With Matt Cavanaugh gone and Frank Cignetti in as the new offensive coordinator, will the Panthers be even more offensively challenged? Even with the loss of LeSean McCoy to the NFL and rather inconsistent play from their quarterbacks, the Panthers have a solid offensive line to build around. Four of five starters return from last year's squad including guard John Malecki who has made great strides last year after switching over from defense. As a receiving corp, Cignetti has the talented and speedy Jonathan Baldwin, who will be a superstar in the Big East. Also, tight end Nate Byham will give the quarterback someone to throw to over the middle, and can also stretch the defense. The question marks for Pitt come at quarterback and running back. Even though Bill Stull is the "returning" starter, he is not the starter just yet. Stull was very inconsistent last year and really lacks the arm strength for a D-1 quarterback. But behind him, there are players with questionmarks also. Pat Bostick, who came in as a 5-star recruit, lacks mobility and arm strength, and youngster Tino Sunseri is very green and a bit undersized. But what I like about Sunseri is how he can manage a game. At running back there will be 5 players fighting for carries in the backfield. Redshirt sophomore Shariff Harris, redshirt junior Kevin Collier, redshirt freshman Chris Burns, and true freshman Dion Lewis all are going to have a crack at LeSean McCoy's old job. If Pitt can solidify these two positions, they can make a run at the Big East crown.
Will the real Matt Grothe please step forward? Matt Grothe can be Dr. Jeckle and Mr. Hyde at the same time for South Florida fans. In one play he can make something exciting happen for his team, and in the next he can make a stupid boneheaded play. Those inconsistencies are expected from freshmen and sophomores, but Grothe is entering his senior year this fall. It is time for him to grow into the quarterback he showed flashes of being early in his career. In his first three years as the Bulls signal caller, Grothe has increase his touchdown production from 15 to 18 but he has thrown 14 interceptions in each of those years. Statisicly if you look deeper at Grothe's stats, you will see that he feasts on the lesser teams and tends to implode against the tougher opponents. In games against Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Connecticut, Rutgers, and West Virginia, Grothe threw for a combined 2 touchdown passes and 10 interceptions. The Rutgers game was the only time he topped the 200 yard passing plateau and had a respectible completion percentage. The Bulls have a lot of offensive talent coming back, mainly with running backs Mike Ford and Jamar Taylor as well as 3 exciting, play making receivers. It is time for head coach Jim Leavitt to take some of the offensive burden off of Grothe. Let him settle down and not try to make ALL the plays for his team.
Can Cincinnati continue their winning ways? Quick question...what Big East team has the most wins over the past two seasons? The answer is the Cincinnati Bearcats with 21. Brian Kelly has quickly built a winning program over his first two seasons as head coach and their defense was a key factor in many of their wins. So why after their first Big East title and BCS Bowl bid did Kelly fire defensive coordnator Joe Tresey? Many think it is because Kelly wants to move to the 3-4 defense, and he wanted to get his hands on Bobby Diacon as the new defensive coordinator. Not only will the switch to the 3-4 defense be a change for the Bearcats, but the loss of quite a few big names on that side of the ball; could make their chances to repeat as Big East Champions a tough task. Realistically speaking it is going to be tough for the Bearcats to repeat, but a bowl bid is cleary in the grasp. If their offense led by Tony Pike and Mardy Gilyard can pick up the slack for the defense in the early part of the season, the Bearcats will be a tough team to play as their defense grows into the new system.
How long is Steve Kragthorpe's leash? When Kragthrope took over for Bobby Petrino, Louisville was the king of the Big East coming off a 12-1 season and a Orange Bowl victory. Since then, the Cardinals have amassed 11 wins in two seasons, only 4 of those coming in Big East play. Unfortunately for Louisville fans, the 2009 season does not look much better. The heir apparent to the QB throne, Matt Simms, has transferred; leaving Tyler Wolfe as the most experienced QB on the staff throwing a total of 4 collegian passes. To add to the pain, defensive coordinator Ron English left, his successor, Bill Miller left, and Jeff Brohm decided to leave. If Louisville is not careful, Syracuse could pass them. If that's the case, there is no doubt that this will be Kragthorpe's last season as coach. However, with the low expectations, a 6 or 7 win season could save his job for a few more years. But is that realistically possible with a defense which gave up the 2nd most yards in the Big East, and an offensive with not much firepower returning? I think not; Kragthorpe will be lucky to last the season.
How do you replace someone who accounted for 10,400 yards of offense and 103 touchdowns? The quick and simple answer is...you don't. Pat White left West Virginia last year as one of the most decorated players in school history, and now has left the Mountaineers with a huge void in their offense. Senior Jarrett Brown is going to fill some of that void, however, with a different style than White. Head Coach Bill Stewart is going to make his mark on the team by switching the offensive scheme to put the ball in the air more often. This could be interesting for Mountaineer fans who have been accustom to the spread offense. But before the excitement gets too high, there are some questions about the offensive line that need addressed. Four linemen graduated and moved on leaving a lot of uncertainty on the offensive line. Brown better have his running shoes on early, because there are going to be some growing pains for this group. It'll be interesting to see how this new scheme works, and how Brown adapts to being the main guy in Morgantown. He has done well filling in when White was hurt, but not the team is on his shoulders and will only go as far as his arm will take them, which some thing could be a Big East title.
Big East Spring Game Dates Cincinnati (April 25) Connecticut (April 19) Louisville (April 17) Pittsburgh (April 11) Rutgers (April 18) Syracuse (April 18) South Florida (April 11) West Virginia (April 18)