- Andrea Adelson, ESPN Staff Writer
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I started the postseason countdown of the top-25 players in the Big East this morning. So it is only fitting that I start the postseason position rankings this afternoon.
The preseason version for each position caused much consternation and angst among every fan base. With a full season complete, we all have a much better idea of how everybody stacked up. So let us get started with offensive line. This was not a particularly strong year for line play across the Big East. There was a clear top, a clear bottom and then many similar groups in the middle.
1. Cincinnati. The Bearcats not only had the best group, they had the most improved group over a year ago. Much of that was experience, but they also proved their worth when it came to run blocking. Cincinnati transformed itself into a rushing team with Isaiah Pead leading the way. After allowing 33 sacks last year, Cincinnati only gave up 21 to rank No. 2 in the league. Randy Martinez made the first team at guard as well. Preseason ranking: 6.
2. USF. The Bulls had major question marks at this position going into the season after losing three starters. But Jeremiah Warren and Chaz Hine did a great job anchoring this unit, which allowed a Big East-low 16 sacks, and helped the Bulls lead the league in rushing. Freshman tackle Quinterrius Eatmon proved his worth. Preseason ranking: 5.
3. Syracuse. The Orange had two players make the Big East first team in Justin Pugh and Andrew Tiller, and yet another 1,000-yard rusher in Antwon Bailey. This group had its share of struggles, as the run game was inconsistent and the pass blocking seemed to regress late in the season. But consider this overall position was one of the weakest in the Big East this season. Preseason ranking: 1.
4. West Virginia. Yet another inconsistent group in the Big East, the Mountaineers had struggles at several key positions on the offensive line throughout the season. But what stands out is the way they played against their toughest opponents. West Virginia had its best efforts on the line against LSU and Clemson, proving this group could play up to the level of competition. Also, tackle Don Barclay made the Big East first-team. Preseason ranking: 2.
5. Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights were vastly improved at this position after ranking last in 2010. They cut the sacks they allowed in half, had a first-team selection in Art Forst and a Freshman All-American in Kaleb Johnson. The one area that remains a problem is rushing offense -- Rutgers averaged 97.8 yards a game and 2.8 yards a carry to rank No. 112 in the nation. Preaseason ranking: 8.
6. UConn. This has traditionally been a position of strength for the Huskies, but that was not the case in 2011. Center Moe Petrus did make the Big East first team, but the Huskies did have a 1,000-yard rusher in Lyle McCombs. But this group did not play well for most of the season. Teams keyed in on the run to get UConn to pass, but even coach Paul Pasqualoni said he wanted to see more out of this unit. UConn gave up 41 sacks, compared to 15 a season ago. Preseason ranking: 3.
7. Louisville. The Cardinals were young at this position and it showed. Injuries hurt, but so did a lack of depth. This group did improve as the season went on, but against the toughest competition and the strongest defensive lines, they wilted. Rushing offense was down, and they gave up 41 sacks on the season. Preseason ranking: 7.
8. Pitt. To put it simply, the offensive line was a disaster for a number of reasons. Injuries to key players like Chris Jacobson and Lucas Nix certainly hurt. But so did the new blocking schemes installed under former coach Todd Graham, and Tino Sunseri's inability to get rid of the ball in a timely fashion in the hurry-up offense. Pitt gave up 64 sacks to rank last in the NCAA -- the second season in a row a Big East team held the dubious honor (Rutgers gave up 61 in 2010). Preseason ranking: 4.