NCF Nation: Faron Hornes

We continue our team position rankings today with receiver. This is an area of great potential for plenty of teams around the league, especially with some of the high-octane offenses that we are going to see. Only three teams return their leading receiver from last season. The overriding theme seems to be this: there is a lot of talent, but much of it is unproven. So how are these receivers going to step up?

To make these rankings, I considered returning starters, accolades for returning starters, depth and potential.

[+] EnlargeMark Harrison
AP Photo/Mike CarlsonMark Harrison caught 44 passes for 829 yards and 9 touchdowns last season.
1. Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights have proven talent and depth at this position, putting them at the top spot in these rankings. When healthy, Mark Harrison and Mohamed Sanu form one of the top 1-2 punches in the entire league. Add in Brandon Coleman, who had an outstanding spring, along with Tim Wright returning from injury and the top four looks as solid as it gets. Let's not forget incoming speedsters Miles Shuler and Tejay Johnson, who have the potential to play as well.

2. West Virginia. The Mountaineers have Tavon Austin, Stedman Bailey and a whole bunch of questions at the position. But with the new offense Dana Holgorsen is bringing in, other receivers have a chance to be more effective. Austin is about as close as you can come to a surefire first-team All-Big East player. Ryan Nehlen had a nice spring and could be the surprise of the season. So could Tyler Urban, a converted tight end. How will Brad Starks do after shoulder surgery? Will Ivan McCartney live up to his potential? There is talent here and great potential if everybody lives up to expectations.

3. Cincinnati. The Bearcats are stocked with talent, but many of these skill players have got to gain experience and fast with Armon Binns, Marcus Barnett, Vidal Hazelton and Ben Guidugli gone. D.J. Woods is expected to be a first-team All-Big East selection. But beyond he and Anthony McClung, you have got young guys -- junior college transfers Kenbrell Thompkins and Damon Julian, redshirt freshman Dyjuan Lewis, freshmen Shaq Washington, Chris Moore, Alex Chisum and Max Morrison. Thompkins showed great promise in the spring.

4. Pittsburgh. The Panthers lose their leading receiver in Jon Baldwin, but the duo of Mike Shanahan and Devin Street could each be 1,000-yard receivers. Behind them, though, there are some questions and inexperience. Junior Cameron Saddler is going to have to step up. Redshirt freshmen Salath Williams, Drew Carswell, junior college transfer Josh Brinson and true freshman Justin Jackson are all young but have a chance to be big contributors. Pitt also is waiting to hear whether UNC transfer Brendon Felder will have his petition for immediate eligibility granted.

5. Syracuse. The Orange have plenty of solid returning receivers in Van Chew, Marcus Sales and Alec Lemon but what this team is really lacking is big-play potential. In five games last season, Syracuse failed to complete a pass that went longer than 30 yards. In fact, Ryan Nassib averaged 6.5 yards per pass attempt. A healthy Jarrod West could help those numbers improve. Dorian Graham has to work on his hands, too.

6. USF. The Bulls lose leading receiver Dontavia Bogan, but they return injured players Sterling Griffin and A.J. Love to the mix, which is going to be huge. Lindsey Lamar and Evan Landi also return, along with Terrence Mitchell, Joel Miller and Faron Hornes. Deonte Welch had a nice spring game and is listed as a backup behind Landi. True freshman Andre Davis has the potential to contribute as well. The Bulls have plenty of depth here but there are still some questions about this group, especially with Griffin and Love coming off injuries.

7. Louisville. The Cardinals lose their top two receivers, and have got to figure out a way to make big plays and stretch the field with a young group. Josh Bellamy appears to be the go-to man headed into 2011, and much is going to be expected of Andrell Smith and Michaelee Harris. Both are coming off injuries and were unable to practice in the spring. True freshmen are most likely going to be relied upon, giving Eli Rogers and DeVante Parker and opportunity to play.

8. Connecticut. A playmaker has got to emerge from this group to help out whoever is going to be playing quarterback. The Huskies lost leading receiver Mike Smith because of academics. Kashif Moore, Ryan Griffin and Isiah Moore return but UConn is going to need some of its redshirt freshmen like Geremy Davis and Tebucky Jones Jr. to step up. The Huskies are not preparing to run the spread, so the potential for a 1,000-yard receiver in this group is low.

Previous rankings:

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
Who in the world were those guys wearing South Florida uniforms this week? And who was playing quarterback for the Bulls?

They sure didn't look like the same team that managed just 15 total points, and no offensive touchdowns in its first two Big East games. South Florida broke out in a big way with a shocking 38-30 win at Cincinnati.

Skip Holtz promised a thorough re-evaluation of his offense after last week's sputtering effort at West Virginia, and whatever he and his staff came up with sure worked Friday.

B.J. Daniels, who has been criticized a lot and in this space for his disheartening play and 10 interceptions, finally looked like the guy with so much potential against the Bearcats. Daniels completed 13 of 16 passes for 286 yards and two touchdowns. He also ran for two scores.

Daniels played with confidence and completed some long throws, including a 64-yarder to Dontavia Bogan and a 71-yard touchdown pass to Faron Hornes right after USF's defense stopped Cincinnati on a 4th-and-1 from the Bulls' 29. Hornes, who had three catches for 29 yards coming into the night, also had an 18-yard run.

The Bearcats, as they have done often this year, hurt themselves several times. Zach Collaros threw a costly interception in the red zone. Armon Binns dropped a sure touchdown pass, forcing the offense had to settle for a field goal.

They got the ball back with a little more than three minutes left but had to try and mount a game-tying drive without Collaros, who was taken out with an apparent left leg injury. Chazz Anderson came off the bench cold and led the team down to the USF 16. But his pass went through the hands of a streaking D.J. Woods on third down, and he was pressured into an incompletion on fourth down to seal it.

Credit the Bulls' defense, even with all the points they gave up. Cincinnati couldn't find much running room all night, and red-hot running back Isaiah Pead was held to just 48 yards on 15 carries.

The Bearcats saw their 13-game Big East winning streak and 14-game Nippert Stadium winning streak both come to an end. At 3-4 and 1-1 in the Big East, they now have less margin for error to reach bowl eligibility, and the home loss really hurts them in the league title chase. They were feeling good about their schedule with only two road games left, but now they will be in basically must-win mode to stay in the hunt.

Holtz got his first big victory at South Florida, leading the Bulls to a win in a place they had only known misery. This was, obviously, the best overall performance by the team all season and showed what USF is capable of if things are clicking, especially at quarterback. The Bulls (4-3, 1-2) still need a lot of things to go right to contend for the league title, but now this win gets them one needed step closer to bowl eligibility.

Just another night in what looks like a wild and unpredictable Big East season.