Yummy! The sweet dairy goodness of tasty cupcakes. To an extent everyone schedules at least one gimme on their schedule. So we'll overlook that 1-AA warm up game at the beginning of the season and move on to more important things. Seeing as how this is the Big East we'll just say that everyone will play two quality opponents in West Virginia and South Florida, three potentially good teams in Pitt, Cincinnati, and Rutgers, and three teams that shouldn't make anyone's top 25.
1. Connecticut- Starting off with the fat dough boys that got way too much credit for their record last year and look to do the same this year. Did I say that I wasn't going to mention the 1-AA teams? I'm sorry, because the Flying Dutchmen of Hofstra has to be one of the best names in all of college football. Unfortunately, they're not one of the best teams in college football. And that's who UConn starts their season off with. Oh, but it doesn't get much harder from there. The next three weeks they play @ Temple, and then get Virginia and Baylor at home. Any team worth their salt should easily be 4-0 at this point. Aside from having an easy schedule last year, UConn also got every break including a rather nice no call on a fake fair catch that helped them beat their fifth opponent in 2008, Louisville. Circle that game if you want to savor the sweet smell of revenge. UConn closes out their non-conference schedule with what should be a much improved North Carolina team. I don't know that they will crack the top 25, but for the sake of argument we'll count this one as a quality opponent. So that's one up and four down for UConn. Remember this at the end of the year when you look at their record. It will be deceiving.
2. Cincinnati- But they play @ Oklahoma! Yeah, well that's about it. Let's not forget that Oklahoma has proven themselves susceptible to Big East speed. All kidding aside, Cincinnati starts out the season hosting Eastern Kentucky, then travels to Oklahoma. In their next three games they host Miami (OH) and play @ Akron and @ Marshall. Ha! Marshall? They shouldn't be scheduling two 1-AA teams in one year. Cincinnati then plays their conference schedule and ends the year @ Hawaii. That might have been a tough game last year, but this year it shouldn't take a lot of effort. To be honest, I had to think long and hard about Cincinnati being number one on this list, but the Oklahoma game saved them in the end.
3. Louisville- Louisville doesn't have the big game on their non-conference schedule this year, but it's not exactly full of patsies either. I'm not going to sit here and glorify Kansas State and Kentucky but they do play in power conferences and both have the ability to knock off a superior opponent. Here's how the schedule breaks out for the Cardinals: Kentucky, Tennessee Tech, Kansas St., they start Big East play at home against UConn, then finish up the non-con @ Memphis, and Middle Tennessee. It'll be interesting to see if Middle Tennessee can hang 42 on them again this year.
4. South Florida- If the Bulls have one redeeming quality about their non-conference schedule this year, it's Kansas. I don't necessarily think that Kansas is going to be as good as they were last year, but they should still be considered a quality opponent. Also, the thought of Mangino pacing the sidelines in the Florida heat and humidity has a bit of a giggle factor to it. But other than that, the Bulls shouldn't be tested until they begin Big East play. The non-con looks like this: Tennessee-Martin, @ Central Florida, Kansas, @ Florida International, and @ NC State. This is only slightly better than Louisville because Central Florida was respectable last year and NC State isn't coached by Chuck Amato.
5. Pittsburgh- Pitt starts out the season with Bowling Green. You laugh, but you didn't sit through 21 years of press conferences of Don Nehlen praising MAC schools like Bowling Green. It's a hard thing to shake. Next up, Buffalo. While they shouldn't pose any problems for Pitt, this isn't your dad's Buffalo Bulls. They flirted with .500 ball last year. OK, I'm not impressed either. In any other year, playing Iowa would mean something. But with the recent on and off the field troubles, this is a game Pitt should win. Still, it's a Big 10 team, so it shouldn't be considered a cupcake. Pitt finishes out the non-conference schedule @ Navy and @ Notre Dame. Not exactly national powers, but Navy did beat Pitt last year and went to a bowl and Notre Dame just can't be as bad as last year.
6. Syracuse- They aren't making life any easier on Greg Robinson. If it wasn't challenging enough for him to make it through a Big East schedule, they also added Penn State and a trip to Northwestern to start the year out. They also have a trip to Notre Dame toward the end of the season. The schedule also includes home games with Akron and Northeastern. So if you're wondering why I didn't write a post about the challenging schedules for Big East teams, I'm on #6 and I haven't seen one yet. Not that this one won't be challenging for the Orange.
7. Rutgers- I think you could probably rank this one with the difficulty of the Syracuse schedule, but it's just the way it starts that gives the Scarlet Knights the edge. They start out with a home game against what should be a tough Fresno St. team. They return 16 starters off a 9-4 team that beat Georgia Tech in a bowl game. But doesn't everyone. Then North Carolina comes to town. The following week, they take a trip to play Navy. They might not get it, but they deserve a rude welcome considering what happened last year. The non-conference schedule ends November 22nd when Army comes to town. Yikes, this is the second toughest schedule in the Big East? The headline is appropriate.
8. West Virginia- Oh, there's cupcakes to be had here. But there is also a trip to Colorado the third week of the season that should prove to be a tough game. The Zen Master, Dan Hawkins is slowly putting together a nice team in Boulder. If anything, West Virginia should be glad they are getting them early in the season rather than late. The season starts out with 1-AA Villanova at home, then a trip to East Carolina. After Colorado, Marshall makes their second trip to Morgantown. Governor Joe Manchin is generally liked in the state, but forcing this series has to be the worst move of his time in office. Instead of getting a boost from moving from the MAC to Conference USA, Marshall has gotten progressively worse. They're picked to be the 115th worst team in 1-A this year. One can only hope that the series ends when the seventh game is played so West Virginia can start scheduling more challenging teams. If things play out according to plan, when Auburn comes to West Virginia on October 23rd both teams will be undefeated and in the top 10. It's the kind of clash of the titans that the Big East needs, and needs to win. If the Mountaineers have any hope of making it to a national title game, this is a must win.