On the cover of last year’s conference media guide we featured eight of the BIG EAST’s returning running backs. Each team in the conference returned its leading rusher (USF quarterback B.J. Daniels led the Bulls in rushing in 2009) in a year when the most experienced returning quarterback was a true sophomore.
The script has been flipped this year as six of the eight teams in the conference return their starting quarterback from 2010 – many of whom could make big jumps this season.
Zach Collaros of Cincinnati returns as the BIG EAST’s leader in passing yards, passing touchdowns and total offense. The senior is experienced and brings a legitimate running threat to the quarterback position for the Bearcats.
West Virginia’s Geno Smith played 2010 with a broken foot. Despite the injury, Smith threw 24 touchdowns against just seven interceptions and led the conference in passing efficiency. Smith seems likely to benefit from new coach Dana Holgorsen’s new offensive system that has recently made stars of Houston’s Case Keenum and Oklahoma State’s Brandon Weeden.
After bursting on to the scene with a win over Florida State in 2009, USF’s B.J. Daniels spent much of last season battling injuries and learning a new offensive system. But the sophomore ended last season with an MVP performance in the Bulls’ Meineke Car Care Bowl win against Clemson. Daniels enters his third year as a starter and should benefit from a veteran group of wide receivers.
Pittsburgh’s Tino Sunseri rallied from a difficult start to last season to post impressive overall numbers – he completed 64.5 percent of his passes for 2,572 yards and 16 touchdowns. Sunseri will be adjusting to Todd Graham’s new offensive system this year, but the explosive, no-huddle attack being implemented is considered to be QB-friendly, setting the stage for a potentially big year from Sunseri.
Last year, Rutgers freshman Chas Dodd stepped in for returning starter Tom Savage when Savage went down with a rib injury in Week 4. Dodd held the job the rest of the season and after Savage transferred to Arizona, enters this season as the starter. Dodd delivered a pair of 300-yard games for the Scarlet Knights, who boast a top-flight receiver tandem in Mark Harrison and Mohamed Sanu.
Syracuse’s Ryan Nassib shared snaps with Greg Paulus in 2009 before taking over as the starter in 2010. Among his highlights last year were a school-record five touchdown passes against Maine and an excellent game in the Orange’s New Era Pinstripe Bowl win over Kansas State. Nassib should benefit from a strong core of returning receivers and the one of the most experienced groups of offensive linemen in the BIG EAST.
Connecticut and Louisville will introduce new starters in 2011. The Huskies enter summer training camp with Mike Box listed as the favorite to take over behind center. Box made one start last season and is the only Connecticut quarterback with game experience. Louisville has an experienced man in Will Stein, who delivered off the bench last season, but freshman Teddy Bridgewater could get an early look as well.