The last time we saw meaningful college football being played, Mark Ingram and the Alabama Crimson Tide were rolling to a national championship over the Texas Longhorns. 238 long days later, we've finally arrived at the beginning of the 2010 season, and expectations for all three local teams are high. Pitt opens Thursday night in Utah against a tough Utes team that should challenge the Panthers from the beginning. Penn State and West Virginia open on Saturday, against Youngstown State and Coastal Carolina, respectively. Each should cruise to an easy win.
To prepare for the season, four writers at SBN Pittsburgh sat down and examined the goals and expectations for not only their teams, but also their respective conferences and the national college football scene.
1) Realistically, what are you looking for out of the team this year?
Anson Whaley (Pitt): The outlook for Pitt is particularly rosy this year. The team is the preseason Big East favorite in most publications, and a BCS bowl game is expected. Some fans on message boards and on local talk radio feel that Pitt can perhaps even complete a one-loss or undefeated season. Personally, I don't believe Pitt needs to win that many games to have a successful season. I'll be happy if the Panthers win nine or ten games and reach a BCS bowl game by winning the conference.
As for the players, Evan Royster is set to break the all-time Penn State career rushing record. Along with Stefan Wisniewski, any number of the defensive front seven, and possibly a member of the secondary, Royster should find his name in the mix once awards season rolls around. Given the question marks at quarterback, a solid but not unspectacular season is all the Nittany Lion faithful will be hoping for from whomever is under center.
2) What is the outlook for your conference this year? How will the Big Ten and Big East fare against the rest of the country?
Aaron Hawley (WVU): Overall, the Big East will continue to be one of the country’s most maligned conferences. If WVU can shock LSU and South Florida can put a good showing up against the almighty Florida Gators, then maybe the Big East will get some love. Otherwise, all it can do is hope its teams show up in December and January. At this point, the nation won't change its opinion anytime soon.
Within the conference, I like the Mountaineers, but expect good fights from Pitt and UConn. There's more parity than ever this season, and an unblemished schedule will be hard to come by. Those three teams will beat up on each other, but I think the Mountaineers will bounce back from a loss in Connecticut to take the title from the Panthers on Thanksgiving Friday at Heinz Field. Cincinnati and South Florida will suffer growing pains while working in the new coaches, while Syracuse, Louisville and Rutgers will reprise their roles as conference doormats.
Adam Bittner and Jeff Junstrom (Penn State): No matter what happens in the Big Ten this year, all eyes will be on Nebraska to see what it can do on its way out of the Big 12. If the Huskers make some noise, and hammer their soon-to-be former conference mates, it will be a much bigger boost to the Big Ten's reputation than anything less than a national championship by a current member. Wins in the Rose Bowl, Orange Bowl and Capital One Bowl are great, but they can only take you so far. Nebraska needs to prove it's the real deal for the Big Ten to get the shot in the arm it's hoping for.
After a great bowl performance in 2009, the Big Ten has moved into second place on most conference power rankings, just ahead of the Pac 10. The SEC is still the top dog in terms of conference power, and will be seen as such as long as they keep winning championships. Is this the year that a Big Ten team wins the big one? All eyes will be on Columbus, but watch out for the Hawkeyes of Iowa as well.