Wednesday, September 01, 2010
The Big East is the last old school conference left. No title game. Just 8 teams, all playing each other, and the best conference record wins. There's something wholesome about that.
1. CONNECTICUT HUSKIES
UConn will be returning 8 starters on an offensive unit that was 27th in scoring last year. That includes 4/5 offensive linemen. The Huskies also return 8 defensive starters, including all 4 defensive linemen. Despite a shady secondary, this spells disaster for the rest of the Big East. UConn lost 5 games last year, but never by more than 4 points. They have a nice out-of-conference schedule, and they get to host Cincinnati, Pitt, and West Virginia.
10/29 vs. West Virginia
11/11 vs. Pitt
11/27 vs. Cincinnati
Prediction: 10-2, Big East Champions
2. PITTSBURGH PANTHERS
Pitt had a nice 10-3 season last year, but fell 1 point shy of beating Cincinnati. They're ranked 15th, and the experts think that Dave Wannstedt will claim his first Big East title. But I'm not completely sold. RB Dion Lewis is a beast, rushing for 1,799 yards last season, and there are playmakers on both sides of the ball. But I don't think this team has the character to win the big game. They also have a tough non-conference schedule that might demoralize them before they even get into Big East play. They also have 6 road games. In this day and age, who plays the same number of home and away games?
9/2 @ Utah
9/23 vs. Miami (FL)
10/9 @ Notre Dame
11/11 @ UConn
11/26 vs. West Virginia
12/4 @ Cincinnati
3. CINCINNATI BEARCATS
People are down on Cincinnati, even though they were 12-1 last year. It's true that they lost their QB and their head coach. But Butch Jones will run a similar spread offense for QB Zach Collaros, who excelled when Tony Pike missed 4 starts last year. The defense is a worry, and the offense might not be able to score the 38.6 points per game needed to bail them out. Cincinnati will be a tough opponent, but will ultimately fall just a bit short of winning the Conference.
9/25 vs. Oklahoma
11/13 @ West Virginia
11/27 @ UConn
12/4 vs. Pitt
4. WEST VIRGINIA MOUNTAINEERS
Watch out for WVU. I have them ranked 4th in the Big East here, but the difference between these top 4 teams is very slight. Noel Devine returns for his senior season in Morgantown. While the Mountaineers have to introduce a new QB, rushing is their bread and butter. Thhey led the Big East and were 24th in the country with 186.4 yards per game on the ground. However, they need to punch the ball into the end zone more. They were 67th in scoring offense. Defensively, they were solid, and return 10 starters. That side of the ball should do well enough to keep WVU in almost every game. Playing LSU in Baton Rouge might cost them a win, but after that game, their remaining schedule will seem like gravy. And trips to Storrs and Pittsburgh will be child's play.
9/25 @ LSU
10/29 @ UConn
11/13 vs. Cincinnati
11/26 @ Pitt
The rest of the Conference is listed alphabetically...
New coach Charlie Strong will revitalize the Cardinals and bring them back to national relevancy. He just won't be able to do it overnight. The offense is awful. There's no reliable QB. Who knows what the ground attack will do. The defense has holes. This is a rebuilding project, and don't expect much from them. But they might provide a surprising win to shake up the Conference title race.
RUTGERS SCARLET KNIGHTS
Sophomore Tom Savage is back after a decent freshman season. And his 11 starts make him the most experienced QB in the Conference. There are some serviceable skill players, but a questionable offensive line in front of them. The defense is fast, returns 6 starters, and they get a strong push up front. They won't be easy to beat.
SOUTH FLORIDA BULLS
This is a preview season for USF. They'll contend and compete in Conference play. But next year, they could be extremely dangerous. Sophomore QB BJ Daniels threw for 1,983 yards last year, and ran for 772 more. The defense only returns 3 starters, but there are several promising talents at key positions. The schedule is a bit too rocky, though. Trips to Gainesville, Miami, Morgantown, and Cincinnati will hurt USF's record. But again, watch out for them.
This team is awful. But their schedule is a joke. Back-to-back games against Maine and Colgate. That'd be intimidating for a hockey team, but not for football. The offense is a joke. The defense returns 10 starters, but that unit was 81st in scoring last year, so is it a good thing that they're all back? Thanks to the schedule, there's an outside chance that Cuse makes a bowl game.
Even after losing 2 of 3 to Tampa, there were some overly optimistic sunshine lovers out there who thought the Sox had a realistic shot at a playoff spot. "All they have to do is go 26-6." That was the refrain. My favorite part of that sentence is the "all they have to do" part. As if prolonged stretches of .800+ baseball were common.
The optimist would then go into the schedule, pointing out games with the likes of Baltimore. But it's been the likes of Baltimore that have kept the Red Sox well in check this season. After last night's loss, the Sox are 6-7 against the O's. The Yankees are 10-2 against Baltimore. The Rays are 9-3. The Blue Jays are 12-0.
The Sox' struggled against mediocre and bad teams have been well documented. And I've tried to think of why this might be. But I realized something last night: with a few exceptions, the Red Sox are only slightly better than a .500 team.
The Angels, the Blue Jays, and interleague play have boosted the Sox. Those are the exceptions. The norm is to be average. The Sox have winning records against 5 teams. And three of those are by only a game (4-3 against Kansas City, 3-2 against Minnesota, 4-3 against Seattle). They're .500 against 3 teams (Cleveland, Detroit, Oakland). They have a losing record against 4 teams. Let me reiterate that. Winning record against 5 opponents. Split with 3. Losing record against 4.
The Sox were 9-1 against the Angels, 11-4 against the Blue Jays, and 13-5 against NL competition. Overall, the Red Sox are 74-58 (.561). But take out the games against the afore-mentioned opponents, and they're 41-48 (.461). I had to triple check that number. 45% of the Sox' wins have come from 33% of their games. They've crushed the Angels. They've owned Toronto. And they rolled through the NL. But the norm for this team is actually below average.
This is not a good team. And the struggles against weaker opponents like Baltimore is just normal.
Why are the Sox not good? The short answer is: injuries, mediocre defense, a shabby bullpen, John Lackey's and Josh Beckett's disappointing seasons. It's not rocket science.