1. Can Pitt carry the banner? Pittsburgh received 22 of 24 first-place votes in the Big East preseason poll and is the only league team ranked in the top 20 of either poll. So much is expected of the Panthers this season. It won't take long to find out how good they are, as they open Thursday night at Utah in another installment of the Mountain West vs. Big East argument. Pitt doesn't necessarily have to win this game to have a good season, but a poor performance in Salt Lake City could bode ill for Dave Wannstedt's team.
2. The Pitt O-line vs. the Utah defense: Most of the hand-wringing about Pittsburgh this preseason has involved the three new starters on the offensive line, particularly at center and right guard. The Utes have an attacking, blitz-heavy defense that produced 30 sacks a year ago. You can bet Utah defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake will try to bring extra defenders through the middle to disrupt Tino Sunseri's timing and keep Dion Lewis from running wild.
3. Are the Huskies worth the hype?: Connecticut has drawn plenty of buzz as a potential sleeper this offseason after winning the last four games of 2009. The Huskies will get a chance to show if that's all talk or if it's legit praise with a showdown at Michigan on ABC. The game could have the biggest crowd in college football history, and UConn's program could gain the most momentum in its history with a win.
4. Michigan's quarterbacks vs. the UConn defense: It's the first meeting between the Wolverines and the Huskies, but this shouldn't be unfamiliar territory for either coach. Rich Rodriguez had Randy Edsall's number when Rodriguez was at West Virginia, and the common thread in the Mountaineers' domination of UConn was superior speed. At Michigan, Rodriguez again has swift quarterbacks like Denard Robinson, Tate Forcier and Devin Gardner who can cause havoc in the open field. Given the Huskies' question marks in the secondary and their lack of beef on the defensive front, the Wolverines' quarterbacks should have a lot of opportunities to make plays.
5. Coaching debuts: Three new Big East coaches make their debuts on Saturday. Skip Holtz should have a relatively worry-free introduction at home against Stony Brook. Butch Jones and Charlie Strong have much more difficult assignments. Jones and Cincinnati open at Fresno State, while Strong has to lead Louisville against its biggest rival in Kentucky. All three games merit watching to see how the coaches have changed their programs' style and schemes.
6. New quarterbacks: Three quarterbacks will be starting for the first time in their college careers this week: Pitt's Sunseri, West Virginia's Geno Smith and Syracuse's Ryan Nassib. Smith and Nassib played a lot last season, but there will still be a high curiosity factor for each one's starting debut. And you can bet Rutgers, West Virginia and South Florida will try to get some work in for their extremely inexperienced backup quarterbacks.
7. Cincinnati's run defense: Opponents were able to stuff the ball down the Bearcats' throat down the stretch in 2009, and though the defense has switched back to a 4-3, it remains undersized at key positions. Fresno State had the nation's leading rusher last season in Ryan Mathews and the eighth-best rushing attack overall. Mathews is in the NFL, but the Bulldogs return all five starting offensive linemen, including a pair of 300-plus pounders on the right side. It's no secret what Fresno State will try to do when it has the ball.
8. West Virginia's opening salvo: The Mountaineers have had a few distractions in fall camp, including the looming NCAA investigation. At the same time, they have the most veteran team in the Big East and plethora of playmakers. The opener against Coastal Carolina shouldn't be much of a contest, and it would be good to see West Virginia put the game away early and avoid some of the slow starts that plagued it last season.
9. Rutgers' offense: The offensive line is rebuilt and the receivers are ailing. That shouldn't stop the Scarlet Knights from scoring points against Norfolk State. This should be an excellent opportunity for the young offensive corps to gain confidence and the offensive line to jell. If Rutgers struggles to move the ball effectively against an FCS defense, then that will be a giant red flag (and not the block R one).
10. Marrone 2.0: It's Year2 of the Doug Marrone era in Syracuse, and the team should be ready to take a step forward. There's no time to really hold much back in the opener, since it's on the road against an Akron team that has played well against the Orange the last two years in the Carrier Dome. With Marrone taking over the offensive coordinator duties this year, it will be interesting to see what kind of new wrinkles he'll unveil. Don't be surprised to see some option, some Wildcat and other misdirection. Most of all, Syracuse needs to avoid an upset and take advantage of an early schedule that should allow for a good start for a change.