- Brian Bennett, ESPN Staff Writer
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So, in the past couple of weeks, we've taken a look at the top candidates to be a 1,000-yard receiver, 1,000-yard rusher and 3,000-yard quarterback in the Big East in 2011. The offense shouldn't have all the fun.
Let's look to the other side of the ball and see who might register one of the main defensive milestones for a single season: double-digit sacks. This is another one of those stat achievements that's harder than it might sound; only two players in the Big East accomplished the feat in 2010, while only three total league players got there in 2008 and 2009 combined. Nationally, just 17 players in the FBS reached double digits in sacks last year.
But there are some guys who have a good chance to reach that level in 2011. Here are the top candidates, with last year's sack totals in parenthesis:
1. Bruce Irvin, DE, West Virginia, Sr. (14 sacks in 2010): Well, duh. Irvin had the second-most sacks in the FBS last year and should see even more snaps this year as an every-down player. On the down side, he doesn't have Chris Neild to occupy multiple blockers, and other teams will be prepared for him. Sack artists numbers often go down after a big year (see: Selvie, George). But Irvin has enough speed and length that you have to think he'll get to the quarterback at least 10 times in '11.
2. Brandon Lindsey, LB, Pitt, Jr. (10): Lindsey won't have Jabaal Sheard on the other side to command attention. But he'll also move around more after switching to the new "panther" linebacker hybrid position. And he'll have a full year of experience under his belt after getting thrown into the fire after Greg Romeus's injury last year. Like Irvin, he's got a great burst off the line of scrimmage.
3. Jesse Joseph, DE, UConn, Jr. (8.5): Joseph is underappreciated nationally but really came on strong at the end of last year. The Huskies' defensive front is loaded with talent and experience, and Joseph should cause a lot of problems, along with teammate Kendall Reyes.
4. Chandler Jones, DE, Syracuse, Jr. (4): Jones has not put up big sack totals yet, but as he told me recently, he has changed his stance and is looking for more time in the offensive backfield this season. He has the talent to have a huge season.
5. Julian Miller, DE, West Virginia, Sr. (9): Miller very nearly got to 10 last year. But he's also moving to a different position to make room for Irvin. Miller will face more tight ends on his side this year. While it's not impossible for a pair of teammates to each register 10 sacks, it is rare.
6. Ryne Giddins, DE, South Florida, Soph. (3.5): Speculative play here. Someone could break out on the Bulls' talented defensive line, and Giddins seems like the most likely suspect. He was a top recruit whom Florida wanted, after all. This year, he should move into a full-time starting role and thrive.
7. Walter Stewart, DE, Cincinnati, Jr. (2): More projecting here. Stewart has always been one of Cincinnati's quickest defensive players. He finally has put on some weight, and now he'll be at defensive end full time instead of rotating between there and linebacker. The Bearcats didn't get a very good pass rush off the edge last year; perhaps Stewart can help fix that.