July 14, 2006

West Virginia, Louisville share Big East spotlight

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Louisville coach Bobby Petrino garnered a lot of attention when he signed a 10-year, $25 million contract extension on Thursday, but he and his team will have to share the spotlight next week.

The Big East media days are being held Monday and Tuesday in Newport, R.I., and Louisville will be sharing the bulk of the attention with defending Big East champ West Virginia. Rivals.com will be providing in-depth coverage, including the latest news on all the teams, quotes from coaches and players and photo galleries.

At last year's event, Louisville was the media darling. The Cardinals were entering their first year in the league and were expected to cruise to the league title. Louisville landed all but one of the first-place votes in the preseason poll. Those title dreams were crushed during a road trip to West Virginia, where the Cardinals lost a 17-0 halftime lead and fell 46-44.

West Virginia and Louisville enter this season as darkhorses in the national title race. The Mountaineers ended last season as one of the nation's hottest teams. WVU won its last seven games, including a 38-35 upset of Georgia in the Sugar Bowl. Because of Hurricane Katrina, the game was played in Atlanta meaning the Bulldogs had a decided home field advantage.

Coach Rich Rodriguez's spread offense, which averaged 38.1 points during the winning streak, returns its top two weapons. Running back Steve Slaton racked up 1,128 yards and 17 touchdowns despite not playing in three of the first four games in 2005. Dual-threat quarterback Pat White racked up three 100-plus yard running games. The super sophomores are strong candidates in the Heisman Trophy race.

A soft non-conference schedule that includes East Carolina, Division I-AA Eastern Washington, Marshall, Maryland and Mississippi State has heated up talk of an undefeated run in Morgantown. The Mountaineers' non-conference foes combined to go 24-32 in 2005.

The Cardinals' high-powered offense, which produced a league-high 43 points per game in 2005, returns its pair of Heisman hopefuls: Junior quarterback Brian Brohm and senior running back Michael Bush.

Brohm passed for 2,883 yards and 19 touchdowns, both league highs, despite tearing an ACL and missing the final two games. He was held out of contact in the spring, but is expected to be ready for the start of fall practice.

Bush racked up 1,143 rushing yards and led the nation in scoring with 24 touchdowns - 23 of which came on the ground.

Many of the league's other offensive stars are gone.

At Rutgers the big question is who will replace quarterback Ryan Hart, whose passing efficiency rating of 148.1 was topped only by Brohm among league QBs. The Scarlet Knights are coming off their first winning season since 1992.

Big East 2005 Standings
Team Conf. Overall
West Virginia 7-0 11-1
Louisville 5-2 9-3
Rutgers 4-3 7-5
South Florida 4-3 6-6
Pitt 4-3 5-6
Connecticut 2-5 5-6
Cincinnati 2-5 4-7
Syracuse 0-7 1-10
South Florida, which tied for third place and reached its first bowl game in school history, must replace the league's leading rusher. Workhorse Andre Hall ran for 1,374 yards.

Two coaches, Pittsburgh's Dave Wannstedt and Syracuse's Greg Robinson, are entering their second year at each of their respective programs after making disappointing debuts.

The Panthers, who lost four of their first five games before rebounding to finish 5-6, will be leaning on veterans to anchor the offense and defense. Senior quarterback Tyler Palko and middle linebacker H.B. Blades, a Rivals.com Preseason All-American, will lead their respective units for the Panthers.

Syracuse, which went 1-10 and 0-7 in league play, lost one of the most productive offensive players in school history. Running back Damien Rhodes ranks fifth in all-purpose yards (3,792) and ninth in rushing yards (2,461).

Big quarterback questions remain at Connecticut, which was forced to use its third-string QB after a series of injuries during a 5-6 campaign.

Cincinnati has put together what may be the league's toughest non-conference schedule after posting a 4-7 mark. The Bearcats travel to national title contender Ohio State and Virginia Tech and also host defending MAC champ Akron.

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