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Pitt, Penn State And WVU Set To Kick Off Seasons

SB Nation Pittsburgh's staff weighs in on Pitt, Penn State and WVU, as well as the fates of the Big East and Big Ten.

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.

It would be nice to see Dion  Lewis be a serious challenger for the Heisman Trophy. I think Pitt still  has somewhat of a perception issue - they aren't recognized as among  the elite. Lewis winning the award or even finishing strongly would go a  long way in helping Pitt get some additional credibility across the  nation.

Aaron Hawley (WVU): This year, I expect a 10-2 Mountaineer squad, a Big East title and a BCS bowl appearance. I don’t really expect to see the Mountaineers go into Death Valley at night and steal a victory from LSU, though it would be nice. If the Mountaineers hang with the Tigers it could send them into the conference slate with great confidence and greater expectations. An undefeated trip through the Big East schedule does the job, but this is easier said than done. The Montaineers could drop one along the way, most likely at Connecticut, but prevail and take the title with a win in Pittsburgh in November.

Individually, I’d like to see big seasons out of Noel Devine and Geno Smith. This is Devine's senior year and I think 1,500 yards and double digit touchdowns are in the cards if Bill Stewart gets him the ball early and often. For Devine to be in the Heisman watch would be nice, but that's unlikely, unless he has a breakout performance at LSU and a ridiculous number of highlight-reel runs. As for Smith, if he can run the offense with a steady hand in his first year, it’ll be a great season. Both of those cases aside, success for  this year’s Mountaineers hinges on steady play from the defense, and improved offensive line play.  Since both units return depth and experience, I expect big things.

Adam Bittner and Jeff Junstrom (Penn State): Penn State hasn't lost a home game to any team other than Michigan, Ohio  State and Iowa in five years. Considering the last two aren't on the home  schedule this year, and considering Michigan figures to be considerably  weaker than Penn State, it'd be a big disappointment if Penn State lost a  home game this year. It'd also be disheartening to take losses on the  road to mediocre Minnesota and Indiana squads. That leaves three big games against Alabama, Iowa and Ohio State. Anything worse than 9-3 would be a disappointment.

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?

Anson Whaley (Pitt): Judging from the preseason polls, not much is expected from the Big East in 2010. Only two teams, Pitt and West Virginia, will start the season ranked in the Top 25. Still, that's better than last year, when no conference teams started in the Top 25 of either poll. The Big East typically has at least one outstanding team - over the past five years, no conference winner has lost more than two games after the conclusion of the bowl season. Unless Pitt or perhaps a team like WVU or Cincinnati steps up, that streak will end this season.
The Big East isn't the strongest of the BCS conferences, but I'm not convinced it's the worst. The Big East has gone 17-9 (.653) over the past five years in bowl games (including a respectable 3-2 in BCS games), ranking second out of the six BCS conferences in winning percentage behind only the SEC (.667). Contrast that with a conference such as the Big Ten, which is an abysmal 13-23 (.361) over that span. That's not to say the Big East is better than the Big Ten, which has placed two Ohio State teams in the national championship game. Rather, it's merely to show the gap between conferences might not be so large. Still, with that said, the Big East has a lot to prove and at some point has to send a conference winner to the National Championship game in order to get more respect from poll voters.

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.

3) How do the BCS bowls play out, and who wins the Heisman Trophy?

Anson Whaley (Pitt):
National Championship: Alabama over Ohio State
Rose Bowl: Iowa vs. Oregon
Fiesta Bowl: Texas vs. Pitt
Orange Bowl: Miami vs. Oklahoma
Sugar Bowl: Florida vs. Boise State
Heisman Trophy Winner: Boise State QB Kellen Moore

Aaron Hawley (WVU): 
National Championship: Oklahoma over Boise State Rose Bowl: Ohio State vs. Oregon Fiesta Bowl: TCU vs. Texas Orange Bowl: Virginia Tech vs. LSU Sugar Bowl: West Virginia vs. Alabama
Heisman Trophy Winner: Ohio State QB Terrelle Pryor

Adam Bittner and Jeff Junstrom (Penn State): 
National Championship: Ohio State over Texas Fiesta: Nebraska vs. Connecticut Rose: Iowa vs. Oregon Orange: Virginia Tech vs. Florida Sugar: Alabama vs. Boise State
Heisman Trophy Winner: Arkansas QB Ryan Mallett

Photographs by dizfunk used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.