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December 10, 2006

Postseason breakdown: Big East

Prior to the college football season we offered up an inside look at what to expect in the Big East.

As expected, we pegged some things right and were off the mark on a few others.

Here is our look back at the Big East season:

Big East Standings
Rivals.com's Preseason Predictions:
1. West Virginia
2. Louisville
3. Rutgers
4. Pittsburgh
5. South Florida
6. Connecticut
7. Cincinnati
8. Syracuse
How they finished:
1. Louisville
2. West Virginia
3. Rutgers
4. South Florida
5. Cincinnati
6. Pittsburgh
7. Syracuse
8. Connecticut
Offensive MVP: Ray Rice, Rutgers. The emergence of Rice has been the biggest factor in Rutgers' transformation from a doormat to conference championship contender. During his freshman year, he ran for 1,120 yards when Rutgers went 7-5. This year, he was the key to Rutgers' 9-0 start and rise to national prominence. The fourth-leading rusher in the country (and second in the Big East behind West Virginia's Steve Slaton) ran for 1,624 yards and 19 touchdowns.
Defensive MVP: Darrelle Revis, Pittsburgh. The Pittsburgh defense struggled most of the year, but Revis was not to blame. He returned two interceptions for touchdowns in the first two games, and for the remainder of the season, teams game-planned around him. He also was a standout punt returner, turning in one of the top plays in the Big East this year on a spectacular 73-yard punt return for a touchdown against West Virginia.
Coach of the year: Greg Schiano, Rutgers. Rutgers' faith in the former Miami defensive coordinator paid off big this year. Schiano started his career in Piscataway, N.J., with a 3-20 record. Savvy recruiting, a quick defense and the backfield tandem of Ray Rice and Brian Leonard catapulted Rutgers to the national stage in 2006. With last year's Insight Bowl and this year's Texas Bowl, Schiano has led Rutgers to its first back-to-back bowl games in school history.
Freshman of the year: Matt Grothe, South Florida. The redshirt freshman took over the starting job in the second game of the season and became the most productive rookie QB in the country. He was 12th in the country and first among freshmen in total offense with 258.5 yards per game. A dual-threat quarterback, Grothe was the focus of the Bulls' offense in an 8-4 season that earned South Florida its second consecutive bowl appearance. Grothe accounted for more than 70 percent of his team's offense with 2,495 passing yards and 607 rushing yards - a number that led the Bulls' next leading rusher by 238 yards.
Coordinator of the year: Paul Petrino, Louisville. First, Louisville had to deal with the season-ending broken leg to Heisman-contending running back Michael Bush in the opener against Kentucky. Then came the thumb injury to star quarterback Brian Brohm that sidelined him for two games at midseason. The Cardinals still led the Big East and finished third in the country in scoring offense on the way to a Big East championship and Orange Bowl appearance. As wide receivers coach, Petrino coached the two leading receivers in the conference, Harry Douglas and Mario Urrutia.
Surprise team: Rutgers. Last year's 7-5 season was only a start. Once a laughingstock, the Scarlet Knights came within one game of a Big East championship. Rutgers started the season 9-0 and reached No. 7 in The Associated Press poll for its first top 10 ranking in history. Rutgers' 28-25 win over undefeated No. 3 Louisville on Nov. 12 was the biggest victory in school history. A triple overtime loss to West Virginia in the final game of the season kept Rutgers out of a major bowl bid and the Big East championship.
Disappointing team: Pittsburgh. The season began out so promising for the Panthers, who started the season 6-1. Pittsburgh then lost its last five games to cap a 2-5 Big East season. The Panthers missed a bowl game for the second consecutive year and looked ugly doing it. Their last three opponents Connecticut, West Virginia and Louisville each scored at least 45 points on the Pittsburgh defense.
Team on the rise: South Florida. The Bulls finished with the second-best record among Florida teams at 8-4. Along the way, South Florida scored a major upset by limiting the West Virginia offense to a season-low 310 yards in a 24-19 win in Morgantown. The Bulls will aim for a third consecutive bowl bid next year with 10 of this year's starters only freshmen and sophomores, including quarterback Matt Grothe and defensive end George Selvie.
Big game: Rutgers defeats Louisville 28-25. Louisville's 44-34 win over West Virginia the week earlier set the stage for another matchup of undefeated teams. Rutgers' win over Louisville beats out the Cardinals' win over West Virginia for drama value. It was all here: a Cinderella story, a game of national significance and a come-from-behind win in the second half for the Scarlet Knights. Rutgers became the George Mason of the football season.
Biggest upset: South Florida defeats West Virginia 24-19. South Florida already proved it was capable of pulling an unlikely upset in 2005 with a 45-14 win over Louisville. This time, the Bulls had to go on the road to defeat 9-1 West Virginia to knock the Mountaineers out of the Big East title hunt. South Florida became one of the few teams to figure out Rich Rodriguez's offense, holding the Mountaineers to a season-low 310 yards. Pat White and Steve Slaton were held to 60 combined yards.
Most likely to win bowl game: Louisville over Wake Forest. Wake Forest's defense is nice, but the surprise Demon Deacons have not faced an offense like Louisville this year. Brian Brohm has recovered from his thumb injury to pass for more than 300 yards in his last two games. Wake Forest will need more than the three field goals it got in the ACC Championship Game against Georgia Tech to beat the Cardinals.
Most likely to lose bowl game: Western Michigan over Cincinnati. Rutgers would be an easy pick for the let-down factor against Kansas State in the Texas Bowl, but Cincinnati could have the toughest task against Western Michigan in the International Bowl. Western Michigan is fifth in the country in rush defense that held Northern Illinois' Garrett Wolfe to 25 yards earlier this season. The Bearcats go in the game with a new coaching staff with Brian Kelly taking over for Mark Dantonio, who left for Michigan State. Kelly, however, already beat Western Michigan earlier this year as the Central Michigan coach with a 31-7 victory.
Worth noting: Louisville's 44-34 win over West Virginia on Nov. 2 was the most-viewed Thursday night game in ESPN's history. Rutgers' 28-25 win over Louisville the next week was ESPN's fourth-most viewed Thursday broadcast. Big East teams played on non-Saturdays on an ESPN network more times than any other conference other than the MAC. The Big East's 32-8 record against non-conference opponents was its best in league history. Louisville and West Virginia were tied for third in the country in scoring offense with 38.92 points per game. West Virginia's Dan Mozes won the Rimington Trophy as the best center in the country. Louisville's Art Carmody won the Lou Groza Award as the top kicker. Among major awards finalists from the Big East: Rutgers' Ray Rice (Maxwell for player of the year), West Virginia's Steve Slaton (Walter Camp for player of the year, Doak Walker for top running back), Rutgers' Darnell Stapleton (Rimington for top center), Rutgers' Greg Schiano (Eddie Robinson and George Munger for coach of the year) and Louisville's Paul Petrino (Broyles for top assistant). Rutgers fullback Brian Leonard won the Draddy Trophy for top scholar-athlete in the country.
Season prediction record: 50-16. Season against the spread: 7-6.

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