The 2008 Big East in fives

Because we had fun with this last year, and I can't count any higher.

Five Non-Conference Games You Should be Caned for Missing

1. Auburn at West Virginia, Oct. 13
The Mountaineers likely take the field looking to keep their national title hopes alive, while Auburn tries to make amends to their SEC brethren for last year's home loss to South Florida.

2. Cincinnati at Oklahoma, Sept. 6
On paper, the Bearcats have the defense to keep this one close, but having to go to Norman on the first weekend of September is a daunting task for any squad.

3. Kansas at South Florida, Sept. 13
2004 can't believe that anybody could be excited about watching this game.

4. Pittsburgh at Notre Dame, Nov. 1
The Panthers should be no worse than 5-2 when they head to South Bend on the first day of November, making this perhaps the most crucial gamed of what appears to be Dave Wannstedt's make or break season.

5. North Carolina at Rutgers, Sept. 11
An enormous game for the perception of both the Big East and the Rutgers football program.

Five Conference Games You Should be Paddled for Missing

1. South Florida at West Virginia, Dec. 6
The Big East again stacks its schedule, hoping to set up a de facto conference title game for the final weekend of the season.

2. West Virginia at Pittsburgh, Nov. 28
It's safe to say that last year's game has put a stop to any talk of this rivalry's decline.

3. South Florida at Rutgers, Nov. 15
The Scarlet Knights have broken a bevy of hearts in Tampa over the past two seasons, last year pulling out a three-point win after USF had ascended all the way to No. 2 in the BCS rankings.

4. West Virginia at Connecticut, Nov. 1
Last year's co-champs duke it out in a game Husky fans hope will be a bit more competitive than 2007's Pat White highlight reel.

5. Cincinnati at Louisville, Nov. 14
The Cards have been the proud owners of the Keg of Nails for five years now, something Brian Kelly would like to change in this game that should have huge bowl implications for the middle of the conference.

Five Conference Games Not Featuring West Virginia or South Florida You Should be Tickled for Missing

You do it long enough and things get ugly.

1. Rutgers at Cincinnati, Oct. 11
Despite it being played in October, this probably amounts to a Big East title elimination game.

2. Pittsburgh at Connecticut, Dec. 6
Given the preseason ambiguity of both squads, it's hard to tell just how much will be on the line when they meet on the last weekend of the regular season.

3. Louisville at Rutgers, Dec. 4
Louisville heads back to Piscataway for the first time since their national title hopes were crushed in 2006.

4. Cincinnati at Connecticut, Oct. 25
A huge middle of the season game for two teams that figure to spend all of the season very close to each other in the league standings.

5. Pittsburgh at Syracuse, Sept. 27
A loss in the Carrier Dome to start their '08 Big East campaign would be an absolute disaster for the Panthers. Syracuse needed to be mentioned.

The League's Five Best Coaches (No Newbies)

1. Randy Edsall, Connecticut
Edsall took UConn from relative preseason obscurity in 2007 to 9-3 and a share of the league title. This is also the same guy who produced a .500 or better record in each of the program's first three seasons in Division I.

2. Greg Schiano, Rutgers
Joe Paterno's just keeping his seat warm.

3. Brian Kelly, Cincinnati
A 10-3 season capped by a bowl win isn't a bad foundation for the Kelly era at UC.

4. Jim Leavitt, South Florida
There's no doubting his ability to build a program, but USF's performance in 2008 will go a long way in defining Leavitt's reputation as an in-game coach.

5. Steve Kragthorpe, Louisville
He didn't exactly set the league on fire (or make it slightly uncomfortable) in his first season in the Big East, but Kragthorpe's success at Tulsa is still greater than anything Wannstedt or Robinson have achieved at Pitt or Syracuse.

Five Coaches Feeling the Most Heat

1. Dave Wannstedt, Pittsburgh
He's had the recruiting classes, he's had the breakthrough win, if he doesn't put together a solid season in 2008 then it's probably not going to happen.

2. Greg Robinson, Syracuse
It doesn't feel like Robinson's under that much pressure to succeed, only because his firing has already been accepted as inevitable by just about everyone who follows the sport.

3. Steve Kragthorpe, Louisville
It will likely take an epic failure to keep Kragthorpe from getting a third year at Louisville, but an average failure will be enough to vault him to the top of this list in 12 months.

4. Bill Stewart, West Virginia
A first-year head coach inheriting a team that is one year removed from a BCS bowl win, returns its star quarterback, and has a preseason top ten ranking to go with national title aspirations. The guy above you on this list has some advice.

5. Jim Leavitt, South Florida
While the rest of the country is still talking about the 6-0 start that spawned a No. 2 ranking in the BCS, don't think USF fans have forgotten about the three straight losses that followed, and the five touchdown defeat to a Dennis Dixon-less Oregon in the Sun Bowl. Leavitt's job is continents away from being in jeopardy, but if the Bulls don't at least challenge for the Big East crown this season, then some folks in Tampa are going to start to wonder out loud if they ever will.

Top Five Home Field Advantages

1. Mountaineer Field at Milan Puskar Stadium, West Virginia
West Virginia fans have definitely acquired the reputation of being the most hostile in the conference, but this would have been a far more solidified No. 1 had the Mountaineers not blown a shot at the national title last season by falling at home in the regular season finale to an arch-rival they were favored to beat by four touchdowns.

2. Papa John's Cardinal Stadium, Louisville
Was the proud owner of the nation's second longest home winning streak less than a year ago...before it became home to - at the time - the biggest upset (in terms of point spread) in the history of college football.

3. Rentschler Field, Connecticut
Becomes exponentially more intimidating in November and December.

4. Rutgers Stadium, Rutgers
The place where BCS dreams go to die.

5. Carrier Dome, Syracuse
The place where Buffalo's dreams of not finishing with a losing record go to die.

Top Five Quarterbacks

1. Pat White, West Virginia
Being the league's two-time defending Offensive Player of the Year is a good way to get yourself to the top of this list.

2. Matt Grothe, South Florida
YouTube loves his playmaking ability, but Jim Leavitt would love to see a bit more distance between those touchdown and interception numbers.

3. Hunter Cantwell, Louisville
In his first and only season as the starter at U of L, Cantwell is saddled with the tasks of helping restore the reputation of the program, and making his case to be one of the first quarterbacks selected in the '09 NFL Draft.

4. Mike Teel, Rutgers
He's got both the physical tools and receiving corps to put up big numbers in his senior season, but he needs either Kordell Young, Mason Robinson or Jourdan Brooks to step up and make opposing defenses respect the Ray Rice-less running game.

5. Dustin Grutza, Cincinnati
This is a spot where the uber-efficient Tyler Lorenzen probably deserves to be, but I really think that Grutza is going to have some Mauk-esque success in the Brian Kelly offense. Don't forget that he was a two-year starter before 2007, and that he was named Big East Offensive Player of the Week after his only start last year.

Top Five Running Backs

1. LeSean McCoy, Pittsburgh
Opponents had zero respect for the Panther passing game a year ago, and McCoy still rushed for nearly 1,400 yards and 14 touchdowns on his way to being named Big East Rookie of the Year. If Bill Stull can come in and be somewhere in the vicinity of efficient, then an All-American season becomes a very real possibility.

2. Noel Devine, West Virginia
Have you watched the highlight video? You should watch the highlight video.

3. Andre Dixon, Connecticut
Dixon, who accounted for more than 1,000 yards of total offense in 2007, is likely the league's top dual threat running back.

4. Mike Ford, South Florida
Ford wasn't the freshman All-American in 2007 that some were predicting him to be this time last year, but he did manage to find the endzone 13 times.

5. Donald Brown, Connecticut
After a freshman season in which he ran for nearly 900 yards, Brown broke out of a sophomore slump in 2007 with a stellar November.

Top Five Wide Receivers

1. Kenny Britt, Rutgers
The super-gifted Britt should be able to really shine in an offense that doesn't have Ray Rice to hand the ball to 30 times a game.

2. Tiquan Underwood, Rutgers
Underwood began 2007 by breaking the 100-yard barrier in each of Rutgers' first four games, and finished the season with 1,100 receiving yards and a spot on the Big East's first team offense.

3. Derek Kinder, Pittsburgh
After earning first team All-Big East honors in 2006, Kinder missed all of last season with an ACL tear. Pitt needs both he and QB Bill Stull to fully recover from their injuries and quickly get on the same page in order for the Panthers to live up to their preseason hype.

4. Marcus Barnett, Cincinnati
In his first collegiate season, Barnett tied for the league lead with 13 touchdown catches, and ranked in the top ten in both receptions and receiving yards per game.

5. Dominick Goodman, Cincinnati
A breakout junior season saw Goodman haul in 68 passes for 869 yards and eight touchdowns.

Top Five Tight Ends

1. Cedric Hill, South Florida
This is a very weak position in the league, but Hill, a three-year starter, is the closest thing to a proven commodity on any roster.

2. Steve Brouse, Connecticut
Brouse's 286 receiving yards and four touchdown catches a year ago are both the most of any returning tight end in the conference.

3. Nate Byham, Pittsburgh
He has the natural ability, but Byham will have to fight off both injuries and teammates John Pelusi and Dorin Dickerson in order to have a breakout 2008.

4. Kevin Brock, Rutgers
Caught 23 balls for 241 yards and a touchdown as a junior in 2007.

5. Kazeem Ali, Cincinnati
Ali was an All-Big East freshman team member in 2006, but made just two catches a year ago as a sophomore. Still, his name is Kazeem Ali.

Top Five Offensive Linemen

1. Eric Wood, Louisville
The four-year starter at center is on a mission to make sure his senior season doesn't go the way of his junior campaign.

2. Greg Isdaner, West Virginia
The Mountaineer guard was a first team All-Big East honoree a year ago after seeing action on more than 850 snaps and recording five or more knockdowns in eight games.

3. Ryan Stanchek, West Virginia
A four-year starter and All-American candidate at tackle, Stanchek recorded 103 knockdowns while being on the field for over 800 snaps as a junior in 2007.

4. Trevor Canfield, Cincinnati
The senior Bearcat guard has been an All-Big East selection in each of the past two seasons.

5. George Bussey, Louisville
A former walk-on, Bussey will be keeping quarterbacks safe on their blind side for a third year.

Top Five Defensive Linemen

1. George Selvie, South Florida
The 2007 Big East Defensive Player of the Year led the nation and set a conference record with 31.5 tackles for loss, including 14.5 sacks (second highest national total). He was a consensus first team All-American, a finalist for the Bronco Nagurski Award and the Ted Hendricks Award, and the recipient of the Bill Willis Award for the nation's top defensive lineman.

2. Terrill Byrd, Cincinnati
The only active defensive player in the conference to have been named to the All-Big East first team multiple times, Byrd recorded a team-high 17 tackles for loss and eight sacks on his way to being named a second team All-American by the Associated Press in 2007.

3. Arthur Jones, Syracuse
A second team All-Big East performer as a sophomore in 2007, Jones led the Orange and ranked third in the league in tackles for loss with 17.5.

4. Jamaal Westerman, Rutgers
One of the league's premier pass rushers, Westerman comes into his senior season tied for fifth on Rutgers' list of all-time sack leaders. He got to the quarterback eight times in 2007, and ranked eighth in the league in tackles for loss with 14.

5. Greg Romeus, Pittsburgh
He might not have the stats to back up this selection, but the sophomore defensive end's freakish combination of size and athleticism may give him the highest ceiling of any lineman in the conference.

Top Five Linebackers

1. Scott McKillop, Pittsburgh
In his first season as a starter, all McKillop did was lead the nation in tackles per game with 12.58.

2. Tyrone McKenzie, South Florida
McKenzie made quite the first impression during his inaugural season in Tampa, setting the single-season USF record for tackles with 127. He'll slide over to the middle this year.

3. Mortty Ivy, West Virginia
In his first year as a full-time starter, Ivy logged 89 tackles, 11 tackles for loss, six sacks, three forced fumbles, one fumble recovery for a touchdown and one interception for the Fiesta Bowl champions.

4. Scott Lutrus, Connecticut
An unheralded class of 2006 recruit, Lutrus was a first team Freshman All-American in 2007 after starting all 12 games at strong side linebacker and collecting four interceptions and 107 total tackles. Like McKenzie, he'll make the move from outside to middle linebacker in 2008.

5. Reed Williams, West Virginia
Williams did it all for the Mountaineers in 2007, leading the team in tackles and finishing in the top 30 in the country in a whopping eight different statistical categories. He saved arguably his best performance for last, recording nine tackles, two tackles for loss, one sack and forcing a fumble in WVU's Fiesta Bowl victory over Oklahoma.

Top Five Cornerbacks

1. Mike Mickens, Cincinnati
Mickens is the only player in the country to rank in the top 20 nationally in passes defended in each of the past three seasons, and is currently fourth on UC's career interceptions list with ten.

2. DeAngelo Smith, Cincinnati
Smith lead the Big East and tied for the national lead in interceptions with eight a year ago. He and Mickens combined for 14 total picks, good for the top tandem total in Division-1A.

3. Aaron Berry, Pittsburgh
Despite being hampered by injuries for most of the year, Berry responded well to the pressure of being asked to replace Darrelle Revis, and established himself as one of the league's most fearsome cover corners.

4. Darius Butler, Connecticut
One of the top pro prospects in the country at his position, Butler will likely fail to put up major numbers as a senior since opposing teams aren't going to feel particularly inclined to launch the ball in his direction.

5. Devin McCourty, Rutgers
Known more for his prowess on special teams, McCourty and his twin brother Jason will both have more of an opportunity to showcase their cover skills as sophomores.

Top Five Safeties

1. Courtney Greene, Rutgers
Greene, a two-time All-Big East performer, led the Scarlet Knights in tackles a year ago with 101.

2. Nate Allen, South Florida
A preseason candidate for the 2008 Jim Thorpe Award, Allen collected 84 tackles and a quartet of picks in his first season as a full-time starter. He was at his best in the team's landmark win at Auburn, notching an interception, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.

3. Quinton Andrews, West Virginia
A former freshman All-American and All-Big East performer, Andrews is the lone returning starter to a West Virginia secondary that lost seven contributors to graduation. When he brings the right attitude, he's as good as any safety in the league.

4. Carlton Williams, South Florida
With 34 career starts under his belt, Williams is the most experienced member of a deep and talented USF secondary.

5. Robert Vaughn, Connecticut
As a junior in 2007, Vaughn's seven interceptions were good for second best in the league, and tied him for fourth best in the nation.

Top Five Kickers (Cue Rapid Fire)

1. Pat McAfee, West Virginia

2. Tony Ciarivino, Connecticut

3. Conor Lee, Pittsburgh

4. Patrick Shadle, Syracuse

5. Delbert Alvarado, South Florida

Top Five Punters

1. Kevin Huber, Cincinnati

2. Pat McAfee, West Virginia

3. Dave Brytus, Pittsburgh

4. Desi Cullen, Connecticut

5. Rob Long, Syracuse

Top Five Return Men

1. Max Suter, Syracuse

2. Noel Devine West Virginia

3. Aaron Berry, Pittsburgh

4. Marshawn Gilyard, Cincinnati

5. Dominick Goodman, Cincinnati

Top Five Impact Freshmen

1. Jonathan Baldwin, WR, Pittsburgh

2. Chris Jacobson, OG, Pittsburgh

3. Averin Collier, RB, Syracuse

4. Scott Vallone, DT, Rutgers

5. Dexter Heyman, LB, Louisville

Top Five Biggest Shoes to Fill

1. Mason Robinson, Joe Martinek and Jourdan Brooks for Ray Rice (Rutgers)

2. Hunter Cantwell for Brian Brohm (Louisville)

3. Tyrone McKenzie for Ben Moffitt (South Florida)

4. Dustin Grutza for Ben Mauk (Cincinnati)

5. Scott Long for Harry Douglas (Louisville)

Inevitably Off-Base Final Conference Standings Prediction (Special Top Eight)

1. West Virginia (6-1)
2. South Florida (5-2)
3. Cincinnati (4-3)
3. Pittsburgh (4-3)
5. Rutgers (3-4)
5. Louisville (3-4)
5. Connecticut (3-4)
8. Syracuse (0-7)

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