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Early 2010 Big East football rankings

Here are my early 1-8 rankings with respect to overall team strength. These are completely independent of schedule. Not all of the team OOC schedules are finalized, and conference schedules can be notoriously unfair and unbalanced.

With that being said, the Big East absolutely looks to be a jumbled mess again, with five teams in Pittsburgh, West Virginia, Rutgers, Connecticut, and Cincinnati more than capable of winning it. Preseason rankings, especially this early in the year, are assuredly splitting hairs, and in no way reflect any definitive claims about any team's prognosis, strengths, and weaknesses. A lot can and will change during spring and fall practices. One thing's for sure though: don't fall into the trap of prematurely declaring that it's a down year for the Big East. It's less a question of how much everybody's lost, and more of how much they've lost as compared to their peers.

1. Pitt

Key losses: QB Bill Stull, TE Dorin Dickerson, TE Nate Byham, OG John Maleki DT Gus Mustakas, DT Mick Williams.

The Panthers lose as much as anyone in conference, but solid recruiting by Dave Wannstedt and staff over the past several years will start to pay dividends, as younger players will begin stepping up into bigger roles. Stull was efficient in 2009, but that was mostly the by-product of an absurdly good supporting cast. Tino Sunseri is the early favorite to take over under center, and his main responsibility will be to get the ball to Baldwin and Lewis. Only big concern is lack of experience at defensive tackle.

2. West Virginia

Key losses: QB Jarrett Brown, OT Selvish Capers, LB Reed Williams

Should again be very talented, especially on the defensive side of the ball. Returns one of the best backfields in the countries. The concerns here are twofold. Geno Smith has a lot of potential at QB, but doesn't have a lot of experience. WVU's quarterbacks will have to do a lot more in terms of playmaking than Pitt's, and they won't have nearly the supporting cast. This team is also in obvious decline under Bill Stewart, who's in far over his head. This ranking weighs both what may be the best roster in conference with the non-zero possibility that everything goes all to hell. With Devine returning, the full collapse probably waits until 2011, but it's coming.

3. Rutgers

Key losses: WR Tim Brown, OT Anthony Davis, DE George Johnson, LB Ryan D'Imperio, CB Devin McCourty

Offense was absolutely awful in 2009. They lose their best playmaker in Brown, but return the sensational Savage to Sanu combination. Offensive line was awful last year, and loses three starters. Hard to see how they can be any worse though, and Davis didn't always play as hard as you would like. The defense should be very good again even with the loss of three good staters, very good up front with a killer pass rush.

4. UConn

Key losses: RB Andre Dixon, WR Marcus Easley, OT Mike Hicks, DE Lindsey Witten, CB Robert McClain, S Robert Vaughn

UConn is going to be a trendy sleeper team next fall, with good reason based how they played in 2009. There are a couple of reasons though to be cautious before hyping them up too much. I have a bad (well, good for everyone else) feeling that Zach Frazer will have an edge over Cody Endres at quarterback, even though Frazer isn't very good, and Endres is a lot better. Easley pretty much was their passing game last year, even if he came out of nowhere, and you can make the cases for other players being on the rise. Even with a few personnel losses and inexperience, it was very out of character to see the Husky defense be a sieve last season. I could rank them as high as second if there was a guarantee that Frazer wouldn't start. Will have to replace several departed assistant coaches.

5. Cincinnati

Key losses: QB Tony Pike, WR Mardy Gilyard, OT Jeff Linkenbach, C Chris Jurek, DE Ricardo Matthews, LB Andre Revels, S Aaron Webster

The offense will still be more than capable. That's primarily why the Bearcats hired Butch Jones, as he showed an ability at CMU to not mess much with what was working, although there will be somewhat of a dropoff. Where they really need to worry is on defense. That group has significantly declined following Mark Dantonio's departure, and they lose a good portion of experienced starters.

6. Syracuse

Key losses: QB Greg Paulus, WR Mike Williams, TE Mike Owen, DT Arthur Jones

A true wild card, as it's very difficult to guess how they'll build on Doug Marrone's debut. QB Ryan Nassib looked good in very limited situational minutes, but RB Delone Carter is the real deal, and they've added an intriguing WR transfer from Hofstra in Aaron Weaver. The offensive line was dreadful early in the season, before showing a lot of improvement...followed by LT Nick Speller transferring. A couple of very interesting defenders, especially at LB, although the entire roster remains perillously thin. How many incoming JUCO transfers will pan out? Still needs to find several more assistants too.

7. USF

Key losses: RB Moises Plancher, WR Carlton Mitchell, DE Jason Pierre-Paul, George Selvie, LB Kion Wilson, CB Jerome Murphy, S Nate Allen

Selvie and Murphy weren't nearly as good as their press clippings, and Murphy was actually a net detriment, but the other losses will further hurt what was already the sixth best team in the Big East last year. B.J. Daniels still has upside, and there's always a chance that Mike Ford can put it together, even if he's a perpetual tease. The Bulls already lose some of their best playmakers from a team that wasn't very good to begin with, and will also have to recover from a gut-wrenching coaching change. Jim Leavitt was probably an anchor on the program by now, but his shadow will loom over everything next year.

8. Louisville

Key losses: WR Scott Long, WR Trent Guy, LB Jon Dempsey

RB Victor Anderson and WR Doug Beaumont remain intriguing, although they won't have much in the way of help. QB situation is an absolute mess, which means that Zack Stoudt could be handed the keys as a true freshman. This team is going to be bad, bad, bad.