NEWPORT, R.I. – With 17 starters returning from a team that tied for the BIG EAST championship last season, Louisville has been tabbed as the overwhelming favorite to win the 2012 title in the conference’s annual preseason media poll.
The Cardinals received 24 of a possible 28 first-place votes and had 219 points in the preseason voting of media representatives. USF received the other three first-place votes.
Louisville went 7-6 overall last season, but the Cardinals won five of their last six regular-season games to finish 5-2 in BIG EAST play and earn a share of their second league title since 2006. Head coach Charlie Strong brings nine starters back from one of the stingiest defenses in the nation, anchored by two-time All-BIG EAST safety Hakeem Smith, while the Cardinals are expecting big things on offense with the development of sophomore quarterback Teddy Bridgewater — the unanimous BIG EAST Rookie of the Year in 2011.
USF went 5-7 overall and 1-6 in the BIG EAST last season, but the Bulls were the solid No. 2 pick in the preseason poll with 176 points thanks to the return of 17 starters from last season. The Bulls saw three of their last four losses come on field goals either as time expired or in overtime last year, but head coach Skip Holtz can lean on veteran quarterback B.J. Daniels and a stout defense to turn things around.
Rutgers was third in the preseason poll with 155 points. The Scarlet Knights were picked eighth in last year’s poll, but ended up with a chance to win the championship in their regular-season finale. First-year head coach Kyle Flood finds 15 starters back from last year’s team who are looking forward to finishing the job, including linebacker Khaseem Greene — the 2011 BIG EAST Defensive Player of the Year.
Cincinnati was fourth in the preseason poll with 139 points. The Bearcats tied for the league title last year and capped the season with a win against Vanderbilt in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl. But head coach Butch Jones will need to find replacements for players who were named BIG EAST Offensive and Defensive Player of the Year last season. All-BIG EAST safety Drew Frey anchors a defense that led the nation in tackles for loss.
Pittsburgh was picked fifth in the preseason poll. The Panthers, who are looking for their fifth consecutive postseason appearance, battled through a number of key injuries to finish 6-7 overall and 4-3 in the BIG EAST last season. New head coach Paul Chryst will turn to standout running back Ray Graham and All-BIG EAST safety Jarred Holley to shoulder the load while a young defense — with four returning starters — finds its way.
Connecticut was tabbed sixth in the preseason poll. Head coach Paul Pasqualoni has a defense that returns eight starters from last year and a pair of dangerous offensive options with the return of running back Lyle McCombs and tight end Ryan Griffin — both All-BIG EAST picks last season.
Syracuse was seventh in the preseason poll after the Orange came up just short in their bid for back-to-back postseason appearances. Head coach Doug Marrone has a veteran quarterback — third-year starter Ryan Nassib — a talented group of receivers, and a solid defense that has seven returning starters.
Temple was picked eighth in the preseason poll in the Owls’ return to BIG EAST play. The Owls bring just 10 starters back from last year’s team that went 9-4. Head coach Steve Addazio will turn to a solid running back tandem of Montel Harris — the active career rushing leader among FBS players — and Matt Brown.
2012 BIG EAST FOOTBALL PRESEASON MEDIA POLL
Rank Team (First-Place Votes) Pts.
1. Louisville (24) 219
2. USF (4) 176
3. Rutgers 155
4. Cincinnati 139
5. Pittsburgh 131
6. Connecticut 77
7. Syracuse 70
8. Temple 41