NCF Nation: Chris Philpott

We have come to the final group in the 2011 postseason position rankings: special teams. This one is all encompassing -- kickers, punters, returners, and team coverage -- which has made it quite the task to evaluate as one group. Some teams had returns that excelled and kickers that were so-so. Some had great kickers but a so-so return game.

I tried to give equal weight to all parts. In the end, I took the rankings in several special-teams categories and used an average ranking to help determine these. Special weight was given to game-changing plays as well.

1. Cincinnati. The Bearcats ranked in the top two in four of the five statistical categories I used to evaluate special teams as a whole. The only area lacking was field goals, but I thought overall Tony Miliano had a decent year for a true freshman, even considering his missed kick against West Virginia. Ralph David Abernathy IV emerged as a dynamite kickoff man, and Pat O'Donnell was the best punter in the Big East again. Kickoff coverage was solid as well. Preseason ranking: 5.

2. UConn. Nick Williams averaged just 5.6 yards a return on punts. He was not particularly dynamic on kickoff returns, either, ranking No. 4 in the Big East after going into the season as one of the top returners in the league. UConn was one of two Big East teams without a kickoff return for a touchdown. But still, the Huskies were solid in every other category. Dave Teggart once again was the Big East first-team kicker, and Cole Wagner averaged 41.1 yards a punt. Preseason ranking: 1.

[+] EnlargeTavon Austin
Charles LeClaire/US PresswireTavon Austin had two kickoff returns for touchdowns last season.
3. West Virginia. Tavon Austin was hands down the best returner in the Big East this season, and one of the best in the nation. But since this is an evaluation of special teams as a whole, everything is taken into account. West Virginia had the worst punting situation in the Big East, and ranked last in kickoff coverage. There were several critical blocked field goals as well. Special teams absolutely improved as the year went on, and some players made big plays -- Eain Smith comes to mind. But Austin alone wasn't enough to elevate the group higher. Preseason ranking: 7.

4. Rutgers. Once again, the Scarlet Knights were highly effective at blocking kicks -- a staple under coach Greg Schiano. Jeremy Deering was solid in the kickoff return game as well. But San San Te had the worst field goal percentage in the Big East (64.5 percent), and kickoff coverage ranked No. 7 in the conference. Rutgers only had an opportunity to return 16 punts last season, averaging about 6 yards a return. Preseason ranking: 6.

5. Pitt. The Panthers lost their punter and field goal kicker from a year ago and did perhaps better than expected in special teams overall. Punter Matt Yoklic was second in the league in punts, though Kevin Harper did struggle at times with his field goals. Losing Cameron Saddler really hurt the punt return game as well. Preseason ranking: 8.

6. Syracuse. Ross Krautman led the Big East in field goal percentage (78.9) but he only had 19 attempts on the season, second fewest in the Big East. Punt returns were essentially nonexistent -- with only 12 attempts for an average of 3.1 yards a return. Jeremiah Kobena was a nice addition at kickoff returner, but the Orange still ranked No. 6 in the Big East in that category and kickoff return coverage as well. Preseason ranking: 4.

7. Louisville. Chris Philpott had a disappointing season, ranking No. 7 in the league in field goal percentage (66.7). He and Josh Bleser averaged 37.3 yards a punt. Punt returning ranked No. 7 in the Big East as well, and aside from Adrian Bushell's 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, that category was just average for the Cardinals. Preseason ranking: 3.

8. USF. I think the Bulls were the biggest disappointment in this category. Lindsey Lamar, who was the first-team Big East selection at returner last year, had zero this year and ranked No. 9 in the league in kickoff return average. His average was down some six yards from last season. When Terrence Mitchell got hurt and missed the second half of the season, no one was dynamic at punt returner, either. Maikon Bonani ranked No. 3 in field goal percentage but fairly or not is going to be remembered for missing a field goal that would have beaten Rutgers, and eventually gotten the Bulls bowl eligible. Preseason ranking: 2.

Weekend Rewind: Big East

October, 24, 2011
Let us take a look at the good and the bad from Week 8:

[+] EnlargeRyan Nassib
Jason O. Watson/US PresswireRyan Nassib threw four touchdown passes in Syracuse's win over West Virginia.
The good: Syracuse had one of its best performances in recent memory in its 49-23 upset win over then-No. 15 West Virginia on Friday night. The Mountaineers were the highest-ranked team Syracuse had beaten since a 50-42 triple-overtime win over No. 8 Virginia Tech in 2002. The win was also the first over West Virginia at home since 2001. The 49 points were a series high as well, beating its previous high of 45 points in 1960. Nine different receivers caught passes in the game -- including three tight ends -- and Antwon Bailey has reached 100 yards rushing in four straight games. ... Louisville got a much-needed 16-14 win over Rutgers, snapping a four-game losing streak in conference home openers. Chris Philpott made a 52-yard field goal to tie a school record, and is one of just two FBS kickers this season to kick a 50-yard field goal in back-to-back games. The Cardinals had their first 100-yard rusher of the season and a season-high 183 yards on the ground. Louisville also had its first third-quarter touchdown of the season when Teddy Bridgewater threw an 18-yard score to Michaelee Harris. Louisville recorded three interceptions in a game for the second time since it joined the Big East in 2005. ... Cincinnati is not in the BCS standings, but ranked No. 23 in the coaches' poll. The Bearcats are 20-8-1 as a ranked team. In two straight games, they have rallied from a second-half deficit to win. Against USF, they rallied from two second-half deficits to post the victory. After winning four games last season, they are now bowl eligible for the fifth time in the past six years.

The bad: West Virginia fans cannot possibly want to relive the loss to the Orange. There was nothing good about it. The Mountaineers gave up their most points ever to the Orange, and their two losses this season have each been by 26 points. The Mountaineers went into the game having allowed seven total sacks. They gave up four to the Orange. Meanwhile, the run game continues to be an area of concern. West Virginia failed to reach 100 yards on the ground for the fifth time in seven games this season, getting just 70 as the game got out of hand. Despite the loss, West Virginia remained ranked in the BCS standings at No. 25, but clearly the defeat was another hit for the Big East. Two non-AQs are ranked higher than the league, and the Big East is the only AQ league with just one team in the standings. ... Rutgers had its four-game winning streak snapped and it was yet another close call. All three of Rutgers’ road games have been decided by three points or fewer (Syracuse is the lone win). Gary Nova lost his first game as a starting quarterback since eighth grade, but coach Greg Schiano is sticking with him as the starter. Kicker San San Te missed two field goals against Louisville. He has made just 12 of 20 field goals this season. ... USF has lost its three conference games in a variety of ways: starting with a blowout and ending with a heartbreaker. Mistakes have doomed USF in all three. It is now minus-4 in turnover margin in those three games. Penalties have hurt, and coach Skip Holtz was questioned over his clock management on a goal-line situation at the end of the second quarter.


Stedman Bailey, WR, West Virginia. Bailey had seven catches for 130 yards and has five straight games with at least 100 receiving yards.

Zach Collaros, QB, Cincinnati. Collaros threw for 389 yards and three touchdowns over USF. He became only the second quarterback in school history, along with Gino Guidugli, to throw for 5,000 yards and 50 touchdowns in his career.

B.J. Daniels, QB, USF. Daniels threw for 409 yards in a loss to Cincinnati, a career high and school record for passing yards in a game.

Ryan Nassib, QB, Syracuse. Nassib passed Troy Nunes and Don McPherson and now ranks fourth all-time in completions at Syracuse with 386. Nassib accounted for five touchdowns (four passing, one rushing) to move into sixth on the school career list for most touchdowns (40).

Mohamed Sanu, WR, Rutgers. Sanu had 10 catches for 128 yards and a touchdown against Louisville. Sanu has had back-to-back games with at least 10 receptions and 100 receiving yards.

Geno Smith, QB. West Virginia. Smith threw for 338 yards and two touchdowns to moved into sixth place on the school career passing list (5,664 yards). Smith is tied with Chad Johnston and current WVU athletics director Oliver Luck for fourth in career touchdown passes (43) at the school.

Deonte Welch, WR, USF. Welch had a career-high 130 yards receiving on five catches against Cincinnati. He went into the game with six catches for 83 yards in six career games.

Week 9 schedule
UConn at Pitt, 8 p.m., Wednesday, ESPN
Syracuse at Louisville, noon, Saturday, Big East Network
West Virginia at Rutgers, 3:30 p.m., Saturday, ABC

Final: Marshall 17, Louisville 13

October, 1, 2011
Louisville struggled all day on offense, and lost to Marshall 17-13. It was the second home loss to a non-AQ team this season, after losing to FIU in September.

Both had their own indignities. The FIU win was its first against a team from an automatic qualifying conference. Marshall now wins its first road game against an AQ team since it joined C-USA. Yup, the Herd were 0-18 before Saturday -- and had lost to Ohio 44-7 earlier in the season.

Teddy Bridgewater got the start in place of an injured Will Stein, but he struggled with consistency all game. Despite that, Louisville led 13-7 until late in the fourth quarter. Then two Bridgewater mistakes doomed the Cardinals. He threw his first interception of the game with 4:32 left.

Marshall converted that into the go-ahead score, a 3-yard touchdown pass from Rakeem Cato to C.J. Crawford with 1:49 remaining. Louisville got one last chance, but Bridgewater threw his second interception and sealed the game.

The Louisville special teams also did not have a great game -- Chris Philpott missed an extra point and a field goal in the game. Once again, the Cardinals struggled up front on the offensive line and in the running game, getting just 60 yards on the ground.
We wrap up our look at team position rankings with special teams. There are plenty of strong kickers and returners in the league. I did not separate them, though, because those would be more like individual rankings. Those are coming soon.

[+] EnlargeNick Williams
Jim O'Connor/US PresswireNick Williams led the NCAA in kickoff return average last season.
1. Connecticut. The Huskies have one of the best kickers in the league in Dave Teggart and one of the best kickoff returners in the league in Nick Williams putting them in the top spot here. Williams led the NCAA in kickoff return average last season with 35.3 yards per kick. Teggart was the Big East first-team selection, making 25 of 31 field goals. They should be better this year, even with the loss of Robbie Frey.

2. USF. The Bulls also have an excellent kicker-returner duo in Maikon Bonani and Lindsey Lamar. Bonani made 17 of 21 kicks last year, while Lamar was the first-team All-Big East selection, returning two kickoffs for touchdowns and averaging 26 yards per return. Add in punt returner Terrence Mitchell and this is one of the best units in the league.

3. Louisville. The Cardinals have one of the best in the league in Chris Philpott, who punts and kicks. Josh Bleser is solid in splitting the punting duties with Philpott. Victor Anderson and Jeremy Wright are back as kickoff returners -- both averaged 30-plus yards per return last season. Wright's kick return helped the Cardinals win the Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl last year. Doug Beaumont is gone as punt returner, but he is the only loss. This unit has a chance to be No. 1 at year's end.

4. Syracuse. The Orange have one of the best kickers in the league in Ross Krautman, who missed just one of his 19 field goal attempts last season. They do lose their top punt returner in Mike Holmes, along with punter Rob Long so there are questions at some of the most important spots on special teams. But Krautman, and the return of Dorian Graham and Prince-Tyson Gulley returning kicks puts this unit just ahead of the Bearcats.

5. Cincinnati. This is a mixed bag for the Bearcats. They have the best punter in the league in Pat O'Donnell, who also happens to be a physical freak in the weight room. They should be decent in the return game with the return of D.J. Woods, who will compete with Anthony McClung, Shaq Washington and Kenbrell Thompkins to return kicks and punts. Darrin Williams is in the mix for kickoff returner, too. But kicker is a huge question mark. Jacob Rogers was solid last season. Now there is uncertainty in the competition between Tony Miliano and Danny Milligan. Coach Butch Jones says he won't name a starter until game week.

6. Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights also have question marks here. Kicker San San Te returns, but he needs to be better from longer distances (2-of-7 from 40-plus yards). Punter Teddy Dellaganna is gone and so is kickoff returner Joe Lefeged. True freshman Anthony DiPaula enrolled early and takes over at punter. Mason Robinson is back at punt returner, and Jeremy Deering and Mark Harrison make a good combo returning kicks.

7. West Virginia. The Mountaineers need more consistency from kicker Tyler Bitancurt, who missed his final four kicks of last season. He made just 10 of 17 attempts and looked shaky in the spring. West Virginia has a new holder and a new punter in Corey Smith, and hopes for improvement in the return game.

8. Pittsburgh. The Panthers have to replace both kicking specialists, including Big East first-team punter Dan Hutchins. At punter, you have walk-ons Matt Yoklic and Drake Greer, neither of whom has punted in a collegiate game. Kevin Harper takes over as kicker and had a good spring game. The Panthers also replace their long-snapper, so there will be a period of adjustment for this unit when the season starts. Cameron Saddler is a bright spot at returner.

Previous rankings

The Big East's all-bowl team

January, 14, 2011
Let's put a final bow on bowl season with the Big East's All-Bowl team:


Quarterback: Ryan Nassib, Syracuse

Nassib, who struggled down the stretch of the regular season, took advantage of Kansas State's shaky defense to complete 13-of-21 passes for 239 yards and three touchdowns in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl.

[+] EnlargeSyracuse's Delone Carter
William Perlman/US PRESSWIRESyracuse's Delone Carter ran over Kansas State for 198 yards and two touchdowns in the Pinstripe Bowl.
Running backs: Delone Carter, Syracuse, and Dion Lewis, Pittsburgh

Carter ran 27 times for 198 yards and two scores in the Pinstripe Bowl. Lewis rumbled for 105 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries in the BBVA Compass Bowl before declaring for the NFL Draft.

Wide receiver: Marcus Sales, Syracuse

Sales came almost out of nowhere to record five catches for 172 yards and three touchdowns against Kansas State. No other Big East receiver had even a fraction of his stats in the postseason.

Tight end: Cameron Graham, Louisville

The league's best tight in the regular season kept it up in the Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl, catching three passes for 31 yards and a touchdown.

Offensive line: Jacob Sims and Sampson Genus, South Florida; Jason Pinkston, Pittsburgh; Mark Wetterer, Louisville; Justin Pugh, Syracuse.

Sims and Genus were part of a USF line that pushed back Clemson's talented defensive front in the Meineke Car Care Bowl; Sims in particular helped keep Da'Quan Bowers quiet, which is not an easy thing to do. Pinkston showed some fire in protecting his quarterback after Tino Sunseri was hit late, and the Panthers ran for 261 yards while surrendering zero sacks against Kentucky. Wetterer and Pugh helped open holes for their high-scoring postseason offenses.


Defensive line: Brandon Lindsey, Pittsburgh; Terrell McClain, South Florida; Bruce Irvin, West Virginia.

Lindsey stepped up his game in the regular season when Greg Romeus was hurt and did so again in the bowl with Jabaal Sheard out. McClain didn't record many stats but was his usual dominant self in the middle against Clemson. Irvin had two sacks and a forced fumble against NC State in the Champs Sports Bowl.

Linebackers: Derrell Smith, Syracuse; J.T. Thomas, West Virginia; Brandon Heath, Louisville; DeDe Lattimore, South Florida.

I went with a 3-4 look on defense to recognize the many strong performances by linebackers during bowl. Just about all of these guys had double-digit tackles and/or a couple TFLs.

Cornerbacks: Johnny Patrick, Louisville; Quenton Washington, South Florida

After getting burned on a play early, Patrick was all over the field. He forced a fumble and blocked a punt. Washington also blocked a punt and had a 45-yard interception return.

Safeties: Dom DeCicco, Pittsburgh, and Robert Sands, West Virginia

DeCicco had nine tackles and a forced fumble, while Sands had eight tackles and a sack.


Punter: Cole Wagner, Connecticut

Wagner punted seven times for an average of 46.9 yards -- with a long of 52 yards -- against Oklahoma in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl.

Placekicker: Chris Philpott, Louisville

Philpott only got the call once, but he made the game-winning 36-yarder in the fourth quarter.

Kick returners: Jeremy Wright, Louisville, and Robbie Frey, Connecticut

Both Wright and Frey returned kickoffs for touchdowns in their bowl games. Wright's was especially crucial, as it tied the score in the fourth quarter.

Punt returner: Terrence Mitchell, South Florida

Mitchell had a 34-yard punt return against Clemson.

Instant analysis: Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl

December, 21, 2010
Instant analysis of the Beef 'O'Brady's Bowl, which Louisville won 31-28 over Southern Miss:

How the game was won: The Cardinals came out flat early and nearly got knocked out by Southern Miss while falling behind 14-0. But in its first bowl game since the 2007 Orange Bowl, Louisville wouldn't quit. Despite getting outgained in total yardage, Charlie Strong's team kept chipping away until taking its first lead with 4:24 left on a Chris Philpott field goal. Special teams were big, as Louisville blocked a field goal and returned a kick for a touchdown.

Turning point: Southern Miss took a 28-21 lead on the first snap of the fourth quarter, and the Cardinals hadn't even managed a first down in the second half to that point. But redshirt freshman Jeremy Wright returned the kickoff 95 yards for a score, and the momentum shifted in a big way.

Stat of the game: Louisville outgained the Golden Eagles 103 yards to 10 in the fourth quarter until Southern Miss' final desperation play from its own 2.

Player of the game: Louisville cornerback Johnny Patrick. The senior got burned for a touchdown early on, but after that he played an outstanding game. He blocked the Southern Miss field goal try, forced a fumble and had several pass breakups.

Best call: Strong gambled and went for it on fourth down and inches in overtime against South Florida late in the season, and the Cardinals lost that game. He resisted the urge on fourth and 1 from the Southern Miss 18, instead opting for the field goal that won the game.

What it means: Louisville finishes with a winning record in Strong's first year by improving to 7-6. Not many people would have predicted that outcome. It should be the start of something big for the Cardinals, who already secured a major recruiting coup while in Florida. Mostly, it was a reward for the 26 seniors who toughed it out through the Steve Kragthorpe era and found some success at the end of their careers.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Quick halftime analysis from Papa John's Cardinal Stadium, where West Virginia leads Louisville 14-10:

Turning point: In the second quarter, Geno Smith turned to the back judge to call timeout almost at the same time the snap came and hit him in the back. Officials gave the timeout to West Virginia. On the next play after the timeout, Smith hit a wide open Noel Devine for a 48-yard pass play to the Louisville 2. One play later, Ryan Clarke scored for a 14-10 Mountaineers advantage.

Stat of the half: Louisville, the top rushing team in the Big East, has 20 rushing yards on 16 carries. Sacks contributed to that total, but the Cardinals running backs' longest run of the half was two yards. Punter Chris Philpott had the longest run of the half by either team, going 21 yards on a fake.

Best player in the half: Give it to the entire West Virginia defense, which has been absolutely dominating. Louisville's lone touchdown came on a defensive play, as Rodney Gnat sacked Smith and caused a fumble that his teammates jumped on in the end zone.

What West Virginia needs to do: Protect Smith. Louisville, as expected, is blitzing on almost every down, and with a lot of success. When the line picks up the pressure, Smith has plenty of options downfield. When it doesn't, Smith is running for his life.

What Louisville needs to do: Get the running game going somehow. The Cardinals don't have a high-powered passing game, and when they don't have the threat of play-action, that severely limits this offense.
Louisville leads South Florida 14-10 at the half, but it would be worse if not for a spectacular kick return by Lindsey Lamar.

Lamar returned a kickoff 100 yards late in the half. It wasn't one of those returns where the guy makes one move and sprints all the way home untouched. Lamar had to weave his way in and out of traffic and follow his blockers.

That easily has to qualify as the best play of the half by anyone with a ball in his hands for the Bulls. USF has only 70 total yards and just 18 yards passing from B.J. Daniels. If not for Lamar's play and a shanked punt from the Louisville end zone by Chris Philpott that led to a field goal, the Bulls would probably be getting shut out.

The Cardinals have to be concerned that they're not leading by more given how well the defense has played. But if they can keep shutting down Daniels and the Bulls they should be on their way to bowl eligibility. Justin Burke is playing well for the second straight week in place of Adam Froman, tossing two touchdown passes in the first half. Bilal Powell has been limited to 31 yards so far on his return from injury, but the Louisville offense has more than twice as many yards as USF.

Week 8 review/Week 9 preview

October, 25, 2010
It feels a little like 2007 nationally. It feels kind of like 2004 in the Big East. Let's talk about more recent history: last weekend's games.

Team of the week: Syracuse. The Orange have won this award a lot this season already, but never have they been more deserving. They registered the program's biggest win in years and shook up the Big East race with a 19-14 statement victory at West Virginia on Saturday. Look out, Pinstripe Bowl!

[+] EnlargeBJ Daniels
AP Photo/Al BehrmanQB B.J. Daniels [7] had a hand in four TDs during South Florida's wild win against Cincinnati.
Best game: If nothing else, you can usually count on Cincinnati to deliver an entertaining shootout. The Bearcats oblige even if their opponent comes into the game with a sickly offense. That's what happened Friday night, when South Florida broke out of its shell for a 38-30 win at Nippert Stadium that included lots of big plays and a Cincinnati drive that fell just short at the end.

Biggest play: Syracuse linebacker Doug Hogue intercepted West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith and returned it 49-yards to the Mountaineers' 12-yard line with about a minute left in the first half. That set up an Orange field goal that made it 19-14 at the half, gave his team all the momentum and forced West Virginia to go for the touchdown late.

Best call: After Cincinnati was stopped on a fourth down in the third quarter, South Florida offensive coordinator Todd Fitch dialed up a sideline pass play from B.J. Daniels to Faron Hornes on the very next snap. Hornes got wide open, then raced past defenders for a 70-yard score and a 31-16 Bulls lead. I always love it when coaches go on the attack after a sudden change.

Big Man on Campus (Offense): South Florida's Daniels. Amid heavy criticism, he responded with his best game, accounting for four total touchdowns and no turnovers.

Big Man on Campus (Defense): Syracuse's Hogue. He had a pair of interceptions to go along with 10 tackles as West Virginia did not score in the final 46 minutes. Just call him Doug Huge.

Big Man on Campus (Special teams): Louisville kicker Chris Philpott. A week after missing two crucial field goals in an eight-point loss to Cincinnati, Philpott responded by making all four of his tries against Connecticut, connecting on kicks from 39, 42, 26 and 24 yards.

Worst hangover: West Virginia. From No. 20 in the rankings and feeling good about the season to losing to Syracuse at home while watching Pitt take over the Big East lead. Thank goodness the Mountaineers play on Friday night, because it's going to feel like an awfully long week for Bill Stewart.

Strangest moment: South Florida brought heated benches and portable heaters to its sideline at Cincinnati. Game time temperature: 56 degrees. ESPN caught a funny pre-game moment when Cincinnati coach Butch Jones kidded USF's Skip Holtz about his team's overreaction to the weather.

Now let's peer into the immediate future of Week 9 (Games listed in descending order of interest/importance):

Louisville (4-3, 1-1 Big East) at Pittsburgh (4-3, 2-0): Pitt will try to stay on top of the Big East standings against a feisty Louisville team. (, Noon ET)

Syracuse (5-2, 2-1) at Cincinnati (3-4, 1-1): Can the Orange pull off yet another big road win? Can Cincinnati ever get it going? (ESPNU, Noon ET)

West Virginia (5-2, 1-1) at Connecticut (3-4,0-2): In the preseason, this looked like a game that could determine the Big East champ. Now it's a battle just to stay alive in the race -- or in UConn's case to stay alive for a bowl game. (ESPN2, Friday, 8 ET)

Bye: Rutgers, South Florida
Posted by's Brian Bennett

It took 29 minutes, but West Virginia's offense finally got on the board.

A touchdown pass to Jock Sanders with 35 seconds to go gave the Mountaineers a 7-6 lead at the half. Louisville had just kicked a field goal on the previous possession after -- in typical Cardinals fashion -- moving itself out of better scoring position with a dumb penalty.

The Cards came back after Sanders' score to drive for another field goal, though. Chris Philpott replaced Ryan Payne on field goal duties and has done a nice job.

I didn't think Louisville's defense could contain West Virginia's speed, but so far I've been wrong. The Cardinals have played very well and have limited the Mountaineers' big plays, especially in the running game.

Noel Devine turned his ankle late in the half but was able to come back in.

The crowd in Morgantown sounds like a library. West Virginia does not look like a Big East title contender right now.