Coach: Butch Jones
The story: After winning the conference title the previous two years under Brian Kelly, the Bearcats struggled with first-year coach Butch Jones. They should be better this year. Senior quarterback Zach Collaros (2,902 yards passing), the best passer in the conference last year, is back to lead a talented offense that includes 1,000-yard running back Isaiah Pead and receiver D.J. Woods (57 receptions). Cincinnati averaged a conference-best 27.4 points a game and should be just as efficient this year. The challenge is improving a defense that allowed 30 or more points is six of their eight losses and was the worst in the conference. Jones started eight sophomores and three juniors on defense last year, which means the entire unit returns. Linebacker J.K. Schaffer is a standout, but the overall defense will need to be better for Cincinnati to win more games this season.
Coach: Paul Pasqualoni
Last year: 8-5, 5-2 in Big East (lost to Oklahoma 48-20 in Fiesta Bowl)
The story: The Huskies took a huge step in their short history as a Division I-A program, winning the Big East title and qualifying for a BCS bowl game. Soon after, the program was thrown into chaos when coach Randy Edsall left for Maryland. His replacement is Pasqualoni, the winningest coach in Big East history and a revered figure among Connecticut high school coaches. Pasqualoni inherits a roster with questions on offense -- who's the quarterback? -- and the potential to be strong on defense. Replacing Jordan Todman (1,695 yards) won't be easy, but D.J. Shoemate has the potential to step in. The defense, with an experienced core back, will be the team's strength. Lineman Kendall Reyes and linebacker Sio Moore are game-changers, among the best defensive players in the conference.
Coach: Charlie Strong
Last year: 7-6, 3-4 in Big East (defeated Southern Miss 31-28 in Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl)
The story: The Cardinals had 27 seniors on a bowl team, so Strong will have an inexperienced team in his second season. Louisville was picked to finish seventh in the conference, but it was picked last in 2010 and they wound up finishing above .500. The defense, ranked 18th in the country last season, will again be the focus for Strong as the unit returns seven starters. On offense, Louisville will grind it out on the ground with returning backs Vic Anderson and Jeremy Wright replacing 2010 starter Bilal Powell (1,405). The quarterback job is up for grabs, with junior Will Stein expected to take the job. This will be a challenging coaching job for Strong, but he did surpass expectations in his first year.
Coach: Todd Graham
Last year: 8-5, 5-2 in Big East (defeated Kentucky 27-10 in BBVA Compass Bowl)
The story: The perennial Big East favorite is expected again to compete for the conference title, but this time under a new regime. Dave Wanndstedt is gone and Todd Graham brings a more explosive, wide-open offense to Pittsburgh. Graham calls it "high-octane," so expect a fast-moving, no-huddle offense that will challenge every defense it faces. With running back Ray Graham (922 yards) carrying the ball and quarterback Tino Sunseri taking snaps, the Panthers will score points. On defense, expect an aggressive approach from coordinator Keith Patterson. The unit is led by returning defensive end Brandon Lindsey, who had 10 sacks and led the conference with 17.5 tackles for a loss.
Coach: Greg Schiano
Last year: 4-8, 1-6 in Big East