Big East season predictions

The season is upon us.

Games begin Thursday, and we'll be full bore into college football by the weekend. So it's a final chance to make some predictions, and here are my picks for some various Big East 2010 awards/honors:

Big East winner: Pittsburgh

The schedule is downright frightening. The Panthers have some question marks, particularly along the offensive interior. And the league is as balanced as it's ever been. But I've been picking Pitt all offseason, and this is a team with as much or more high-end talent as anybody in the Big East, led by Dion Lewis, Jon Baldwin and Greg Romeus. If the Panthers are who we thought they were, as Dennis Green might say, then they should be able to navigate their difficult schedule and win their first outright Big East title.

Offensive MVP: West Virginia running back Noel Devine

Lots of candidates here, including last season's winner (Lewis), Cincinnati's Zach Collaros, Rutgers' Tom Savage, et al. I just feel like Devine is primed for a huge year as a senior, eager to prove he can do it all to satisfy the NFL scouts. And with a more experienced offensive line and potentially a more consistent passing game, he could find even more running room for his explosive bursts. It's awfully tough to go against Lewis; then again, winning an award like this two years in a row is hard for any player because the expectation levels increase.

Defensive MVP: West Virginia safety Robert Sands

Again, I'm going away from conventional wisdom here in not picking Romeus, last year's co-defensive player of the year. Sands was a play-making monster in the second half of last season and should continue to build on that with a veteran defense around him. And if you're wondering why I would pick the offensive and defensive players of the year from West Virginia and then choose Pitt as the champion, there is precedent: last season, Pittsburgh had the offensive and both co-defensive players of the year, yet finished second.

Surprise team: Connecticut

A strong season by UConn wouldn't surprise anyone who follows this blog or the Big East in general. Still, there are a lot of people who don't know much about the Huskies, and Randy Edsall's team could very well win the league's BCS bid for the first time. Remember that UConn gets West Virginia, Pitt and Cincinnati at home this season.

Team most likely to disappoint: Cincinnati

Only because expectations have been built so high. It's pretty hard to top 12-0, especially when you change coaching staffs and play a schedule that includes road games against N.C. State, Fresno State, West Virginia and UConn and a home-away-from-home matchup with Oklahoma. The Bearcats are a definite Big East contender, but many of their fans might be disappointed with a 9-3 type of season.

Newcomer of the year: Cincinnati receiver Vidal Hazelton

Hazelton comes into an offense tailor-made for receivers to put up huge stats, and the talented former USC Trojan should be ready to make a major impact in his one and only season in the Big East.

Freshman of the year: Rutgers receiver Jeremy Deering

Taking a stab at a wild card here. With injuries to the Scarlet Knights receiving corps, there is opportunity for the speedy Deering, who can also make a major impact on special teams and with some Wildcat stuff. I also seriously considered West Virginia's Ivan McCartney and South Florida's Terrence Mitchell.

Coach of the year: Randy Edsall, Connecticut

With Brian Kelly and his Vulcan death grip on the coach of the year award gone, Edsall will be the popular choice if he leads the Huskies to the breakthrough season many are predicting.

Can't-miss game: West Virginia at Pittsburgh, Nov. 26

The Backyard Brawl is always an event, and this year it could be for the Big East title. Pitt and WVU enter the season as the only two ranked teams, and look at the scores of the past three years to see just how close this rivalry has been: 13-9 (Pitt in '07), 19-15 (Pitt in '08) and 19-16 (WVU in '09).