NCF Nation: Ivan McCartney

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Maybe it's silly, but I feel a bit like a trailblazer of sorts here in Mountaineers country. Those of us who hail from the Midwest or the South haven't had much reason to head to West Virginia, and I'd never been until yesterday. For most Big 12 fans and media, I'd say that's the case. Alas, I'll start there before moving to matters on the field.

  • The rumors you've heard are true. This campus and area is beautiful, just as advertised by West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen and just about anybody else who's been here. The drive from the Denver airport to Boulder used to be my favorite in the Big 12, but it's now been replaced by the drive from Pittsburgh to Morgantown. I had heard it was two hours. It's not. It's in the ballpark of an hour to 90 minutes. Easily doable. Unlike Boulder, there isn't one big looming mountain, though. The campus and surrounding area is set among rolling hills unlike anything you'll see in the Big 12, save some parts of Austin, Texas. The drive over gives you a sense of the landscape, and there are plenty of gorgeous views. You'll love the first time you make it. I grew up in Northwest Arkansas in the thick of the Ozark Mountains, and it reminded me of that area a lot. No huge peaks, but lots of gorgeous scenery. I can only imagine how it will look in the fall.
  • As for travel, I have some advice for airlines: Add more flights on fall weekends between Pittsburgh and Kansas City, Dallas and Houston, the three biggest hubs for Big 12 fans. If you get a direct flight into Pittsburgh, the travel won't be much different than trying to get to Texas A&M, Mizzou or Kansas State. I had to connect through Philadelphia, though, and it was a legitimate half-day of travel. It might take a little out of you heading into a game weekend.
  • [+] EnlargeWest Virginia's Geno Smith
    Andrew Weber/US PresswireWest Virginia's Geno Smith is as physically imposing as any of his new Big 12 QB counterparts.

  • Unfortunately, I was on hand for the coldest day of the spring in West Virginia. It had been in the 70s and 80s for much of the workouts, but it was overcast and 50 degrees with blustery winds throughout Tuesday's two-plus-hour session, which included plenty of team drills. Holgorsen's teams typically don't tackle much, but players were going full contact on Tuesday, tackling to the ground during team drills, a rarity in the spring for some programs. Running back Ryan Clarke went down with an ankle injury, but his status is pending more examination from doctors.
  • I was struck by Geno Smith's physical prowess. I'm not sure I realized just how big he is. He's every bit of 6-foot-3 and 214 pounds, and maybe more. To me, he was more physically imposing than Landry Jones, who checks in at 6-4, 229. Other than Collin Klein, you won't see any Big 12 passers with the kind of physique Jones and Smith have.
  • Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin? Good grief, those two are as advertised. Nobody in the Big 12 is going to be able to cover Austin with any consistency. Bailey and Smith have been friends since growing up in South Florida, and Bailey will be productive, too. Smith's throwing reps were limited on Tuesday to give his shoulder a little rest, but he hit Bailey and Austin for rainbow 40- to 50-yard passes on consecutive plays during 11-on-11 drills Tuesday. Bailey isn't quite as physically impressive as Austin (namely his quickness), but he's really smart and coordinated, and he'll be able to get open and make plays like he did last year.
  • The quarterbacks behind Smith, by the way? Both Texas natives who I'm sure are itching to go up against some familiar faces. Sophomore Paul Millard is from Flower Mound, a Dallas suburb, and Ford Childress (6-5, 224) is from Houston. Both looked strong, and Millard hooked up with Ivan McCartney on a deep ball while working some with the first team early in practice. Honestly, WVU might have the best full set of QBs in the league right now, beyond starters.
  • The scariest thing about WVU right now? You probably know the skill-position players -- specifically at QB and receiver -- are as good as if not better than any in the Big 12. But look out for the youngsters, too. WVU is deep and have a lot of guys who keep on coming. One name already turning heads this spring: True freshman early enrollee Jordan Thompson, a Katy, Texas, native who made plenty of plays during Tuesday's practice, and took a huge hit from a pair of defenders. "They've been waiting to do that for a long time," yelled a teammate as another picked Thompson up and Holgorsen smiled at his "Welcome to Division I football" moment.
  • You know about Bailey and Austin, but look out for J.D. Woods, too. He looked the part of playmaker in Tuesday's practice, and the senior could finally be turning a corner after a quiet junior season.
  • I'll have plenty more through the week -- I'm here until Thursday -- so keep checking back for more from my trip to West Virginia.
Milan Puskar Stadium Andrew Weber/US PresswireWest Virginia's Milan Puskar Stadium offers new experiences for Big 12 fans.
After a bit of a delay, thanks to some legal wrangling, West Virginia is finally free.

The Big East and the Mountaineers have settled their lawsuit, and West Virginia is officially on its way to the Big 12 for 2012.

That means it's off the Big East blog and onto the Big 12 blog, too.

To help the Big 12 get to know its newest member, Big 12 blogger David Ubben asked Big East blogger Andrea Adelson for her thoughts.

David Ubben: AA, Les Miles had my favorite quote of the 2011 season in relation to West Virginia. "They were having a football party and invited us. I knew our guys would show up."

You were there, Andrea. What can Big 12 fans expect when they go to Morgantown? Is it a football party every weekend?

Andrea Adelson: Define "every weekend." West Virginia fans show up for the super gigantic games against teams like LSU and Pitt, but there has been concern that the fan base is "fair weather." Note -- 46,000 fans came out to watch Bowling Green. Now, the truth is, no fan in America gets up for the cupcake patsy schedule. But this rubbed Dana Holgorsen the wrong way, and he ripped on the fans after that game:

"All I heard about was how much this meant to everybody across the state of West Virginia. This was the NFL team in town and we're going to be here to support you. Well, having 40,000 people at a game isn't doing that. ... We do our best every week to fix what the problems are offensively, defensively and special teams wise. Well, what's everybody across the state of West Virginia, including the student body, doing to fix the fact that our players had to play in front of 40,000 people?"

Now, you remember Holgy from his days at Oklahoma State. OK maybe not, since there were not many of them. But he likes stirring the pot, and I firmly believe he did that to motivate a fan base that had become dispassionate with good ol' Bill Stewart "I never met a punt I didn't like" in charge. The fact is that West Virginia has the most spirited fan base in the Big East and averaged 8,000 more fans than Louisville, which ranked No. 2 in the league in attendance in 2011. The atmosphere is fun, and was absolutely electric against LSU.

I anticipate many more crowds like that with teams like Texas and Oklahoma appearing on the schedule. West Virginia fans have gotten a bad rap nationally because of the couch burning and rowdiness. But in the two games I attended last season, I thought everybody behaved themselves accordingly.

And hey, they now serve alcohol in the stadium. I'm sure Big 12 fans can drink to that.

DU: No doubt about the couch burning. Apparently West Virginia passed some legislation to make it stop, but I always found it sort of endearing and mostly harmless, albeit destructive. Maybe that's just me.

Holgorsen definitely speaks his mind, and I know fans will be fired up about alcohol sales in the stadium. What about once fans get to the stadium? Any in-game traditions they should be prepared for? Remember, this is the same league that had Texas A&M for its entirety. Visiting fans are prepared for a little weirdness.

AA: You mean weirder than couch burning?

Well, the Mountaineers mascot runs onto the field with the team toting a real rifle. Each year his costume is tailored to fit just him. But my favorite tradition has to be the playing of "Country Roads" at the end of each home victory. Fans stay in the stands and join the team in signing the song, which became a tradition in 1980 after John Denver dedicated Mountaineer Field with the song.

(Read full post)

It is time to evaluate the receiver position in the Big East. For the postseason rankings, I am going to include tight ends as well. Before the season started, I did them separately, but it makes more sense to do them together.

This is a position group that has a clear-cut 1-2. To me, the rest are pretty interchangeable, as no other group really stood out to me this season.

1. West Virginia. Slam dunk to have the Mountaineers on top, given the way Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey performed this season. Each had 1,000-yard seasons -- the first time in school history two players hit that mark. Bailey led the Big East with 12 receiving touchdowns, and was No. 1 in receiving yards per game. Austin was third in receiving yards per game and second in receptions per game. Add in Ivan McCartney, also ranked among the top-10 receivers in the Big East and that says it all. Preseason ranking: No. 2.

[+] EnlargeWest Virginia's Stedman Bailey
Kim Klement/US PRESSWIREWest Virginia's Stedman Bailey led the Big East in touchdowns and yards receiving per game.
2. Rutgers. Mohamed Sanu had an unbelievable season for Rutgers with a school and Big East record 115 receptions. He dominated at receiver, leading the league in receptions per game and finishing second in receiving yards per game. That domination meant his teammates did not get as many opportunities -- Brandon Coleman only had 17 receptions; Mark Harrison 14, Quron Pratt had 32. But when you have an unstoppable force like Sanu, you keep going to him. Preseason ranking: No. 1.

3. Syracuse. When you think of the Orange, you don't necessarily think of high-profile receivers. But Alec Lemon and Nick Provo teamed to have outstanding seasons this year. Both posted career years, Provo made the Big East first team and Lemon made the second team. The two combined for 119 catches and 13 touchdowns. Depth wasn't great, but the performance of Lemon and Provo make up for that and vaults Syracuse here. Preseason ranking: No. 5.

4. Cincinnati. I thought the Bearcats receivers had a down year. D.J. Woods didn't really live up to his potential, and Anthony McClung led the team with 683 yards. That is the fewest yards for the team's leading receiver since 2006. What really sticks out: when Zach Collaros got hurt, the receivers as a whole never really stepped up the way they should have to help Munchie Legaux. Preseason ranking: No. 3.

5. Louisville. The Cardinals did get much better play out of their receivers, and were helped with the impact freshman DeVante Parker and Eli Rogers made. They didn't have anybody with eye-popping numbers, but they did have consistent enough performances out of this group. Preseason ranking: 7.

6. USF. The Bulls were really hurt by injuries at this position, and never really had a go-to guy emerge. Sterling Griffin was en route to a good season before he got hurt; A.J. Love got hurt as well. That left the position in the hands of many young, inexperienced guys. I thought Deonte Welch really had a nice second half. He was their best receiver when Griffin was out. Preseason ranking: 6.

7. UConn. Considering the way the Huskies struggled in the pass game, Kashif Moore, Isiah Moore and Ryan Griffin all put together solid seasons for UConn. Both Moores ranked in the top 10 in the Big East in receiving, and Griffin was the second-best tight end behind Nick Provo. Depth was lacking at the position -- as only five players caught double-digit passes, and only three are true wide receivers. Preseason ranking: 8.

8. Pitt. The Panthers got their tight ends and running backs involved heavily in the pass game, probably because there was depth lacking at the actual receiver position. Devin Street put together a solid season, with 754 yards receiving, and Mike Shanahan was decent. But otherwise, big plays were lacking. Passing game woes obviously had an impact. Preseason ranking: 4.

Welcome to the Orange Bowl

January, 4, 2012
MIAMI -- The time for talking has ended. Game time is almost here. A few important notes for you to chew on as West Virginia and Clemson prepare to kick off in the Discover Orange Bowl.

1. The Big Ten is officiating this game. So no talk about the referees having it in for West Virginia because it is en route to the Big 12.

2. Watch for the receiver rotation. Tyler Urban has been banged up, and Brad Starks is out so that means guys like Ivan McCartney, Devon Brown and J.D. Woods are going to have to step up. Also remember Dustin Garrison is out, and he was tied for fourth on the team with 24 receptions. Woods is coming off his most productive game, with four catches for 38 yards against USF.

Coach Dana Holgorsen was asked about Woods this week and said, "

"Well, we gave him a chance. And one of the things that as a head coach you try to get your guys to be accountable for what their actions are, and J.D. wasn't doing a very good job of that from an academic standpoint to a workout standpoint. He thought a lot of stuff was optional, so he wasn't able to play very much. That was carrying over on the field.

"Eleven games later he was functioning right. I guess he wanted to stay playing some football when we were playing in Florida. He's from Naples, so when we went to South Florida he had his best week of practice, we put him in there and he made plays. Then when we get to go to the Orange Bowl, I guess he figured he'd start practicing good again, so he had 15 good practices because he gets to play in Miami. I guess we'll play all our games in Florida and he'll come out and he'll practice well and do what he's supposed to do."

Let's not forget, McCartney is from Miramar, Fla., down the street from Sun Life Stadium.

3. Which young player is going to step up? Take your pick, plenty of young players will be relied upon in this game -- Andrew Buie? Wes Tonkery? Shaq Petteway? McCartney? Right guard Quinton Spain is going to have to have a good game as well to help keep the Clemson pass rush at bay.
The question comes up every time an opponent faces West Virginia.

How do you stop Geno Smith and the offense?

[+] EnlargeShamarko Thomas
Chuck Cook/US PresswireSafety Shamarko Thomas and Syracuse face an explosive West Virginia passing attack.
That is of particular importance to Syracuse as the Orange prepare to host No. 15 West Virginia on Friday night at 8 p.m. on ESPN.

Syracuse has struggled against the pass this season, allowing four teams to go over 300 yards passing. Rutgers was three yards away from 300, so clearly this is an area of concern.

Especially when you consider West Virginia has the No. 4 passing offense and has thrown for more than 400 yards in three games this season.

What makes West Virginia different than the other opponents Syracuse has faced is its ability to stretch the field with a variety of go-to players. Against USC, for example, the Orange could focus on Robert Woods. Against Rutgers, they could focus on Mohamed Sanu.

But West Virginia has Stedman Bailey, Tavon Austin and Ivan McCartney, who each rank in the Top 4 in the league in receiving yards per game and receptions per game.

"Each week, we play against great receivers and now we're playing against multiple great receivers, so we have more players out there that we have to be alert for," coach Doug Marrone said. "If you commit to try and take one of those players away, which we've tried to do against some of those other teams, and force the quarterback to throw to those other receivers, well, this quarterback has thrown to those other receivers. That's the challenge of what goes on with this team, but from a schematic standpoint, it's much more difficult to take these guys out of the game because they are all over and they are spread out across the field."

Bailey leads the team with 634 yards receiving and five touchdowns on 32 receptions. Austin leads the team with 42 receptions for 564 yards and two touchdowns. McCartney has 34 catches for 455 yards and three touchdwons.

Twelve different receivers have at least one catch, and seven of
those receivers have scored a touchdown. Seven also have double-figure receptions.

Syracuse has been banged up on defense, particularly in the secondary. Shamarko Thomas, Keon Lyn, Ri'Shard Anderson and Olando Fisher all have nursed injuries. That has left some young, inexperienced players in the back end.

But Marrone says this is the healthiest his team has been all season, and it is imperative his unit slows down Smith the way it did last season.

"Geno Smith is a good quarterback and if you allow him to sit back and pick your defense apart, that is something he will do," said Syracuse defensive end Chandler Jones, who returns this week. "He has a lot of guys who complement him like Stedman Bailey, Tavon Austin, guys in the open field who can make big plays. Our job is not to let Geno Smith sit in the pocket and pick us apart."

West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen worried that his team would lose rhythm during the bye, but his concerns were alleviated when he saw his team practice. The timing is there, McCartney says. Now West Virginia has to start as fast as it finishes games.

"Most of our numbers come in the second half," McCartney said. "If we were to put together a full game like we do in the second half, I believe we can put 100 points up on the board."

What to watch in the Big East

October, 20, 2011
Here are the top storylines to watch in the Big East for Week 8:

1. Bowl eligibility. Cincinnati, Rutgers and West Virginia all have a chance to become bowl eligible this week. But they all are on the road, and Big East teams are 1-5 in conference road games this season. Which team will break through and become the first from the Big East to secure its postseason future?

[+] EnlargeSmith
AP Photo/Chris JacksonWest Virginia QB Geno Smith has thrown 17 touchdowns with just three interceptions this season.
2. West Virginia offense vs. Syracuse pass defense. It is no secret how good the Mountaineers have been on offense with Geno Smith running the show. The scary part is coach Dana Holgorsen insists he has not even reached maximum potential. Smith has a talented group of receivers in Stedman Bailey, Tavon Austin and Ivan McCartney, who each have more than 400 yards receiving this season. How will Syracuse cover them? The Orange have faced their share of top-notch receivers already this season, and have given up more than 300 yards passing in four of six games. Getting pressure up front will help take pressure off the back end.

3. Pressure on Smith. That leads to the next point. Syracuse has not generated much of a pass rush this year, with 13 sacks in six games, and that is something the Orange did well against the Mountaineers last season. Can they turn things around against an offensive line that has been excellent at protecting Smith? Chandler Jones returns, which should help.

4. USF rush offense vs. Cincinnati rush defense. This is a great matchup of the No. 1 run offense in the Big East against the No. 1 run defense in the Big East. Twice already the Bearcats have held opponents to negative rushing yards. But they might have a difficult time doing that against the Bulls. Their lowest rushing total came in the opener -- 126 yards at Notre Dame. Darrell Scott, B.J. Daniels and Demetris Murray all rank in the top 10 in the Big East in rushing, and each has a vastly different running style that the Bearcats will have to stop.

5. Isaiah Pead. He might not have the high rushing total, but Pead is having a terrific year, mainly because of his ability to break off game-changing plays. Pead ranks No. 6 in the nation, averaging 6.78 yards a carry, and already has touchdown runs this season of 40, 65 and 50 yards. His 50-yard run last week put the Bearcats ahead for good against Louisville. Remember, this is a USF defense that gave up more than 200 yards to Ray Graham, and Pead is just as good as him.

6. Freshman QBs. Louisville and Rutgers will feature a battle between true freshman quarterbacks as the Cardinals are expected to start Teddy Bridgewater against Gary Nova. Both were highly touted coming into school, and both took over their teams after the season began. Both have shown flashes, but you can bet that the No. 1 goal of these aggressive defenses will be to rattle the young quarterback.

7. Dee-fense. Not much scoring is expected between Louisville and Rutgers, that is for sure. Rutgers ranks No. 1 in the Big East in scoring defense, giving up an average of 16 points a game. That is about what Louisville averages on offense. Meanwhile, the Cards rank No. 3 in the Big East in scoring defense, giving up an average of 17.7 points a game. No team has scored more than 25 points on them this season.

8. Turnovers. Rutgers and Cincinnati have gotten off to their fast starts because they have done well in the turnover battle. Can they win that all-important stat again? Last week against Louisville, the Bearcats had an uncharacteristic interception return for a touchdown and put the ball on the ground four times, though they recovered them all. They now face a USF team that is plus-5 in turnover margin on the season -- but minus-3 in two league games. Louisville has had a hard time creating takeaways, with just six on the season. Contrast that to Rutgers, with 24.

WVU receivers facing big test

September, 23, 2011
West Virginia got its high-powered offense going right from the start against Maryland last week.

While the Mountaineers slowed down in the second half, there is no disputing that Geno Smith has played well in the new offense. He already has passed for more than 1,000 yards this season -- and three receivers had more than 100 yards receiving against the Terps.

That is a first at West Virginia.

[+] EnlargeTavon Austin
Mitch Stringer/US PresswireTavon Austin leads West Virginia's receivers with 20 catches for 236 yards this season.
But this week brings a new challenge. The LSU defense is as stingy as can be, especially when it comes to giving up long plays in the passing game.

LSU has allowed only two completions on throws of 15 yards or longer this season, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Meanwhile, West Virginia has 14 such completions, including five touchdowns.

But there should be opportunities to loosen up the LSU secondary. ESPN Insider Teddy Mitrosilis writes:
As an offense progresses down the field against LSU, the Tigers' rush defense becomes tougher to move the ball against, while its pass defense softens up a bit.

Starting at the opponent's 1-yard line and moving forward in 20-yard increments, LSU ranks 42nd, 20th, fourth, sixth and 32nd, respectively, against the run in those sections of the field (with the last section being the red zone).

Against the pass in the sections of the field described above, LSU's rankings go in the opposite direction: ninth, 39th, 38th, 69th and 82nd.

What could work in West Virginia's favor is the way Smith is distributing the ball. Twelve different players have caught at least one pass this season, and six different players have at least one touchdown reception. Tavon Austin, Stedman Bailey, Ivan McCartney and Devon Brown have 10 catches each. It was Austin, Bailey and McCartney who went over 100 yards in the win over the Terps.

"We're still looking for a couple more," coach Dana Holgorsen said. "We've done this for a long, long time with Hal (Mumme) and Mike Leach and spreading the ball around to specific people has always been one of our goals. If you can put five skill guys out there, the goal is to spread the ball to all five and make them as productive as you can. We have to continue to develop the running back positon to get one of those guys in position as well."

Many expected for Austin to come in and emerge from the group of receivers. He does lead the team with 20 catches for 236 yards. But perhaps the most pleasant surprise has been the emergence of Ivan McCartney, who only had one catch as a true freshman last season. Holgorsen says now that McCartney should have been redshirted, and he has seen tremendous growth from his young player. McCartney is second on the team with 17 receptions for 211 yards and two touchdowns.

"We're definitely coming together," Austin said. "Hopefully we can keep that up. The biggest key has been when people get their chance, they make the most of it. Coach has had us at the right positon at the right itme, and we just used our athletic ability after we played the ball. On any given night, any guy can do it."

LSU dynamo cornerback Tyrann Mathieu most likely will be on Austin. Mathieu replaced NFL pick Patrick Peterson and there has not been much of a drop off at the position. One of the big keys will be trying to spread the receivers and hit some quick passes, in order to try and neutralize the pass rush LSU is sure to bring.

That means the receivers have to help Smith out without any drops, making route adjustments and taking advantage of mismatches in coverage. Smith also has to do his part as well. That means trusting what the coaches tell him.

"We have a lot of big games coming up and big-time guys step up in big-time games," Bailey said.

Weekend rewind: Big East

September, 19, 2011
Let us take a look at the good and the bad from Week 3, with a quick peek ahead to Week 4.

[+] EnlargeVictor Anderson
AP Photo/Ed ReinkeLouisville and RB Victor Anderson are coming off a big victory against rival Kentucky.
The good: Big East teams went 4-3 in Week 3 and still have two undefeated teams ranked in the Top 25. West Virginia moved up to No. 16 after beating Maryland 37-31, and USF moved up to No. 18 with a 70-17 win over Florida A&M. College GameDay will be in Morgantown this weekend as the Mountaineers host No. 2 LSU in a critical game, not only for the Big East, but for West Virginia as well. Keep this in mind: West Virginia is 70-2 since 2000 when scoring 30 or more points. ... Meanwhile, Louisville pulled off the upset of the week with a 24-17 win against Kentucky, breaking a four-game losing streak against their in-state rival. Louisville has held each of its first three opponents to fewer than 300 yards of offense. ... Though Syracuse lost to USC, quarterback Ryan Nassib had a streak of 22 consecutive completed passes spanning the games against Rhode Island and USC. Nassib finished four shy of the NCAA record of 26, held by California’s Aaron Rogers.

The bad:You already know the bad. The games were an afterthought this weekend after news broke that Syracuse and Pitt were ready to hightail it out to the ACC. Gamedays are supposed to be sacred. But when it comes to expansion, nothing is sacred anymore.

As for on-the-field action, UConn and Pitt each blew fourth-quarter leads and lost. The Huskies had their nine-game home winning streak stopped against Iowa State. But there was nothing worse than seeing Pitt blow a 24-3 lead and fall to Iowa 31-27. Iowa scored three touchdowns in seven minutes in the fourth quarter to cap the greatest comeback in school history. The fourth quarter has been a problem for Pitt all season. The Panthers have given up 41 points in the final period in three games. They allowed teams like Buffalo and Maine to get closer than they should have been, and obviously ended up losing to Iowa because of those late-game breakdowns. Chas Alecxih told reporters after the game:

"[The team leaders], we have to step up. This is our team and we're up, what was it, 24-3 at the end of the third and lose?
That is a joke, that is not going to happen again, I will tell you that."

Career days:

B.J. Daniels, QB, USF. Threw for a career-high 382 yards and four touchdowns.

Isiah Moore, WR, UConn. Had career highs of eight catches and 143 receiving yards in a loss to Iowa State.

Nick Provo, TE, Syracuse. Had career highs of eight receptions and 85 receiving yards against USC.

Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia. Had career highs in completions (36), attempts (49) and passing yards (388) in a win against Maryland.

Darrell Scott, RB, USF. Ran for a career-high 146 yards and three touchdowns.

Devin Street, WR, Pitt. Had seven receptions for a career-high 138 yards and a touchdown against Iowa.

WR Tavon Austin (11 receptions, 122 yards), WR Stedman Bailey(8 receptions, 113 yards) and WR Ivan McCartney (8 receptions, 101 yards) gave West Virginia three 100-yard receivers for the first time in school history. All three are career highs.

Week 4 schedule
NC State at Cincinnati, 8 pm, Thursday, ESPN
Notre Dame at Pittsburgh, noon, Saturday, ABC
Toldeo at Syracuse, noon, Saturday, Big East Network
Ohio at Rutgers, 2 pm, Saturday, ESPN3
Connecticut at Buffalo, 3:30 p.m., Saturday, Big East Network
UTEP at USF, 7 pm, Saturday, ESPN3
LSU at West Virginia, 8 pm, Saturday, ABC

Big East helmet stickers

September, 18, 2011
How about helmet stickers for a job well done:

Cincinnati defense. Cincinnati keeps creating the turnovers in a big way. In their 59-14 win over Akron, the Bearcats became the first Big East team to score three defensive touchdowns since Miami scored on two interceptions and one fumble against West Virginia in a 41-10 victory on Sept. 23, 2000. The Bearcats' six forced turnovers are the most since forcing seven against Oregon State on Sept. 6, 2007.

Darrell Scott, RB, USF. Scott notched the first 100-yard rushing game of his USF career before halftime ended. He totaled 146 yards on 12 carries in a 70-17 win over Florida A&M. Scott scored four total touchdowns -- three rushing and one receiving -- and became the first player in school history to record both a rushing and receiving touchdown of more than 50 yards in a season.

Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville. The true freshman came off the bench and led a spirited 24-17 win over rival Kentucky, the Cardinals' first victory over the Wildcats in five years. After starter Will Stein went down, Bridgewater came in and held the offense steady. He threw two touchdown passes and went 10-of-18 for 106 yards. Dominique Brown deserves mention, too, for running for 91 yards and averaging 6.5 yards a carry.

Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia. This may sound like a broken record, but Smith had yet another career day in a 37-31 win over Maryland. Smith finished with a career-best 388 passing yards on a career-best, and school record, 36 completions. His 49 passing attempts were also a career high and the fifth-best total in school history. The passing yardage is the second-best total in the past 10 years, and the seventh-best total in program history. Special note: Tavon Austin (122), Stedman Bailey (113) and Ivan McCartney (101) each had 100 yards receiving. It is the first time West Virginia had multiple 100-yard receivers since Shawn Foreman (115) and Khori Ivy (113) recorded the feat at Pitt on Nov. 27, 1998.

Final: WVU 37, Maryland 31

September, 17, 2011
West Virginia hung on to beat Maryland 37-31, but the win was not without its share of scary moments for Mountaineers fans.

After jumping to a 34-10 lead in the third quarter, it appeared the Mountaineers would cruise. They were doing whatever they wanted on offense, and did not punt for the first time in the game until the 6:22 mark of the third quarter. But Maryland chipped away at the lead on the West Virginia prevent defense, having particular success running up the middle.

The Terrapins closed the gap to 34-31 with 10 minutes to go on a 2-point conversion. But Geno Smith capped off his unbelievable day with an answering drive, leading West Virginia to a field goal to go up 37-31. Eain Smith sealed it with an interception, and now West Virginia can start thinking about LSU.

Though the offense was not as efficient in the second half as it was in the first, you saw the reason why expectations are so high for this Mountaineers team under Dana Holgorsen. Smith threw for a career-best 388 yards, completing 36 of 49. At times, he made things look easy as he picked apart the Maryland defense.

The Mountaineers had three receivers go over 100 yards -- Tavon Austin, Stedman Bailey and Ivan McCartney. In fact, WVU had as many receivers with 100-yard games as it had during the entire 2010 season. That is what Holgorsen brings to West Virginia.

After creating no turnovers in the first two games, West Virginia got three -- including an interception return for a touchdown. The Mountaineers also gave the ball away three times, an area that has to be cleaned up against the Tigers.

The offensive line also played its best game of the season. It is going to have to play even better next week against an LSU defensive line that is ferocious. Looking forward to the build-up to that game!

Halftime: WVU 27, Maryland 10

September, 17, 2011
West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen wanted his team to get off to a fast start against Maryland. The Mountaineers delivered, breaking out to a 27-10 lead over Maryland at halftime. They scored 14 points in the first quarter after scoring a combined three in the opening period in their first two games.

Among the highlights:
  • Geno Smith is playing very well. He is making all the right reads and throwing some pinpoint passes to his receivers. He is 21-of-28 for 232 yards so far in the game.
  • West Virginia has run 46 plays, an incredible number for one half, and a clear indication the Mountaineers are playing their type of tempo in the early going. The Mountaineers had 17 first downs and 302 yards in the first half.
  • Tavon Austin already has 101 yards receiving, but dropped what looked like a touchdown pass late in the game. But perhaps Ivan McCartney has been more impressive, with six catches for 71 yards.
  • The defense finally got its first two turnovers of the season. Terence Garvin returned one 37 yards for a score. But on the flip side, West Virginia turned the ball over twice -- its first turnovers of the season.
  • The offensive line has played much better. But if there is one area that still might be a concern, it is the run game. Andrew Buie has the long run of the game at 10 yards. It appeared West Virginia wanted to emphasize the pass in this game, though, as it came out throwing. The pass-to-run ratio is 28 to 18.
  • Going into the second half, West Virginia cannot let up and start thinking about next week against LSU. It has to continue to force the up-tempo game.
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:

Looking back: 2010 ESPNU 150

June, 7, 2011
Wednesday marks the release of the 2011 ESPNU 150, naming the nation's top 150 recruits. Today, we take a look back at the players who made the list in 2010.

Biggest impact from the class: No. 144 Terrence Mitchell, WR, USF. Mitchell ended up being switched from cornerback to receiver and became a special teams standout, returning 21 punts for 232 yards. His 11.0-yard return average was tops among all freshmen in the nation, and he is penciled in to start at receiver in 2011.

The jury's still out: No. 109 Ivan McCartney, WR, West Virginia. McCartney came to the Mountaineers with high expectations but only caught one pass for 4 yards last season. You have to wonder whether or not he should have been redshirted. But now that Dana Holgorsen has taken over as offensive coordinator, hopes are much higher for McCartney to have a breakout season.

Redshirted last season, but look out: No. 67 Todd Chandler, DT, USF. Chandler spent last season bulking up and learning the defense, and is listed as a backup behind Cory Grissom at nose tackle. But he should see plenty of reps as part of the two-deep rotation.

Thoughts from West Virginia

April, 6, 2011
MORGANTOWN, W. Va. -- Some quick thoughts after attending the viewing window of West Virginia's spring practice on Wednesday, the Mountaineers' first day in full pads:
  • I was excited to see Dana Holgorsen's new offense in person, and it's not hard to see the reasons for optimism. The Mountaineers have speed at receiver, a promising young quarterback in Geno Smith and were giving their own defenses problems with the mix of run and pass. Bill Stewart had told me on Monday that the team hadn't looked downfield much yet in practice, but Smith threw deep a few times during the 11-on-11 period, and with good success. It wasn't all passing, though, as the offense lined up with two backs frequently and did some inside zone running.
  • Holgorsen mostly stands on the sidelines during the team periods, signaling in the calls as he will on gameday. He doesn't say a whole lot during practice, letting his assistants handle the bulk of the talking. Holgorsen gives out a lot more instructions during film review, the players say.
  • No worries about Smith's health. He was participating in all drills and running around well on his surgically repaired foot. This offense doesn't ask him to run much, anyway.
  • Freshman Paul Millard got the second-team reps and throws a nice ball. Holgorsen told me he's far ahead of fellow freshman Brian Athey at this point, mostly owing to the fact that he played 5-A Texas high school ball. How this kid went unrecruited is baffling.
  • Still no real standouts at tailback, but Daquan Hargrett had some nice runs while I was watching, including a burst up the middle for a long touchdown.
  • Brad Starks got behind the defense for a long completion. He looks great and could be poised for a big senior year. Ivan McCartney dropped a pass early but later caught a short one and completely juked Brodrick Jenkins out of his shoes. McCartney has major potential if he continues to develop and mature. J.D. Woods also made a nice catch in traffic. Tyler Urban also got involved, and it will be interesting to see how the offense uses him.
  • The defense wasn't allowed to tackle the quarterback, of course, but Bruce Irvin was in the backfield a lot -- "No one can block him yet," Stewart said -- and Julian Miller wasn't far behind. That's not surprising, especially since starting offensive tackles Don Barclay and Jeff Braun are out this spring with injuries. Irvin and a few other players were wearing the gold shoes from last year's special Nike Pro Combat uniforms, which made me happy to see.
  • Linebacker Tyler Anderson had an interception off a tipped ball. Stewart then told him he should have stayed up and tried to score instead of falling on the ground. About the only thing last year's defense didn't do right last year was get turnovers and points.
  • Overall impression: The Mountaineers weren't as sharp or crisp defensively as they were a year ago at this time, but that's almost a given after losing seven starters. There is still a lot of talent and speed here, and it's just going to take a little time for the defense to gel and the offense to get the system down. If it all comes together, this could easily be the best team in the Big East this year. But there's a long way to go.

Big East season predictions

August, 30, 2010
The season is upon us.

Games begin Thursday, and we'll be full bore into college football by the weekend. So it's a final chance to make some predictions, and here are my picks for some various Big East 2010 awards/honors:

Big East winner: Pittsburgh

The schedule is downright frightening. The Panthers have some question marks, particularly along the offensive interior. And the league is as balanced as it's ever been. But I've been picking Pitt all offseason, and this is a team with as much or more high-end talent as anybody in the Big East, led by Dion Lewis, Jon Baldwin and Greg Romeus. If the Panthers are who we thought they were, as Dennis Green might say, then they should be able to navigate their difficult schedule and win their first outright Big East title.

Offensive MVP: West Virginia running back Noel Devine

Lots of candidates here, including last season's winner (Lewis), Cincinnati's Zach Collaros, Rutgers' Tom Savage, et al. I just feel like Devine is primed for a huge year as a senior, eager to prove he can do it all to satisfy the NFL scouts. And with a more experienced offensive line and potentially a more consistent passing game, he could find even more running room for his explosive bursts. It's awfully tough to go against Lewis; then again, winning an award like this two years in a row is hard for any player because the expectation levels increase.

Defensive MVP: West Virginia safety Robert Sands

Again, I'm going away from conventional wisdom here in not picking Romeus, last year's co-defensive player of the year. Sands was a play-making monster in the second half of last season and should continue to build on that with a veteran defense around him. And if you're wondering why I would pick the offensive and defensive players of the year from West Virginia and then choose Pitt as the champion, there is precedent: last season, Pittsburgh had the offensive and both co-defensive players of the year, yet finished second.

Surprise team: Connecticut

A strong season by UConn wouldn't surprise anyone who follows this blog or the Big East in general. Still, there are a lot of people who don't know much about the Huskies, and Randy Edsall's team could very well win the league's BCS bid for the first time. Remember that UConn gets West Virginia, Pitt and Cincinnati at home this season.

Team most likely to disappoint: Cincinnati

Only because expectations have been built so high. It's pretty hard to top 12-0, especially when you change coaching staffs and play a schedule that includes road games against N.C. State, Fresno State, West Virginia and UConn and a home-away-from-home matchup with Oklahoma. The Bearcats are a definite Big East contender, but many of their fans might be disappointed with a 9-3 type of season.

Newcomer of the year: Cincinnati receiver Vidal Hazelton

Hazelton comes into an offense tailor-made for receivers to put up huge stats, and the talented former USC Trojan should be ready to make a major impact in his one and only season in the Big East.

Freshman of the year: Rutgers receiver Jeremy Deering

Taking a stab at a wild card here. With injuries to the Scarlet Knights receiving corps, there is opportunity for the speedy Deering, who can also make a major impact on special teams and with some Wildcat stuff. I also seriously considered West Virginia's Ivan McCartney and South Florida's Terrence Mitchell.

Coach of the year: Randy Edsall, Connecticut

With Brian Kelly and his Vulcan death grip on the coach of the year award gone, Edsall will be the popular choice if he leads the Huskies to the breakthrough season many are predicting.

Can't-miss game: West Virginia at Pittsburgh, Nov. 26

The Backyard Brawl is always an event, and this year it could be for the Big East title. Pitt and WVU enter the season as the only two ranked teams, and look at the scores of the past three years to see just how close this rivalry has been: 13-9 (Pitt in '07), 19-15 (Pitt in '08) and 19-16 (WVU in '09).