Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett
Colleague Chris Low came up with this idea for the SEC, and I loved it. Fans obsess over recruiting rankings and get excited when that four-star player commits to their campus. But the truth is, some of the best players in the Big East came out of nowhere, as far as the recruitniks are concerned.
Of course, Big East recruits usually don't garner the same kind of accolades and attention as those who sign with the mighty SEC anyway. Let's take a look at some of the guys who really flew under the radar out of high school but ended up as stars in college. To qualify, they had to play for a Big East team in the last two seasons.
We'll start with offense:
QB Tony Pike, Cincinnati: Nobody had Pike high on their recruiting rankings when he signed with the Bearcats out of Cincinnati in 2004. His other options were mostly MAC schools. But as a junior, Pike blossomed into a starter and threw for 2,407 yards and 19 touchdowns. At 6-foot-6 with a deft touch and good feet, he looks like the best pro prospect among Big East quarterbacks next year.
RB Steve Slaton, West Virginia: Perhaps because of his small stature (he stands about 5-foot-9), few major schools were heavily interested in Slaton during his Pennsylvania prep career. Those who were saw him as a defensive back. West Virginia put him in at tailback next to Pat White, and the rest is history. Slaton rushed for more than 1,200 yards as a rookie for the NFL's Houston Texans.
WR Tiquan Underwood, Rutgers: Underwood's other major offer came from Vanderbilt, and some of the other schools he was looking at included Western Michigan and Hofstra. He finished his career with more than 1,900 receiving yards and 16 touchdowns, including an 1,100-yard season in 2007.
WR Mardy Gilyard, Cincinnati: How did all the Florida schools let Gilyard get out of their own backyard (he's from Palm, Coast, Fla.) and go all the way north to Ohio? For one, Gilyard mostly played running back in high school. He's now an explosive playmaker both at receiver and as a kick returner, earning first-team All-Big East honors last season at both spots.
WR Dorrell Jalloh, West Virginia: Virtually ignored out of North Carolina, Jalloh chose the Mountaineers over Appalachian State and Wake Forest. He developed into a dependable receiver who caught five touchdown passes as a senior in 2008.
OL George Bussey, Louisville: Bussey had no FBS offers out of Louisville's Western High School, so he decided to walk on to his hometown Cardinals. He became an All-Big East performer and a three-year starter at one of the game's most important positions, left tackle.
OL Will Beatty, Connecticut: Beatty reportedly had two scholarship offers out of high school: UConn and Shippensburg University. Read that again. Like many of Randy Edsall's players, he was a true diamond in the rough. He was the Big East's first-team left tackle this season and one of the main guys responsible for paving the way for Donald Brown to become the nation's leading tackler. He should be playing on Sundays next season.
OL Eric Wood, Louisville: Wood was so lightly recruited that he couldn't even get a scholarship offer from his hometown Bearcats. He found believers at Louisville and finished his career as a four-year starter at center and one of the best linemen in school history.
OL Trevor Canfield, Cincinnati: Canfield's college decision came down to Cincinnati and Miami of Ohio. The Bearcats are glad he chose them after he made the All-Big East team three straight years.
OL Greg Isdaner, West Virginia: Isdaner was drawing interest from Harvard, Penn, Villanova and Georgetown when West Virginia surprised him with an offer. He started three years for what was often a dominant offensive line before his surprising decision to enter this year's NFL Draft as a junior.
TE Gary Barnidge, Louisville: The Cardinals plucked Barnidge out of Florida before most people had heard of him, and he turned in a stellar four-year career that saw him catch 16 touchdown passes and more than 1,400 yards.