Ahhh, the messy middle. The place where overachievers and underachievers meet the distinctly average.
Fans are rarely happy when they see their team ranked somewhere in the middle. It actually creates more angst. Is the team in decline? Is this just rebuilding? Why do "they" think some other team is better?
Eyeballing the schedule sheds little light, as an average team will have a larger number of games that could go either way. Not many sure wins and few sure losses. The more optimistic or pessimistic will see more of one or the other.
In a small conference like the Big East, the middle is a small place. With only seven conference games it is a small difference between an acceptable 4-3 record and a disappointing 3-4 year. These two teams seem most likely to be tenants in the mediocrity.
The UConn Huskies would like to remind everyone that they were the co-Big East champs last year. Like WVU, they finished 5-2 in the conference. They also return 17 starters. Yet no one takes them seriously. There are good reasons for that.
Their non-conference schedule was laughable. They had one legitimate opponent in Virginia -- and lost. They also lost their bowl game to Wake Forest 24-10. The non-con opponents they did beat were 1-AA Maine, Duke and Temple. And against Temple they needed a blown call at the end of the game to hang on for the win.
Add in the blown call in the Louisville game where the UConn punt returner waived for a fair catch then took off for the score when the officials missed it and the Louisville coverage team reasonably stopped. UConn quite reasonably could be considered lucky to win those two games, which would have changed their record from 9-3 to 7-5.
It's hard to believe they will be that lucky again, and now having 17 starters back from the same squad is not as exciting. Their best WRs are an ex-running back and ex-quarterback. This means more relying on a grinding run game and the defense. That generally leads to more close games and luck has a way of evening things.
They still have the best tandem of running backs in the Big East with Andre Dixon and Donald Brown. They still have an opportunistic defense. Randy Edsall is one of the better coaches to maximize talent. That said, the Huskies are going to be right around 6-6, +/- 1.
Meet the new QB, he was the old QB. Dustin Grutza is apparently the quarterback for this year. I say apparently because who knows if last year's QB will be able to get an injunction against the NCAA for denying his eligibility this year. Grutza has been the starter in the past. He even started 2 games last year.
Last year, the Bearcats played a wide-open offense under new coach Brian Kelly that departed wildly from the conservative play-calling of Mike D'Antonio. Surprisingly, Cinci thrived and went 9-3 overall, 4-3 in the Big East.
The defense, however, began to wear down over the season. The offense, if it can get the QB situation straightened out, should still be very good. Defensively, they remain a question mark. They have to replace both safeties and both defensive ends. Their pass rush will be a big question mark going into the season.
Their schedule should be manageable, but is road heavy. They have one big non-conference game when they go to Oklahoma. After that it's Eastern Kentucky, at Akron, Miami (OH) at Marshall and at Hawaii. In conference they get Rutgers, USF and Pitt at home. They do have to go the WVU and UConn.
With a 13 game schedule thanks to scheduling a trip to Hawaii at the end of the year, winning 7 or 8 games is a good bet.