Picking favorites in the Big East

With the 2012 football seasondays away, two Oracle writerspredict the final standings of thenew-look Big East conference.

Mike Manganello

1. LouisvilleThe Cardinals enter 2012as the heavy favorite in theBig East, having received 24first-place votes in the BigEast Preseason Media Poll.Coach Charlie Strong andsophomore quarterback TeddyBridgewater face a schedulewhere four of seven leaguegames will be played at home,including a visit from USF.2. USFThe Bulls have never wonthe Big East before, but are firmcontenders this season with animproved offense. If USF cansurvive its Thursday night BigEast opener against Rutgers,the Bulls will likely be favoredin every Big East game exceptat Louisville.3. RutgersRutgers hits the field withfirst-year head coach Kyle Floodand sophomore quarterbackGary Nova, but if things meshwell early, the Scarlet Knightswill be in the running for aleague crown due to their talented defense.4. PittsburghFormer coach Todd Grahamsabrupt departure unsettled thePanthers this offseason, so newcoach Paul Chryst has his workcut out for him. If running backRay Graham comes back healthyfrom a torn ACL, he could boostthe Panthers final run throughthe Big East.5. CincinnatiCoach Butch Jones has atough job in replacing quarterback Zach Collaros and running back Isaiah Pead, but withfour Big East home games, theBearcats should comfortablymake a bowl game. Cincinnatis Thursday night season openeragainst Pittsburgh will be key.6. ConnecticutConnecticuts presumedstarting quarterback JohnnyMcEntee is more famous fora trick shot video on youtubethan for his on-field prowess. Ifnot for running back Lyle McCombs, the Huskies could finish even lower.7. SyracuseThe Orange will be happyto see Temple playing in theBig East this year, if onlyso they dont finish in the basement.8. TempleIn their first year in the BigEast, the Owls simply haventhad enough time to adjust fromtheir old life in the MAC.

Rames Ali

1. USFIn a season of transition, theBulls will have a golden opportunity to win their first Big Easttitle. With an offense led bysenior BJ Daniels and the twoheaded backfield of DeMarcoMurray and Marcus Shaw anda strong defense that includesLombardi Award candidateRyne Giddins, the Bulls are ripefor a conference championship.2. LouisvilleWith a head coach coming intohis own in Charlie Strong, and asophomore quarterback who grew on the job last season in TeddyBridgewater, the Cardinals will bea favorite going into the season.The Big East title will likely comedown to their Oct. 20 date with theBulls.3. PittsburghDespite the departure of headcoach Todd Graham, the returnof running back Ray Graham andcontinued maturing of quarterbackTino Sunseri will keep the Panthersin the thick of the Big East race intheir final season in the Big East.4. SyracuseAfter a year in which they became the only team to lose a BigEast game to USF, the Orange lookto be a dark horse in the Big Eastrace. Quarterback Ryan Nassib returns after a strong 2011 campaign,and he will appreciate the return ofwide receiver Marcus Sales.5. CincinnatiDespite the departure ofquarterback Zach Collaros andrunning back Isiah Pead, theBearcats return seven startersfrom a unit that ranked thirdin scoring defense with 20.3points per game in 2011. TheBearcats have the benefit ofplaying both Pittsburgh andUSF at home.6. RutgersThe loss of head coach GregSchiano will hurt the ScarletKnights, and traveling to Tampa, Cincinnati and Pittsburghwill make the road to Big Eastcontention more difficult.Quarterback Gary Nova takesthe reigns as starter, and holdsthe key to the teams success.7. ConnecticutThe Huskies have been unable to recreate the magic oftheir 2010 campaign, when alast second field goal at Raymond James Stadium punchedtheir tickets to the Fiesta Bowl,their first BCS bowl appearance.Look for another toughseason for an undermannedUconn team.8. TempleThe first year in any conference is a difficult situationfor any team, and it will notbe any different for the Owls,formerly of the Mid-AmericanConference.