Those are the places where questions are abounding. The attitude in Cincinnati wasn’t great after Kelly left prior to the Sugar Bowl against Florida and the Bearcats played like they didn’t care in a game where they had to pour every last ounce of emotion into it to have a chance. South Florida had a nice year under Jim Leavitt, making a bowl game after losing their quarterback to a season-ending injury. But Leavitt was one of the coaches forced out this offseason due to player harassment charges. West Virginia came up with a big November win over Pitt, and threw a scare into Cincy, but absolutely spit the bit in a poor Gator Bowl showing against Florida State. Of these three schools, South Florida looks to be the one in the best shape right now, both in terms of returning personnel and having a talented young coach.
Places where optimism is running rampant are in Pitt and Connecticut. The Panthers suffered a devastating loss to Cincinnati that cost them a major bowl bid, but they bounced back and won a tough game over North Carolina and have the league’s best running back in Dion Lewis. UConn really came on strong down the stretch and upset South Carolina in a bowl game. Both programs have been improving gradually and the bowl victories have both of them entering spring on a high note.
When I previewed the Big East last August, I linked Rutgers’ Greg Schiano with Kelly as one who could be headed for better pastures. In Schiano’s case its Penn State once Joe Paterno finally hangs it up. But a disappointing year surely put a crimp in that. Schiano has to rebuild, although given how much last year’s seniors underachieved, it can’t faze him all that much. And bigger rebuilding projects continue at Louisville and Syracuse, which continue to fight for respectability.
On Saturday we’ll take a look at the ACC. In the meantime, The Pro Football Notebook will have an NFC East overview later today, and The Baseball Notebook has a look at the Cubs’ bullpen up on the board.