There was a buzz all throughout the Big East this year during spring practice, but it had little to do with what was going on with the helmets and shoulder pads.
The real talking points came on the sidelines, where administrators, fans, media and coaches wondered about the fate of the league -- and their own individual schools -- with a possible Big Ten expansion raid coming seemingly any day. But while most people fretted over what might happen in a few years, something got overshadowed: The Big East has a chance to be pretty good on the field this season.
The league is coming off a season in which it had a team finish the regular season in the top 5 (Cincinnati), sent another team into the top 10 (Pittsburgh), had two other clubs appear in the Top 25 (West Virginia and South Florida) and saw six of the eight teams win at least eight games. And this year, the Big East could be even deeper and feature more parity.
Several stars returned to campus this spring. They include the reigning conference offensive player of the year (Pitt running back Dion Lewis) and co-defensive player of the year (Pitt defensive end Greg Romeus); one of the most electric big-play backs in the country (West Virginia's Noel Devine); two other 1,000-yard runners (UConn's Jordan Todman and Syracuse's Delone Carter); a Biletnikoff Award front-runner (Pitt's Jonathan Baldwin); and a slew of budding young superstars like Cincinnati's Zach Collaros and Isaiah Pead, Rutgers' Tom Savage and Mohamed Sanu and South Florida's B.J. Daniels.
Cincinnati has made back-to-back BCS games and is trying to get to a higher level under new coach Butch Jones. The Bearcats have the offensive stars to cause teams fits.
Pitt is hoping to improve on last year's 10-win season and capitalize on a talented, well-rounded roster. West Virginia returns 18 starters and could easily get back to the top of the Big East if sophomore quarterback Geno Smith lives up to expectations.
Connecticut has 16 starters back after finishing as strong as anybody in the league last year. Rutgers is building a young, hungry team around Savage and Sanu. Excitement is high at South Florida, where Skip Holtz has infused a new energy into a program that's had its share of big moments the last few years.
Even last year's co-cellar dwellers Syracuse and Louisville have reason for optimism, with the Orange moving into their second year under Doug Marrone and the Cardinals beginning what they hope is a fast rebuilding project for first-year coach Charlie Strong.
Maybe by the fall the future of the league will be in dire straits. But in the spring, at least, prospects look strong for the immediate future. Enjoy it while you can.