- Andrea Adelson, ESPN Staff Writer
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Several true and redshirt freshmen made a big impact in the Big East this season. Who was the best of the best? Here are my top impact freshman, and one to watch in 2012.
Tops in 2011:
Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville. Bridgewater won the Big East Newcomer of the Year award for good reason. He took over the starting quarterback job after leading the team to a victory over Kentucky and set the school record for passing yards by a freshman with 1,855. He also ranks No. 12 on the Scouts Inc., top 25 freshman players list. They say, "His ability to improvise when the play starts to break down is his greatest strength. He is able to buy time with his feet and he has the arm strength to zip the ball downfield when he rolls out."
Lyle McCombs, RB, UConn. McCombs was expected to share carries with D.J. Shoemate when the year began. But after Shoemate got hurt, the rushing load fell to McCombs and he delivered. McCombs led the Big East in rushing with 1,115 yards -- the ninth-highest single-season total in school history and the second among freshmen at UConn. He was a second-team All-Big East selection, and also ranked No. 3 in the Big East in all-purpose yards. He ranks No. 24 on the Scouts Inc., list. They say, "McCombs is an undersized back with a nice combination of quickness and elusiveness as a runner. He flashes exceptional lateral agility to make defenders miss in a confined area and has the acceleration to squeeze through tight creases."
Elkino Watson, DT, USF. Watson was part of the two-deep rotation and ended up with one sack and nine tackles for loss.
Ralph David Abernathy IV, KR, Cincinnati. Abernathy emerged as a top special-teams player, averaging 24.7 yards on kickoff returns. His long went for 74 yards this season, and he finished with 914 total yards on kickoff returns.
Dustin Garrison, RB, West Virginia. Garrison emerged from a trio of runners to be the top back for the Mountaineers, rushing for 742 yards and six touchdowns. His average of 5.5 yards per carry was the best among the top 10 statistical rushers in the Big East.
Dyshawn Davis, LB, Syracuse. Davis started all 12 games, recording four sacks and 10.5 tackles for loss and a forced fumble.
Jeremiah Kobena, KR, Syracuse. Kobena led the Big East with 1,027 yards on kickoff returns, returning 45 kicks for an average of 22.8 yards. His yardage total ranks second on the Syracuse single-season record list and third on the Big East single-season list.
Yawin Smallwood, LB, UConn. Smallwood finished tied for No. 6 in the Big East with 94 tackles, including 1.5 sacks, two fumble recoveries and an interception.
Kaleb Johnson, RT, Rutgers. Johnson started all 10 games he played in this season for the Scarlet Knights, helping the offensive line improve dramatically from last season.
Eli Rogers, WR, Louisville. Rogers finished second on the team with 400 yards receiving and one touchdown, and emerged as a go-to player for Bridgewater.
One to watch in 2012:
Rushel Shell, RB. Shell, out of Aliquippa, Pa., is committed to Pitt and would no doubt come in and compete for the starting job should Ray Graham not return. There is plenty of talent at this position, with Isaac Bennett and Corey Davis returning, along with Malcolm Crockett. But Shell is listed as the No. 24 player on the ESPNU 150 rankings, and is one of the most complete backs in the class of 2012. Todd Graham will find a place for him if he lives up to expectations.
22hDan Murphy and Mitch Sherman