- Brian Bennett, ESPN Staff Writer
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Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett
Our preseason position rankings are almost over. (Hold for applause.) We'll finish up the position players today with defensive backs. Tomorrow, we'll look at the specialists, and then we'll do an overall list based on these rankings.
1. Pittsburgh: It's a tough call on first place in these rankings. I chose Pitt based on the Panthers' depth and a belief that Aaron Berry is ready to become the best cornerback in the league. Pitt also has returning starters in Dom DeCicco and Jovani Chappel and both Elijah Fields and Andrew Taglianetti at safety. The team's pass defense was shaky at times last season, never more so than against Rutgers, but was very solid down the stretch.
2. Connecticut: The Huskies led the league in pass defense last year and should be strong again even without Darius Butler. Robert Vaughn is an all-league safety and Jasper Howard is one of the best corners in the Big East. Robert "Reggie" McClain should be solid at the other corner, while Jerome Junior will try to hold down the other safety spot.
3. West Virginia: Since the Mountaineers start five defensive backs as their base scheme, they need to be good at this position. And they are. Brandon Hogan made a successful transition from offense last year and developed as one of the league's top corners as the year went on. Keith Tandy will try to fill the void left by Ellis Lankster at the other corner and has gotten good reviews in camp. Safeties Sidney Glover, Robert Sands and Boogie Allen all have experience and should be sound.
4. South Florida: The Bulls have lots of ability here. Safety Nate Allen and corner Jerome Murphy should attract NFL interest next spring. But the defensive backfield gave up some big plays last year and is counting on youngsters like Jerrell Young, Quenton Washington and true freshman Kayvon Webster to take on major roles.
T-5. Cincinnati: The Bearcats had the league's most recognizable names in the defensive backfield last season, but only one starter returns. That's hard-hitting safety Aaron Webster, one of the Big East's best. Brad Jones is a big body who can slide between corner and safety, and Drew Frey was a starting safety before getting hurt early last year. Youngsters Dominique Battle and Camerron Cheatham will fill out what could become a strength for Cincinnati as the year goes on.
T-5: Rutgers: The Scarlet Knights' blitzing schemes put a lot of pressure on the defensive backs to perform. The two best players there last season -- corner Jason McCourty and safety Courtney Greene -- are gone. But McCourty's twin brother, Devin, will try to have a big senior year, and safeties Joe Lefeged and Zaire Kitchen know this defense well. Junior Brandon Bing is ticketed to start at the other corner.
7. Syracuse: Doug Marrone has been raving about safety Mike Holmes and believes he can be a star. At the other safety spot, Max Suter came on at the end of last year. Nico Scott and Kevyn Scott are currently at the corners with some promising freshmen waiting in the wings.
8. Louisville: The defensive backfield has been a trouble spot for the Cardinals the past two years and has some questions going into this season. Improving corner Johnny Patrick is the team's best pass defender but the other corner spot is unsettled. The current depth chart has junior college transfers Bobby Burns and Terrence Simien as first-stringers. They'll need to be good right away.