MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Bill Stewart had things figured out well before the Big East rolled into Newport, R.I., for its annual media days today and tomorrow.
The way he looks at it, the preseason media poll will be unveiled tomorrow with Pitt at the top and UConn not far behind and then Cincinnati and his West Virginia, in some order, at Nos. 3 and 4.
This is not to say he agrees with it, of course. Stewart thinks his third team can be the best in the Big East. Has for a while. Not because of his optimism or because that's what a coach is supposed to think and say. Stewart took a look at the Big East and what it might be and realized his Mountaineers look good in what might be a new-look league.
"I'm telling you," Stewart said, "the game goes through changes."
For years now the Big East has been an offensive league. The coaches were stars, guys named Petrino, Rodriguez and Kelly, who could assemble and move parts like few others, who had talents that were so good they were desired elsewhere.
There were All-Americans and Heisman Trophy candidates and the most recognizable ones were on the offensive side of the ball. And in charge were the quarterbacks, guys like Brohm, White and Pike.
Look around the 2010 Big East. Of the eight teams, only UConn and Rutgers will start the season with the quarterbacks they started with last year. The Huskies, Scarlet Knights, South Florida and maybe Louisville will start with the quarterback who started their team's final game last year.
The Mountaineers are omitted from both groups as they hand off to Geno Smith, a sophomore who played a bit as a true freshman, but less than, say, Cincinnati's Zach Collaros, who didn't make either list.
"I'm counting on our defense to lead us early and to be the strength of this football team," Stewart said of the group that returns nine starters, many who started or played an awful lot in 2008. "I'm counting on them to excel and lead this charge until our offense gets gelling. You might say, 'Why wouldn't this offense gel?'"
Part because of the quarterback situation and Smith and other relative newcomers at the position around the league will need a little time. The other part is actually the larger part.
"Defenses have caught up," Stewart said. "The deal is this: People have caught up to the spread because they see it every day with their own teams and then they see it every week from the opponents. We're going to evolve back to where you have to out-block them and out-tackle them or most of the time you're going to lose. This is going to become more of a defensive ballgame now."
The membership insists as much. There are new coaches - Charlie Strong at Louisville, Butch Jones at Cincinnati and Skip Holtz at USF - and Stewart believes they'll trend toward the basics.