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May 7, 2008

Plenty to watch for in the Big East

VIDEO: David Fox breaks down the Big East

FIND YOUR TEAM: Cincinnati | UConn | Louisville | Pitt | Rutgers | Syracuse | USF | West Virginia

Big East Spring Review
Believe it or not, more happened in the Big East this spring aside from Rich Rodriguez vs. West Virginia news. Here's a roundup for some other major storylines from spring practice in the league.
OVERVIEW: Cincinnati may have to move on without quarterback Ben Mauk, who did not receive a sixth season of eligibility but continues to petition for an extra year. Dustin Grutza, who has started in the past, ended spring as the No. 1 quarterback. Cincinnati appeared to find answers at defensive end, a position where the Bearcats were thin heading into the spring. Converted tight end Connor Barwin is penciled in as a starter and converted quarterback Craig Carey provides depth as a backup.
LINGERING QUESTION: What will happen with Brandon Underwood? The secondary will be in limbo until Underwood's situation is settled. Many of his credits from Ohio State didn't transfer to Cincinnati, so he has much work to do during the spring and summer to be eligible. If he is available, Cincinnati will have to find a place he can play; he's a cornerback, but the Bearcats already have Mike Mickens and DeAngelo Smith there.
FIRST GAME: Aug. 28, vs. Eastern Kentucky


OVERVIEW: Connecticut hopes its defense will be faster with Freshman All-America Scott Lutrus moving from outside to inside linebacker. The offense might be a little faster, too. Cornerback Darius Butler was forced into wide receiver duty because to injuries and could play about 15 offensive snaps per game. Tailback Donald Brown will look for a bounce-back season now that he is under less pressure to keep his weight down.
LINGERING QUESTION: Will UConn need a backup quarterback and how much of a drop off will there be? Tyler Lorenzen has seen his share of bumps and bruises, missing the spring game with an ankle injury and playing with an injured thumb last season. He hasn't missed a start but if that changes, will Notre Dame transfer Zach Frazer be ready after he struggled at times during the spring?
FIRST GAME: Aug. 28, vs. Hofstra


OVERVIEW: Attrition hit Louisville hard this spring, particularly on defense. The Cardinals return 21 lettermen on defense, forcing them to bring in four junior college defenders in the spring and two more in the fall. Former Michigan coordinator Ron English took over the defense, bringing a new attitude to the group that was among the nation's worst. The quarterback position will be in good hands under Hunter Cantwell.
LINGERING QUESTION: Can Louisville field an adequate defense? Louisville must be well-conditioned and must stay healthy if the Cardinals expect to return to a bowl. Linebacker and defensive end are especially thin. Four potential defensive starters have left the team in the past year: linebacker Willie Williams and cornerback Rod Council (dismissed), defensive end Peanut Whitehead (injury) and linebacker Lamar Myles (an undrafted early entry).
FIRST GAME: Aug. 30, vs. Kentucky


OVERVIEW: Bill Stull, who missed almost all of last season, opened the spring as the first-string quarterback and remained there. Pat Bostick and Kevan Smith will battle for the backup job in the fall, while JC transfer Greg Cross, the best running threat among the quartet, showed he may be more than a situational option. On defense, redshirt freshman cornerback Buddy Jackson emerged as a possible starter and impact player.
LINGERING QUESTION: How will the offensive line shake out? Line coach Tony Wise, hired from the New York Jets, still has work to do in the fall. Three starters are gone, including first-round pick Jeff Otah. Joe Thomas moved from guard to tackle, but Wise still doesn't have a clear picture of how the line will play as a unit. Potential starters Jason Pinkston and C.J. Davis did not participate during the spring; neither did top backup Chris Jacobson.
FIRST GAME: Aug. 30, vs. Bowling Green


OVERVIEW:With Ray Rice gone, quarterback Mike Teel and wide receiver Kenny Britt will take over as the centerpieces of the offense. They need improvement from the line, which loses three starters but returns freshman standout Anthony Davis. Another four-star signee from Davis' class, Manny Abreu, took over a starting spot at linebacker after redshirting last season with a hip injury. The biggest news out of Rutgers this spring, though, was when the Scarlet Knights called off talks with Notre Dame for a six-game series when the Irish insisted on playing at the Meadowlands rather than Rutgers Stadium.
LINGERING QUESTION: Who will replace Rice? Kordell Young still is the favorite to takeover for Rice, the school's leading career rusher, but he is facing tough competition. Young missed all but three games last season and all of spring with a knee injury, allowing Mason Robinson, Jourdan Brooks and Joe Martinek to close the gap.
FIRST GAME: Sept. 1, vs. Fresno State


OVERVIEW: New coordinator Mitch Browning hopes to overhaul the offense in the mold of his units at Minnesota. First, tailbacks Delone Carter and Curtis Brinkley need to get healthy. They missed a combined 16 games last season and were held out of spring drills. Promising true freshman Averin Collier missed the final two weeks of spring drills. Browning wants his linemen to slim down to the 300-pound range, meaning summer conditioning will be critical.
LINGERING QUESTION: Who will start at safety? Syracuse ended spring with little idea who would replace Joe Field and Dowayne Davis at safety. Six players Max Suter, A.J. Brown, Bruce Williams, Paul Chiara, Kevyn Scott and Randy McKinnon are in the running for the two spots.
FIRST GAME: Aug. 30, at Northwestern


OVERVIEW: USF will enter the season having had to replace much of the backbone of its defense: cornerbacks Mike Jenkins (a first-round draft pick) and Trae Williams (fifth round) and linebacker Ben Moffitt. Projected cornerback starters Tyller Roberts and Jerome Murphy had solid springs, but middle linebacker may be a work in progress. Junior college transfer Kion Wilson was limited by injuries. Tyrone McKenzie, who played middle linebacker at Iowa State before transferring, moved from the outside to the middle during the spring.
LINGERING QUESTION: Who will run the ball besides quarterback Matt Grothe? Tailback Mike Ford had a standout spring game with 14 carries for 56 yards, but he was inconsistent earlier in the spring. Benjamin Williams, Jamar Taylor and Shawn Cannon are in the mix, but none of the four have distinguished themselves as a feature back.
FIRST GAME: Aug. 30, vs. UT Martin


West Virginia
OVERVIEW: New offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen's main priority for the fall will be to keep Pat White healthy. Mullen showed how he might do that by showcasing short passes and using the middle of the field. Wide receiver Alric Arnett could be a deep threat but must stay in Bill Stewart's good graces. The Mountaineers appear to have depth at linebacker, which will be good if Fiesta Bowl Defensive MVP Reed Williams (shoulders) is unavailable. Highly touted linebacker Pat Lazear could take over if Williams can't play in 2008.
LINGERING QUESTION: Who will step up on defense? WVU received career years out of several players on defense last season, but most of them are gone. The Mountaineers need help in the secondary and on the line. Help will arrive in the fall when four-star junior college end Tevita Finau arrives.
FIRST GAME: Aug. 30, vs. Villanova


David Fox is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dfox@rivals.com.

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