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Around the Big East

UConn beatwriters are aghast, aghast, that their 2007 season was widely seen as flukey. Lots of good stuff here though.

Another Big East media day is in the books. I can't imagine there's a conference in the country that comes close to matching the two days we get here in Newport, R.I. Fantastic event, as always.

I'm holed up in the business center of the plush Hotel Viking, where $400 gets you one night in a room but Internet access on the hotel computer costs .80-per minute. I know that only because the couple sitting beside me still haven't stopped complaining about it. I have my own laptop, the ethernet is free for me and I'm not offering to share simply because they're really annoying.

Some news and notes from the morning:

  • UConn was picked sixth in the preseason poll. Oddly, no one was all that surprised. I mean, the league's co-champ, who doesn't lose all that much in personnel (19 starters are back, including the QB, both RBs and most of the defense), is predicted to finish behind three teams it beat last fall? Polls don't mean anything, but you can bet Randy Edsall will use that as motivation in some manner. "The poll is how the media perceives us. I guess they don't think we're very good. We'll have to go out and play with a chip on our shoulder."
  • Mike Tranghese dispelled the recent New York Post story on the Big East looking at Army and Navy for football. He said the conference had discussions two years ago, but haven't spoken since. "We had discussions two years ago, the service academies didn't feel it was in their best interest, and we dropped it," Tranghese said. "Now this story appears, and it sounds as if it's happening now, but that's not so."
  • Tranghese said as of now, there's no teams the Big East would consider a viable option to become a member for football. He says programs have contacted him about joining, but all have been dismissed for various reasons. "Having a ninth member would solve scheduling issues," Tranghese said. "But the (member) presidents aren't going to vote for another team simply to solve a scheduling issue."
  • Tranghese is scheduled to retire soon, but plans to remain active in some way with the league. He says a big reason why he's retiring is the travel schedule. "I'm not a good flyer as it is," he said. "The less time I'm in the air, the better."
  • Brandon Dillon will be at the Huskies first practice Friday, providing some depth on the defensive line. Marcus Campbell was back over the summer, and will also be practicing. Edsall said he's got a meeting scheduled for Wednesday in which he's expecting to lose one, as-of-now unnamed player. The good news is that spot will be filled Friday by one of the team's walk-ons, five of whom are unable to begin practicing until classes begin because UConn is over the 105-man limit.
  • From a personality standpoint, new West Virginia coach Bill Stewart is about as far from Rich Rodriguez as it gets. That's no coincidence. West Virginia wants to distance itself from Rich-Rod, who rivals A-Rod on the prima donna scale. Stewart seems like the friendly country neighbor who's always working on his roof or cooking hot dogs in the new barbecue pit. Actually, he kind of looks and sounds like Lou Holtz, without the speech impediment.
  • South Florida Jim Leavitt wasn't exactly the life of the party (that was Stewart), but he was close. Yep, the same Leavitt who has conducted conference calls in grunts and non sequiturs was reeling in the yuks from the group of media members around his table. He may have a future in stand-up comedy. OK, I overstated that. But he's funnier than Dane Cook. That's not that hard, either. But you get the picture.
  • Louisville coach Steve Kragthorpe explained "noodling", a popular pastime amongst the Cardinals football players. In a nutshell, it's catching catfish with your bare hands. Catfish tend to burrow into the mud. A noodler finds the hold and pulls the fish out, hoping not to get bit. Seems to take the fun out of fishing. Oh, Louisville, picked to finish either first or second the last three years, was predicted seventh in the preseason poll.
  • Ben Mauk is still appealing the NCAA's decision not to grant him another season of eligibility at Cincinnati. But coach Brian Kelly is set to go with Dustin Grutza at QB. Kelly is still angling to build a program that has been successful on the field yet struggling to gain a foothold in other, off-field areas. The practice facility is substandard, the fan base is improving and a year ago Kelly used media day as a pulpit to express his disdain for the lack of attention his team received in Cincinnati. Kelly, you may remember, refused to speak with a New England-based free-lance writer hired by the Cincinnati Enquirer because the paper declined to send a reporter to cover the event. "We used the opportunity not to take a shot at the media, but to let the city of Cincinnati know we had a BCS football team," Kelly said. "If they can support the Bengals and Reds, they can support a BCS football program. Since then, we sold out three times last fall for the first time in the history of the school. Cincinnati has shown it will support college football. My job is to put out a good football team."

Why won't Pat White have a future on the baseball diamond?

White, however, said he would have considered playing, but not for Van Zant.

"I definitely thought it over, I still think about it sometimes," White said. "I’m loyal to my (football) team. I have another year left. I want us to be successful and I want to be part of that success."

The West Virginia football team was picked by the Big East coaches to finish first in the eight-team league following last year’s victory over Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl.

Asked if he had spoken directly with Van Zant about playing for him, White said: "(No), he wasn’t (excited). He wasn’t interested."

Then he paused and added:

"In my knoweldge of West Virginia baseball, there’s not been many players of my race on his team. He’s not too high on it.

"Every player I’ve talked to doesn’t like him. He’s not a well-liked coach but I guess he has tenure so they never got rid of him. They’re not successful at all."

Asked if he might have played if there were a different baseball coach at West Virginia, White said, "Maybe."

Syracuse is, well, you be the judge.

- Robinson said a goal for him this season is to win a bowl game.

- Money quote I:

"The time for talking is done. The time for doing is about to begin. We need to get going."

- Money quote II:

"Surprise means that people must have low expectations. I look forward to watching this team evolve. I think there's a new dawn on the horizon for Syracuse football. I feel that way. I've watched our team through the spring and winter. I can sense all throughout the summer just in the way our players are around, that there's a lot of excitement in the air to our team."

- Offensive guard Ryan Durand downed seven lobsters at the Big East clam bake Monday night. That broke some type of team record held previously by James Wyche. Durand said Rutgers fullback Brian Leonard reportedly ate nine, a record he said could have broken easily but claims the lobster supply ran out before he could get to more.

Typical Syracuse whining and excuses!

Speaking of the Cuse

Thomas Johnson's star athlete D.J. Scott had a busy week last week, culminating in the rising senior finding a new college to call home.

The 5-foot-9, 170-pound defensive back made the decision to decommit from Syracuse last week and when a planned trip to Central Michigan arose, it appeared to be the perfect fit.

"I had that thought in my head for a week or two now (to decommit), Scott said.

Scott said he heard changes were going to be made to the Orange coaching staff and no longer felt like Syracuse was the place for him.

Will Trent Guy play this season?

University of Louisville receiver Trent Guy, who was shot in the lower back earlier this month, intends to play this season, head coach Steve Kragthorpe said today at Big East Conference football media day.

Kragthorpe said that Guy is "doing real well" and expects to be cleared for physical activity by the beginning of September.

"My hope is that he gets back maybe in the middle part of season," Kragthorpe said. "He’s champing at the bit. If he could suit up Tues afternoon, he’d do it, I promise you that."

If this timetable is correct, Guy should be available for their season finale at Rutgers Stadium in December.

Cincinnati is setting season ticket sale records.

One focus at the media day is officiating:

A new system of grading and evaluating Big East officials will be implemented this year under the guidance of longtime NFL official Terry McAulay, the conference's recently appointed director of football officiating.

McAulay replaced John Soffey, who retired, and was hired because of his experience. He said that the new system is based on the model that has been used in the NFL for years.

The changes in officiating are not a coincidence.

Last season, a number of controversial, high-profile calls and non-calls affected the outcome of some games, including the Pitt-West Virginia finale. Among the biggest changes being implemented this season are:

• Big East officiating crews will work together throughout the entire season (as opposed to individual officials being assigned to games based factors such as their location). This, according to McAulay, will help to build continuity as well as bring more uniformity and consistency to the way games are officiated. The only exception will be when an official's crew is assigned to work a game involving his alma mater. In that case, a substitute will be found for him.

• There will be more emphasis on holding entire crews accountable for missing calls, as opposed to just the official who missed or made a bad call.

• The evaluation process as well as ongoing training will be more thorough as will the accountability for those officials who make repeated mistakes.

• There is a new "clause" in the officiating manuals about the types of plays that are reviewable through instant replay. It states that while only certain plays are reviewable, the replay official has the discretion to "correct egregious errors," including plays involving fouls that are not specifically reviewable.

Pitt is looking to make the leap to respectability in 2008.

Mike Tranghese gave an interview to the Tampa Tribune.

Some more notes:

The Gator Bowl wants the Bulls. Not necessarily for their Jan. 1 bowl game, but they definitely are interested in bringing the University of South Florida to Jacksonville for a future regular season game.

Gator Bowl President Rick Catlett said he wants the Bulls in Jacksonville for a future September game against a team from the ACC, SEC, Big 12 or Notre Dame.

Catlett has had several discussions with USF athletic director Doug Woolard about the possibility.

Catlett said 2014 was a possibility. Woolard said it could happen earlier if the right opponent was available and as long as USF has six home games for that season.

"It’s our goal and effort to do it," Catlett said.

The Gator Bowl annually hosts the Florida-Georgia game and is looking to host another regular season contest in September, Catlett said. Florida State is playing Colorado in Jacksonville this year.

Coaches favor ninth football member: As part of our coverage of the Big East’s media days, I asked each coach if they were in favor of a ninth-football member. In favor: UConn’s Randy Edsall, Pitt’s Dave Wannstedt and West Virginia’s Bill Stewart. Against: Cincinnati’s Brian Kelly.

The remaining four were non-committal: USF’s Jim Leavitt, Rutgers’ Greg Schiano, Louisville’s Steve Kragthorpe and Syracuse’s Greg Robinson.

Here’s what Big East commish Mike Tranghese said about adding a ninth-member.

"I just don’t think there’s anybody out there that makes us better," Tranghese said. "If there was somebody out there, who could make us better, I think our people would react to it very quickly. We talk about it all the time. I don’t think there’s anyone there that makes us better."

Four coaches were in favor of a plus-one playoff to determine the national title: Kelly, Schiano, Wannstedt and Robinson. Three - Kragthorpe, Edsall and Stewart - were against it and Leavitt said he didn’t know.

Actually, Schiano tentatively came out in favor of having a ninth team a few days ago.