The red-headed stepchild and the kid that gets picked last at dodgeball are both analogies that could describe the Big East’s position in the pecking order of BCS conferences. That could start to change with the arrival of TCU next year, but there will still be some exciting games in the conference, chief among them the ‘Backyard Brawl’ between Pittsburgh and West Virginia that will be the de facto conference championship game. One of the most interesting storylines in the Big East are the coaches. Greg Schiano is the longest tenured at Rutgers, Syracuse’s Doug Marrone is in his 3rd year. There are 3 first year coaches in the conference with the remaining 3, entering their second years.

1) West Virginia
Despite the controversy surrounding the head coach change, the Mountaineers should be ready to challenge for conference title. QB Geno Smith could have a breakout year and has former high school teammates Stedman Bailey and Ivan McCartney at receiver to help him. An experienced O-line will need to help several young RBs get going. DE Bruce Irvin, CB Keith Tandy and SS Terence Garvin are among the best at their positions in the conference, but the LB corp is lacking.

2) Pittsburgh
RBs Ray Graham and Zach Brown will form a potent duo to lead the Panther offense and will be helped by a solid O-line. However, QB Tino Sunseri must be more consistent and more depth must be found at WR. The D-line and secondary will be formidable with DE Brandon Lindsey and FS Jarred Holley as top talents. The underachieving linebackers must step up in order to help the team challenge West Virginia.

3) USF
After getting towards the top of the polls a few years ago, the Bulls need the offense to pick up to match the defense. QB BJ Daniels must throw fewer interceptions and a talented receiving group and O-line must be productive, but a deep group of RBs will take some pressure off. LBs Sam Barrington and DeDe Lattimore are studs, while S Jon Lejiste, DE Ryne Giddins and DT Cory Grissom lead a strong defense.

4) Louisville
Victor Anderson was passed up by Bilal Powell last year on the RB  depth chart and must step up big time in order for the Cardinals to succeed. True freshman Teddy Bridgewater may challenge Will Stein at QB and whoever wins that will have a talented, but inexperienced receiving corps and O-line to help them produce. The front seven on defense is young and could have a few breakout players. Safety duo Hakeem Smith and Shenard Holton are heavy hitters, but questions abound at CB.

5) Syracuse
Coach Marrone has the Orange on the right path, but several things must go right if they are to have a chance in the Big East. QB Ryan Nassib had a decent first season and has a solid but unspectacular group of receivers to catch his passes. A very stout O-line will set up whoever replaces Delone Carter at RB. Youth and inexperience abound in the defensive front seven, but a productive secondary, led by Phillip Thomas and Sharmarko Thomas will help make up for that.

6) Cincinnati
After winning back-to-back conference titles in ’08 and ’09, the Bearcats plummeted last year. A prolific passing game led by QB Zach Collaros and a deep receiving group and 1,000 yard rusher Isaiah Pead will help remedy that, but the O-line must not give up as many sacks as they did last season. DT Derrick Wolfe and LB JK Shaffer are stars, but others must step up, including a secondary that could rank in the bottom of the conference.

7) Rutgers
Coach Greg Schiano is on the hot seat and the future doesn’t look good. QB Chas Dodd is productive and will a very deep group of recievers, but the O-line gave up the most sacks in the conference and incoming freshman Savon Huggins will have to resurrect the running game. The defense is long on potential but short on experience, with the linebackers being the exception. LBs Steve Beauharnais and converted safety Khaseem Greene should help that unit.

8 ) Connecticut
What a fall for a team that had a share of the conference title last season. Whoever the QB is, he will be young and inexperienced with no real weapons at receiver. The Huskies must replace talented RB Jordan Todman. The O-line should be a the offense’s strength. DTs Kendall Reyes and Twyon Martin, aling with DEs Jesse Joseph and Trevardo Williams form an incredibly talented D-line. The rest of the defense is talented, but must see players step up in order to be effective.