College football is back! The long months of waiting for football has ended. While the calendar still reads summer, the scoreboard points to fall. As the Big East rolled through an offseason of turmoil, the narrative emerged for this season. Can the conference perceived to well below automatic qualifying standards prove the pundits wrong?
We start finding that out tonight and this weekend. Without further ado, a What To Watch For edition of Laces Out, Big East style.
UMass Minutemen at UConn Huskies: A rivalry over a century old gets renewed in Storrs to kick-off the Big East football schedule in 2012. These teams are facing off for the first time since 1999, when both were part of the Atlantic 10. UConn is more talented, but the game can be very competitive if Huskies quarterback Charlie Whitmer struggles. 11 of the 22 starters are new for UMass.
Villanova Wildcats at Temple Owls: Local rivalry aside, Temple can’t afford a letdown in their first game back representing the Big East. It’s all about the ground game for the Owls. Temple rushed for 218 yards or less in 3 of their 4 losses in 2012. Temple averaged nearly 290 yards per game on the ground last year, led by running back Bernard Pierce and quarterback Chris Coyer. With Pierce gone to the NFL, the ground game is a question mark.
Northwestern Wildcats at Syracuse Orange: Neither defense looks to be a dominant outfit in 2012, so points are expected in the Carrier Dome. With Doug Marrone’s job security not secured past this season, the Orange can use a good start. A tough non-conference schedule — USC, Missouri, Minnesota — starts here. Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald has molded his Wildcats into a bowl team in the Big 10. If the Orange don’t play their A-game, 2012 will be off to a tough start.
Youngstown State Penguins at Pittsburgh Panthers: It’s finally time for Paul Chryst to make his head coaching debut. After 23 years as an assistant, the new Pittsburgh head man replacing reviled Todd Graham will look to start his tenure on a good note. While Youngstown State isn’t a FCS pushover, the matchup clearly favors the soon to be ACC bound Panthers. Running back Ray Graham is a game-time decision.
Chattanooga Mocs at South Florida Bulls: If B.J. Daniels and South Florida are going to take advantage of a very winnable Big East, this is a good place to start. Chattanooga is coming off a losing FCS season in 2011, and dropped their only FBS game 40-7 to Nebraska. Look for South Florida’s new defensive coordinator Chris Cosh to work on different schemes and get his players early confidence.
Rutgers Scarlet Knights at Tulane Green Wave: The game will go on as scheduled this weekend. There was speculation earlier in the week that this contest would be postponed to to Hurricane Isaac’s path through the Gulf Coast. While the spotlight will be on new starting quarterback Gary Nova and head coach Kyle Flood, keep an eye on the Rutgers defense. Returning eight starters, the Scarlet Knights will rely heavily on this side of the ball. 300 yards seems to be the magic number for the Rutgers defense. Rutgers was 4-0 in 2011 when holding opponents under the 300 yard mark.
Kentucky Wildcats at Louisville Cardinals: Charlie Strong’s team has a chance to make a statement in Week 1 against an in-state rival and SEC squad. The expectations are big in Louisville (as big as ‘Big East favorite’ can get) along with the talent discrepancy in this game. Cardinals quarterback Teddy Bridgewater should have his way with a young Wildcats defense which lost nearly 60 percent of their tackles, half the sacks, and over 85 percent of interceptions from last season to graduation.