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Three Reasons Every Big East Team Has A Chance To Win The Conference

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The AP Poll doesn't deem any of them worthyNeither does the Coaches Poll.  Hell, even the Bloggers don't have any idea what to do with them.  Find ten previews of their conference and you might get ten different answers on who the best ones are.

"They" are the Big East football teams and "they" all seem to be in the discussion for the conference title, or at least a notable bowl bid.  Except, of course, Louisville and Syracuse. But even for the conference bottom-dwellers are there unknown knowns, known knowns and unknown unknowns.  Who's to say that the middle of the conference won't be so soft that the bottom can't find a way to rise above?  

And so, let's take a look at each team and identify three reasons why every single one of them has a chance to win the Big East this season.  Some reasons will be better than others, but in a year when there is no clear-cut favorite, all of them are worth noting.

Cincinnatti (2008 Record & Conference Finish: 11-3, 1st)

1. Tony Pike - Arguably the best quarterback in the conference.  Coming off a season in which he threw for 2,407 yards with 19 TDs and 11 Ints.  He'll have to improve on his late-season swoon from last year (6 Ints in the final two games) but the senior should have the steadiest hand in the conference this year.

2. Marty Gilyard - With their defense being rebuilt on the fly, the Bearcats are going to need to score a lot of points.  That's where Gilyard comes in.  Last year he led the Big East with 11 receiving touchdowns on 81 catches. He also broke the school record with 1,276 receiving yards. Given the needs of the offense this year, those numbers could all go even higher.

3. Brian Kelly - The reigning Big East Coach of the Year has proven he can turn a team into a winner almost immediately.  He doesn't seem like the kind of coach to rest on his laurels and in a place like Cincinnati where it will be easy to fade back into mediocrity, don't expect him to let them.

Connecticut (8-5, 5th)

1. Cause They've Already Done It. - UConn won a share of the 2007 Big East crown.  I swear.  It happened.  They got a taste...now they want more.  Two straight seasons with 8+ wins and that might just be enough to win the conference again.

2.Running Backs - Yes, UConn lost Ronald Brown Donald Brown, a huge blow.  But they return Andre Dixon, who led the team in rushing in 2007, and Jordan Todman, who averaged over 6 yards per carry last year.  Along with a decent O-line, they'll have a lot of options.

3. Muted Expectations.  The fact that the Huskies still aren't taken seriously on a national level will continue to work in their favor.  A win over Notre Dame late in the season could go a long way towards dispelling that, though it might not be the upset most would paint it as.  As Pittsburgh, West Virginia and South Florida battle expectations, the Huskies will be able to float under the radar all season long.

Louisville ( 5-7, T-7th)

1. The Schedule - There's some unwinnable games in there for sure, road trips to Utah, West Virginia and South Florida stand out.  Other than that, the OOC is soft.  Arkansas State and Indiana State-type soft.  The Cardinals could catch some momentum early and topple a couple Big East softees along the way for a surprising finish.

2. Their Running Game - Last year's Big East rookie of the year Victor Anderson returns to build on his 1,000+ season.  Expect Anderson to build in that success, something that might surprise unprepared teams who sleep on Louisville.

3. The Surprise Factor - Crazier things have happened, right?  What if all the "top tier" teams really are mediocre enough to let the Cardinals sneak up on them?  They get Rutgers and Pittsburgh at home, which helps.  Perhaps the sports Gods will bestow Louisville with some football success to take the focus off of Rick Pitino as well.  Who knows, you might just be hailing the genius of Steve Kragthorpe after all.

Pittsburgh (9-4, T-2nd)

1.The Receiving Corp - Arguably the best in the league.  Sophomore Jonathan Baldwin is the deep-threat, Oderick Turner will be the possession go-to guy, and TE Nate Byham might be the best one in the conference.  Given that the offensive line should be solid, it's up to QB Bill Stull to sort out his issues.  If he does, look out.

2. The Schedule - An extremely favorable schedule sees the Panthers open with Youngstown State, Buffalo, Navy and NC State. They get to host USF and Notre Dame.  The season-closer, hosting Cincy, could end up going a long way towards determining the Big East champ.

3. The Wannstache - He's a Panther with nine lives.  Despite the mediocre finishes of '05, '06 and '07, Wanny managed to stay alive long enough for last season's 9-4 finish.  Has he turned the corner of the program?  If they stay on pace, this could definitely be their year to break through.

Rutgers (8-5, T-2nd)

1. The Schedule - Howard, FIU, Texas Southern, Army.  That's more likely to come up as the list of Final Four teams from the 1937 NIT Tournament than the out-of-conference schedule for a BCS program in 2009.  And yet...here we are.  Rutgers also has the the luxury of hosting Cincy, Pitt, West Virginia and South Florida.  Honestly, if they don't win the Big East this year, they never will.

2. The Offensive Line - All five starters from last year return, led by left tackle Anthony Davis. Some say Ryan Blaszczyk is the best center in the Big East, while the rest of the line fulfill the desired look and size of a hogmolly.  They're going to be formidable.

3. The New York City Factor - If the Knights can make it through October undefeated, get ready for a media blitz unlike anything college football has ever seen in the New York City area.  Schedule-aside, Rutgers will be a major talking point for sports fans in NY and NJ and given their proximity to NYC, they'll be a focal point for the #1 media market in the nation.  All of the attention will only help the program attract fans and make the home games that much more imposing.

South Florida (8-5, 6th)

1. Matt Grothe - The Bulls will live and die by the arm of Matt Grothe.  He's talented enough to be the best player in the league when it's all said and done.  The question will be, can he be a replica of Good Brett Favre (creating via passing, running and scrambling) or will be a replica of Bad Brett Favre (forcing things, tons of interceptions, playing too wild).

2. George Selvie - As a sophomore, he put up 14.5 sacks and 31.5 tackles for loss.  Last season he was limited by an ankle injury and more double-teams.  This season he's set to explode back onto the scene and reinforce himself as the dominant defensive player in the conference.  You will be hearing from him.

3. The Schedule - Another Big East team, another cream puff schedule.  The Bulls start the year with Wofford, Western Kentucky and Charleston Southern.  In Week 4 they finally play an actual team in Florida State.  If they can win that game, consider the Bulls for real again. Finally, they might be able to follow through on all that promise.

Syracuse (3-9, T-7th)

1. Greg Paulus - What if...and this is an enormous what if...Paulus, the Gatorade Player of the Year his senior year in high school, is The Natural?  What if he can somehow put this ragtag group of misfits on his back and rides the wave of this amazing story to all-time glory.  This is the school where Carmelo Anthony won a national title in one season, right?

2. The New Coach Effect - It happens, right?  A team gets a new coach, a new attitude and a fresh start and all of a sudden they go from 3-9 to 9-3.  It's usually a little less extreme then that, but it happens.  If it's possible that Greg Robinson coached Syracuse into losing more games then they should have last season (which I think he did), surely Doug Marrone can coach them into winning a couple they shouldn't, yes?  No?  Is this thing on?

3. The Big East Is Much Worse Than Thought - What if the league isn't just mediocre, but it's downright awful?  To the point where every game is a toss-up and it comes down to sound coaching, conditioning and luck.  Unlikely as anything out there...but hey...ya gotta believe.

West Virginia (9-4, T-2nd)

1. The Running Game - Noel Devine.  With a name like that he's sure to be a star, right?  He's coming off a 1,289 yard season expect more of the same.  His backup Mark Rodgers looked sharp in camp and the 'Neers can always throw a little Jock Sandersat you as well.   QC Jarret Brown is no Pat White, but he's mobile nonetheless.  

2. Lack of Expectations - For the first time in a long time, West Virginia is not the consensus pick to win the Big East.  Sure there have been other trendy picks but the Mountaineers have always been among the smart preseason buys.  This year, they're just another team in the pack.  What does an underrated West Viriginia team without BCS expectations look like?  We're about to find out.

3. The Defense - For so long the offense has defined the West Virginia identity.  This year it might be the other way around.  This is a unit that gave up a mere 17 PPG last year and did it without returning LB Reed Williams, who led the team in tackles two years ago