Is it possible for a conference to go 4-2 in bowl season and actually lose respect? Some Big East fans may feel that way after a 2009 bowl season where the conference’s marquee team – Cincinnati – got blown off the field during the Sugar Bowl while a few of the league’s relative disappointments – Rutgers and USF – earned decisive victories over less-than-impressive competition. Throw in a few very high profile coaching changes at Cincy and USF and there’s a good chance the Big East will be thoroughly ignored in the preseason BCS talk. (Check out this very early Top 25, where the Big East barely cracks the Top 15.)
The good news? As Big Ten fans will tell you, all that talk about mediocrity and so-called “down years” doesn’t mean squat until the games are played. The Bearcats return a talented core that wants to prove their coach wasn’t the reason they won all those games in 2008 and 2009. Rutgers has a one-man wrecking crew in Mohamed Sanu. West Virginia and Pitt return two of the most exciting running backs in the country in Noel Devine and Dion Lewis (their defenses aren’t too shabby either). And a dangerous UConn team certainly has it in mind to shock the world with a week one victory at the Big House in Ann Arbor.
How does this impact your fantasy squad in 2010? Who are the potential sleepers in the Big East? Are the Dave Wannstedt haters gone for good, or are they just hibernating until next year’s embarrassing-loss-that-shouldn’t-have-been? (You know it’s coming, Pitt fans).
2009 Record: 12-1 (7-0 Big East)
Returning Starters: 7 offense / 3 o-line, 5 defense
Who They Lose
Cincinnati suffers big losses on offense, with senior QB and fantasy stud Tony Pike (2520 Pass Yds, 25 TD, 6 INT) departing for the NFL along with top target WR Mardy Gilyard (87 Rec, 1191 Yds, 11 TD). First Team All-Conference C Chris Jurek also moves on, along with second-teamer LT Jeff Linkenbach.
Fun fact: Cincinnati’s defense allowed 374 total yards per game, which was good for worst in the Big East. Does this have to do with the fact that the offense was so efficient? Perhaps …but this is a unit that will still need to rebuild around a new coaching staff and six new starters in 2010. The biggest losses come at the LB and DE positions. LBs Andre Revels and Curtis Young led the team in tackles and tackles-for-loss, respectively, while DE Alex Daniels finished his senior season with 8.5 sacks and DE Ricardo Mathews was a Second Team All-Conference selection. First Team All-Conference S Aaron Webster (4 INT) will also be missed in a secondary that will hopefully see better days.
Cincinnati put up some sick fantasy stats in 2009. Think the losses of Pike and Gilyard will change this? Don’t be so sure … Junior QB-in-waiting Zach Collaros looked mighty dangerous standing in for Pike this year, finishing with 1400 yards passing and nearly 350 yards rushing despite seeing significant action in only five games. Look for increased production from senior TE Ben Guidugli (27 Rec, 364 Yds, 3 TD), who is a matchup nightmare for opposing linebackers. Throw in a number of solid returners, including junior RB Isaiah Pead (806 Rush Yds, 9 TD and 20 Rec, 200 Rec Yds, 2 TD) and senior WR Armon Binns (61 Rec, 888 Yds, 11 TD), and this offense may continue to tear through its schedule on the way to a third straight Big East title and BCS appearance.
Of course, they have to find a way to stop the other team from scoring as well, which was a problem at times this year. Over their past five games, Cincinati yielded the following point totals: 45, 21, 36, 44 and 51. In a traditional scoring format, that means you would have been stuck with negative points in three of the last four regular season games (not counting the impact of INTs, sacks, etc.) had you started the Cincinnati D. Not good.
The Revolving Door
Perhaps the league’s most high-profile coaching change (before the Pete Carroll and Lane Kiffin fun) could also turn out to be its best (for Cincinnati fans, anyhow). Butch Jones should have no problem transitioning from the high-powered spread offense he ran at Central Michigan to the high-powered spread offense Cincinnati has been using to demolish its competition the past two years. Jones could make Bearcats fans forget about Brian Kelly very quickly.
2010 Fantasy Outlook: Monstrous
Despite their losses on offense, it’s hard to count out a Bearcats team that returns so much talent and depth from a 12-1 team. The transition from Pike to Collaros should be smooth and Binns seems primed to step into Gilyard’s shoes as top producer at WR. Woods, Guidugli and Pead could also help fill the void. All of the above should be considered mid- to high-round draft picks in any Big East fantasy league. The defense might even be worth a sleeper pick in deep leagues if they make a few strides in the offseason. Bottom line: Look for the Bearcats to be another fantasy stat-stuffing gold mine in 2010.
2009 Record: 8-5 (3-4 Big East)
Returning Starters: 7 offense / 4 o-line, 8 defense
Who They Lose
Second Team All-Conference RB Andre Dixon (1093 Rush Yds, 14 TD), one of two UConn RBs to rush for 1,000 yards in 2009, is a big loss in the backfield. WR Marcus Easley (48 Rec, 893 Yds, 8 TD), who accounted for a full 20 percent of the passing offense, will also be difficult to replace. WR Brad Kanuch (27 Rec, 325 Yds, 1 TD) is the other offensive graduate in 2009.
The defensive loses two productive seniors with the departure of First Team All-Conference DL Lindsey Witten (14 tackles for loss), Second Team CB Robert McClain (4 INT) and CB Robert Vaughn (5 INT). The loss of McClain in particular does not bode well for a team the struggled defending the pass all year, ranking last in the Big East in yards allowed per game.
Senior RB Jordan Todman (1188 Rush Yds, 14 TD) will be asked to shoulder a heavy load for a Huskies team that continues to show it can compete at a high level year-in and year-out. Senior QB Zach Frazer passed for 1,461 yards and 10 TD (9 INT) in only eight games and should see a marked improvement in his full-season stats as long as he stays healthy in 2010. Sophomore TE Ryan Griffin (23 Rec, 272 Yds) should have an increased role in the offense and may be an ideal late round sleeper pick. The WR position is a crapshoot, with Kashif Moore,I siah Moore and Michael Smith auditioning for starting roles.
Also look out for senior All-Conference First Team LB Lawrence Wilson, who led the league with 140 tackles in 2009.
One to Watch
Keep an eye on sophomore WR Dwayne Difton. The highly touted recruit out of St. Thomas Aquinas (FL) caught only eight passes in 2009, but the open competition at the WR position presents a perfect opportunity for him to showcase his skills. After all, someone has to catch Frazer’s passes.
2010 Fantasy Outlook: Moderate
Avoid the WR position for fantasy purposes until someone establishes himself as a go-to receiver. Todman should produce good numbers behind an O-Line that returns four starters from 2009. Frazer could provide a reliable presence at QB if he brings his INT numbers down a bit. The Huskies need a bit more consistency on the defensive side of the ball, but they do return eight starters who will have a year’s experience under their belts.
2009 Record: 4-8 (1-6 Big East)
Returning Starters: 8 offense / 4 o-line, 4 defense
Who They Lose
WR Scott Long (53 Rec, 727 Yds, 2 TD) is the biggest loss for an offense that finished dead last in Big East scoring in 2009, averaging an anemic 18.1 ppg. Louisville also loses seven senior starters on defense, including its top four tacklers in LBs Jon Dempsey and Chris Campa, CB Chaz Thompson and S Richard Raglin. Those will be big holes to fill for a defense that wasn’t half bad against the pass, allowing only 206 yards per game (third in the Big East).
Junior RB Victor Anderson (473 Rush Yds, 5 TD in seven games), whose 2009 season was cut short with a shoulder injury, is the biggest name in what was an otherwise pedestrian offense. Senior QB Adam Froman, who inherited the starting role midway through the 2009 season, could provide a spark if Louisville can establish a ground game. Senior Cameron Graham (27 Rec, 323 Yds, 2 TD) is one of the league’s more productive tight ends. Senior WR Doug Beaumont, meanwhile, is a big question mark. He had only 38 receptions for 465 yards but has the potential to put up big numbers if he returns to 2008 form, when he had 62 receptions for 750 yards. (Random fact that only Louisville fans know: Despite having 100 career receptions, Beaumont has ZERO career touchdowns. How does that happen?)
Strong coaching change
The Big East coaching carousel continues at Louisville with the departure of Steve Kragthorpe, who took a program that was 81-29 in nine seasons (1998-2006) and guided it into the Big East cellar while compiling a 15-21 record. The Cardinals finished 2009 at or near the bottom of the league in several offensive and defensive categories.
Rookie head coach Charlie Strong has an impressive resume (d-coordinator for the Florida Gators from 2003-09) – as does incoming offensive coordinator Mike Sanford (43.5 points per game as o-coordinator for Utah in 2004) – but they will likely need a few seasons before things can be turned around.
2010 Fantasy Outlook: Weak to quite weak
Louisville could have a bright future if Strong can lead them back to their pre-Kragthorpe glory days, but fantasy owners will be wise to wait a year or two before stocking their rosters with Cardinals. Avoid spending early round drafts choices on anyone but Anderson, who should put up solid numbers. Graham will put up good numbers for a TE and could be a late round steal, especially if Anderson’s legs open up the passing game for Froman and company.
2009 Record: 10-3 (5-2 Big East)
Returning Starters: 5 offense / 2 o-line, 6 defense
Who They Lose
Pitt waves goodbye to six all-conference first teamers – three on each side of the ball – after a bittersweet 10-3 campaign capped by a come-from-behind bowl victory against UNC.
On offense, First Team All-Conference selections QB Bill Stull (2633 Pass Yds, 21 TD, 8 INT), TE Dorin Dickerson (49 Rec, 529 Yds, 10 TD) and OG John Malecki graduate, as does starting WR Oderick Turner (21 Rec, 227 Yds, 1 TD). Two more starting O-Linemen, OG Joe Thomas and C Robb Houser, also depart.
The defense graduates the following First Teamers: DL Mick Williams (17 tackles for loss, 5 sacks), LB Adam Gunn (77 tackles, 5 sacks) and CB Aaron Berry. They also lose Second Teamer DL Gus Mustakus (9 tackles for loss).
How about RB Dion Lewis? The freshman churned out 1799 Rush Yds, 17 TD and 25 Rec for 189 Yds and a TD en route to breaking the Big East’s freshman rushing record, being named to the AP’s All-American Second Team, and earning the title National Freshman of the Year by the Sporting News. Pitt will need similar numbers from him if they’re going to compete for a Big East title, but it will be interesting to see how he runs with three new offensive linemen and a new QB in sophomore Tino Sunseri.
Other key returnees include junior First Team All-Conference WR Jonathan Baldwin (57 Rec, 1111 Yds, 8 TD) and sophomore RB Ray Graham (349 Yds, 4 TD).
Pitt’s defense, which ranked second in the Big East in scoring (19.8 points per game) and yards allowed, gets a big boost with the return of unanimous First Team selection LB Greg Romeus (11.5 tackles for loss, 8 sacks, 3 forced fumbles). He’ll need another big year to make up for losing several big contributors to graduation.
Heyyyyy...Must be the Mustache
It’s always interesting to watch the “Fire Dave Wannstedt” crowd, which was quieted last year after a big bowl victory. Can he maintain the winning trend and keep the boo-birds at bay despite losing a number of key all-conference stars?
2010 Fantasy Outlook: The next McCoy?
Beware the sophomore slump for RB Dion Lewis, who may face eight-in-the-box defensive schemes until QB Sunseri and company can establish a passing attack. On the other hand, the lack of a passing attack could lead Pitt to pursue Wildcat-heavy offensive strategies as they did with LeSean McCoy in 2008. So, yeah, go ahead and draft Lewis if you can.
WR Baldwin is the only other well-established offensive star on this team, but his value relies heavily on Sunseri’s play. Be sure to follow spring practices to gauge his progress along with the progress of the rest of a largely untested WR corps.
Pitt’s D lost a ton of starters in 2009, but Wannstedt always seems to find a way to patch together respectable numbers. Fantasy owners could definitely do worse than relying on a defense led by a linebacker who should be on the short list for the Jack Lambert Award (best linebacker in the nation) in 2010.
2009 Record: 9-4 (3-4 Big East)
Returning Starters: 6 offense / 2 o-line, 5 defense
Who They Lose
OT Anthony Davis’s decision to leave school early for the NFL Draft deals a major blow to the Scarlet Knights’ O-Line, which also loses the other starting OT in Kevin Haslam as well as C Ryan Blaszczyk. That also isn’t good news for a team that relied heavily on the Wildcat late in the season and lacks depth at WR. Speaking of wide receivers, Rutgers loses a big one with the graduation of WR Tim Brown (55 Rec, 1150 Yds, 9 TD), who accounted for almost half of the team’s receiving yards (returning WR/RB/Jack-of-all-positions Mohamed Sanu accounted for the bulk of the rest).
Rutgers also loses a number of starters from what was the Big East’s stingiest defense, allowing only 17.9 points per game in 2009. All-Conference CB Devin McCourty (80 tackles, 1 INT) is gone, as are leading tackler LB Damaso Munoz (81 tackles) and DE George Johnson (13.5 tackles for loss).
Based on the level of his involvement in the offense during the final three games of the season, during which he averaged 17 touches a game, WR/RB Mohamed Sanu (51 Rec, 639 Yds, 346 Rush Yds, 8 total TD) will clearly be the focus of the offense. If Sanu continues to star during spring practice, he shouldn’t last past the second round in Big East-only leagues.
Of course, Sanu’s productivity will be somewhat correlated with the progress of another true sophomore – QB Tom Savage (2211 Pass Yds, 14 TD, 7 INT). Senior RB Joe Martinek’s overall numbers – 967 Yds, 9 TD – were respectable, yet he may see competition from RB De’Antwan Williams (235 Rush Yds, 1 TD) or a host of other RBs who redshirted in 2009.
Senior DE Jonathan Freeny (9.5 sacks) will lead a Rutgers defense that will need major contributions from some combination of young, talented sophomore CBs on the roster (pick two from Darrell Givens, Logan Ryan, Duron Harmon and Abdul Smith).
No Sophomore Slump
Anyone notice a sophomore trend for the Scarlet Knights? With half of its starting lineup departing at the 2009 season’s end, Rutgers will need its 2010 sophomore class to bring their A-games to New Brunswick beginning with spring practices. Members of that class include Savage and Sanu, who have already earned starting roles, as well as RB Williams, CBs Givens, Ryan and Harmon, S Smith, DTs Antwan Lowery and Isaac Holmes, and DE Andre Civil. They will be the key to whether or not Rutgers regains a foothold as a Big East contender or continues running with the middle of the pack.
2010 Fantasy Outlook: Sanuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu.
If he’s available, draft him. Barring a major sophomore slump, he looks to get at least 15-20 touches a game at the WR and RB positions. Savage should improve with a year under his belt and Martinek could improve at the RB position if he’s forced to spend his spring practices fending off competition for his starting role. It’s a make or break year for the Scarlet Knights to prove whether or not they belong amongst the Big East’s elite.
2009 Record: 8-5 (3-4 Big East)
Returning Starters: 9 offense / 5 o-line, 5 defense
Who They Lose
The Bulls fall victim to a combination of graduating seniors and early NFL draft declarations while losing QB Matt Grothe, WR Carlton Mitchell and stud DEs George Selvie and Jason Paul-Pierre. Mitchell leaves the school as its all-time leading receiver with 1,557 career yards, including 40 receptions for 706 yards and 4 TD in 2009. RB Moise Plancher (581 Rush Yds, 5 TD) may or may not return as a sixth-year senior depending on the success of a redshirt application.
Aside from Selvie (6 forced fumbles and 9.5 TFL) and Paul-Pierre (6.5 sacks and 16.5 TFL), USF also loses its four leading tacklers in LBs Kion Wilson (105 tackles) and Chris Robinson (55 tackles), S Nate Allen (85 tackles, 4 INT) and CB Jerome Murphy (77 tackles, 4 INT).
The offense lives and dies with B.J. Daniels, the dual-threat QB who had a typical up-and-down freshman campaign when Grothe went down for the season in Week Three. He led the team in passing (1983 Yds, 14 TD, 9 INT) and rushing (772 Yds, 9 TD). His numbers can single-handedly make or break your fantasy week.
If Plancher returns, the Bulls will have a few nice options in the backfield, especially if senior RB Mike Ford (450 Rush Yds, 6 TD) plays to his potential. He proved he can put up big numbers with 207 rushing yards and a TD against Northern Illinois in the International Bowl. Look for senior WRs AJ Love (26 Rec, 489 Yds, 4 TD) and Dontavia Bogan (22 Rec, 305 Yds, 4 TD) to fill the void created by Mitchell’s early departure
Youth Must be Served
South Florida may need to lean heavily on key recruits such as highly-touted sophomores DL Julius Forte and DE Ryne Giddins if the Bulls are to avoid a defensive drop-off in 2010. They’ll need all the defense they can get with non-conference road games at Florida and Miami.
Oh, and then there’s that little situation involving the firing of Coach Jim Leavitt amid allegations of player abuse. The loss of the de-facto godfather of USF football could impact the 2010 Bulls more than any individual player’s departure. However Skip Holtz has hit the ground running, thus the Bulls may be ready to move on.
2010 Fantasy Outlook: Sleeper central
It’s always a good idea to have a few Bulls on your fantasy squad given their potent offense and the sheer volume of athleticism they can put on the field. Daniels will almost certainly improve on a solid freshman campaign. Keep an eye on the Bulls’ spring practice to see who emerges as the top RB in the battle between Plancher and Ford. Love or Bogan will likely emerge as a #1 or #2 fantasy option at WR and might be worth drafting in the middle rounds. Make sure to stay on top of the news given the recent fireworks surrounding this team.
2009 Record: 4-8 (1-6 Big East)
Returning Starters: 8 offense / 5 o-line, 9 defense
Who They Lose
The numbers are deceptive when it comes to Syracuse’s 2010 depth chart. Sure, they lose only three offensive starters from a unit that made strides from 2008 to 2009. The problem? Two of those starters are namedGreg Paulus and Mike Williams. Paulus wasn’t exactly McNabb at quarterback, but he did manage to set two single-season offensive records (for completions and completion percentage) during his cameo at QB. It’s also worth noting that the Orange began moving on from the Mike Williams era (49 receptions and 6 TD in just 7 games) in Week Nine after he suddenly and mysteriously quit the team, so perhaps they’ll be better equipped to deal with his absence in 2010 than expected.
On defense, the loss of star NT Arthur Jones stings for a team that boasted the Big East’s top run defense (102 YPG), but they return just about everyone else. But is that a good thing for a secondary that ranked tied for last in conference passing defense (235 YPG, 24 TD against)?
Everyone but Paulus, Williams and Jones. Thousand-yard rusher Delone Carter (1021 Rush Yds, 11 TD) needs to carry a heavy load once again for a team looking to replace two of its top three offensive weapons. CanMarcus Sales (28 Rec, 3 TD) and Alec Lemon (29 Rec, 1 TD) pick up the slack at WR? Neither put up fantasy starter-worthy numbers in 2009, but someone will have to catch passes for either sophomore QB Ryan Nassib or one of the three freshmen QBs who will get looks in spring practice. On the plus side, the entire O-Line has big-game experience even if a few of them weren’t starters at the beginning of the season.
The strength on defense appears to be the starting LBs and Safeties. LB Derrell Smith (81 tackles) and S Max Suter (71 tackles) lead an Orange D whose depth issues look like they may carry over into 2010. CB has been a revolving door and, as noted, the loss of Jones at DT will hurt. Bottom line: Syracuse will need someone to step up in the secondary, which had a conference-low 9 INTs in 2009.
Don't You Forget About Me
Don’t forget about junior RB Antwon Bailey (312 Rush Yds, 1 TD; 27 Rec, 201 Rec Yds), who can double as a pass-catching weapon out of the backfield. Fantasy owners may want to keep an eye on him as a backup RB or possible Flex option. Also watch out for sophomore K Ryan Lichtenstein, who hit 13 of 17 FGs as a freshman, including an impressive 6-of-7 from 40+ yards.
2010 Fantasy Outlook: Moderate to low
Fantasy owners’ moods may hinge on whether or not the returning starters (especially the offensive linemen) adjust to first-year Offensive Coordinator Rob Spence’s system. As it stands, it’s difficult to see fantasy owners spending draft choices on anyone but Carter. Lemon and Bailey may warrant late-round sleeper picks at WR and RB, respectively. Stay away from the Orange D until they prove they can stop the pass against Big East competition.
2009 Record: 9-4 (5-2 Big East)
Returning Starters: 8 offense / 4 o-line, 9 defense
Who They Lose
QB Jarrett Brown departs Morgantown with a bitter taste in his mouth after suffering a game-ending injury in a Gator Bowl loss to Florida State. He left some large shoes to fill, throwing for over 2,000 yards and 11 TD while rushing for another 450 yards and 6 TD in 2009. Other key offensive losses include OT Selvish Capers and WR Alric Arnett (43 Rec, 586 Yds, 3 TD).
The defense, meanwhile, loses only three players who were expected to see significant playing time in 2009: LBs Reed Williams and Ovid Goulbourne and S Franchot Allen. Williams (68 tackles) and Goulbourne (4.5 sacks) were solid contributors last season.
Mountaineers fans and Big East fantasy owners across the land can breathe a bit easier knowing that RB Noel Devine (1549 Rush Yds, 13 TD) and WR Jock Sanders (72 Rec, 688 Yds, 3 TD) are returning for their senior seasons. The big question is how the offense will adjust to sophomore QB Geno Smith, who has those aforementioned large shoes to fill as the heir apparent to Brown.
Other noteworthy returners include WR Brad Starks (29 Rec, 405 Yds, 2 TD) and—hey look, a kicker! During the obligatory kicker round of your draft, consider picking Tyler Bitancurt, who hit 13 of 15 field goals as a freshman, including an impressive 6 of 7 from 40+ yards.
The defense returns an impressive four all-conference selections: NT Chris Neild, LB J.T. Thomas, CB Brandon Hogan and S Robert Sands.
Ready to Emerge
Sophomore FB Ryan Clarke could be an intriguing free agent pickup (or injury stopgap) if he churns out TDs (8) like he did as a freshman. Also look for potential sleepers in sophomore RB Tavon Austin and redshirt freshman WR Logan Heastie, both of who were marquee names in a highly-regarded 2009 recruiting class.
2010 Fantasy Outlook: Strong to quite strong
The fantasy value of several Mountaineers may hinge on whether or not Smith can provide a spark on offense. He played the second half of the 2009 Gator Bowl and wasn’t exactly inspiring. Then again, it was valuable experience for a true freshman who has plenty of time to grow. Look for big numbers again from Devine and Sanders, as well as what may be the Big East’s number one defensive unit.