These are nervous times for fans of Big East football.
By all accounts, the Big Ten is getting ready to expand, and it's expected the expansion will include at least one and possibly as many as three teams from the Big East. Which would, of course, effectively destroy the league.
But while the Big East's presidents and athletic directors deal with that headache, the league's coaches have to worry about more urgent matters—such as preparing for next season.
Here, we take a look at the biggest questions facing the Big East in 2010.
1. Will Pitt Finally Break Through?
It sure looks like it. After a less-than-inspiring start to his tenure at Pitt (5-6, 6-6, 5-7), Dave Wannstedt has turned things around the last two years, going 19-7 overall and taking Pitt to the brink of a Big East championship last season. Given all that defending league champion Cincinnati has lost (such as, you know, their star quarterback, receiver and … head coach), and given all that Pitt returns (such as, you know, Dion Lewis, the most talented tailback in the country, and Jonathan Baldwin, an absolute force of nature at wideout), 2010 certainly looks like the year that Wannestedt will finally get his first Big East title. I still have my questions about that defense, though, which has shown itself to be prone to collapse.
2. Will Cincinnati Take a Step Back?
Yes. Not a significant step back. But a step back nonetheless. The Bearcats were a legitimate Top 10 squad the last two seasons (don’t let that Sugar Bowl debacle against Florida fool you; the Beacats had other issues on their minds that day). This year, though, is almost certain to be a struggle. Gone are wideout/playmaker Marty Gilyard, quarterback Tony Pike, defensive end Alex Daniels and, of course, coach Brian Kelly, who engineered Cincinnati’s meteoric rise. New coach Butch Jones, formerly of Central Michigan, is no slouch, and Pike’s former backup, Zach Collaros, may actually prove to be an upgrade. But Cincy is at least one year away from another 10-win season.
3. Can Skip Holtz Take South Florida to New Heights?
Yes, he can. Just give him a couple years. This much must be said for former Bulls coach Jim Leavitt: He is the man that should be credited with building the South Florida program, putting it on the map and making it legit in the eyes of the entire nation. That was no small feat. Toward the end of his reign, though, it was clear that Leavitt’s leadership had grown stale, and he couldn’t get the program over the hump, not even in the comparatively weak Big East. Enter Holtz, who earned much-justified kudos for his remarkable work at East Carolina, where he just won back-to-back Conference USA titles. Holtz is a strong recruiter and probably a better gameday coach than Leavitt, too. He needs to rebuild this roster, but once he does, look out.
4. Will Greg Schiano Finally Accomplish Something of Note at Rutgers?
Yes, I know. I know Schiano saved Rutgers from the college football trash heap. But you know what? He still hasn’t really accomplished anything. Look it up, folks. For all the praised heaped on this guy—and yes, much of it is justified—he's yet to win a Big East crown, and only really challenged for the title once (in 2006). And let us remember, folks, this is not exactly the SEC. Schiano has recruited well—very well, at times—and given the weak schedule, he certainly should have accomplished more by now. With Tom Savage back at quarterback, along with a few other offensive playmakers, the 2010 Scarlet Knights seem poised to challenge in the Big East. But we say that pretty much every year. Then they end up in the International Bowl.
5. Can the Big East Survive Big Ten Expansion?
That depends. Though it's unlikely that the Big Ten would grab three Big East schools, the Big East would certainly be in serious trouble should Jim Delany decide to take that route. I mean, take away, for example, Rutgers, UConnn and Pitt, and the Big East not only loses three of its marquee football programs, but the New York City television market as well (though, to be honest, I don’t think many folks in the Big Apple rush to their TVs to watch Rutgers); that would likely spell Big East doom. A more likely scenario would see Delany grab just one or two Big East schools (Rutgers/Pitt?), which would certainly be a blow, but not a deadly one. The best that Big East fans can hope for? That the Big Ten grabs Notre Dame—then stops there.