BIG EAST Media Day Notes
By Jimmy Robertson
July 24, 2002

The BIG EAST Conference held its annual media day Wednesday in East Rutherford, N.J., and to no one's surprise, the Miami Hurricanes were picked to win the 2002 BIG EAST championship based on a poll of media representatives who cover the league on a regular basis. This marks the eighth time in 10 years that the Hurricanes have been picked as the preseason favorite to win the crown.

Miami, the defending national champion, received all 24 first-place votes despite seeing 11 players selected in April's NFL Draft, including five who went in the first round. But Miami returns nine players who earned first- or second-team all-conference honors from a season ago, including quarterback Ken Dorsey.

"We lost a lot of good players, but we'll have a good team," Miami coach Larry Coker said. "We've got a lot of good players coming back."

In a bit of a surprise, the media picked Virginia Tech to finish second. The Hokies lost six starters on a defense that finished second in the nation in total and scoring defense, and offensively, both quarterback Grant Noel and tailback Lee Suggs are coming off serious knee injuries. Still, Tech returns Kevin Jones, the league's rookie of the year last season, and Suggs' return gives the Hokies one of the nation's best backfields.

Syracuse, coming off a 10-win season, was picked to finish third followed by Boston College, Pittsburgh, West Virginia, Temple and Rutgers.

Injury report: Noel and Suggs both spent most of the session answering questions concerning their health and both issued declarations of being ready for the season. Suggs tore the ACL in his left knee in the season opener last season and missed the remainder of the year. He anticipates no problems in returning to his old self.

As for Noel, he also tore the ACL in his left knee in a scrimmage before the spring game. Instead of undergoing reconstructive surgery which would have cost him this season Noel elected to spend the summer strengthening his leg and getting ready to play with a torn ACL.

"Everything is going well," Noel said. "My leg is strong and my knee feels great. I'll have a brace on it, but that won't be a problem. I'm anxious to get out there and get going."

The Hokies aren't the only ones with injury issues. Miami's talented tailback, Frank Gore, tore the ACL in his knee this spring and his status remains up in the air. Gore played as a true freshman last season.

"His rehab was going well and then he had a setback," Coker said. "Some infection set in, but he's doing well now.

"I've talked with him and he doesn't want to redshirt. We hope to get him back by October 1st and that would mean he'd be back for eight games. We'll have to evaluate it then."

Also, Syracuse linebacker Clifton Smith underwent surgery for a torn pectoral muscle. Smith, a first-team All-BIG EAST choice last season with 94 tackles, expects to be ready for the season.

"That's Clifton," Syracuse coach Paul Pasqualoni said. "He's worked hard and made choices because he cares. He's such an incredible leader. He's always 100 percent ready to resolve issues among his teammates and you don't find many like that."

Decision not hard for Dorsey: Dorsey, who won the Maxwell Award as the nation's top quarterback, elected to return for his senior season even though he projected as a high draft pick by NFL scouts. Dorsey threw for 2,652 yards and 23 touchdowns and is now 26-1 as a starter. Dorsey had a little help with his decision.

"I think my parents would have killed me if I had gone pro," he said. "They wanted me to finish my education and I wanted to do it. I thought at the time I was ready, but if I stayed, I would be more equipped. You can't replace game experience."

Questions at QB for Pitt: Pittsburgh coach Walt Harris saw his team win the final six games of the season, including the Tangerine Bowl, but he expressed displeasure over the play of quarterback Rod Rutherford the supposed heir apparent for departed quarterback David Priestley this spring. And at this point, Harris considers the quarterback position wide open.

"He did not separate himself from the pack," Harris said. "There's no doubt he should be the starter. But he did not get done what he should have."

Pittsburgh, picked to finish fifth, returns seven starters on a defense that finished seventh in total defense. Offensively, the Panthers lost Priestley and standout receiver Antonio Bryant, but they do return all the offensive linemen.

"We're getting this program where we want it to be," Harris said. "When we took over, we only had one pro player. We've had one drafted each year since and we had three this year. So we're improving the talent level."

QB to watch: The team to watch this season could be Boston College, which returns eight starters on defense, a ton of junior-senior talent, and of course, sensational quarterback Brian St. Pierre. The 6-foot-4, 220-pound senior threw for 2,000 yards a year ago and led the conference with 25 touchdown passes. In fact, some NFL scouts rank St. Pierre as the fourth-best quarterback in the nation behind Dorsey, Marshall's Byron Leftwich and Louisville's Dave Ragone.

"Last year, he was the new guy, but now he's more of a known factor and we're looking for him to take over a bigger portion of the offense," BC coach Tom O'Brien said. "He's worked hard and we think he's going to have a big season. I think he's one of the top quarterbacks in the country."

O'Brien, though, needs to find a replacement for tailback William Green, who left school early and went to the Cleveland Browns as a first-round pick. Derrick Knight, a junior who rushed for 337 yards last season, is the leading candidate to replace Green.

"We've been in this situation before and we've learned to move on," O'Brien said. "We had Mike Cloud and Cedric Washington and now William Green. We'll have a 1,000-yard rusher."

Owls looking to improve: With their time in the BIG EAST coming to an end in a few years, the Temple Owls still hope to make some noise in the league. Coming off a 4-7 season, the Owls return 48 letterwinners, 10 starters on offense and a host of quality players on defense. The schedule features seven home games, too.

But any success depends on the offense. Temple coach Bobby Wallace hired former Hofstra offensive coordinator Dave Brock to run his offense. Hofstra, a Division I-AA school, was known for scoring

"We've got to be productive and not turn the ball over," Wallace said. "If we can take care of the ball, I think we'll be alright."

The Owls do return Tanardo Sharps, one of the league's underrated tailbacks. Sharps rushed for 771 yards a year ago.

BIG EAST searching for respect: Both coaches and players from the BIG EAST still feel there's a lack of respect toward the league even though BIG EAST teams are 8-2 in bowl games the past two years.

"The BIG EAST has been maligned and unjustly so," Coker said. "I think this league is very good. We've won our bowl games, so we've proven it and we'll have to keep proving it."

"We get so little respect," Dorsey said. "It gets to be frustrating. I'd like to see some of these other teams come into the BIG EAST and play our schedule and see what happens. And I think our bowl record speaks for itself."

The BIG EAST will have plenty of chances to earn respect this fall. Tech plays Texas A&M, Marshall and LSU. Miami takes on Florida, Florida State and Tennessee. Syracuse plays Auburn, BYU and North Carolina. BC plays Notre Dame and Stanford. West Virginia takes on Wisconsin, Cincinnati and East Carolina. Even Temple gets into the fray, tackling Oregon State and South Carolina.

Other BIG EAST tidbits: Wallace gave serious props to Tech tailback Kevin Jones, whom he saw often while watching local news clips during Jones' high school days. "I've coached Bo Jackson and Kevin's in that category," Wallace said. "He's as good as I've seen as a freshman. And Lee [Suggs] is outstanding, too." ... Pasqualoni brought Troy Nunes to the media day, but told reporters that R.J. Anderson was his starter at quarterback. He also said that Walter Reyes and Barry Baker are the candidates to replace James Mungro ... Rutgers coach Greg Schiano is more comfortable in his second year on the job. "It's fun to start repeating things and making them better," he said. "Doing things for the first time takes up a lot of time. I think we've got better players now than we had last year and the ones we had last year have improved. But how much better we'll be will be determined by the number of wins."