2011 NCAA Football Conference Preview & Odds – The Big East
The Big East has always been considered one of the major conferences in college football, but its recent past has not always lived up to this billing. It has not been in the national title picture since Miami was still part of the conference and last year’s champion Connecticut, went into the Fiesta Bowl with an 8-4 record and got hammered by Oklahoma 48-20.
West Virginia is looking to change all this as not only the favorite to win the Big East this season at +175 but as a moderate longshot to win a national title at +2000. The Mountaineers are often seen as a perennial national power, but are coming off disappointing 9-4 record overall and a 5-2 record in the conference that excluded them from the final top 25 rankings for 2010.
West Virginia has good reason to be optimistic about its fortunes this season with eight starters returning on offense including quarterback Geno Smith. Smith had a solid 2010 campaign with a 64.8 completion percentage for 2,567 yards and 23 touchdowns. He will have one of his favorite receivers back in Tavon Austin. He led the team last year with 58 catches for 757 yards and eight touchdowns. Keep an eye on WR Stedman Bailey, who is poised for a breakout season after posting 24 receptions for 317 yards in 2010.
The Mountaineers have some work to do on defense with just four players returning from last year’s squad. DT Bruce Irvin and DT Julian Miller will be back to help anchor the defensive line and CB Keith Tandy brings some experience to the secondary, but there are some major holes to fill all across the linebacking corps.
West Virginia’s biggest challenge on its conference schedule, excluding its annual ‘Backyard Brawl’ with Pitt, could a season-ending trip to Tampa to take on South Florida. The Bulls have been opened as the second favorite to win the conference at +250 but are a huge longshot to win the BSC title at +12500. This team is coming off its third straight 8-5 season as Skip Holtz continues to build consistency throughout the program. IF QB B.J. Daniels can develop some consistency in his game, the Bulls will be able to stand toe-toe with anyone in the Big East. Last season he completed less than 60 percent of his attempts and threw 13 interceptions verse 11 TD’s, but exhibited flashes of greatness especially in the team’s 31-26 win over Clemson in the Meineke Car Care Bowl.
MLB Sam Barrington and CB Quenton Washington join four other starters from a Bull’s defense that was ranked 22nd in the nation in points allowed in 2010. While there are still some major holes to fill on this side of the ball, Holtz’s recruiting efforts since taking over the program should begin paying some dividends this year.
Another perennial Big East power, the Pittsburgh Panthers are the third favorite to win the conference at +325 but a +20000 longshot to win the BCS title. They are also coming off a disappointing 2010 campaign in which they went 8-5 overall and 5-2 in conference play. Former Head Coach Dave Wannstedt’s inability to turn the wealth of talent on this team into wins cost him his job so former Tulsa coach Todd Graham takes over the reins in 2011. Graham will look to install a fast-pace, wide-open style of offense which will better utilize the talents of QB Tino Sunseri.
Graham will also go with a 3-3-5 scheme on a defense that returns eight starters from last year. DE Brandon Lindsey should have a big year upfront and FS Jarred Holley has the potential to be a playmaker in the secondary. The talent level on this team remains high and there could be some tremendous value in its odds to win the Big East if Graham can get his players to quickly adapt to all the changes on both sides of the ball.
Rounding out the odds to win the conference are Cincinnati at +700 and Louisville at +900, followed by Syracuse at +1400, Rutgers at +1800, and Connecticut +2000.
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