July 26, 2009

Can anyone in the Big East crack the top 20?

At the College Football Roundtable each week, we ask each member of the college football coverage staff for his opinion about a topic in the sport.

TODAY'S QUESTION: We're in the midst of our 1-120 countdown and West Virginia is our highest-ranked Big East team, at No. 19. Do you think a Big East team will finish in the top 20 this season?

At least one team currently in the Big East has finished in the top 20 every season since 2004, although that season Louisville was in Conference USA. The point is there have been some good teams in the Big East, and some team will emerge this season. Picking that team isn't easy, though, because they all have issues. West Virginia and Rutgers are replacing quarterbacks. Connecticut and Pittsburgh are replacing star tailbacks. USF has to rebuild its offensive line. Cincinnati has to rebuild its defense. Still, at least one team probably two or three will jell and have a good season. After all, Cincinnati's 11-3 showing last season was something of a surprise. I wouldn't bet on a Big East team to contend for the national title, but getting one team in the top 20 doesn't seem too unlikely. If it doesn't happen, that would add fuel to the Mountain West Conference's argument to be included as an automatic qualifier for a BCS bowl.

- OLIN BUCHANAN

I think USF will be a top-20 team when the season ends. The Bulls typically feature a quick, aggressive and athletic defense, and that will be the case again this year. End George Selvie is looking to recapture his sophomore form after a middling junior year, and the secondary is top-notch. But USF's best asset is senior quarterback Matt Grothe. No Big East school has a passer who is as seasoned and savvy. He'll throw to a strong receiving corps and have a solid set of running backs led by Mike Ford. The big key: developing a line. Lastly, the schedule is user-friendly.

- TOM DIENHART

The Big East's worst nightmare is a possibility, but I doubt that will happen. There's not a top-15 team in this conference, but there are five candidates who could fit in the 15-25 range. At the league's lowest point, in 2004, the Big East put two teams in the final AP poll No. 21 Boston College and No. 25 Pittsburgh, fresh off a loss to undefeated Utah in the Fiesta Bowl. The Big East is stronger than it was that season, a year after Miami and Virginia Tech left and a year before Cincinnati, USF and Louisville joined the league. The conference champion this season might have two losses in the league, but teams such as Pittsburgh, West Virginia and USF have opportunities for big non-conference wins. Rutgers will have an easy enough schedule to go 5-0 out of conference.

- DAVID FOX

I think each Big East team will have at least three losses, and I don't think given the relative strength of the other leagues that a Big East team is going to finish in the regular-season top 20. Cincinnati, Rutgers, USF and West Virginia are the teams with the best shot at getting to 10 wins, but I think there are too many concerns on each team for them to get to that plateau. I think things could get mighty interesting in December, when a nine-win Big East team is guaranteed a BCS slot and an 11-win Mountain West team could be on the outside looking in.

- MIKE HUGUENIN

I'll guess the Big East gets one team in the final top 20, but it's certainly no guarantee. In fact, it seems like little more than a 50-50 proposition. The Big East doesn't figure to have any elite teams this season. It wouldn't surprise me if the league champion had four losses. Let's say West Virginia wins the Big East and loses its BCS game to finish 9-4. That team likely would end the season with a ranking in the 20s. I wouldn't be surprised if that's exactly what happens. But I also could envision a scenario in which somebody finishes second in the Big East with a 9-3 mark, then wins its second-tier bowl game to end up in the final top 20, ahead of the team that beat it out for the conference championship. I'll be surprised if any Big East team lands in the top 10, but I would guess somebody from that conference finishes somewhere in the high teens.

- STEVE MEGARGEE




 

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