NCF Nation: George Winn

UCF KNIGHTS

Spring start: March 13

Spring game: April 13

What to watch:
  1. Bortles' progress: Blake Bortles threw for 3,059 yards with 25 touchdowns and seven interceptions last season, and he figures to be one of the better signal-callers in a Big East that has few consistent returning standouts outside of Teddy Bridgewater.
  2. Replacing Ishmael and McDuffie: UCF loses arguably its two best players in Kemal Ishmael -- who was the Conference USA defensive player of the year and team MVP, notching 124 total tackles and three interceptions -- and Quincy McDuffie, who was the C-USA special-teams player of the year and offensive team MVP.
  3. Beginning the transition: You voted UCF as the newcomer most likely to succeed in the Big East in 2013, and the Knights do seem to be the most ready of the C-USA newcomers. They won 10 games last season, play arguably the toughest nonconference schedule annually of the newcomers, and will have the most natural rival in USF.
CINCINNATI BEARCATS

Spring start: March 1

Spring game: April 6 (open practice), spring ends April 13

What to watch:
  1. The Tommy Tuberville era kicks off: Tuberville's stint at Cincinnati got off to an unceremonious start publicly, but Cincinnati got a proven coach who has had plenty of offensive success. The school has usually been a step up the ladder for coaches -- the past three of whom left after three successful seasons each -- but the Bearcats have gone in another direction this time.
  2. The ground game: Cincinnati faced the same question last year upon losing Big East offensive player of the year Isaiah Pead. George Winn ended up outproducing Pead. Who will replace Winn this year? Ralph David Abernathy IV is the most proven returner, but he does not fit the mold of an every-down back. Regardless, with all five offensive line starters back, the transition figures to be relatively smooth, if not as productive.
  3. Defensive line production: Cincinnati got used to playing without Walter Stewart, but it also loses Dan Giordano, who had five sacks in 2012. Although its 31 sacks as a team were good for second in the Big East, the production was down from the previous season.
CONNECTICUT HUSKIES

Spring start: March 11

Spring game: April 20

What to watch:
  1. Offense under T.J. Weist: The numbers were ugly -- 110th nationally in total offense, 118th in scoring -- resulting in George DeLeone being stripped of his duties. (He's still the offensive line coach.) Weist comes over from Cincinnati, where he coached receivers the past three years.
  2. Defense under Hank Hughes: Conversely, UConn must now replace defensive coordinator Don Brown, who lifted the Huskies to 10th nationally in total defense last season. Hughes enters his 13th season on staff but is tasked with replacing a number of standouts at each position -- Trevardo Williams, Sio Moore and Blidi Wreh-Wilson, to name a few.
  3. Whitmer's growth: Chandler Whitmer returns after passing for 2,664 yards with nine touchdowns and 16 picks in 2012. He had little help up front, and there is more depth at the position this year with Scott McCummings and incoming recruits Richard Lagow and Tim Boyle, both three-star prospects.
HOUSTON COUGARS

Spring start: March 4

Spring game: April 12

What to watch:
  1. Quarterback competition: David Piland is the returning starter, having thrown for 2,929 yards with 16 touchdowns and 12 interceptions in 2012, but he will be challenged by juco transfer Billy Cosh and three-star recruit John O'Korn.
  2. Defense under David Gibbs: The Cougars' defense really has nowhere to go but up after a 2012 season that saw it finish 115th nationally, 107th in scoring, 92nd in rushing and 115th in passing -- numbers that resulted in the ouster of Jamie Bryant. Gibbs most recently worked with the NFL's Houston Texans.
  3. Building depth: The Cougars bring back 43 players from 2012, 14 of whom were starters. Throw in a 26-man recruiting class -- five of whom are currently enrolled -- and Houston can begin to build depth needed to sustain its level of play in a new, better conference.
LOUISVILLE CARDINALS

Spring start: March 20

Spring game: April 13

What to watch:
  1. Backfield options: Senorise Perry, last year's starter, will not be in full-contact practice after tearing his ACL late last season. His backup, Jeremy Wright, is not enrolled in classes. Dominique Brown, Corvin Lamb and Brandon Radcliff are the next three guys on the depth chart, although Brown is the only one to have proved much thus far.
  2. Teddy Heisman continuing arc: Bridgewater went from conference-known to nationally known in 2012, and his strong finish against Rutgers and Florida will only amplify the hype heading into this season. If Bridgewater's improvement resembles anything like that of this past season, those Heisman whispers will become much louder.
  3. Clint Hurtt's shadow: Simply put, this is an issue that isn't going away anytime soon. AD Tom Jurich stands behind the defensive line coach, whom the NCAA says provided false or misleading information during its investigation of Miami, and the situation figures to linger until this never-ending Hurricanes case is complete.

Big East at the combine

February, 26, 2013
2/26/13
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Twenty-four former Big East players and several more stars from future conference teams have been in Indianapolis the past week showing off in front of their prospective future employers. With the NFL scouting combine wrapping up today with defensive backs working out, we'll take a look at how some of the Big East's stars fared.
Last spring, one of the big stories to watch in Cincinnati focused on the running back position.

With Co-Big East Offensive Player of the Year Isaiah Pead gone, who would step up to replace his productivity? We had an idea that senior George Winn would take the reigns, especially after his performance in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl. But the truth is, it would have been hard to predict that Winn would be better than Pead in 2012.

[+] EnlargeRalph David Abernathy IV
Rob Leifheit/USA TODAY SportsRalph David Abernathy IV could figure into Cincinnati's plans at running back next season.
He was, which makes his omission from the Big East first-team particularly galling. Look at the numbers:

  • Pead, 2011: 237 carries, 1,259 yards, 12 touchdowns, 5.3 yards per carry, six 100-yard games.
  • Winn, 2012: 243 carries, 1,334 yards, 13 touchdowns, 5.5 yards per carry, six 100-yard games.

Winn had better numbers than the Co-Big East Player of the Year in 2011, yet was overlooked by league coaches. Head-scratcher indeed. But the point of this post is not to go over an all-conference team that was released months ago. The point is that a similar scenario is set to unfold this spring.

One of the big stories to watch is what happens at the running back position. What happened with Winn last season illustrated that Cincinnati is perfectly capable of producing a 1,000-yard back to replace another 1,000-yard back. And a big reason why is its offensive line.

Cincinnati had one of the best offensive lines in the league last season, producing two first-team Big East selections in tackle Eric Lefeld and guard Austen Bujnoch, and FWAA Freshman All-American Parker Ehinger. All five starters return for 2013, which should help the Bearcats maintain their impressive ground game, no matter who gets the carries.

Among the contenders vying for the starting job, there are three guys to watch this spring: Ralph David Abernathy IV, Deionte Buckley and Tion Green. Jameel Poteat is no longer in the mix, after deciding to transfer. Abernathy is more of a change-of-pace back who can be used in a variety of ways. He probably won't be getting 20 carries a game. Buckley and Green are certainly intriguing players to watch, given their potential.

Cincinnati also expects two junior college transfers -- Rodriguez Moore and Hosey Williams -- to be added into the mix when they arrive in time for fall practice.

Having said all this, there are two factors that make 2013 different from 2012. First, there is no senior in this group. Though Winn had never been a starter, he had more experience than anybody currently in the mix for playing time. That experience proved to be invaluable.

Second is the coaching change. Will Cincinnati continue to focus on the run, the way it has the past two seasons, or will coach Tommy Tuberville opt to open up the pass game more? Does he prefer a workhorse back or to use a rotation featuring two to three players? How will he utilize Abernathy, the most dynamic playmaker the Bearcats have on the roster?

There are certainly questions that have to be answered, but if last season is any indication, Cincinnati is perfectly capable of reloading. Not rebuilding.

Big East all-bowl team

January, 10, 2013
1/10/13
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It's time to unveil the Big East all-bowl team, honoring those players who had the best performances in the postseason.

OFFENSE

QB: Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville. What more can I say about Bridgewater, who began his 2013 Heisman campaign with a big game against Florida in the Allstate Sugar Bowl? Bridgewater went 20-of-32 for two touchdowns in the decisive 33-23 win.

RB: Prince-Tyson Gulley, Syracuse. Gulley was a running machine, busting free for a career-high 213 yards and three total touchdowns in a 38-14 win over West Virginia in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl.

RB: George Winn, Cincinnati. Winn capped a great senior season, running for 130 yards and a touchdown in a 48-34 win over Duke in the Belk Bowl.

OT: Justin Pugh, Syracuse. There is a reason Pugh has declared early for the NFL draft. He showed why he is one of the best tackles in the country in the win over West Virginia, helping pave the way for 369 yards rushing and protecting Ryan Nassib well.

OT: Alex Kupper, Louisville. Those who have followed the Cardinals believe Kupper had one of the best performances of his career in the win over the Gators. For the first time in a four-game stretch, Louisville was able to get its run game going.

C: Mario Benavides, Louisville. Benavides has been the best center in the Big East for several years, and he played well in the final game of his career.

OG: Austen Bujnoch, Cincinnati. Bujnoch played with a foot injury after missing most of the bowl practices and had another great game as the Bearcats ran for 222 yards.

OG: Zack Chibane, Syracuse. Chibane teamed with Pugh on the left side to open huge holes all day.

TE: Travis Kelce, Cincinnati. Kelce capped his monster season with a monster game, catching five passes for a career-high 123 yards -- including the 83-yard game-winning touchdown catch with 44 seconds left.

WR: Anthony McClung, Cincinnati. McClung had three catches for 110 yards and a 25-yard touchdown against Duke in the Belk Bowl in one of the best performances of his career.

WR: Devin Street, Pitt. The Panthers had a dreadful day on offense, but Street was a bright spot with seven catches for 83 yards and a touchdown in a 38-17 loss to Ole Miss in the BBVA Compass Bowl.

DEFENSE

DL: Marcus Smith, Louisville. Smith came through in a big way on the line in a dominating performance against Florida. His name does not show up often on the stat sheet, but he made his presence felt.

DL: Brandon Sharpe, Syracuse. Sharpe was a big reason why Geno Smith was flustered all day long. Sharpe finished with four tackles, a sack and a forced fumble on the day.

DL: Jamil Merrell, Rutgers. Merrell had a huge game in a 13-10 overtime loss to Virginia Tech, notching a career-high two sacks in the game as the Scarlet Knights held the Hokies to 196 yards of total offense.

LB: Siriki Diabate, Syracuse. Diabate led the way with 10 tackles, three tackles for loss and half a sack, and he contributed to a safety early in the win over the Mountaineers.

LB: Greg Blair, Cincinnati. Blair set a Cincinnati bowl record with a game-high 15 tackles. He forced and recovered a fumble early that changed the momentum against the Blue Devils.

LB: Preston Brown, Louisville. Brown finished with 13 tackles -- 1.5 for loss -- and one pass breakup in the win over the Gators.

LB: Khaseem Greene, Rutgers. Greene was a stalwart once again, finishing the loss to Virginia Tech with 11 tackles, half a sack and one forced fumble he recovered in the end zone -- the only Rutgers touchdown of the game.

CB: Terell Floyd, Louisville. Floyd's 38-yard interception return for a touchdown on the opening play of the game set the tone for the Cardinals. It was Louisville's first defensive score of the season.

CB: Brandon Jones, Rutgers. Jones set a career high and Rutgers single-game bowl record with two interceptions against the Hokies.

S: Jason Hendricks, Pitt. Hendricks had a great game in a loss to the Rebels, with a whopping 17 tackles, two tackles for loss and an interception.

S: Calvin Pryor, Louisville. Pryor had six tackles and registered his fifth forced fumble on the season when he recorded his first sack of the season in the third quarter.

SPECIAL TEAMS

P: Matt Yoklic, Pitt. Yoklic had plenty of opportunities to punt in this game and made the most of them, leading all Big East postseason punters with a 48.3-yard average on six punts.

K: Tony Miliano, Cincinnati. Miliano led all Big East kickers during postseason play with 12 points -- making both his field goal attempts and all six extra-point attempts against Duke.

Belk Bowl keys

December, 27, 2012
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Here are three keys to watch for Duke against Cincinnati in today’s Belk Bowl (6:30 p.m. ET, ESPN):

1. Stop the run. It’s the priority, as Duke’s rushing defense is No. 102 in the country, allowing almost 200 rushing yards per game (199.83) -- and Cincinnati is averaging 199.75 on the ground. Bearcats running back George Winn leads the team and the Big East with 1,204 yards and 12 touchdowns. In each of Duke’s four losses to end the regular season, the Blue Devils allowed an average of 294.5 rushing yards, and Georgia Tech and Clemson both surpassing 300.

2. Throw the ball downfield. Quarterback Sean Renfree is going to have to stretch the field and utilize his top two targets, Jamison Crowder (70 catches) and Conner Vernon (75 catches). Duke will need to try to exploit some weaknesses in Cincinnati’s secondary. The Bearcats are No. 72 in the country in pass defense, allowing 243.5 yards per game.

3. Don’t get overwhelmed by the spotlight. This is a major milestone for Duke, as the program hasn’t been to a bowl game since 1994, and it hasn’t won a bowl game since 1961. A victory over Cincinnati would not only snap a 51-year drought, it would also be a huge confidence-booster and springboard for the program heading into the offseason. Young specialists must continue to be solid, the passing game must continue to flourish, and Duke can’t get rattled or awestruck by the moment.

Belk Bowl keys: Cincinnati

December, 27, 2012
12/27/12
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Three keys for Cincinnati in tonight's Belk Bowl matchup against Duke:

1. Establish the run: George Winn led the Big East in rushing yards with 1,204, and he averaged more yards per game this season (100.3) than Isaiah Pead did last season when the latter was named the conference's offensive player of the year. The redshirt senior keyed the Big East's No. 2 rushing attack, and the Bearcats would be smart to ride that in the early going against a Duke defense that has surrendered 269.8 yards per game on the ground over the season's final six games.

2. Limit the big pass: The Blue Devils had three players top the 600-yard receiving mark this season and boast the ACC's career receiving yards leader in Conner Vernon, though Jamison Crowder (70 catches, 1,025 yards, eight touchdowns) is actually the team leader in receiving yards. Cincinnati led the Big East in pass efficiency defense this season, and the Bearcats have held their past four opponents to fewer than 17 points, with three scoring just 10. Their 14 interceptions were good for second in the Big East.

3. Find Travis Kelce. The first-team All-Big East tight end did his best work down the stretch of the season with Brendon Kay under center, catching 17 passes for 285 yards with three touchdowns over his past three games. He also threw a 39-yard touchdown pass to Kay in the regular-season finale at Connecticut. For the season, Kelce led all Big East tight ends with 599 receiving yards, a school record for a tight end.

ESPN.com All-Big East team

December, 10, 2012
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The time has finally come to announce our picks for the ESPN.com All-Big East team.

You will see that only a few selections differ from the coaches'; they made their first- and second-team selections last week. Among the notable differences: I have Cincinnati running back George Winn on the first team ahead of Pitt running back Ray Graham. I thought Graham was great this year in his return from a torn ACL. But I thought Winn was better and more consistent. He also had more total yards rushing (1,204 to 1,042 for Graham), a higher rushing average (5.3 ypc to 4.7 ypc) and more 100-yard games.

I also have Pitt receiver Devin Street on the first team over DeVante Parker from Louisville. Parker had some flashy catches this year, but Street was way more productive and consistent. I actually went back and forth between Street and teammate Mike Shanahan for first-team honors. Both are worthy.

Defensively, I only have three linebackers on my team (no ties allowed!) so Sio Moore of UConn gets bumped. Moore had a heck of a year, no question, and linebacker was perhaps the strongest position in the league across every team. But I thought Yawin Smallwood, Greg Blair and Khaseem Greene were better. I also have Calvin Pryor at safety over Duron Harmon.

Here is the team in its entirety:

OFFENSE

QB: Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville

RB: Montel Harris, Temple

RB: George Winn, Cincinnati

WR: Alec Lemon, Syracuse

WR: Devin Street, Pitt

TE: Travis Kelce, Cincinnati

OT: Eric Lefeld, Cincinnati

OT: Justin Pugh, Syracuse

C: Mario Benavides, Louisville

OG: Austen Bujnoch, Cincinnati

OG: Antwan Lowery, Rutgers

K: Brandon McManus, Temple

RS: Matt Brown, Temple

DEFENSE

DE: Trevardo Williams, UConn

DE: Dan Giordano, Cincinnati

DT: Scott Vallone, Rutgers

DT: Aaron Donald, Pitt

LB: Greg Blair, Cincinnati

LB: Yawin Smallwood, UConn

LB: Khaseem Greene, Rutgers

CB: Adrian Bushell, Louisville

CB: Logan Ryan, Rutgers

S: Shamarko Thomas, Syracuse

S: Calvin Pryor, Louisville

P: Brandon McManus, Temple

Who will transform the bowls?

December, 7, 2012
12/07/12
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My pick for who will transform the Big East bowl season is Cincinnati running back George Winn.

He likes these postseason games, remember?

Last year Winn burst onto the scene in a 31-24 Liberty Bowl win over Vanderbilt, rushing for 78 yards and a touchdown on just six carries. The performance got Bearcats fans excited for the 2012 season, and Winn more than exceeded expectations, rushing for a Big East-best 1,204 yards to go with his 12 rushing touchdowns (tied for first) and 116 receiving yards for Cincinnati, which won a share of the conference title for the second straight season and fourth time in the last five years.

Cincinnati's opponent in the Dec. 27 Belk Bowl is Duke, and the Blue Devils rank 102nd nationally against the run, surrendering 199.83 yards per game.

Winn was perhaps the biggest snub from Thursday's All-Big East team, as he was relegated to second-team status behind Ray Graham and Montel Harris.

Expect the redshirt junior to deliver one more time in three weeks, as the Bearcats go for another 10-win season.
The Big East Coach of the Year Award, along with the rest of the conference's hardware, will be announced Wednesday. Charlie Strong is the favorite to walk away with the honor after leading Louisville to a 10-2 season and a Sugar Bowl berth in his third campaign with the Cardinals. Here, we make our cases for two other coaches who impressed during the 2012 campaign.

Andrea: Syracuse coach Doug Marrone
Charlie Strong and Butch Jones have done fantastic jobs with their respective teams this season.

[+] EnlargeDoug Marrone
Cal Sport Media via AP ImagesDoug Marrone saw his Syracuse team turn a 2-4 start into a 7-5 regular season, winning five of six to finish.
But neither of them was saddled with a team coming off a losing season.

A team that closed 2011 with five consecutive defeats.

A team picked to finish seventh in the Big East preseason media poll.

A team that faced a nonconference schedule with four games against teams from the Big Ten, SEC and Pac-12.

A team that started the season 2-4.

Syracuse coach Doug Marrone stared down another season that had disappointment written all over it. And yet, he pulled off the shocker of the Big East season -- getting Syracuse into the New Era Pinstripe Bowl and winning a share of the league title.

That makes him every bit as deserving as Strong and Jones when it comes to consideration for Big East Coach of the Year honors.

Let’s go back to Week 8. The Orange were 2-4, ranked No. 7 in the Big East in scoring offense; No. 7 in rushing offense; and tied for last in turnover margin. They were an undisciplined football team, a group that had no consistent rushing attack, and no consistent pass rush. Marrone called himself out when asked pointed questions about why his football team kept stumbling around, repeatedly saying it was his job to get his team better prepared.

Whatever he did worked.

Syracuse ended the season with wins in five of its final six game. That includes a decisive throttling of then-No. 9 Louisville at home, and a huge come-from-behind road victory at Missouri. Most everybody penciled both games in as losses.

But the way the Orange played in both games showed the resiliency that has defined this team during the second half of the season. The Orange reinvented themselves: They stopped turning the ball over. They figured out how to run the ball. And they played much better on the defensive line.

As a result, Syracuse ended the season No. 3 in the league in scoring offense, averaging a touchdown more per game in its final six games. It ended No. 3 in rushing offense, averaging 44 more yards per game on the ground in the final six games. And after going minus-10 in turnover margin through six games, Syracuse finished at minus-1, losing the ball just five times in its final six contests.

Syracuse can call itself Big East champion because of its remarkable turnaround. If that is not worthy of recognition, I am not sure what is.

[+] EnlargeButch Jones
Jamie Rhodes/USA TODAY SportsShould he stay at Cincinnati, Butch Jones has a shot at a second consecutive 10-win season.
Matt: Cincinnati coach Butch Jones
There is a reason Jones' name -- and face -- keeps popping up in places from West Lafayette, Ind., to Boulder, Colo. The man is a hot commodity in coaching circles right now, and deservedly so.

His Bearcats have won a share of their fourth Big East title in the past five years. They will face Duke in the Belk Bowl, where they will go for their second consecutive 10-win season.

Yes, Brian Kelly was responsible for two of those conference titles. And yes, Mark Dantonio deserves credit for lifting this program before Kelly.

But look what Jones was faced with after last season, a 10-3 campaign that saw him take home Big East Coach of the Year honors:

No more Isaiah Pead, the 2011 conference offensive player of the year.

No more Derek Wolfe, the 2011 conference defensive player of the year.

No more Zach Collaros, a two-time All-Big East selection and a three-year starter at quarterbaack.

So Jones took a player who rushed for 219 yards last season and turned him into the Big East's leading rusher (George Winn, 1,204 yards).

He dealt with the possibly career-ending injury to end Walter Stewart, whom he had called the best leader he ever coached, and watched the defense rise to No. 2 in the Big East in scoring, allowing 17.2 points per game. (The offense tied for the conference lead in the scoring, at 31 points per game.)

He weathered a potential quarterback controversy delicately, replacing Munchie Legaux with Brendon Kay when the time was right and watching the fifth-year senior lead Cincinnati to a 3-1 mark down the stretch.

Jones had big shoes to fill when taking this job three years ago, evidenced by his predecessor's future date in the national title game with Notre Dame. And that predecessor, Kelly, had big shoes to fill in replacing Dantonio, evidenced by Michigan State's rise as a Big Ten power. (This year's 6-6 campaign notwithstanding.)

Together all three coaches have turned around the culture of a program that just completed its eighth Big East season, having finished in third place or better in five of those years. In the 50 years prior to Dantonio's eight-win 2006 season, Cincinnati had exactly four eight-win campaigns. It has had five since, with Jones responsible for the past two.

Cincinnati fans better hope that Jones has the chance to make this another 10-win season come the Dec. 27 Belk Bowl, and to keep the run going beyond that. Plenty of other schools seem to hope he can do the same for them, as sure a sign as any of the job he has done with the Bearcats.

Belk Bowl

December, 2, 2012
12/02/12
10:26
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Cincinnati Bearcats (9-3) vs. Duke Blue Devils (6-6)

Dec. 27, 6:30 p.m. ET, Charlotte, N.C. (ESPN)

Cincinnati take by Big East blogger Andrea Adelson: Per the usual rite of the preseason, Cincinnati was not picked to win the Big East.

Per the usual rite of the season, Cincinnati won a share of the Big East.

The Bearcats, it seems, exceed expectations every season. But this one may have been Butch Jones’ best coaching job at Cincinnati when you consider just how much talent he lost off a 10-win team that finished 2011 in the Top 25. Jones had to replace his starting quarterback, running back, half his starting offensive line, his starting defensive tackles and his starting middle linebacker. Just to name a few.

Without them, he was left 65 first- and second-year players to try and carry on the tradition that has been established. They were able to do that, despite losing their team leader in defensive end Walter Stewart (back) and switching quarterbacks for the final month of the season.

Brendon Kay delivered wins in three of the final four games of the season after replacing Munchie Legaux, but the true story centered around the running game. George Winn emerged as one of the biggest surprises in the Big East, rushing for 1,204 yards and 12 touchdowns.

He averaged more yards per game (100.3) than Big East Offensive Player of the Year Isaiah Pead did a year ago, and was a big reason why the Bearcats ran for nearly 200 yards per game. Travis Kelce was a huge surprise at tight end, too, leading the team in receiving yards (599) and touchdown receptions (7).

Defensively, Cincinnati played extremely well despite losing JK Schaeffer, Derek Wolfe, John Hughes and Stewart. Greg Blair was a huge presence in the middle, and finished second in the Big East in tackles (123). All of these standout performances added up to yet another Big East title, and a shot at a 10-win season for the fifth time in six years.




Duke take from ACC blogger Heather Dinich: The Blue Devils finally got over the hump in the fifth season under coach David Cutcliffe, who was named the ACC’s Coach of the Year after leading the program to its first bowl game since 1994.

For the first time in decades, Duke football was relevant in November, as the program had a legitimate chance to win the Coastal Division. Despite the achievement of reaching the six-win mark, most within the program would concede they let an even bigger opportunity slip away.

With a 33-30 win over rival North Carolina on Oct. 20, Duke became the first team in the Coastal Division to become bowl eligible this year. Problem was, the Blue Devils didn’t do a thing in the win column in the following weeks. After beating UNC, Duke ended the season with four straight losses, dropping out of the ACC race for good with a 42-24 loss at Georgia Tech on Nov. 17. Duke had the misfortune of an unforgiving cross-over schedule that included back-to-back games against Atlantic Division leaders No. 12 Florida State and No. 13 Clemson. The Blue Devils were humbled in those games and outscored 104-27. They still had a chance to win the division, but the defense had no answer for Georgia Tech’s spread option offense.

Still, it was a milestone season for Duke that included receiver Conner Vernon asserting himself as the ACC’s all-time leader in career receiving yards. The Blue Devils are ecstatic to be playing in any bowl, but to have the opportunity to stay in-state and continue practicing will be the biggest rewards. Duke is making its ninth bowl trip and has a 3-5 record in postseason games. The Blue Devils’ last bowl trip was a 34-20 loss to Wisconsin in the Hall of Fame Bowl Game in Tampa, Fla. The game marks the first appearance by the Blue Devils in a bowl game in North Carolina.

Big East weekend rewind: Week 13

November, 26, 2012
11/26/12
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One last look back at the holiday weekend that was in the Big East.

The good: Pitt and UConn (both 5-6) kept their bowl hopes alive with upset wins over Rutgers and Louisville, respectively. Syracuse and Cincinnati won, too, keeping their slim hopes alive for shares of the Big East title. For the Bearcats, that would be four in a five-year span.

[+] EnlargeLyle McCombs
Jamie Rhodes/US PresswireUConn RB Lyle McCombs hasn't let his relatively small size affect his durability.
The bad: Rutgers' and Louisville's losses take some major luster off their de facto conference title game matchup Thursday night in Piscataway, N.J. South Florida, meanwhile, fumbled the ball eight times at Cincinnati. Eight.

The ugly: See Sunday night's BCS standings? Yup. No Big East teams. (Three non-AQ teams are ranked, however, as well as four-loss Michigan and four-loss Oklahoma State.)

Get well soon: Rutgers' Jawan Jamison was limited by his ankle injury again. Scarlet Knights quarterback Gary Nova missed some time after his shoulder took a nasty hit on the frozen ground of Heinz Field, and linebacker Khaseem Greene left after a hit on a punt return, but got back into the game . . . Both starting quarterbacks -- UConn's Chandler Whitmer (hit to head) and Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater (wrist, leg) -- were injured. Bridgewater returned, but ultimately throwing a fateful pick in triple overtime.

So long: Temple's return to the Big East (2-5) came to a close in Friday's loss to Syracuse. The young Owls squad had plenty of ups and downs in a transition year, from playing just 11 games (4-7) to dealing with backfield injuries all season. Their two conference wins were two more than most anticipated, but expectations will increase in Year 2.

Backs carrying the way: Syracuse rushed for 260 yards on the backs of three major contributors. Temple's Montel Harris closed his storied career with 106 rushing yards. Cincinnati's George Winn continued to impress with his 119-yard, two-touchdown performance. Pitt's Ray Graham closed out his home career with a bang, going for 113 yards and a score. And Lyle McCombs lifted UConn to a second straight win with a second straight 100-yard performance, this one for 133 yards.

By the thousands: Jerome Smith eclipsed the 1,000-yard rushing mark Friday for Syracuse. Alec Lemon eclipsed the 1,000-yard receiving mark. Together they have given the Orange their first 1,000 rushing/receiving combo since 1989, when Michael Owens and Rob Moore accomplished the feat. Moore currently coaches the Syracuse receivers.

Cincinnati dominates South Florida

November, 23, 2012
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The game between Cincinnati and South Florida turned out the way most anticipated it would before kickoff.

Without much on the line for either team, we were left with some pretty uninspired football at times. A first-half punt-fest eventually turned into a pretty dominating 27-10 win for the Bearcats on Friday night. And once again, two of the most pleasant surprises in the entire Big East led Cincinnati to the victory.

George Winn posted his fifth 100-yard game of the season, and Travis Kelce set the school single-season record for receiving yards by a tight end. Winn had two touchdowns rushing and Kelce had one receiving as Cincinnati (8-3, 4-2) was able to overcome a sluggish start on Senior Day.

As for USF, this is a team that has struggled to get any sort of offensive production or consistency going with B.J. Daniels on the sideline. The Bulls had gone 10 consecutive quarters without a touchdown, until Demetris Murray got into the end zone in the fourth quarter to break that streak. Before that score, the last time USF scored a touchdown was in the first quarter of its Nov. 3 victory over Connecticut -- when Daniels was still healthy.

Coach Skip Holtz's decision-making was called into question again following Murray's score. USF decided to go for the extra point to make it 27-10. Had USF (3-8, 1-5) gone for two and made it, the Bulls would have trailed by 16 points (or two scores).

Quarterback Matt Floyd struggled once again, though he was better in the second half. In the first half, USF only had 95 total yards and Floyd had five pass completions. He did better after halftime, but was not nearly as productive as a starting quarterback should be. He is missing several of his top playmakers, but he also had many playmakers out there -- including Andre Davis.

The Bulls had problems holding onto the football as well. They had EIGHT fumbles, though they only lost two. And now, they are the first USF team to ever lose eight games.

Rutgers D keys win at Cincinnati

November, 17, 2012
11/17/12
3:41
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And then, effectively, there were two.

No. 22 Rutgers remains the lone Big East team unbeaten in conference play, and the conference crown will now hinge on its Nov. 29 finale against Louisville. The Scarlet Knights control their own destiny and they seized a huge opportunity Saturday at Nippert Stadium, playing typical Rutgers football en route to a 10-3 win over Cincinnati.

With Jawan Jamison limited from last week's ankle injury, Savon Huggins picked up the workload the way few backups could. The sophomore carried the ball 41 times for 179 yards, and Rutgers' defense kept the Bearcats in check throughout the day, coming within 11 seconds of pitching its second shutout of the season before Tony Miliano kicked a 36-yard field goal to account for the final margin.

Rutgers recovered the ensuing onside kick.

Like most Scarlet Knights wins, this one was far from pretty to the outside eye. But it's been their formula for success all season, and it now has them 5-0 in Big East play.

Mark Harrison's 71-yard touchdown catch with 6:13 left in the first half was the only touchdown of the game. Harrison finished the day with 106 yards on four catches.

Gary Nova was just 11-of-19 for 186 yards with two picks, both coming in the red zone. But Brendon Kay threw two picks of his own, including one at the Rutgers 3, and he finished the day just 17-of-31 for 251 yards, with a team-best 46 rushing yards.

Big East leading rusher George Winn had nowhere to run all day, netting just 35 yards on 11 carries. Khaseem Greene led the way again for the Scarlet Knights, notching a team-best 11 tackles and recording two sacks.

Rutgers dominated time of possession (37:13 to 22:47), and it limited Cincinnati to 3 of 11 on third down and 0 of 2 on fourth down, including a red zone stop in the second half with the score still 7-0.

Everyone wondered if Rutgers would be able to keep up when facing a strong offense in conference play. Turns out it didn't matter. The Scarlet Knights' defense is that good, and it now has them in prime position to capture the program's first-ever Big East title.

Q&A with Rutgers LB Khaseem Greene

November, 16, 2012
11/16/12
2:30
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Khaseem Greene won the Big East's defensive player of the year award last season. The Rutgers linebacker broke his ankle in the Pinstripe Bowl, prompting offseason surgery and rehab. Then coach Greg Schiano left for the NFL's Tampa Bay Buccaneers, with assistant Kyle Flood taking his place.

Greene has responded with an All-America-type season, notching 96 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, two interceptions, six quarterback hurries, six forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.

He is coming off a 22-tackle performance in a victory over Army, the fifth-highest tackle performance in Big East history. Rutgers is 9-1 and controls its conference-title destiny. And his brother, Pitt running back Ray Graham, has been not too shabby since recovering an ACL tear a year ago, rushing for 835 yards and eight touchdowns this season.

ESPN.com caught up with Greene this week to talk about all that and more as the Scarlet Knights head into Cincinnati for a Saturday showdown.

Still feeling the effects from 22 tackles Saturday?

Khaseem Greene: Yeah, I was trying to be everywhere. (laughs)

I'd imagine it's a slightly better feeling giving the pounding instead of taking it.

KG: Oh yeah. Oh yeah. Most definitely.

Every senior ever says the light clicks on for them going into their final year, wanting to make the most of it. You already had a pretty decorated resume coming into this season. What did you do to ensure that this season would be a memorable one?

KG: I just worked my tail off to just get back to 100 percent coming off the injury. I knew coming into this season that we were going to have a special team and if I could just be the player I was last year, and a little bit better, contribute a little bit more, it would definitely be special. Just from my rehab and everything like that, I was dedicated to coming back and being the best teammate and best player I could be for my team and for my coaches.

Can you take me through that rehab process a little bit?

KG: It was a long process. It was just very hard because I had never been injured where I had to miss time before. I never had a surgery or anything like that. Those things were new to me and just not being able to do things that I do so easily was kind of frustrating. But just the training staff we have here and the coaches I have in my corner just talking to me every day, working me out, not letting me get down on myself and not letting me doubt myself and things like that. And a big credit to my family, who stayed behind me 100 percent and made sure I was doing the right things, whether it was getting up early in the morning to go to treatment and a workout, or my brothers staying on top of me saying I had to be back to the player I was last year, just to be the greatest player I could be for the Rutgers family because I owed it to them. All those things came into play and they all helped me become the person I am now.

[+] EnlargeKhaseem Greene
Will Schneekloth/Icon SMILinebacker Khaseem Greene said he and his Rutgers teammates have been behind new coach Kyle Flood from Day 1: "We never doubted him."
It seems like you're added to a new watch list every week. Do you pay attention to that stuff?

KG: I really just take those accolades and let my family run with them and credit my teammates, because a lot of those individual recognition and award things have to do with people behind the scenes: my defense, my guys up front, the secondary and the mike and the sam (linebackers) that I play alongside with. Not only those guys, but the offense that I play with, the coaches that coach me. I'm happy when I'm honored but I really don't like the fact that it's an individual award because so much goes into it besides just me doing things. But at the same time I just take it and just credit it to my teammates because those guys deserve the credit and my coaches deserve the credit and my family deserves the credit. Everybody who's helped me get to this point or helped me do what I do deserves credit, but it's also an amazing feeling to know that people recognize you for the things that you do.

Your coach actually said this week, yeah, you had a great game, but you were also the beneficiary of a defense that was in the right place at the right time a lot, against Army. That's not a conventional offense to prepare for. What did you see from them? How did the defense perform the way it did this past Saturday?

KG: The one thing that's unique about playing the academy schools is that no matter how good the scout team looks during the week, you'll never simulate the exact speed that those guys play at, and that was the one thing that happened for us after the first series. And for the rest of the game, it just started to slow down. Those guys came out very strong, very fast and that's what we expect for them to be doing, is coming out fast. We got a great look this week but it was nothing compared to the speed at which those guys go because they train for it all year as opposed to us, for one week. The game just slowed down for us after the first series and we got a great feel of it and we started to relax and trust our keys, and that's when we started playing Rutgers defense the way it's supposed to be played. We were able to get some key turnovers and stops and get the ball back to our offense so that they could put points on the board and things like that.

What has Kyle Flood done to ease the transition? It wasn't an ideal situation in the offseason. How have you guys come together under him?

KG: The one thing he's done a great job of is getting 100-plus men to trust him, trust in his vision and his goal, his plan for this program. He's done a great job of that. There's never been a moment or a time where me or any of my teammates felt like this guy's a first-year guy and we don't think this is the right thing he's doing. We never doubted him. From Day 1 he came in with a goal and a vision and he told us what it's going to be. And till this day he's been sticking to his word and everything's been going as planned minus the one loss. We have really taken his word and just ran with it. He's a great leader. Everything this program stands for he exemplifies in his everyday characteristics and just to see a guy come in as a first-year head coach and see what he's done with this team, with this program is amazing. It's special. It's unique. We all really appreciate it here at Rutgers, but it's just being his first year and making a program that's known, that has become a winner, and now trying to take it to the next level, having that challenge in itself, and just not even taking it as a challenge, taking it as a another day at the job, it's been real special.

Cincinnati has a great running back in George Winn. What has made him so successful?

KG: He's a great running back. He's big, he's strong, he's fast. He catches the ball. He does a lot of things very well. Credit to that program over there. They do a lot of things really well in their scheme and just the coaching staff. That's a great program over there. They have my respect, but the game has to be played on Saturdays. That's pretty much what it comes down to. He's a great running back, he does some great things and they have a great program over there, but at end of the day, we just go to practice, worry about the things that we do, go out on Saturday and do those things that we do well, and hopefully that gets us the win.

Switching gears a bit, how much do you talk to Ray during the season? What do you think of his performance so far?

KG: I talk to my brother every week. We talk multiple times during the week. I just encourage him outside of football. I just encourage him as a big brother to continue to stay humble, pray, communicate and rehab -- everything that he has to do to make himself successful outside of football. And on the field I always tell him to just play hard, do what he's been doing all his life to get him to this point and that's what he does really well. That's just play football, but outside of football, just being the person that he is and tell him to try to stay out of trouble. Stay away from the things that are not going to benefit you as a person, and that's pretty much it.

You both went through rehab. You both went through coaching changes this offseason. How much did it help to go through that together?

KG: That helps us a lot. Just us both rehabbing and being able to communicate with each other or send each other pictures or videos, push each other, motivate each other to get back from our injuries was big. For me, I had the same coach for all my four years of being here until this year. For Ray, he had a number of coaching changes, so he helped me from that standpoint, just to know that things are going to change, but if you get a coach that understands and things like that, it'll all be the same. What he told me is starting to stick and I'm starting to see that. From that standpoint he helped me when it comes to coaching changes. But other than that we really help each other, we motivate each other and we compete with one another when it comes to rehab and things like that.

Kay leads Cincinnati rout of Temple

November, 10, 2012
11/10/12
3:40
PM ET
Was the Syracuse game the last we've seen of Munchie Legaux this season?

If Brendon Kay's performance Saturday at Temple is any indication, that may very well end up being the case.

The Bearcats could not have asked for much more from their new signal caller in a 34-10 rout of the Owls. Kay completed 13 of 21 passes for 244 yards and two touchdowns and carried it seven times for 71 yards.

His touchdown passes, to Kenbrell Thompkins and Chris Moore, went for 75 and 65 yards, respectively.

George Winn, the Big East's leading rusher, added 83 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries.

Cincinnati jumped out to a 24-3 first-half lead and never looked back, pressuring Chris Coyer into a costly interception late in the first half that cost the Temple signal caller the chance to start the third quarter.

That honor went to Clinton Granger, who fared little better. The two Owls quarterbacks combined to go 12-of-32 for 142 yards. Cody Booth's 4-yard touchdown catch late in the third quarter cut the Cincinnati lead to 14, but that was as close as Temple would get.

The Bearcats held Temple to just 267 yards of total offense in what was a complete, solid performance. Reality has come down hard on the Owls following their 2-0 Big East start, as they now find themselves in the middle of a four-game losing streak going into next week's game against Army.

Cincinnati scored another win Saturday when Louisville was routed by Syracuse, giving both the Bearcats and Cardinals one Big East loss. Louisville beat Cincinnati two weeks ago, so the Cardinals have to lose another game for Cincinnati to have a chance to win the conference outright and gain a BCS bowl bid.

To have that chance, the Bearcats need to start by beating Rutgers next week, which would create quite a wild race to the finish among three one-loss Big East teams. That's a scenario that looks much more possible after Kay's performance Saturday in Philadelphia.

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