NEWPORT, R.I. — A year ago, Rutgers' Tom Savage and USF's B.J. Daniels had never taken a snap in a Big East game. But as their sophomore seasons are about to begin, the quarterbacks line up as the most experienced starters in the conference.
Across the league, each of the eight teams has a largely unproven passer leading it into the season. The projected starters have combined for 41 career starts. In comparison, USF's Matt Grothe went into last season with 38 starts.
Savage is the dean of the league quarterbacks with 11 career starts, one more than Daniels.
"That's amazing," said West Virginia coach Bill Stewart, whose starter, sophomore Geno Smith, has never started a college game. "A sophomore is the most veteran guy in the league. It's unpredictable, but I think it's exciting. It makes things interesting. You have to get a lot of people involved in your offense."
Pittsburgh is a nearly unanimous favorite to win the league, despite having a raw quarterback in sophomore Tino Sunseri, who attempted 17 passes as a backup last season. Cincinnati's Zach Collaros has four career starts, but all were Big East wins last season, giving him one more league victory than Daniels or Savage.
"It's exciting," Collaros said. "I think there are a lot of great quarterbacks in this conference. Tom Savage at Rutgers had a great year last year as a true freshman. … B.J. Daniels is another one who got kind of thrown into the fire and had a great year last year. I love watching him play. Zach Frazer at Connecticut is another guy who played well against us last year."
Collaros and Daniels stepped in last season after injuries to seniors Tony Pike and Grothe, respectively. Daniels now has the benefit of an entire offseason of preparation in anticipation of being a starter and the little things he learned in his first season leading the Bulls.
"Last year I felt I could get out there and do it, that it wasn't that hard," Daniels said. "You actually get out there live and it's completely different. But having a year under my belt is definitely a confidence booster.
"Last year I was picking up and learning stuff, as a person, as a quarterback, as a student and a man, on and off the field, game by game, each week by week. I soaked up everything I could, and this year will be no different. I have to continue to try to get better."
The young quarterbacks have played in big games.
Daniels, Savage and Frazer led their teams to bowl victories last season. Collaros had 10 touchdown passes and two interceptions, and the other four returners all had more touchdown passes than interceptions last season.
Rutgers coach Greg Schiano said that going into a season with an inexperienced quarterback is never easy, but leadership can emerge in a hurry.
"When you look around the league, there are guys who have been in programs and practiced a heck of a lot," Schiano said. "But I don't think it's the same as games. A game is a different entity, and I do think there are growing pains that go along with having a new quarterback, there's no doubt about it.
"If a guy can play, and he's got the right stuff, people are going to follow him. We're in such a performance-driven deal that if you can make plays, people will follow you."
Greg Auman can be reached at [email protected] and at (813) 226-3346. Check out his blog at tampabay.com/blogs/bulls and follow him at Twitter.com/gregauman.