(Order of finish based on preseason media poll)
West Virginia - The Mountaineers have won or shared the Big East title five times in the last eight seasons, and they’re predicted to come out on top again. New coach Dana Holgorsen can be confident with quarterback Geno Smith, who threw for 2,763 yards and 24 touchdowns in 2010. On defense, the Mountaineers boast defensive end Bruce Irvin, who registered a conference-leading 14 sacks, and cornerback Keith Tandy, who had a Big East-best six interceptions.
Pittsburgh - Like the Mountaineers, the Panthers will be expected to succeed with a first-year coach. Todd Graham came aboard after leading Tulsa to three 10-win seasons in four years. The Panthers return quarterback Tino Sunseri, who passed for 2,562 yards and 16 touchdowns last season, and tailback Ray Graham (922 yards). Keep an eye on defensive end Brandon Lindsey’s move to linebacker in Pitt’s new 3-4 scheme.
South Florida - Skip Holtz capped his first season with an 8-5 record and a victory over Clemson in the Meineke Car Care Bowl. The team’s strength will be on defense; the Bulls return six starters from a unit that ranked 17th nationally behind linebackers DeDe Lattimore (69 tackles) and Sam Barrington (65). Questions surround quarterback B.J. Daniels, who threw more interceptions than touchdowns last year. If he can turn things around, the Bulls can compete in the Big East.
Syracuse - Keep an eye on senior quarterback Ryan Nassib, who is coming off a solid season - his first as a starter. Nassib set a school record with 202 completions and passed for 2,334 yards with 19 touchdowns. He’ll look to build on that and the momentum generated from the Orange’s eight-win season - including a bowl victory.
Cincinnati - Despite having the Big East’s highest-scoring offense (27.1 points), the Bearcats finished just 4-8, 2-5 in the conference. The good news is last season’s first-team All-Big East quarterback, Zach Collaros, is back for his senior season after leading the conference with 2,902 yards and 26 touchdowns.
Connecticut - The Huskies are coming off a Big East title and their first BCS bid. Never mind the thumping by Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl or coach Randy Edsall’s departure. There are bigger concerns in Storrs - such as who will be quarterback? Expect a bit of a transition period during coach Paul Pasqualoni’s first season. The defensive line will remain strong, though, with the return of both All-Big East first-teamers Kendall Reyes and Jesse Joseph.
Louisville - In coach Charlie Strong’s first season, the Cardinals went 7-6 and beat Southern Miss in the Beef O’ Brady’s Bowl. But don’t expect that sort of pleasant surprise again. The Cardinals lost 11 starters, including quarterback Adam Froman and first-team All-Big East running back Bilal Powell. This team will go where its replacements take it.
Rutgers - Coach Greg Schiano’s seat has gotten quite hot after the Scarlet Knights’ first losing season since 2004. Rutgers had the worst scoring offense in the Big East last year, and sophomore quarterback Chas Dodd will have to get more comfortable in this system for that to change. Fortunately, Dodd has a nice target in junior wide receiver Mohamed Sanu, who caught 44 passes for 418 yards and two touchdowns last season.