- Andrea Adelson, ESPN Staff Writer
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We are down to the final two players in our final countdown of the top 25 players in the Big East for 2011. You will have to wait until Monday for my write-up about No. 1, though you can have some fun guessing what I will say.
At No. 2: Isaiah Pead, RB, Cincinnati
Making the case: Pead was the best player on his team and the best running back in the Big East this season, which explains why he was the surprise winner of Offensive Player of the Year. Cincinnati shifted its offensive focus to Pead, becoming more of a rushing team and giving him more carries than ever before. The result was a career year -- with 237 carries, a career-high 12 touchdown runs and a career-high 1,259 yards on the ground. Pead had six 100-yard games, including a critically important 149 yards against Vanderbilt in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl.
Simply put, he was stronger and more durable than at any point during his entire career, and that allowed the Bearcats to go from a losing season to a share of the Big East championship. Increasing his physicality is something coach Butch Jones asked of him last summer.
"I walked right out from that meeting and went to the weight room and started lifting weights," Pead said. "Coach said I have all the talent in the world, I've got all the speed but at the next level they don't look for a runner, they look for a running back. That means being elusive but also being physical. I had to get that in my game. I lifted heavier weights, and set personal bests in the bench, squat and clean."
Not only was Pead an outstanding player this season, he is an extremely valuable one -- and he belongs right near the top of this list.
Preseason ranking: No. 7
No. 25 Ryne Giddins, DE, USF
No. 24 Keith Tandy, CB, West Virginia
No. 23 Duron Harmon, S, Rutgers
No. 22 Antwon Bailey, RB, Syracuse
No. 21 Lyle McCombs, RB, UConn
No. 20 Dexter Heyman, LB, Louisville
No. 19 Hakeem Smith, S, Louisville
No. 18 Logan Ryan, CB, Rutgers
No. 17 Aaron Donald, DE, Pitt
No. 16 Trevardo Williams, DE, UConn
No. 15 Chandler Jones, DE, Syracuse
No. 14 Julian Miller, DE, West Virginia
No. 13 Bruce Irvin, DE West Virginia
No. 12 Najee Goode, LB, West Virginia
No. 11 Kendall Reyes, DT, UConn
No. 10 JK Schaffer, LB, Cincinnati
No. 9 Zach Collaros, QB, Cincinnati
No. 8 Ray Graham, RB, Pitt
No. 7 Stedman Bailey, WR, West Virginia
No. 6 Derek Wolfe, DT, Cincinnati
No. 5 Khaseem Greene, LB, Rutgers
No. 4 Mohamed Sanu, WR, Rutgers
No. 3 Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia