Posted by Chip Patterson
Big East Media Day got started in Newport the the release of the preseason media poll and opening remarks from commissioner John Marinatto and all eight head coaches. Each coach was given several minutes to address the media and share some thoughts on the upcoming season.
Pretty much every coach spent some time talking about the competition in the league. It was pointed out several times that 5 of the 8 teams have earned a share of the conference title since 2006, and all eight teams have earned at least one bowl berth in the last two years. Also many of the coaches expressed their excitement for the arrival of TCU and the topic of the upcoming media deal negotiation was not ignored. Other than Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano, no other coach has been in his current post for longer than three seasons. The anxiousness to get into fall camp was another common theme, particularly for new coaches Todd Graham, Dana Holgorsen, and Paul Pasqualoni.
Below are some highlights from each coach's time at the podium.
Rutgers - Greg Schiano
- Schiano acknowledged the late-season collapse from 2010. "The wheels came off," he explained to the media. "We'll return Rutgers football to its winning ways, to bowl games." The Scarlet Knights had been to five straight bowl games (winning four in a row) until 2010's last place finish.
- One of the weakest points in Rutgers' offense a year ago was the offensive line. With new offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti, Schiano believes the Scarlet Knights will return to being a "power football team." Says they've made some schematic changes to the line, but also believes they "are a better group than we were at any time last year."
- Highly touted running back Savon Huggins has become a star in the Rutgers football community before even setting foot on campus. Schiano made no promises about the starting running back position, but instead listed the entire group and said that Huggins will "make for great competition" when camp opens.
West Virginia - Dana Holgorsen
- "Excited to get to do this a year early" was the closest Holgorsen came to mentioning former head coach Bill Stewart. However he did spend a considerable amount of time complimenting the work of defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel. While the Mountaineers lost seven starters from the defensive unit to the NFL, Holgorsen believes they have a "good nucleus" of players coming back to lead the 2011 edition of Casteel's defense.
- Holgorsen said that quarterback Geno Smith has picked up the new offensive system well. While Holgorsen has only been head coach since June, he's been working with the offense since his arrival in Morgantown before spring practice. He said that Smith's challenge now is "to make everyone around him better."
- "Tavon Austin is a dynamic kid who can touch the ball in a whole bunch of different ways," Holgorsen said of the junior playmaker. He made it clear the Mountaineers plan on putting the ball in his hands as much as they can.
Syracuse - Doug Marrone
- With an 8-5 finish and a Pinstripe Bowl victory, the Orange are fresh off their most successful season since 2001. Marrone, entering his second year on the job, made it clear that the goals for the program are to create a foundation and "become a competitive team year in and year out" in the league. The media projected the Orange to finish fourth in the conference, but well behind West Virginia, Pittsburgh, and USF.
- The Orange lost a lot of talent on defense, and Marrone made it clear that there will be lots of competition over the next month in camp. While the unit is solid at defensive end and safety, it sounds like the interior line, outside linebackers, and corner back positions are up for grabs.
- There was no update on the medical status of Prince-Tyson Gulley or any team decision regarding recently arrested wide receiver Marcus Sales. It has been reported that Gulley has been released from the hospital and is recovering at home, but the coach made no statement on either situation.
Charlie Strong - Louisville
- Strong won over the Cardinals football community in his first year by taking the team back to the postseason for the firs time since the 2006 season, when the Cardinals were Big East champions. He was able to deliver a bowl game experience to a team that had 25 seniors, with 14 in the starting lineup. Strong made it clear that the Cardinals will be looking for players to step up this fall, filling in for the mass exodus of players from the two-deep.
- There is no hiding the lack of experience at quarterback for the Cardinals. Junior Will Stein has the most experience of the group (2 starts), but Strong made sure to mention dual-threat freshman Teddy Bridgewater and wildcard QB Dominique Brown as well. In spring practice it looked like Stein had a lead on the job thanks to his comfort with the offense, but clearly every candidate will get a shot to earn snaps this fall.
- Strong said that the defense will likely be the team's strength this season, particularly the defensive line. Three starters return from last year's unit, and the entire two-deep has game experience. The Cardinals also return both starting safeties, most notably 2nd team All-Big East sophomore Hakeem Smith.
Paul Pasqualoni - Connecticut
- It seems odd that one of the "first-year" coaches was present for the first season of Big East football in 1991, but such is the way things have worked out for Connecticut's Paul Pasqualoni. He pointed out how different the league is now, noting that the diversity of champions in recent years contrasts to the conference's inception - where Miami took 9 of the first 13 Big East titles.
- With no starting quarterback (Pasqualoni has decided to let all four candidates continue to compete into fall camp), there has been an emphasis placed on the offensive line. The Huskies did a fantastic job moving the ball with Jordan Todman in 2010, and Pasqualoni hopes that USC-transfer D.J. Shoemate will be able to find similar success this fall.
- Expect multiple looks from the Huskies defense this season. Explained that he and defensive coordinator Don Brown (formerly with Maryland) have different backgrounds and are "merging" their systems. There will be some 3-4 and some 4-3 as the Huskies continue to develop the linebacker position. Pasqualoni says that he has an "outstanding defensive line," anchored by all-conference defensive tackle Kendall Reyes.
Todd Graham - Pittsburgh
- When Graham took the podium, it was impossible not to recognize his feeling of pride after being introduced as the Pittsburgh coach. He opened talking about how far he has come, from coaching middle school football 25 years ago to now finally being a head coach in a BCS AQ conference. He mentioned his great memories as an assistant at West Virginia (his first collegiate job), and expressed his excitement to return to the conference. He also indirectly gave credit to former head coach Dave Wannstedt, saying he "has a lot of respect for the job that has been done before him" to bring this team together.
- Graham used the phrase "high-octane" several times during his remarks, and Panther fans should get excited for what it could mean for the offense this fall. Not only will it lead to exciting football, but Graham actually believes that it will better suit quarterback Tino Sunseri as well. According to Graham, moving the returning starter back into the shotgun "accentuates" his talents.
- For all the talk about Graham's new "high-octane" offense, he was sure to point out his excitement for the defense, which returns most of a unit that ranked 8th nationally in 2010. In addition to the returning starters, the coaching staff is excited about the development that they saw this spring on the defensive side of the ball. Graham also singled out senior nose tackle Myles Caragein as "the leader of this football team."
Buch Jones - Cincinnati
- Unlike the rest of his colleagues, Jones spent no time going over personnel or specific team outlook in his opening remarks. Instead he commented mostly on his admiration for the conference and pleasure to be coaching the 5th oldest college football program in the nation. Leadership is clearly a theme of his right now, although he called it "misunderstood" by many in America. It was confusing, I know. I'm guessing he is saving all his specific football chatter for the afternoon.
- One remotely football topic Jones covered involved his opening remarks was returning an entire defensive unit. He described that it is "one thing to be older, but we have to be better," when referring to the returning defense. The Bearcats ranked near the bottom of the conference in most defensive categories, and must improve if they want to turn around last season's 4-8 performance.
Skip Holtz - USF
- I'll give the second-year Bulls' coach one thing: he deliver a straightforward and enthusiastic message. "We were three plays a year ago from winning 11 games," Holtz said. "But we were three plays away from probably winning four." The Bulls went to overtime twice in 2010, and played in seven games decided by 8 points or less. Holtz, who described his first year on the job as "a blur," clearly understands how close the conference competition can get in the Big East.
- Holtz spent a considerable amount of time praising the university's leadership for their efforts in USF's growth. From facilities to funding, the entire athletic department has benefited from an initiative by the school to become more than a "commuter school." According to Holtz, seeing the campus-wide push has created a sense of excitement around Tampa.
- Speaking of excitement, Holtz identified the Bulls' late season wins over Miami in Coral Gables and Clemson in the Belk Bowl as victories that created a "snowball effect" for the team. He said the way the team came together and finished the season created a lot of excitement about the future. But Holtz knows it is still too early to make any projections regarding the 2011 season.
"From August 3 to September 3 we are going to learn a lot about this football team," Holtz explained. "I think that the next month will determine the amount of success we have [as a football team]."