Phil Steele picks Pitt as Big East champ

I just picked up the new Phil Steele 2011 College Football Preview from my local supermarket to check out what he has to say about the Big East. So now I bring to you his forecast for the league in order of finish:

1. Pittsburgh

1. USF

3. West Virginia

3. Cincinnati

5. Connecticut

6. Rutgers

6. Louisville

8. Syracuse

Steele has Pittsburgh and USF finishing in a tie, but predicts the Panthers will own the tiebreaker and make it into a BCS bowl. I am not surprised to see the Panthers up here. A lot of folks thought I had Pittsburgh too high at the No. 2 spot in my Power Rankings. Here is what Steele has to say: "Todd Graham steps into a great situation. Pitt has my No. 1 rated defense in the league and Graham will get the most out of an offense that has talent." I agree there, which is why I had Pittsburgh at No. 2.

As for USF, many Bulls fans were angry I had them at No. 3. Finishing in a tie for No. 1 definitely is conceivable if B.J. Daniels continues to show the growth he did at the end of last season. Steele says, "USF is among the most talented teams athletically in the conference and they only lose 15 lettermen, which is the fewest in the league. ... USF has never had less than 3 losses in Big East play since joining in 2005, but I will call for that to happen this year."

West Virginia at No. 3 might seem low to a lot of you Mountaineers fans out there. I had West Virginia at No. 1 in my Power Rankings. Steele has the Mountaineers at No. 3 because of their schedule. But he does have West Virginia listed as one of his surprise teams.

Steele also notes he almost picked Cincinnati at No. 1, and sees the top four Big East teams as legitimate conference title contenders. I agree the Bearcats are a huge wild card this season. If the defense is better, watch out.

As for his preseason top 40, he has USF ranked as the highest Big East team at No. 25 (also listed as his No. 5 surprise team), with Pittsburgh right behind at No. 27 and West Virginia at No. 33.

Go ahead and discuss among yourselves.