THE BIG EAST CONFERENCE
BY DANIEL MOGOLLON
Conference Champ: West Virginia vs. Louisville: While Rutgers should not be counted out, the smart money says that the conference title will be decided on November 8, when the Cardinals travel east to Morgantown. Each has one of the nation’s most prolific offensive combinations. Louisville features classic drop-back passer Brian Brohm, who will throw to the top two wide outs in the Big East in the 6’6” Mario Urrutia and the speedy Harry Douglas. West Virginia does it a bit differently favoring a ground attack to air strikes – tailback Steve Slaton is all about speed, as is Pat White, maybe the top running quarterback in America. There is a good chance that both Urrutia and Douglas will top 1000-receiving yards, Douglas did last year while Urrutia fell just 27 yards short, with the West Virginia duo of White and Slaton each coming off a 1000-yard seasons of their own. The team that makes the biggest strides on the defensive side of the ball quickly becomes the favorite.
The Sleeper: South Florida: The Bulls return 16 starters from a team that went 9-4 last season and they have played well against the big boys, knocking off West Virginia last season and Louisville two years ago. Leading the way is 2006 Big East Rookie of the Year Matt Grothe, who could very well be the most balanced signal caller in the conference, adept at both passing and running with the ball. Defensively, they have a pair of shutdown corners in Mike Jenkins and Trae Williams, which could make for an interesting matchup when the Cardinals fly south for the winter (November 18). Relax Rutgers fans -- take it as a compliment that you are no longer considered a “sleeper”.
Offensive Player of the Year: Brian Brohm (UL) vs. Steve Slaton (WVU): There is no shortage of candidates here, as Ray Rice of Rutgers and West Virginia’s Pat White are legitimate contenders as well. As long as Brohm can stay healthy, he will put up prolific passing numbers in Louisville’s wide-open offense. With both senior receivers returning, as well as left tackle George Bussey, a trio of All-Conference players, there is no reason Brohm will not improve on his numbers from last season. Slaton is an explosive back, capable of taking one to the house anytime he gets his hands on the rock. With Pat White such a capable runner himself, it will be difficult for defenses to key in on shutting Slaton down, allowing him to put up impressive results week after week. Whoever emerges here will almost certainly find themselves in the Big Apple for the Heisman presentation, they may not win it, but at least one Big East performer will be in it.
Defensive Player of the Year: Eric Foster (RU) vs. Malik Jackson (UL): Let’s face it, neither is the most talented defensive player in the Big East, in fact neither is the most talented player on their own unit, nevertheless they are the top two candidates. For the most part, the defenses are still catching up to the offenses in the Big East. Both Foster and Jackson are seniors and the leaders of their respective defense. Jackson is Louisville’s top returner tackler, with 16 coming behind the scrimmage, proving the strong-side linebacker is someone opponents must reckon with. Foster was an All-American last year and the Scarlet Knight is a rare impact player on the interior of the defensive line, as the tackle recorded six sacks as junior among his 14 tackles for a loss. If Rutgers’ defense is going to be as efficient as they were in 2006, Foster will have to be as good.
Breakout Seasons: Peanut Whitehead (UL), Kenny Britt (RU) & Donald Brown (UConn): Britt came on late in the season and displayed against WVU that he is a primetime player when he made 10 of his 29 receptions as a freshman. After Ray Rice, Britt is Rutgers’ top playmaker and at 6’4”, he brings a nice combination of size and speed. His progress is contingent on the progress of Mike Teal. On the ground, look for Brown to have a big season and maybe even give some of the bigger names a run for their money in the Big East rushing title race. Like Britt, Brown earned a few starts in the second half of the season and did not disappoint, as he rushed for 404 yards combined against Rutgers and Pittsburgh. Defensively, Whitehead is the rising star following in the line of impact defensive lineman at Louisville. A highly touted recruit, Whitehead has the potential to be a difference maker as an edge pass-rusher. His excellent frame (6’6”/250 pounds) and athleticism will have pro scouts salivating.
Best Pro Prospect: Brian Brohm (UL): This one is pretty easy as Brohm may very well be the top pro prospect in the entire nation, who could go number one overall if everything goes as planned for the senior signal caller. Brohm has the size, the arm, accuracy and the kid makes good decisions. More than anything else, the Louisville star needs to prove he can stay on the field.
College Football Insiders Picks:
Conference Champion: Louisville Cardinals: Yes, I know they play West Virginia in Morgantown, I just like the fact they possess the more balanced offensive attack of the two programs.
Offensive Player of the Year: Brian Brohm, Louisville: Brohm threw for over 3000 yard and 16 TDs (5 INTs) in 2006 -- he could break 30 this season. If he stays healthy, he will put up numbers that are difficult to match.
Defensive Player of the Year: Eric Foster, Rutgers: Someone will emerge as a challenger, but for now Foster, who is known for his leadership as well as playmaking ability, is the man on the defensive side of the ball.
Check back tomorrow for Part III: The Big 12