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February 28, 2008

The league had one of the most talked-about coaching changes in the nation, with Bill Stewart taking over at West Virginia.

Coaches at Cincinnati, Connecticut and USF will be looking to build on the momentum those programs built last season.

Those topics and more are addressed in our Big East spring football preview.

SPRING DATES
Cincinnati: April 1-26
Connecticut: March 17-April 19
Louisville: March 19-April 18
Pittsburgh: March 25-April 19
Rutgers: March 11-April 19
Syracuse: March 19-April 19
USF: March 18-April 12
West Virginia: March 14-April 19

New Coaches

Bill Stewart, West Virginia: Stewart had little trouble winning over the fans in Morgantown for two reasons: because he beat Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl and because he isn't Rich Rodriguez. The next task is to win some game. Stewart, who went 8-25 as a head coach at VMI, looks to keep much of the same system in place, including the spread offense. He retained Rivals.com national defensive coordinator of the year Jeff Casteel, who will continue to run the 3-3-5. Stewart hired away some talented assistants from successful programs, such as Jeff Mullen from Wake Forest, Doc Holliday from Florida and David Johnson from Georgia.

Biggest position battles this spring

Cincinnati: Quarterback. Brian Kelly will have to find a new quarterback after last season's starter, Ben Mauk, was denied a sixth season of eligibility. In camp this spring are Dustin Grutza, who has started 23 games for the Bearcats, and Notre Dame transfer Demetrius Jones. Junior Tony Pike is a long shot for the position.

Connecticut: Defensive tackle. Four-star prospect Jarrell Miller arrived at UConn last season as one of the highest-ranked recruits in school history. His move from middle linebacker to defensive tackle means projected starters Alex Polito and Rob Lunn will face pressure to keep their positions during spring ball.

Louisville: Tailback. Anthony Allen's transfer leaves the Cardinals without their leading rusher, but they're not short on experience. Brock Bolen and George Stripling have had mixed results in their time at Louisville, and redshirt freshmen Dale Martin and Victor Anderson are expected to compete for carries, too.

Pittsburgh: Quarterback. Pat Bostick was thrown into the fire as a true freshman last season after injuries to Bill Stull and Kevan Smith. Though he started the last eight games, Bostick doesn't have a firm grip on the job. Stull, who started last year's opener, returns to the mix, and junior college transfer Greg Cross gives the Panthers their most athletic option under center.

Rutgers: Tailback. Without Ray Rice, what now? Rutgers will try to figure out how to replace its leading career rusher. Kordell Young showed promise before sustaining a major knee injury in September. Young will miss the spring, leaving sophomore Mason Robinson and redshirt freshmen Joe Martinek and Jourdan Books vying for playing time.

Syracuse: Tailback. New coordinator Mitch Browning who was out of coaching last fall has his work cut out for him in trying to add some pep to what was the nation's No. 119th-ranked rushing offense. Browning, who coached Laurence Maroney and Marion Barber III at Minnesota, inherits Delone Carter and Curtis Brinkley, who suffered season-ending injuries last year. Four-star freshman Averin Collier is enrolled early.

USF: Cornerback. The Bulls lose the best cornerback tandem in the Big East and one of the best in the nation in Trae Williams and Mike Jenkins. They also lost senior backup Ryan Gilliam. Backup Tyller Roberts returns, as does nickelback Jerome Murphy. Redshirt freshman Quenton Washington should also get a look.

West Virginia: Defensive end. Redshirt freshman Julian Miller will be the only returnee from last season, but soon will have company. The Mountaineers will have junior college end Larry Ford for the spring. But the real prize won't arrive until fall, when four-star JC transfer Tevita Finau lands on campus.

FIVE PLAYERS WHO SHOULD EMERGE THIS SPRING

West Virginia TB Noel Devine: To Mountaineers fans and recruitniks, Devine already is a household name. Look for him to take a big leap in production during his sophomore year with Steve Slaton leaving early for the NFL. Devine averaged 8.6 yards per carry as a backup last year, but carried the ball more than 10 times in a game just twice. With his smaller frame, he and the coaching staff will look to limit the wear and tear on his body as the season progresses.

Louisville QB Hunter Cantwell: The long wait pays off for Cantwell. He has been one of the top backup quarterbacks in the country the past two seasons, but has had few chances to show it while he sat behind Brian Brohm. He could have a big senior year under the tutelage of Steve Kragthorpe.

Connecticut LB Scott Lutrus: Lutrus was a Rivals.com Freshman All-American with 107 tackles and four interceptions, but he could be even more productive as a sophomore. He moves from the outside into the middle to replace Danny Lansanah. The middle may be the more natural position for Lutrus (6 feet 3, 220 pounds).

Syracuse DT Arthur Jones: You might have trouble convincing anyone outside of the Carrier Dome that Jones was ninth in the nation in tackles for a loss with 17.5. If Syracuse shows any improvement under Greg Robinson, who will have a bigger hand in the defense this year, look for Jones to gain more notoriety.

Pittsburgh DE Greg Romeus: Romeus was a second-team Rivals.com Freshman All-American after recording 11.5 tackles for loss and four sacks last season in part-time duty. He will have even more opportunities as a sophomore with both starting ends gone.

FIVE IMPACT NEWCOMERS THIS SPRING

USF LB Kion Wilson: Wilson enrolled in January out of Pearl River Community College (Miss.) and is the heir apparent to three-year starter Ben Moffitt in the middle. After playing weakside linebacker at Pearl River CC, Wilson will have the spring to adjust to playing inside.

Pitt C Robb Houser: Pitt needs all the help it can get on the offensive line after the departure of three starters. Houser, a transfer from junior college, could step in immediately and claim the starting center spot.

Cincinnati QB Demetrius Jones and Pitt QB Greg Cross: Two transfers could have an immediate impact on their teams' spring drills. Jones (a Notre Dame transfer) and Cross (a JC transfer) are dual-threat quarterbacks who will put pressure on former and current starters during the spring.

West Virginia DEs Julian Miller and Larry Ford: Miller, a redshirt freshman, was the only defensive end on scholarship before Ford enrolled in January. Since West Virginia plays a 3-3-5 stack defense, Miller and Ford will compete for one spot during the spring.

Louisville LB Chris Campa: Louisville needs help everywhere on defense. The situation is even more dire at linebacker, where leading tackler Lamar Myles left early and Willie Williams was dismissed. Campa, a junior college transfer, already is enrolled and will immediately challenge for playing time.

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



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