Brian Bennett, ESPN's resident Big EAST blogger, has unveiled his conference power rankings for the upcoming season. And we're fourth, behind #1 Cincinnati, #2 Rutgers, #3 Pittsburgh, and tied with USF and UConn.
(First off, there's not a chance in hell we finish behind Rutgers. If we've proved anything in the past twenty years, it's that Rutgers can't beat us. For whatever reason, they just can't. The game may be close -- even go to overtime -- but at the end of the day, we win.)
His reasoning behind the ranking seems to be solely placed on a shaky offensive line. Well, point taken. But still, there is more talent on this offensive line -- though young -- then there has been in years. Between Josh Jenkins and Don Barclay, I can't think of two more polished young linemen in recent memory. Throw in veteran Selvish Capers, and that's three out of five. Eric Jobe and Jeff Braun, starting at C and RG respectively, are the true question marks.
The case for Braun is his easy transition to offensive line. Recruited as a defensive lineman, a lack of depth at OL forced the switch to the other side of the ball. Since then, all he's done is dominate and win a starting job as a redshirt freshman. Just like Brandon Hogan's move to defense, I put some extra credence in a player making a change that easily. It screams talent. Sure, there will be hiccups, as John Antonik certainly illustrates, but to borrow 5th Year Senior's favorite word, I have faith. And beyond that, just look at this mug. Think he's not going to be a great offensive lineman with a face like that?
The case for Jobe is a little easier, seeing as how he already has starting experience. And quite frankly, our center play couldn't get any worse. Watching Mike Dent try to snap the ball was like watching a monkey you know what a football. At times, I thought we should let the monkey try the shotgun snap.
Regardless, our offensive line brings a lot more size to the table this year. An undersized line last year was extremely vulnerable in our new system, where zone-blocking wasn't used as much. Now, with more size, we should be able to protect the quarterback more and hopefully road-grade for our backs (and quarterback).
As for the actual rankings, I will never pick against a Mountaineer team as talented as this one. Cincinnati has talent also, except their entire defense graduated and they're still Cincinnati. Sometimes there are growing pains on the way to the top, just ask USF. And Pittsburgh can't seem to keep their players out of jail, but I can't be too confident until we actually beat them. Still, fourth looks way to low. I will bank on the offensive line coming together, even if that means putting faith (yes, there's that word again) in Dave Johnson's coaching ability.