How much can you realistically gleam from spring practice? Hard to say. But I'll do my best to recap a couple of the notable developments around the conference anyway.
Cincinnati returned most of its offense this year, and guru Brian Kelly was sure to keep the Beatcats in top form on that side of the ball. Rather, the concerns are about defense. UC loses ten starters on that side of the ball, and did I mention that they have a new defensive coordinator, who's implementing the 3-4?
I'd say that they've earned the right to be the presumptive conference favorite, and ought to be ranked in the top 25. Not having any defense hasn't stopped the likes of Texas Tech and similar offenses in the past.
UConn has reloaded enough on defense at this point that Randy Edsall is at a point where it's safe to assume that the Huskies will be strong there again. Rather, their problems are on offense. They probably had the worst receiving corps in the country last year, they lose a lineman in William Beatty who'll go very early in the draft, and Donald Brown, who pretty much was their entire offense last year.
They do have a few other decent backs, but what really raised eyebrows this spring was the announcement that UConn's new offensive coordinator would be implementing the spread offense. UConn and the spread? The same three yards and a cloud of dust UConn that we've known ever since Dan Orlovsky graduated? Truthfully, it's not going to happen overnight. Come the fall, it looks like it will be the same old UConn, with a few new wrinkles, at least to start with.
Reading all the Louisville media this spring has been just plain depressing. Steve Kragthorpe is making his last stand by signing a lot of junior college transfers. When a program is obviously headed in the wrong direction, the fans have no hope and want the coach's head on a platter, and the press can no longer put a positive spin on things, it's clear that it's over. I wouldn't be this candid if the Louisville fans weren't far more pessimistic about their chances. If anything, I'm letting Kragthorpe off the hook by not following his name with a string of expletives.
I asked this about Greg Robinson and Fred Hill, and I ask it again here: at what point is it time to just cut your losses and stop the program from regressing further? Krags just isn't going to turn it around. Keeping him on as a lame duck only delays the rebuilding process by a year.
Pitt camp had a decent amount of storylines this year. You can't separate the new OC and the continuing QB competition. They have the tremendous Jonathan Baldwin at receiver, but didn't really use him much last season. That may have been because they had LeSean McCoy, but former OC Matt Cavanaugh was the scapegoat for the offense's woes following a difficult loss to Oregon State in the Sun Bowl.
McCoy's gone, but they may have found their new tailback in freshman Dion Lewis. Their offensive line surprisingly regressed, as the Panthers are still looking for a center, and that unit doesn't have enough depth. The good news is that the defense still looks strong, even with a few suspensions.
Doesn't it seem like USF is a sleeper to win the Big East every year? They're in that role again this year, mainly owing to the returns of Matt Grothe and George Selvie. Aren't people overlooking that Grothe struggled at points last year, and Selvie was merely good? Those two return, but USF's depth chart shows a lot of upheaval, specifically on the offensive line. There were almost as many changes on the coaching staff, where there's a new OC, and it took a while to find a new DC.
They already love Doug Marrone in Syracuse, where he's practically following the Greg Schiano script word for word in changing the overall tone around the program. Greg Robinson left the cupboard bare, and Marrone has already started cleaning house, leaving the roster thinner due to attrition.
Ryan Nassib is the new QB (unless Greg Paulus returns). The offensive line is Marrone's specialty, but that unit looks bad, which will mask the fact that the Orange do have some talent at the skill positions on offense. Depth is a concern on defense, where the new staff has tried to place more of an emphasis on team speed.
Everyone's wondering how West Virginia will be able to replace Pat White, but an even bigger concern may be their offensive line. Rick Trickett is long gone. With the dearth of experience this year, his zone blocking scheme is leaving too, which might lead to some growing pains. Jock Sanders was suspended following a DUI. He's no White as a dynamic playmaker, but Jarrett Brown is a better passer, so the Mountaineers will be the most interesting team to watch over the next several months.