BIG EAST Media Day Notebook
By Jimmy Robertson
July 23, 2003

For the ninth time in 11 years, the University of Miami Hurricanes were selected as the team to win the BIG EAST championship based on a poll of media representatives who cover the league and released at the league's annual media day held Tuesday at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.

Miami, the defending league champion who lost to Ohio State in the national championship game in January, received 21 of 24 first-place votes. The 'Canes return seven players who earned first- or second-team all-conference honors a year ago.

The media chose Pittsburgh to finish in second place and Virginia Tech to come in third. Pittsburgh, which received one first-place vote, brings back a league-high 17 starters from a squad that ended the year nationally ranked for the first time since 1989. That includes 2002 rookie of the year Larry Fitzgerald, a receiver who caught 12 touchdown passes and tallied more than 1,000 yards receiving as a freshman last season.

Tech received three first-place votes. The Hokies return 16 starters, including nine on defense (actually, 10 from the group that started the San Francisco Bowl game) and seven on offense. The Hokies, coming off their first sub-.500 season in league play since joining the conference, were picked to finish lower than second for the first time in three years.

"The bottom line is we lost four conference games last year," said Jake Grove, who, along with Ernest Wilford and Nathaniel Adibi, attended the media session. "Our focus is always to win the BIG EAST, and last year, we took care of everything else, but not the BIG EAST. You can't lose four games and be happy about that.

"But it's not where you start. It's where you finish. In the end, if you're No. 1 in the league, that's all that matters. We've got to win those [league games] and get back to the BCS."

Media members picked West Virginia to finish fourth, followed by BC, Syracuse, Temple and Rutgers. None of those teams received any first-place votes.

Topic of conversation: Most of the questions asked of the league's coaches and players centered around the departure of Virginia Tech and Miami after this season. Those two schools accepted invitations to join the Atlantic Coast Conference and become full members in that conference in 2004.

Nearly all of the league's coaches agreed that the departure of Tech and Miami will not have much of an impact on the field this season. And they don't see those two leaving as added motivation to beat those two teams.

"When kids run out of that tunnel and they cross that goal line, they don't remember any of that stuff," Syracuse coach Paul Pasqualoni said. "It's like with great pregame speeches. They're overrated."

Interestingly, BIG EAST commissioner Mike Tranghese asked the media beforehand not to ask the players any questions about the ACC and instead to focus on football. But the questions still came up.

"I actually expected it to be a lot worse," Grove said. "I only got about 20. I expected about 200."

Fitzgerald looking to be a super soph: Fitzgerald, the receiver from Pittsburgh, goes into this season as arguably the favorite to win the league's offensive player of the year honor after finishing his freshman season with 69 catches for 1,005 yards and 12 touchdowns. The 6-foot-3, 210-pounder became the first freshman in BIG EAST history to record more than 1,000 receiving yards.

"I don't look at myself as a dominant player," Fitzgerald said. "That's not in my personality. I pride myself on my work ethic. I watch film all the time just trying to find that edge, so that I can make myself a better player."

"He might be the best receiver in Pittsburgh - college or pro," Pittsburgh coach Walt Harris said. "Larry loves football. He loves that pigskin and he's the best I've ever seen at going up and getting the ball. Not only that, he's a great guy. We're fortunate to have him."

He certainly knows how to conduct himself in front of the media. When asked which game he looked forward to the most this season, he didn't hesitate.

"September 6th," he said, referring to the Panthers' opener. "Kent State."

Replacing Avon: West Virginia lost 21 seniors off last season's 9-4 team (6-1 in the BIG EAST), including 13 starters. The Mountaineers suffered arguably the biggest loss of any league team with the departure of All-BIG EAST running back Avon Cobourne, who rushed for at least 1,000 yards in four straight seasons. Cobourne finished last year with 1,710 yards and 17 touchdowns.

Quincy Wilson, a senior from Weirton, W.Va., backed up Cobourne for three years and finally gets his opportunity to shine. He rushed for 901 yards and six scores last season.

"It's like a dream come true," Wilson said. "To come from this state and to be the starter at tailback at the state university is like a dream come true. I just hope I can be the next great one here.

"I wouldn't say there's pressure. I'd call it nervous enthusiasm. I'm looking forward to this season. Now's the time for me to prove myself."

The Mountaineers finished second in the league a year ago and some expected them to be picked to finish higher than fourth this season. But Wilson didn't see that as any sign of disrespect.

"I think you have to look at what the three teams picked ahead of us have coming back," Wilson said. "They've got a lot of starters back and we lost a bunch. We lost Avon and a lot of quality players.

"To me, it's all about where you finish anyway. Last year, we finished second and we were picked to finish sixth or seventh."

Berlin gets his chance: Brock Berlin gets first crack at replacing Ken Dorsey as Miami's starting quarterback. Miami coach Larry Coker named Berlin - one of the nation's top prep recruits three years ago - the starter after spring practice, and the University of Florida transfer reportedly can't wait to get the season started.

Interestingly, Berlin's first game will be in Shreveport, La. - his hometown - against Louisiana Tech and his second game will be against Florida at the Orange Bowl, his first home game.

"He can't wait, he's ready to go right now," Coker said. "You know, when you look back on it, Rex Grossman enrolled at Florida in the spring of his senior year of high school, so he got to go through a spring practice. He got such an advantage and was so far ahead. Brock never had a chance because Rex ended up being so great.

"I think Steve Spurrier will tell you that Brock is the same type of player. He'll be ready to play. I know he can't wait."

Temple wants to stay: With all the talk about Tech and Miami leaving the league, many forget Temple also departs after 2004. But Temple head coach Bobby Wallace would love to see the Owls be invited to stay in the BIG EAST and he made a pitch for that at media day.

A lot of that argument centered around the Owls being able to play in the Philadelphia Eagles' new stadium, which is scheduled to open this fall. A deal between the Eagles and Temple to allow the Owls to play there is rumored to be nearing completion.

"I'd love to see that happen," Wallace said when asked if he wanted to stay in the BIG EAST. "Just look at it from this angle. We first need to finalize the stadium situation and start drawing fans, which I think we can do. With a new stadium, you're going to generate people

"But we're already in the fourth largest media market in the nation. We were 3-3 last year against the teams left in the BIG EAST. And we have the sixth-winningest basketball program, I believe, in America.

"So I don't see that you can say that we don't have much to offer."

Wallace's team lost a lot of players off last year's team. But he expects his group to build on last season's success and he thinks the addition of 22 junior-college players - including eight first-team junior-college All-Americans - will help.

"We were close last year," Wallace said. "If we don't fumble in the fourth quarter against Pittsburgh and somehow pull out a win [a 29-22 loss], then after we beat Rutgers the following week, we're going into the season finale against BC with a chance to go 6-6 and be bowl eligible.

"But close isn't good enough. We know that. Our mistakes are magnified because we still need more talent and numbers in our program."

Glass getting fuller?: Rutgers was picked to finish last in the BIG EAST, but head coach Greg Schiano likes what he sees within his program. He returns 13 starters and 43 letterwinners and he points to a lot of the younger players whom he expects to make a difference in this team's progress.

"I think we've got a chance to sneak up on some people," Schiano said. "I look at a football program as a pipeline, and right now, our pipeline is about three-quarters full. We still need to get it completely full and gushing over. But this is the best talent we've had at Rutgers and they're starting to mature. How fast we can get them to be good will be the key."

Schiano said he and his staff needed to get the offensive line straightened out first as the Scarlet Knights head into fall camp. But he pointed to John Glass, a 6-5, 320-pound transfer from the University of New Haven, and Ron Green, a 6-6, 320-pound junior-college transfer, to have an immediate impact.

On defense, Schiano will get the services of 6-3, 245-pound Berkeley Hutchinson, a linebacker from Long Branch, N.J., who sat out last season after failing to meet the NCAA's minimum eligibility requirements. Hutchinson, a 2002 SuperPrep All-American, recently qualified.