 win team. But expect a more realistic 9-3.

Pittsburgh Panthers

Offense: After breaking the Big East freshman record of 1,328 yards and scoring 14 touchdowns as a true freshman, RB LeSean McCoy will be looked upon to anchor the Panthers offense. McCoy will be just one of the many weapons of offense as WR’s Oderick Turner and T.J. Porter return along with the likes of Derek Kinder who returns from injury and super freshman Jonathan Baldwin.

The only problem for coach Dave Wannstedt will be at QB where Bill Stull returns from injury to compete with Past Bostick for the starting spot.

Defense: All-American LB Scott McKillop who led the nation with nearly 13 tackles per game anchors what is a very solid defensive unit who was top five nationally in 2007. McKillop along with a sound experienced secondary will have to make up for the Panthers front which graduated both of it’s starting pass rushers last year.

Schedule: Home – Bowling Green, Buffalo, Iowa, Rutgers, Louisville, West Virginia. Away – Syracuse, South Florida, Navy, Notre Dame, Cincinnati, Connecticut.

Outlook: After another top 25 recruiting class and with some more experience, expect the Panthers to turn the corner and be one of the sleeper teams of 2008. Just like the Mountaineers, I expect the Panthers to run the table at home, however, I expect them to lose at South Florida, Notre Dame and possibly Cincinnati. The key in 2008, will be the play at the QB position, where either Stull or Bostick must step up. Overall though, I see a 9-3 or 8-4 type of a season capped with a bowl win putting Pittsburgh football will be back on the map.

Cincinnati Bearcats

Offense: After finishing 10-3 in 2007, the Bearcats had high hopes coming into 2008. And with the NCAA’s recent decision to decline QB Ben Mauk’s request for a sixth year of eligibility, those hopes took a severe hit. The Bearcats will now turn to Dustin Grutza to lead the offense which is highlighted by a great WR duo in Dominick Goodman and Marcus Barnett. Grutza should be a more than a suitable replacement for Mauk but all the concerns currently reside on the RB position where there is no defined starter.

Defense: The defense was outstanding last year for the Bearcats last year where they tied for the national lead with 42 takeaways. And with the outstanding CB duo of DeAngelo Smith and Mike Mickens, one can expect the trend to further continue.

Schedule: Home – Eastern Kentucky, Miami Of Ohio, Rutgers, South Florida, Pitts burgh, Syracuse. Away – Oklahoma, Akron, Marshall, Connecticut, West Virginia, Louisville, Hawaii.

Outlook: The Bearcats will once again be solid on both sides of the football with their defense capable of keeping them in every game. But due to a tough schedule of opponents I expect the Bearcats to finish at 8-5.

Louisville Cardinals

Offense: The Cardinals lost a boat load of talent at QB, RB and WR in Brian Brohm and Mario Urrutia to name a few. The good news is though that the Cardinals can plug in an experienced and talented QB in Hunter Cantwell which is a great first building block.

Defense: For a defense that allowed well over 400 yards of total offense in addition to over 30 points a game, there is only one way to go and that is slowly up.

Schedule: Kentucky, Tennessee Tech, Kansas State, Connecticut, Middle Tennessee, South Florida, Cincinnati, West Virginia. Away – Memphis, Syracuse, Pittsburgh, Rutgers.

Outlook: Despite losing a great deal of talent from 2007, the Cardinals should still produce a successful season mainly due to a soft schedule and the majority of their games at home. 9-3 is not out of the question, but 8-4 is more realistic.

Connecticut Huskies

Offense: Overall, the Huskies return 19 overall starters on a team that went 9-4 last year and expectations are high in Storrs, CT in 2008. QB Tyler Lorenzen leads a solid but not flashy offense who flourished off of a very opportunistic defense in 2007. In addition to Lorenzen, the tailback duo of Andre Dixon and Donald Brown will provide a very formidable RB duo but the Huskies must develop a go to target at WR for Lorenzon

Defense: DE Julius Williams who recorded 8.5 sacks last year, highly touted freshman DT Jarrell Miller, and LB Scott Lutrus who was a freshman All-American highlight a unit that returns eight starters.

Schedule: Home – Hofstra, Virginia, Baylor, Cincinnati, West Virginia, Pittsburgh. Away – Temple, Louisville, North Carolina, Rutgers, Syracuse, South Florida.

Outlook: With a great deal of returning players, the experience will surely help the Huskies with a tough schedule down the stretch. But with not many playmakers on offense against tough in conference foes, expect a 7-5 season from Connecticut in 2008.

Rutgers Scarlet Knights

Offense: If RB Ray Rice elected to come back for his senior season, this Rutgers offense would have been talked about as one of the tops in the nation. But with Rice now in the NFL, the Scarlet Knights have a huge void to fill at RB and are looking to the untested likes of Kordell Young and Mason Robinson. Rounding out the offense are the outstanding tandem of WR’s in Kenny Britt and Tiquan Underwood who both went over 1,000 yards receiving last year and QB Mike Teel who should feel Rice’s absence the most.

Defense: Safety Courtney Greene e heads up a small but fast defensive unit that ranked in the top 20 in total defense last season.

Schedule: Home – Fresno State, North Carolina, Morgan State, Connecticut, Syracuse, Army, Louisville. Away – Navy, West Virgina, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, South Florida.

Outlook: Outside of their game at Navy, I do not see the Scarlet Knights winning another game on the road. And with some tough opponents at home in the likes of Fresno State, Connecticut and Louisville, the Scarlet Knights should lose one of those games. Thus, I see a 7-5 season in Piscataway.

Syracuse Orange

Offense: WR Mike Williams highlighted the offense with 60 receptions and 10 touchdowns in 2007, however his status for 2008 is still in limbo due to academic problems. If Williams does not play and with no defined starting RB, the offense will rest squarely on the shoulders of QB Andrew Robinson who showed flashes last year in passing for 13 touchdowns and only 7 interceptions.

Defense: In what should be the strength of the team, the defense returns six starters highlighted by DT Arthur Jones who is one of the best in the country at his position.

Schedule: Home – Akron, Penn State, Northeastern, Pittsburgh, Louisville, Connecticut. Away – Northwestern, West Virginia, South Florida, Rutgers, Notre Dame, Cincinnati.

Outlook: With a tough schedule, no real running game and the possibility of playing without WR Williams could be staring at yet another 2-10 season.

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