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Big East position rankings: RB

2/16/2012

Time to pick up my final position rankings for the 2011 season. Before you start sending in your notes to the mailbag, please keep in mind that West Virginia will be included in all 2011 postseason rankings and evaluations because the Mountaineers were still part of the league.

Now where was I? Oh yes, offense. Let us move on to running back. I am using rushing yards by quarterbacks and receivers in this evaluation.

1. Cincinnati. Isaiah Pead won Big East Offensive Player of the Year, but that was not the only story behind the Bearcats rushing attack this past season. Cincinnati had more total yards rushing than any other team with 2,321 -- Pead had a little more than half that total (1,259). The quarterbacks definitely contributed because everybody who played the position is a dual threat. But also keep in mind Cincinnati averaged 4.6 yards a carry -- tied for tops in the league, and led the league with 28 rushing TDs. Preseason ranking: 1.

2. Pitt. Ray Graham was having an unbelievable season before he got hurt, and I truly think he could have had a case for Big East Offensive Player of the Year had he stayed healthy. Zach Brown proved to be a solid backup, and it was nice to see the development of true freshman Isaac Bennett. Despite teams keying on the run, Pitt still finished third in the league in rushing. Preseason ranking: 2.

3. USF. The Bulls actually led the Big East in rushing, though they had nobody go over 1,000 yards. Still, what you realize is that three players went over 500 yards on the ground. That includes quarterback B.J. Daniels, who has the capability of making plays with his legs as well. Darrell Scott had some highlight-worthy plays this season (hurdler, anyone?) and was tough to bring down at times. Preseason ranking: 6.

4. West Virginia. Dustin Garrison was having a fine debut season until a torn ACL sidelined him for the Orange Bowl. There is no question this was an area of inconsistency for the Mountaineers throughout the season. But having players like Tavon Austin run plays out of the backfield, plus a guy like Shawne Alston step up when Garrison was hurt showed there was some talent that could keep teams off-balance, when the Mountaineers wanted to. Preseason ranking: 3.

5. Syracuse. Antwon Bailey had a good season, going over 1,000 yards while earning a spot on the Big East first team. The problem is that there was virtually no depth behind him. The next-highest rusher was Jerome Smith, with 134 yards on the ground. So depth was a clear issue. Bailey is the big reason why the Orange rank here. Preseason ranking: 5.

6. UConn. Lyle McCombs saves the day for the Huskies in this category. Just like Syracuse, there was a critical lack of depth at running back once D.J. Shoemate went out. Quarterback Scott McCummings provided a nice change of pace out of the backfield, but the Huskies only averaged 3.1 yards a carry as a whole, with a total of 13 rushing touchdowns. Preseason ranking: 8.

7. Louisville. I didn't think there was anything spectacular about this group of running backs. Louisville did a nice job when it moved Dominique Brown from quarterback to running back, and that really gave this unit a boost. But the Cardinals struggled most of the year on the ground. Only one back went over 100 yards on the year -- Jeremy Wright. That ranks as the fewest in the Big East. Preseason ranking: 4.

8. Rutgers. Jawan Jamison definitely emerged, but I don't think anybody would tell you that Rutgers' rushing offense scared teams this past season. The Scarlet Knights were the worst Big East rushing team, and averaged a Big East-worst 2.8 yards a carry with an average of 97.8 yards per game on the ground. Just a hunch, but I think this area will be vastly improved in 2012. Preseason ranking: 7.