Here is the official preseason media poll....
West Virginia (21 first place votes, 188 pts)
Pitt (2 first place votes, 162 points)
USF (1 first place votes, 151 points)
Syracuse (98 points)
Cincinnati (96 points)
Connecticut (76 points)
Louisville (60 points)
Rutgers (33 points)
I'll have more after the interview sessions.
Like I wrote last night - Pitt is leading the charge for a 12-team football conference with 16 teams max in the basketball conference. And I talked directly to Steve Pederson at the clambake (which, is a terrible event when you are allergic to seafood, by the way) about this and he made it very simple as to why that is - it is ridiculous that every year the conference has to worry about losing schools to other conferences but as long as the league is in its current state, that will be the case.
He said unless the conference makes itself better - better meaning adding teams that make sense and finding a model that will work for the long time - it will always be vulnerable to a raid and teams will always be looking to try and get somewhere better. He said the conference needs to shore itself up and sooner rather than later and Pitt.
I'll have much more on this after the formal part of the media sessions.
Also, each head coach spoke from the podium for the first time since I've been covering these things. Here are some highlights...
Greg Schiano, Rutgers - Praised the work of new offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti, said that Rutgers is going back to power football. Said they will be able to run the ball with power and they have an offensive line capable of plowing the way. He also said they will also get back to playing Rutgers championship-level defense. He also said Rutgers will soon get back to "their winning ways, when they went to bowl games and winning championships....." Um, winning ways? Championships? He finished by thanking everyone for their support through the entire Eric LeGrand situation and asked for continued prayers for Eric.
Dana Holgorsen, West Virginia - Was upset that there wasn't a trip to Foxwoods on the official docket yesterday......(relax I'm just joking, it is early lighten up). Said he is intrigued by the competitiveness of the conference. He said he's quickly discovered that in this league there is no big dog, that you better have your guys ready to play every week or you can lose. Talked about how much he looks forward to playing in all of the "great venues" around the league. He obviously has not been to Cincinnati for a game.....Talked about the fact that the Mountaineers had 25,000 people at the spring game and how much he looks forward to the "Backyard Brawl" and his relationship with Todd Graham. Talked about how defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel is a huge part of what the Mountaineers will accomplish.
Doug Marrone, Syracuse - He talked about how tough the Orange's schedule is as they play Wake Forest and USC. Still trying to create a foundation for a winning program and last year was a good step. Compared the Big East to the NFL in that every team has a chance to win every week regardless of records. Said the Orange has more depth now than when he started a few years ago but lost a ton on defense.
Charlie Strong, Louisville - Talked about how he realized how good the league was when a few years ago they had to prepare for Cincinnati as Florida's defensive coordinator in the Sugar Bowl a few years ago.....um, didn't Florida win that game like 81-4 or something? Louisville's players didn't make it because of weather and connection problems. Strong talked about the importance of getting Louisvlle back to bowl games. He is clearly my pick for the guy nobody in the room should mess with, ever, out of this group. And listening to him talk, I can see why he is such a good recruiter. He is very smooth, intense and passionate about what he is taling about.
Paul Pasqualoni, Connecticut - Putting him on the podium this early may not have been a good idea given that half the guys in the room had a late night and are already yawning......Talked about how different the league is now - without Miami - than it is now. Continued the theme of how competitive the league is. He grew up in Connecticut, happy to be home and happy to be back in his home state. Said the players have been excellent during this transition period from the Randy Edsall era to this new era. Went position-by-position explaining what they have in terms of the depth chart....he does know a lot of guys have planes to catch tonight, right? (relax, joking, sort of.....)
Todd Graham, Pitt - He is humbled and honored to represent the Univesity of Pittsburgh and talked about the great tradition at Pitt. He said it is exciting to be at Pitt and said Pitt has great people.Talked about his staff and how it is like family because so many of the guys have worked together for so long over the years. Said he has tremendous respect for the job that Dave Wannstedt did before him and the type of players he recruited and have left for Graham to work with. Only used the phrases "high octane" "explosive" and "character and discipline" one time each but did also talk about the "unique" approach. He said "we have an opportunity to have a special defense." Oh, wait - went back to the "high octane" well one more time.Gave a shout out to the Pitt fans "we're going to work hard to try and make you proud."
Butch Jones, Cincinnati - Talked about the "passion" of all the coaches that spoke before him. Talked about being the last remaining coach from the first ever Big East game (Boston College versus Rutgers, he was on the staff at Rutgers). Talked about how he wants his players being champions in every day in life, in the classroom and in their relationships and that will enable them to be champions on the field. Said you have to win off the field first before you can win on the field. Hmmm, where have we heard that before? He then talked about the offseason conditioning and how it is geared towards making the Bearcats tougher. The team returns every starter on defense and he believes the maturity of the team is greater. The team won the academic excellence award (2.9 GPA) from the Big East for having the highest GPA in the league. Ended with "Go Bearcats"
Skip Holtz, South Florida - Has a lot of energy, that's for sure. Clearly one of the best personalities among the coaches - he must get that from his dad. Talked about the "fine line" between winning and losing - he said there are 1700 plays in a season and the difference between the champions and the last place team in this league is probably six or seven plays. Excited about the future of the Big East with TCU coming in next year. Is clearly excited about the growth of South Florida as a university (now the 9th largest in the country) as well as the upgrade in facilities on campus. Said he thinks that the way the team came together late last season speaks well for what will happen this year as they have a lot of experience and great leadership.