There's nothing better than inscribing your thoughts on paper early enough that your predictions will be completely outdated three months from now, never mind next fall after a year of tumult. Nevertheless, here are my early 2009 Big East football power rankings.
1. Cincinnati. Any Brian Kelly team is not going to miss a beat on offense. On the other side of the ball though, yikes. The vast majority of their defense is out the door, and I credit former HC Mark Dantonio (and his DC Pat Narduzzi) with a lot of their development. This team could look a lot like the recent Texas Tech teams that are very strong on one side of the ball, and weak on the other.
2. West Virginia. Pat White will be a monumental loss for this team. It will be easier for a caretaker like Jarrett Brown, or incoming freshman Geno Smith to run this offense than it would be breaking in a new dropback passer. However, another problem will be that their offensive line is regressing without the presence of departed coach Rick Trickett. The positives are that they will have a great running game, and have a strong defense returning. I expect Bill Stewart to wreck havoc in the long term, but they at least have another Tire Bowl in them.
3. Pittsburgh. Hooray - I wrote this yesterday, and in the preceding 12 hours, it has leaked out that LeSean McCoy is declaring after all. It's not that they don't necessarily have capable backs behind him - but can they be as good right away? I think Selvie definitely needed to come back to school, but I don't understand how anyone can not think McCoy is a big time prospect. I had Pitt in the driver's seat initially, but have to downgrade them upon learning this news.
The Panthers lose MLB Scott McKillop and a few other starters. The upside for this team is that their depth chart is just so talented, especially in the trenches, that they should win 8 games at minimum by sheer force of will. The downside is that the passing game is still a complete mess. That's almost criminal, when they have a receiver like Jonathan Baldwin ready to break out. He may end up being better than McKillop.
4. Rutgers. Ah, if we just had an experienced quarterback. Dom Natale was highly-regarded coming out of high school, but he hasn't seen much time on the field in college, and the competition will be very green. The WR corps will be extremely young too. Rutgers should look a lot like 2006, as the running game will look a lot better after taking its lumps this year, and the defense is going to be very good. Through my Scarlet-colored glasses, I think this team has a lot of young talent ready to step up, and if they can pass the ball, they will have a good chance.
5. USF. Matt Grothe and George Selvie return, but both players struggled at times in 2008, especially the interception-prone Grothe. USF loses a lot of starters in the trenches. My biggest question is whether RB Mike Ford will ever live up to his potential. He looked good when he saw the field in 2008, but seemed to spend a lot of time in the training room.
6. UConn. The good news is that the passing game cannot possibly be worse after 2008. The WRs will have a little more experience, and Zach Frazer is a Teel/Cantwell type with the arm to throw the ball downfield if the receivers can get open. The loss of Donald Brown is huge though. Jordan Todman/Andre Dixon isn't a bad combo, but they're not Brown. Equally as big will be the loss of LT William Beatty, perhaps the most underrated player in the Big East during the past two years. The defense loses two very good players in Cody Brown and Darius Butler, but they have shown the ability to reload on that side of the ball.
7. Louisville. Ok, it was a tough call between them and the Cuse here. Louisville does have a few promising young players in Victor Anderson, Doug Beaumont, Dexter Heyman, and Johnny Patrick among others. Coach Steve Kragthorpe is also making his stand by signing a lot of Junior College prospects this year. With Matt Simms transferring, the QB situation here is going to be a mess. In the end, Kragthorpe should end up getting fired, and those kind of situations have a way of spiralling downward. They have a very good chance of finishing last.
8. Syracuse. The return of Arthur Jones and Mike Williams are good signs, and there is some skill position talent on offense. However, I don't want to fall into the "Doug Marrone cannot possibly be worse than GRob, and they will improve by default" trap. GRob's ineptitude has been sinking into the entire roster for years, and he wasn't half bad as a coordinator before he let the cupboard run dry there. This team just doesn't have any depth. Their QB situation is a mess, the lines are awful, and this is by far the slowest team in the conference. This is going to be a big rebuilding job. Doug Marrone is unlikely to flirt with .500 until 2011.