- Andrea Adelson, ESPN Staff Writer
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With conference play just beginning, we are going to start our weekly look at league races for offensive, defensive and coach of the year. The defense category is not as clear-cut as the others right now, with no one real standout in the league so far. I am looking forward to seeing how this race shakes out.
Offensive Player of the Year
1. Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia. Smith has been as good as we thought he could be in Dana Holgorsen's offense, ranking No. 1 in the league and No. 5 in the nation in passing yards per game (341.8) and No. 3 in total passing yards, with 1,709. He also leads the Big East in total offense. We will see whether he can keep it up with conference play on tap.
2. Ray Graham, RB, Pitt. Graham has two 200-yard games this season and leads the league in rushing, averaging 146.8 yards a game. That is good enough to get him to No. 3 in the nation in rushing as well. Graham already has 126 carries and is being used extensively in the pass game as well. We will see how he handles the heavy workload.
3. Mohamed Sanu, WR, Rutgers. It is safe to say that Sanu has been one of the biggest surprises in the Big East so far this season, leading the Big East in receiving yards a game (107) and receptions per game (10.8). Syracuse doubled him last week and he was held to seven catches for 65 yards, breaking a string of two games with double-digit receptions.
Defensive Player of the Year
1. JK Schaffer, LB, Cincinnati. Schaffer is a big reason why the Bearcats have had a turnaround performance on defense. He leads his team with 35 tackles, which is not unexpected. But as a linebacker -- he also ranks No. 3 in the league in passes defended and is tied for the league lead in interceptions (three). Also watch for defensive tackle Derek Wolfe, who has four sacks and seven tackles for loss, along with two forced fumbles.
2. Kendall Reyes, DT, UConn. Reyes has once again dominated inside. He leads the league with 9.5 tackles for loss -- tied for No. 2 in the nation -- and is tied for the league lead with four sacks. He is a big reason why UConn has had success stopping the run, ranking No. 2 in the league in rush defense. But we should also watch for teammate Sio Moore, who is also having a solid season.
Others to keep an eye on: Rutgers linebacker Khaseem Greene, West Virginia cornerback Keith Tandy, Pitt defensive end Brandon Lindsey, Syracuse safety Phillip Thomas.
Coach of the Year
1. Dana Holgorsen, West Virginia. Holgorsen has the only ranked Big East team in his first year as a head coach. Now he has to keep it there.
2. Butch Jones, Cincinnati. The Bearcats have already matched last year's win total (four). It wasn't so long ago that some fans wondered whether he was the right man for the job. So far, he has answered his critics.
With conference play just beginning, we are going to start our weekly look at league races for offensive, defensive and coach of the year. The defense category is not as clear-cut as the others right now, with no one real standout in the league so far.