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– After receiving 22 of a possible 24 first-place votes, Pittsburgh is the overwhelming favorite to win the 2010 BIG EAST championship in the conference’s annual preseason media poll.
The Panthers had 190 points in the preseason voting of media representatives from each of the eight BIG EAST markets. In addition to the 22 first-place votes, Pittsburgh had two second-place votes, making the Panthers the heaviest favorite in the preseason balloting since Louisville had 190 points in the 2005 poll. Pittsburgh and head coach Dave Wannstedt return 12 starters from last year’s team that went 10-3 overall and was 5-2 in BIG EAST play, dropping the two conference games by a combined four points. The returning players include the 2009 BIG EAST Offensive Player of the Year in tailback Dion Lewis and one of last year’s BIG EAST Defensive Players of the Year in defensive end Greg Romeus.
Cincinnati and West Virginia tied for second in the preseason poll with both teams finishing with142 points. Cincinnati (12-1, 7-0 BIG EAST in 2009) has won the last two BIG EAST titles and brings an 18-game regular-season winning streak into 2010. New head coach Butch Jones will turn to quarterback Zach Collaros to run an offense that has ranked among the nation’s best in recent years, while the Bearcats look to replace six starters on defense. West Virginia (9-4, 5-2 BIG EAST) has finished no lower than second in the BIG EAST standings in every year since 2002. Bill Stewart’s squad has 19 returning starters, including a Heisman Trophy candidate in running back Noel Devine, and expects to showcase one of the leading defenses in the BIG EAST.
A tight finish at the top of the preseason poll has Connecticut in fourth place – the highest preseason projection for the Huskies since they joined the BIG EAST. Head coach Randy Edsall has 17 starters back from last year’s 8-5 team (3-4 BIG EAST) that persevered to close last season with four straight wins after dropping five games by a combined 15 points. Connecticut’s 2010 schedule includes home dates against each of the three teams above the Huskies in the preseason poll.
Rutgers was fifth in the preseason poll with 99 points as the Scarlet Knights aim for their sixth straight winning season and fifth consecutive bowl victory. Head coach Greg Schiano led Rutgers to a 9-4 record in 2010 (3-4 BIG EAST) behind a true freshman at quarterback in Tom Savage and another rookie as a big-play threat in wideout Mohamed Sanu.
USF had 79 points to take sixth in the preseason poll. New head coach Skip Holtz inherits a team with 13 returning starters, including dual-threat quarterback B.J. Daniels. The Bulls (8-5, 3-4 BIG EAST) will have to replace three NFL draft picks and five All-BIG EAST selections on defense, however.
Syracuse was seventh in the preseason poll with 41 points. The Orange (4-8, 1-6 BIG EAST) and head coach Doug Marrone bring back 16 starters from last year’s team, including nine from a defense that was the BIG EAST’s stingiest against the run in 2009. All-BIG EAST linebacker Derrell Smith leads a veteran group in the middle. Defense also is the focus atLouisville, which was eighth in the preseason poll with 40 points. First-year head coach Charlie Strong won two BCS National Championships as Florida’s defensive coordinator and will turn to veteran linebacker Brandon Heath to lead the Cardinals (4-8, 1-6 BIG EAST) in 2010.
Rank, Team, Pts.
1. Pittsburgh (22), 190
2. Cincinnati, 142
3. West Virginia (1), 142
4. Connecticut (1), 131
5. Rutgers, 99
6. USF, 79
7. Syracuse, 41
8. Louisville, 40