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NCAA Football Handicapping: 2009 Big East Football

Burns’ Big East Preview

If you thought the Big East has been bad in recent years, just wait ’till this season.

There is no favorite, just a bunch of mediocre teams, for the most part lacking big-time talent.

College Football Oddsmakers seem to like South Florida to win the conference. The media prefers Pittsburgh, with the Panthers picked in multiple preseason publications. Rutgers and West Virginia also should be in the mix. But none of the above is heads and shoulders better than UConn, Louisville or even Syracuse (gasp).

The Big East lost its top two running backs, top two passers and two of the top three receivers from last year are gone.

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Only three teams—Pittsburgh, South Florida and Cincinnati—return experienced starting quarterbacks.

Things look so bleak that there might not even be a Big East team ranked in the pre-season Top 25 polls. That hasn’t happened this decade.

What does all this mean for bettors?

Last year, fading the Big East in non-conference play was profitable. The Big East was 15-26 ATS when stepping out of conference.

That strategy has the potential to be even more successful this year.

But the conference’s unpredictability is a huge warning sign for bettors. The Big East is wide open. Anything can happen on any given Saturday, Thursday or Friday.

Talent-gauging opportunities

(These early games will help us get a feel for the Big East).

Minnesota at Syracuse, Sept. 5

Pittsburgh at Buffalo, Sept. 12

East Carolina at West Virginia, Sept. 12

North Carolina at UConn, Sept. 12

Louisville at Kentucky, Sept. 19

Florida International at Rutgers, Sept. 19

Cincinnati at Oregon State, Sept. 19

South Florida at Florida State, Sept. 26

Projected finish

(ATS records are from last three years)

1. South Florida

ATS: 20-16. Home: 11-7. Road: 10-5

Thing to remember: South Florida’s new defensive coordinator Joe Tresey was fired by Cincinnati after helping the Bearcats win last year’s Big East title. The Bulls host the Bearcats on Oct. 15.

2. Pittsburgh

ATS: 18-17. Home: 4-8. Away: 7-2

Thing to remember: Pittsburgh returns 15 starters, the most in the conference.

3. Rutgers

ATS: 23-13. Home: 11-7. Road: 10-5

Thing to remember: Rutgers went 7-0 ATS against Big East competition last season. Bonus note: The Scarlet Knights are 8-2 ATS as a road dog the last three seasons.

4. West Virginia

ATS: 16-19-2. Home: 7-10-1. Away: 8-6-1

Thing to remember: Pat White was the best quarterback West Virginia ever had, with all do respect to Major Harris. His loss will be enormous, but his replacement senior Jarrett Brown has played well in meaningful games each of the last three years.

With running back Noel Devine at his disposal, expect Brown and the Mountaineer offense to continue to put up big numbers.Just Bet

5. Cincinnati

Non-conference: 2-4

ATS: 21-15-1. Home: 11-5. Away: 10-7-1

Thing to remember: Play the over in Cincinnati games. The Bearcats have a returning starting quarterback in senior Tony Pike and one of the league’s most dynamic weapons in receiver / kick returner Mardy Gilyard.

But the Bearcats return just one starter on defense and will be playing for a new defensive coordinator.

6. Louisville

Non-conference: 3-1

ATS: 17-18. Home: 9-9. Away: 7-8

Thing to remember: Coach Steve Kragthorpe is heading into his third season after replacing Bobby Petrino. In his third season at Tulsa, the Golden Hurricane went 10-3 ATS.

7. UConn

Non-conference: 2-3

ATS: 18-17. Home: 10-7. Away: 7-9

Thing to remember: The Huskies have been a feel-good story moving up to Division I. But much of their success has come against second-tier competition. UConn is 1-12 against Top 25 teams and 0-6 against teams ranked in the Top 10.

8. Syracuse Orange

Non-conference: 1-3

ATS: 16-19. Home: 8-10. Away: 8-9

Thing to remember: Fourteen scholarship players have left the team since new coach Doug Marrone arrived in December. This will force young incoming freshman to play more prominent roles immediately.

As the wear and tear of the season takes hold in late October and November, remember to consider the Orange’s lack of depth.

Last week’s preview

ACC: http://www.capperspicks.com/blog/handicapping/acc-college-football-predictions-2009-120609/

Next Week’s: Big Ten

David Payne writes for Ben Burns.

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