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25 things I'm excited for in the Big East

Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett

Stay frosty, people. Our long summer of waiting ends tomorrow night. While we'd all gladly take any college football right now, here are the 25 things I'm most excited about seeing this year in the Big East.

1. One more year of West Virginia's Pat White.
We've been incredibly lucky to watch this rare talent for the past 2 1/2 years. He only needs 784 yards -- a little more than half a season's worth for him -- to become the all-time leading rushing quarterback in Division I-A history. And this year he's supposed to show off his improved passing skills. Appreciate White while he's still around.

2. A full workload for Noel Devine.
The West Virginia sophomore might be the shiftiest, most elusive running back in college football. He averaged 8.6 yards per carry in a limited role last year and needed only two carries to rush for 100 yards against Maryland. He carved up Oklahoma for 108 yards on just 11 carries in the Fiesta Bowl. What can he do with the ball in his hands 20-25 times a game? I can't wait to find out.

3. LeSean McCoy's encore.
The Pittsburgh tailback tallied 1,328 yards and 14 touchdowns as a freshman, and he made only nine starts. Can he approach 2,000 yards as a sophomore?

4. Matt Grothe on the run.
The South Florida quarterback says he wants to think more and make better decisions this year. But it's so much fun watching Grothe improvise out of the pocket and make plays that few other QBs would even try.

5. Kenny Britt and Tiquan Underwood on the fly.
The two Rutgers wideouts each had at least 1,100 yards receiving last year -- and that was with Ray Rice around. Without a proven running game to rely on, Britt and Underwood could put up even more staggering numbers this year.

6. Mike Mickens and DeAngelo Smith breaking on the ball.
The two Cincinnati cornerbacks were sensational last year, combining for 14 interceptions. That's more than half the Division I-A teams had last year. Smith may play a little more at safety this season, but both will still view every pass as a potential turnover.

7. George Selvie on the attack.
The South Florida defensive end is a joy to watch because of his relentless effort -- unless you happen to play for the opposing offense. He has set 20 sacks as his goal this year, and I wouldn't bet against him.

8. Hunter Cantwell under center.
The Louisville quarterback has patiently waited his turn for three years behind Brian Brohm, occasionally and admirably filling in whenever Brohm got hurt. Now, the former walk-on and avid outdoorsman finally gets his chance to run the team full-time. You can't not root for a guy like Cantwell if you like college football.

9. The Plains meets The Hills.
I find the endless "Which conference is better?" arguments tiresome, especially since they usually involve nothing but speculation. That's why I'm excited about one of the SEC's best, Auburn, coming to reigning Big East champion West Virginia's home turf on Oct. 23. It should be a great game, and at least something will be proven on the field this time.

10. Connecticut's response to the naysayers.
Few teams can legitimately play the "No Respect" card like Connecticut. The Huskies won a share of the Big East title last year and bring almost everybody back. But they've been consistently ignored, or worse, picked to finish at the bottom of the league this season. Will they prove doubters wrong or right?

11. Syracuse rolling out the orange carpet.
On Sept. 12, a movie about legendary running back Ernie Davis called "The Express" will premiere in downtown Syracuse. Orange legends like Jim Brown and Floyd Little will be in attendance, along with Dennis Quaid and other stars of the movie. It will be a weekend-long celebration of the first African-American to win the Heisman Trophy, and perhaps Syracuse will find enough inspiration to knock off Penn State on Sept. 13 at the Carrier Dome.

12. Kevin Huber getting his kicks.
Punts are normally a time to run to the refrigerator, but don't miss Cincinnati's fourth downs. Huber was a first-team All-American last year who averaged 46.9 yards per punt, including three 62-yarders.

13. The Big East's big finish.
There's no conference title game, but the league has done a great job of scheduling marquee games late in the year. The South Florida-West Virginia season finale on Dec. 6 looks like a classic waiting to happen.

14. Trent Guy leading Louisville onto the field.
Guy was shot in the back as he left a nightclub in the early-morning hours of July 5. In an amazing recovery, he'll be in uniform Sunday against Kentucky -- and may even play. By all accounts, Guy is a terrific student and campus leader who's among the most popular players on the team.

15. "Take Me Home, Country Roads" at Milan Puskar Stadium
So maybe John Denver didn't actually have West Virginia in mind when he wrote the song (legend has it that he was inspired while driving in Maryland). There's still something magical about hearing it at Mountaineers games, where it's been played since 1972. And when the voices swell during the chorus -- "Where I belong, West Virginia ..." -- well, I dare you not to sing along.

16. Bon Jovi sing-alongs at Rutgers Stadium.
I'll never forget the night two years ago when Rutgers upset undefeated Louisville on a Thursday night in Piscataway. Fans stormed the field and stayed there for what seemed like hours. The loudspeakers played "Livin' on a Prayer," and you could hear the crowd sing "WHOA-OH" part of the chorus all the way up in the press box. It's not exactly "Hail to the Victors," but it's entertaining.

17. The Cathedral of Learning bathed in gold.
OK, so there aren't a lot of traditions in the Big East, where it seems nearly half the teams just started playing
yesterday. But Pittsburgh's been around a while and has a neat one: after every Panthers win, the Cathedral of Learning -- which is the second tallest educational building in the world -- is illuminated in the team's home gold colors. That hasn't happened too frequently in the past three years, but the improved Panthers should run up the electricity bill in 2008.

18. Weeknight football
Who needs Saturdays? The Big East has long been at the forefront of the nontraditional game day. This year brings two games on a Sunday, one each on a Monday and Wednesday, eight on a Thursday and seven on a Friday. You can argue the merits of such scheduling -- especially what Friday night games do to the local high school scene -- but in the end it means more college football for you to see. And it sure beats watching singing and dancing competitions.

19. The South Florida Sun Dolls.
'Nuff said.

20. A full house at Nippert Stadium.
Before last year, that phrase would have been an oxymoron. But second-year coach Brian Kelly has brought excitement to Cincinnati and the crowds to charming Nippert, which the school claims is the fourth-oldest stadium in college football. Sunk right into the middle of campus, the 35,000-seat bandbox offers one of the most intimate game day experiences you can find anywhere.

21. The return of Louisville's running game.
People often described Bobby Petrino's offense as "wide open" or "high flying," but the real secret to his success at Louisville was his dedication to the power running game. The Cardinals went away from that last year, but new offensive coordinator Jeff Brohm pledges to reinstall that toughness. With Brock Bolen, Bilal Powell and newcomer Victor Anderson, Louisville could have one of the more underrated backfields in the Big East.

22. A pitcher and a slice at Varsity Pizza.
A campus-area institution, the walls here are covered with Orange memorabilia and the opponent's flag is turned upside down after every Syracuse football victory. The pizza is $1.35 a slice and the beer is cold (make mine a veggie and a Sam Adams seasonal, please). There's no better spot for tailgating or just to escape the snow if it's, you know, like mid-September.

23. Bill Stewart's news conferences.
This man makes Bobby Bowden look mean-spirited. The exceedingly friendly new West Virginia coach is a treat to interview as he spins his straight-from-the-hills pearls of wisdom.

24. Jonathan XIII.
He might not be as famous as Uga or Ralphie or Bevo, but I'm a sucker for live mascots, and Connecticut's all-white Siberian Husky is the Big East's best animal option. Good dog.

25. The International Bowl.
Just kidding. Is it kickoff time yet?