This conference is difficult to pick because almost every team has an obvious weak spot and, let's keep it real here, this league is BORING. There are some fun match-ups and gutsy players, but as an overall conference, it's a snooze fest. I won't address here whether or not I think they deserve their automatic bid, or waste any time comparing them to the MWC. No, let's get this over with; like a band-aid, right off!
1. Rutgers - The Scarlet Knights are not this good of a team...but they play a schedule that makes high school ball look competitive. And yes, part of that is a slap in the face of the Big East as a weak conference; the other part is a non-conf. of Army, FIU, 2 FCS squads and a sad, sad Maryland team. Plus, the way the schedule breaks in the conference games means Rutgers could realistically go undefeated in 2009. They get a bye before Pitt and SoFla and catch West Virginia post-BYB. I can see them stumbling early against Cincy, but that very could well be it and with 15 lettermen and 80-O-line starts returning, the Knight's should finish up 6-1 (I don't have enough faith to make the perfect call).
2. Pitt - Man, this would've been a great year to have LeSean McCoy coming back...but with the most starters back in the league, they should be able to recover from his early departure. Wannstedt has been an underachiever here, setting the tone for some disappointing seasons, but this could be the year that changes. They draw Rutgers away after a short week could easily be caught overlooking the Orange a week before Notre Dame, but the QB and O-line will be experienced enough to weather through and keep pressure of the D in big games. The Panthers will most likely lose in Jersey...and, sadly, I see them dropping at least one more.
Now it gets messy, the next three teams could be in an ugly 3-way tie for third.
3. South Florida - I know this is a very dangerous pick. So much of me wants to pick the Bulls lower, but then again, it's hard to go against Grothe and Selvie. Grothe will have to be especially wiley this year, playing behind a rebuilt O-line, but the major skill players are all returning from '08 and should make things a bit easier. Defensively, Selvie heads up a great line that anchors a solid unit with 6 starters back. Still, though, I can't put too much faith in SoFla; they love to drop big games and stub their toes in unexpected places. I'll call for losses on the road at Rutgers and Pitt, and a possible slip against WVU at home after a short week. Not only that, but the Miami game could lay a beating on the Bulls weakening them as they head into a dangerous season ending showdown at UConn.
4. Cincinnati - FUCK. How can I pick the BearCats this high with one returning starter on D? Well, I'm hoping the offense can pick up the slack as the defense settles in early. Last year, it felt like everyone played QB for Cincy, but 09 should see more security behind center with senior signal caller Pike and a more mature RB in Pead. Defensively, uh...you know...they have stuff to figure out, but I trust the staff here to make the necessary adjustments and finish in the top-half of the conference.
5. West Virginia - If everything clicks for the 'Neers, then they actually could compete for the conference title...but that's not going to happen. Devine's the only bright spot on the O, surrounded by an inexperienced O-line and an unproven QB. The receiving corp is in great shape, but we saw in key games last season what happens when WVU has to rely on the pass. That said, don't be surprised if the lack of experience up front (a mere 31 starts) ruins some game planning and keeps Devine off rhythm. Defensively, I'm always a bit leery of a 3-3-5 in a mid-major, but 7 starters back should keep WVU close in tight games. A bye week late could help them in the Back Yard Brawl, and a surprise in NJ could change the complexion of the entire league. But, the middle of the slate looks a bit rough for this squad and they'll drop a game or three, including at Cincy.
6. Louisville - Last year's failure was a surprise and should be remedied - somewhat - in '09. The schedule is brutal, but the Cards are good enough to get back to a bowl game, especially if they clean up the turnovers. While I doubt this program getting back to it's success of Petrino's era anytime soon, they could begin improving with a returning RB and a solid middle line. The defense will finish up middle of the pack statistically, but it could be enough to get L'ville 3 wins in the conference.
7. UConn - The Huskies have lost their skill players, most importantly Donald Brown, but have an impressive 90 starts coming back along the O-line. That will be enough to keep the Huskies competitive with Louisville for the 4th tier of the Big East, but not enough to see the win totals of the last 2 years. I like the Cardinals to ruin UConn's homecoming game and the Huskies to drop the next 3 in a row before a possible season ending upset against SoFla.
8. Syracuse - Not yet.