Big East

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The Big East remains the anti-ACC. Four years after seemingly being robbed of its best teams, the conference is arguably more competitive than it was when Boston College, Miami, and Virginia Tech were still members. That is because their replacements — Cincinnati, Louisville, and South Florida — have all shown the potential to challenge for the conference crown, while West Virginia remains a national power.

All eyes will be on Morgantown this season to see if the Mountaineers can maintain the success built by Rich Rodriguez. His replacement, Bill Stewart, had never been a Division I-A head coach before the Fiesta Bowl thumping of Oklahoma last season. Stewart still has Rodriguez’s schemes and something that Rodriguez only wishes he had in Ann Arbor: the quarterback to operate them. Pat White is the most important player in the conference. When he injured his thumb against Pittsburgh, the West Virginia offense sputtered, setting in motion the dominoes that eventually led to Rodriguez’s exit. With Steve Slaton gone, White will look to get the ball to pint-size RB Noel Devine, one of the nation’s most explosive talents.

If West Virginia is to take the next step, it’ll have to solve the riddle of South Florida, the Big East’s most upwardly mobile program. The Bulls have beaten West Virginia two years running, primarily because they have the athletes on defense, such as lightning quick but undersize defensive end George Selvie, to consistently get into the backfield and disrupt the spread. Rutgers kept coach Greg Schiano, who turned down Michigan, but this could be a transition year after losing Ray Rice to the NFL. It is a critical season for the Knights on and off the field, as fund raising for controversial stadium improvements has not gone as expected.

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