Big East position rankings: DB

February, 23, 2012
2/23/12
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Last up in our position rankings for the defense -- the secondary. In the preseason, I rated the safeties and cornerbacks separately. In the postseason evaluation, I feel that would be a little redundant, so I am taking into account the unit as a whole. Of all the positions, I felt there was a clear bottom and a clear top to the league in this category.

In my opinion, this was also one of the weakest positions in the league. Only three teams allowed opponents to complete fewer than 60 percent of their passes.

[+] EnlargeDuron Harmon
Cal Sport Media/AP ImagesSafety Duron Harmon helped Rutgers finish with the No. 1 defense in the Big East last season
1. Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights were clearly the best here, allowing a league-low eight passing touchdowns, grabbing a league-high 19 interceptions and allowing their opponents to complete just 51.8 percent of their passes. Logan Ryan emerged as one of the best cornerbacks in the league, while safety Duron Harmon won first-team honors.

2. West Virginia. Though there were some problems for the Mountaineers in the secondary this season, for the most part this group held its own. Cornerback Pat Miller was inconsistent and eventually lost some starts to Brodrick Jenkins -- who was an upgrade. Keith Tandy was third in the league with four interceptions, and Eain Smith, Terence Garvin and Darwin Cook played well at safety. West Virginia finished the year as the No. 2 pass defense, and let's not forget some of the huge plays this group made at the end of the season.

3. Pitt. The Panthers were up and down in pass defense all year, and were hurt when safety Jason Hendricks was lost for the year. Antwuan Reed was better; Jarred Holley earned his spot on the Big East first team. This was not an opportunistic group, with a league-low eight interceptions. But it was one that got better as the year went on. After allowing over 300 yards in two of the first three games of the season, the Panthers held the rest of their opponents below that mark.

4. USF. This unit was steady, if unspectacular in 2011. Kayvon Webster was much improved, and Jerrell Young did a nice job anchoring the team at safety. But there weren't big plays -- 12 total interceptions, and depth was an issue when injuries hit late in the season. Major kudos are deserved for holding West Virginia to 237 yards -- second-lowest on the year.

5. Louisville. The Cardinals were better than I expected given all the youth and inexperience in the secondary. Hakeem Smith was good again; Adrian Bushell was a huge pickup and made a big impact. The one weakness was getting beat way too many times on deep passes. Louisville allowed 20 passing touchdowns and had just 10 interceptions, tied for second-worst in the league.

6. Cincinnati. The Bearcats were a much more opportunistic group than a year ago. Drew Frey emerged as a first-team Big East safety, and Cam Cheatham and Deven Drane each got three interceptions. But the long pass was again something the Bearcats had a hard time covering, and wrapping up and tackling was sometimes a problem, too. Opponents averaged 7 yards a completion.

7. Syracuse. Injuries took a toll on the defensive backs last season. Players like Shamarko Thomas, Olando Fisher, Ri'Shard Anderson and Keon Lyn were banged up and that impacted how everybody played. Then the best player in the secondary, Phillip Thomas, was suspended for the final two games of the season. Syracuse gave up 300 yards five times last season, and only had 10 interceptions.

8. UConn. The Huskies struggled in the secondary all season, particularly after starting cornerback Blidi Wreh-Wilson went out with a knee injury. There were a lot of young players forced into action, and it showed. UConn gave up over 400 yards passing four times last season, and ranked last in the league in passing defense.

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