2007 record: 11-2, 5-2 in Big East (tied for first, ranked No. 6 in the final AP poll).
Coach: Bill Stewart (1-0, first season; 8-26 overall).
Will compete for the national title if … : Stewart can pick up where he left off in a 48-28 win over Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl. Quarterback Pat White is a leading Heisman candidate, and sophomore Noel Devine might be better than the departed Steve Slaton. The defense returns just four starters.
2007 record: 9-4, 4-3 in Big East (tied for third).
Coach: Jim Leavitt (79-47, 12th season).
Will validate last season's huge success if … : It limits turnovers and adjusts to the loss of three defensive starters to the NFL. End George Selvie is the league's top defensive player, seeking to repeat as an All-American. Quarterback Matt Grothe and running back Mike Ford combined for 22 touchdowns last season.
2007 record: 9-4, 5-2 in Big East (tied for first).
Coach: Randy Edsall (50-55, 10th season).
Will prove last season wasn't a fluke if … : It finishes higher than sixth, where the league media picked it despite 17 starters back. That includes quarterback Tyler Lorenzen and two 800-yard rushers. The only hole on defense is replacing all-Big East linebacker Danny Lansanah.
2007 record: 5-7, 3-4 in Big East (tied for fifth).
Coach: Dave Wannstedt (16-19, fourth season).
Will cost Wannstedt his job if … : It misses a bowl for the fourth year in a row. Linebacker Scott McKillop is a tackling machine, and running back LeSean McCoy has 1,500-yard, 20-touchdown potential. Expect the Panthers to be 4-0 when they come to Tampa on Oct. 2.
2007 record: 8-5, 3-4 in Big East (tied for fifth).
Coach: Greg Schiano (38-46, eighth season).
Will return to the league's elite if … : It overcomes the loss of Ray Rice and makes the most of quarterback Mike Teel and 1,000-yard receivers Kenny Britt and Tiquan Underwood. Schiano needs a durable running back, or defenses will drop back against the pass. But with offensive balance, this could be a surprise team.
2007 record: 10-3, 4-3 in Big East (tied for third, ranked No. 17 in the final AP poll).
Coach: Brian Kelly (11-3, second season; 148-54-2 overall).
Will continue last season's emergence if … : It finds answers at quarterback and running back. Senior Mike Mickens might be the league's best cornerback. Watch for a killer four-game stretch: Rutgers, at UConn, USF and at West Virginia. Before that is a Week 2 trip to Oklahoma.
2007 record: 6-6, 3-4 in Big East (tied for fifth)
Coach: Steve Kragthorpe (6-6, second season; 35-28 overall).
Will rebound from a horrible 2007 if … : The transition to quarterback Hunter Cantwell is seamless despite losing a ton of receivers. The defense was awful and lost all of its linebackers, but an influx of junior college transfers could help.
2007 record: 2-10, 1-6 in Big East (eighth).
Coach: Greg Robinson (7-28, fourth season).
Will win two league games if … : We've written the same thing for three seasons. All but one league loss last season was by at least 21. Syracuse could be much improved and still finish 1-6. Add games vs. Penn State and Notre Dame, and it could be a long final season for Robinson.
Greg Auman, Times staff writer