We're finally here. UConn gets it going against UMass at 7:30 tonight (on ESPN3), kicking off what is sure to be another fun-filled Big East season. Here's what's worth keeping a close eye on during the first weekend.
1. Chandler Whitmer's debut: Whitmer is the only first-time starter for a Big East school this season, and he gets to go first. The Butler Community College (Kan.) transfer will face a Minutemen team making the transition to the FBS this season, and the Huskies are the first of many BCS programs on its 2012 slate.
2. Other debuts: By "other," we mean "coaching." Paul Chryst (Pitt) and Kyle Flood (Rutgers) are making their head-coaching debuts this weekend, and each has every reason to feel that his team has a shot at the conference title this season. Steve Addazio is also worth watching, as the second-year Temple coach is new to the conference this year.
3. Final Mayor's Cup?: And speaking of the Owls, they will face Villanova on Friday night in what might be the finale of their annual "Mayor's Cup" rivalry. Here's hoping for the sake of the sport and Philadelphia that the schools can find a way to it keep going, but the possibility that this is it for them makes it more intriguing.
4. UK-UL: Speaking of rivalries, what better way to cap off the opening weekend than with one of the more hostile ones featuring a Big East team? The Cardinals, for once, will be favored when they host Kentucky on Sunday, but the trash-talking has been alive and well throughout the offseason. (Rumor has it the schools played a fairly big hoops game this past spring, too.)
5. Cuse kicks off tough slate: The Orange are the only Big East team other than Louisville that will open against a fellow BCS-conference school, as they host Northwestern at noon Saturday. The Wildcats (yes, that's the third different "Wildcats" squad facing a Big East school this weekend) will hardly be it for Syracuse in the heavy nonconference slate, as the Orange will face USC in Week 2 before games against Minnesota and Missouri.
6. Rutgers-Tulane: The status of this game has been anything but solid all week with Hurricane Isaac on its way to the Louisiana area, but it looks like these two will give it a go Saturday night. The atmosphere for that one should be interesting.
7. Will Ray Graham play?: It will be essentially a game-time decision for the Pitt running back. When healthy, he just might be the best at his position in the country, though the Panthers should be just fine against Youngstown State on Saturday regardless.
8. Will B.J. Daniels put it all together? USF's Big East title hopes may rest on the arms and the legs of the four-year starter, who is on the cusp of multiple school and conference records. His farewell tour kicks off Saturday night against Chattanooga.
9. Four straight days of football. Yup. Starting today, continuing Friday and Saturday, and concluding Sunday, the Big East will have games on four consecutive days. The SEC is the only other big-six conference that can say the same. Enjoy the weekend, folks. I know I will.
10. But what does Cincinnati watch? Butch Jones' team is in the odd spot of spending the season's opening weekend at home before it kicks off its season next Thursday against Pitt. And he doesn't like it. TCU's departure for the Big 12 made this scenario seemingly unavoidable. Odds are the Bearcats will keep a close eye on that 6 p.m. Panthers-Youngstown State tilt.