May 18, 2006

Quarterback questions abound in Big East

The Big East might be the least heralded of the BCS conferences, but the eight-team league has quarterback issues to rival its big brothers.

West Virginia's Pat White, Louisville's Brian Brohm and Pittsburgh's Tyler Palko are sure bets at their positions, but the Big East's other five teams spent the spring either clearing up or confusing their QB situations.

In the Big East, though, a little progress in the passing game during the spring can go a long way.

Three teams in the conference Connecticut, South Florida and Syracuse were ranked 104th or worse in the country in pass efficiency, and only one (Louisville at No. 3) was in the national top 30.

The Huskies and Orange, though, hope their passing woes will end with a pair of quarterbacks, Connecticut's D.J. Hernandez and Syracuse's Perry Patterson, taking hold of the position during the spring.

Meanwhile, South Florida and Rutgers will have to make a decision in August after two redshirt freshmen, Matt Grothe and Jabu Lovelace, made life tough for their coaches by impressing in the spring.

Cincinnati (4-7, 2-5)
The most important thing: Success will depend on the O-line.
Todd Cunningham of "Sophomore quarterback Dustin Grutza returns to lead the Bearcats offense this season, but he will be only as good as his offensive line. It was one of the questions going into spring, and it is still a major question. The offensive line did not give Grutza enough time to go through his progressions, and the offense struggled to move the ball in the spring game. Both new centers, Mario Duenas and Jeff Reinstatler, had trouble with the center/quarterback exchange."
Player to watch: Quarterback Dustin Grutza
Cunningham: "If the Bearcats are going to have a successful 2006, they will need to get better play from the quarterback. Grutza showed from time to time last year he has the ability to be a good quarterback, if he can make the right decisions and does not try to force things. He had an up-and-down spring and is being challenged for his starting position by Nick Davila and Tony Pike. If he is going to land the job, he must show he can play consistently. Otherwise it may be quarterback-by-committee next season."
Connecticut (5-6, 2-5)
The most important thing: Huskies end spring drills healthy.
Adam Gorney of "An inordinate amount of injuries plagued Connecticut last season as the Huskies lost key players at many positions and were forced to start a true freshman at quarterback after Matt Bonislawski and D.J. Hernandez both went down. The team came out of spring practice healthy, except for the loss of emerging wide receiver Ellis Gaulden to another ACL injury. Running back Terry Caulley's knee is holding up and competition abounds at many positions."
Player to watch: Quarterback D.J. Hernandez
Gorney: "The quarterback position is always in the spotlight, but this season it will be especially bright on Hernandez, who won the job during spring practice. The redshirt sophomore does not have much experience, and his wide receivers were average during the spring. A potent running attack plus Hernandez's ability to make plays will be important for the Huskies to move the ball."
Louisville (9-3, 5-2)
The most important thing: Offense should stay in high gear.
Howie Lindsey of "After the first hour of spring practice, it was clear Louisville is loaded with offensive talent. Running back Michael Bush is a 250-pound touchdown machine (24 last season) and the talent behind him is NFL-caliber, starting with senior Kolby Smith and Illinois transfer fullback Brock Bolen. Quarterback Brian Brohm was Big East Offensive Player of the Year last season before missing the last two games with a knee injury. Brohm showed in spring he'll be ready for the fall. With receiving talent like Mario Urrutia, Notre Dame transfer Chris Vaughn and deep threat Harry Douglas, 3,000 yards passing is a realistic goal."
Player to watch: Wide receiver Mario Urrutia
Lindsey: "The emergence of Urrutia as a top-notch receiving threat is one of the biggest stories of spring. Last year as a redshirt freshman, Urrutia was third on the team with 37 catches behind departed seniors Joshua Tinch and Montrell Jones. Urrutia proved this spring he will be Brohm's top option down the field after the pair connected on seven touchdowns last season."
Pittsburgh (5-6, 4-3)
The most important thing: O-line will need to hold up.
Chris Peak of "Incoming junior college transfer Jeff Otah will have to be ready to contribute when the Panthers open the regular season against Virginia on Sept. 2. True sophomore John Bachman held down the left tackle spot in spring ball, but at 6-foot-4, 260 pounds, he's not quite big enough to play the position on a regular basis. The offensive line needs all the help it can get. The offense can take a little longer to get in the groove during the spring, but the Panthers will need every inch of Otah's 6-6, 340-pound frame if they want to have effective protection this season."
Player to watch: Linebacker Clint Session
Peak: "After spending a few years dealing with injuries and inconsistency, Session appears to be ready to be the player many thought he could be. Voted the coaching staff's most improved defensive player in spring camp, Session was fast, aggressive and, above all, smart in his play on the field. Session also showed signs of leadership in spring ball, and pairing him with fellow senior H.B. Blades should give Pitt the Big East's premier linebacker corps in 2006."
Rutgers (7-5, 4-3)
The most important thing: Search to replace QB Ryan Hart continues.
John Otterstedt of "Upon the departure of record-setting quarterback Ryan Hart, Rutgers entered the offseason hoping to find a starter for the fall. Pushing redshirt sophomore Mike Teel during the spring was redshirt freshman Jabu Lovelace. Teel is a pro-style quarterback whose accuracy is in question after last season, while Lovelace is a dual-threat quarterback whose athleticism excites the Rutgers fan base. However, he has never taken a snap in a game and was never tested against top competition in high school. After the spring practice session, the situation still hasn't cleared up. Both athletes looked solid in spring workouts, though neither stood out in the rain-soaked spring game. The surprise of the spring, though, was that Lovelace has a much stronger arm than anticipated."
Player to watch: Quarterback Mike Teel
Otterstedt: The first choice to replace Hart is Teel, who started three games in 2005 with little success. In his starts, Teel completed 47.9 percent of his passes with six interceptions and two touchdowns. In high school, Teel led national power Don Bosco Prep in Oakland (N.J.) to back-to-back state titles and 24 consecutive wins."
South Florida (6-6, 4-3)
The most important thing: Starting QB yet to emerge.
Dave Glaser of "Spring opened with the somewhat surprising announcement that sophomore Carlton Hill would start at quarterback in front of incumbent Pat Julmiste. But with Hill missing considerable practice time while he tried to get his academics in order, the real emergence looks to have come from Matt Grothe. The redshirt freshman proved he belonged in the mix with a solid spring and may have ended workouts in a tie with the senior Julmiste. Instead of clearing up a murky situation, the spring only proved to further confuse the depth chart. The good news? There are talented options to choose from that haven't existed over the past three seasons."
Player to watch: Defensive back Jerome Murphy
Glaser: "Although it may be tough for the redshirt freshman from New Jersey to break into an experienced starting lineup in the fall, Murphy had the most productive spring of any Bull and drew consistent praise from coach Jim Leavitt. Able to play either corner or safety, Murphy was the playmaker of the spring with interceptions in each of the final six workouts, including two in the spring game. He made his case for playing time at nickel back and adds another option to an already capable South Florida secondary."
Syracuse (1-10, 0-7)
The most important thing: Perry Patterson's development will help offense escape cellar.
Jon Deakins of "After finishing the 2005 season ranked No. 115 nationally in total offense, Syracuse needed to see some sign of life from the offense this spring in order to truly buy into the rebuilding era under Greg Robinson. What the Orange faithful witnessed was a rebirth of the passing game due to a much improved Perry Patterson. Despite struggling this past season, the senior quarterback seems to have the new West Coast scheme down. The coaching staff did all they could to help Patterson out, including revamping a once-dreadful receiving corps into the strength of the offense."
Player to watch: Wide receiver Taj Smith
Deakins: "The 6-1, 184-pound Smith, a junior college transfer from Bakersfield (Calif.), made an immediate impact on the receiving corps with his work ethic. He's not the most polished wideout on the team, but his 4.4-second speed in the 40-yard dash will allow Syracuse to stretch the field, something the Orange struggled with in '05."
West Virginia (11-1, 7-0)
The most important thing: Promising depth develops at QB spot.
Vernon Bailey of "West Virginia's coaching staff learned the Mountaineers have viable backups to freshman All-America quarterback Pat White. Redshirt freshmen Jarrett Brown and Nate Sowers both displayed flashes of excellence with their passing and running. Brown has the team's strongest arm, and at 6-foot-4 he brings more size to the position. Sowers is one of the team's fastest players. His command of the offense and athleticism make him a dangerous weapon. Brown and Sowers will fight for the second spot after fellow freshman T.J. Mitchell announced he will transfer."
Player to watch: Safety Quinton Andrews
Bailey: "It's fitting Andrews shared the No. 4 with former Mountaineer Jahmile Addae last season as a redshirt. Andrews is a big hitter in the mold of Addae, a two-time All-Big East pick and a player on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' roster. Andrews, at 5-11, 205 pounds, is quicker and more athletic than Addae, but he brings the same mentality to the safety position. He simply punishes anyone who crosses the middle. Now wearing his old high school No. 8, Andrews is battling senior Abraham Jones for the starting position at free safety and could easily develop into one of the team's defensive stars sooner rather than later."

What We Learned from Spring Practice Series
Big Ten: Growing pains for Big Ten, Notre Dame Big 12: Rest of the conference now chasing Texas
Big East: Several teams facing QB questions ACC: Looking to rebuild in the trenches
Pac-10: Plenty of backfield talent left in Pac-10 SEC: New faces all around the SEC

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