NCF Nation: Jamar Taylor

Taking a look back at some of the best and worst moments from the Pac-12's bowl season.

Best overall performance (team): We're a field goal away from flipping a coin between Stanford and Oregon. But the Ducks won, and to the victor go the spoils. Say what you want about Wisconsin being overrated; Oregon beat a very good team with one of the most productive college running backs in history, and the Ducks did it on a major stage.

Best offensive performance (individual): Keith Price outdueled Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III, passing for 438 yards and four touchdowns and rushing for three more scores. And the Huskies lost! Someone on the Washington defense better be carrying his books around campus until the start of next season.

[+] EnlargeKeith Price
Brendan Maloney/US PresswireWashington's Keith Price passed for 438 yards and four touchdowns and also ran for another three touchdowns in a losing effort against Baylor.
Best offensive performance (team): As good as Washington's offensive show was against Baylor, Oregon did it against a tougher opponent and under a brighter spotlight. LaMichael James and De'Anthony Thomas both went for more than 100 yards, Lavasier Tuinei turned in season highs in catches (eight) and yards (158) to go with two touchdowns and the offensive line had its way with Wisconsin.

Best defensive performance (individual): In the conference's five losses, teams gave up an average of 41 points. Still, Cal first-team all-conference linebacker Mychal Kendricks did all he could to limit Texas to 21, notching nine solo tackles (10 total) and 1.5 tackles for a loss.

Best defensive performance (team): Pass.

Best offensive performance in a losing effort: Andrew Luck's one interception was the lone stain on an otherwise fantastic performance, in which he completed 27 of 31 passes for 347 yards and two touchdowns. He was 15-of-15 on all of Stanford's scoring drives and 4-for-4 on the final drive that set up the almost-game-winning field goal.

Worst offensive performance: Both Cal and UCLA faced fairly tough defenses in Texas and Illinois, respectively, and their 24 points combined reflected that. (For the record, Washington had 35 by halftime and Oregon had 28 at the half.) But the nod goes to Cal for 7 rushing yards on 36 attempts. That's 0.2 yards per carry. ASU was actually worse with minus-11 rushing yards, but at least it put up 24 points (well, 17 if you take away Rashad Ross' 98-yard kick return).

Worst defensive performance: As a conference, Pac-12 teams gave up an average of 455 yards in their bowl games. Washington was the worst offender with 777 yards yielded.

Best bang for buck: Oregon's De'Anthony Thomas. Two carries, two touchdowns, 155 yards and a 77.5 yards-per-carry average.

Best supporting cast: While Price was fantastic, lest we forget that Chris Polk ran for 147 yards, Jermaine Kearse caught five balls for 198 yards and a score and Devin Aguilar added two receiving touchdowns.

Best holiday spirit: Cal certainly got into the season, giving the ball away five times to Texas.

Best "Oh jeez" moment: Stanford running back Jeremy Stewart taking out teammate Ty Montgomery after he tried to run a kickoff out of the end zone. Stewart, a fifth-year senior, stopped the true freshman right at the line and dropped him, much to the chagrin of 69,927 at University of Phoenix Stadium.

Worst "Oh jeez" moment: Watching Dennis Erickson try to call a timeout when ASU had fourth-and-goal at the Boise 1-yard line. Then watching his face as Jamar Taylor picked off Brock Osweiler and returned it 100 yards for a touchdown.

MAACO Bowl Las Vegas: Three keys

December, 22, 2011
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Here are three keys for Boise State headed into the MAACO Bowl Las Vegas against Arizona State on Thursday night:

1. Protect against the deep pass. The Sun Devils might have posted a disappointing season, but they do have one of the most prolific passing offenses in the nation with Brock Osweiler under center. Arizona State ranks No. 11 in the nation in passing, averaging 310 yards a game, and pass defense has been the biggest area of weakness for Boise State this season because injuries have really hurt the secondary. The good news is that starting cornerback Jamar Taylor is expected to play for the first time since the Nov. 12 game against TCU.

2. Protect Kellen Moore. The Boise State offensive line is one of the best in the nation once again, but it's preparing to face a big test in Arizona State. During interviews this week in Las Vegas, several Boise State linemen said this defensive front is the best one the Broncos will face this year. Left guard Joe Kellogg called the group "special." You know Arizona State is going to try to come after Moore to get this offense out of its rhythm, so the line has got to be as good as always in order to give Moore the time he needs to throw and keep the offense moving.

3. Prove it again. Boise State deserves to be playing in a BCS game, but there really is no issue in getting this team motivated to play in a bowl that is a notch below. The Broncos did it in this very game last year and beat Utah. They have something very special on the line in this one -- the opportunity to win the 50th game for the senior class, a mark that would set a new school record. Getting to do it against a team from an AQ conference -- even if it is one that went a disappointing 6-6 -- would be just as important. Boise State has won five straight against teams from AQ conferences, and the current seniors are 3-0 against teams from the Pac-12. If you count Utah last year, the Broncos are 4-0.

Boise State has to rebound -- again

November, 15, 2011
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There are heartbreaking ways to lose. Then there are the ways Boise State has lost the past two years.

Crushing. Agonizing. Dream shattering.

Missed field goals, missed opportunities, blown leads. These are generally not the things Boise State does. But in two losses to Nevada and TCU, the Broncos could not hold on when they needed to most. That means BCS hopes are dashed, and the debate about the worthiness of the Broncos will not be put to rest.

[+] EnlargeChris Petersen, Kellen Moore
AP Photo/Matt CilleyChris Petersen, Kellen Moore (11) and the Broncos need to regroup after last week's defeat.
It may be cruel, but those two losses may end up defining a group of seniors who have won an incredible 46 games -- and counting. Because so much more was expected of a group led by quarterback Kellen Moore, future NFL running back Doug Martin and what was supposed to be one of the top defensive lines in the nation.

The Broncos have beaten teams like Virginia Tech, Georgia and Oregon. But who remembers that when you lose to teams from non-AQ conferences. These are the must-win games, the ones you are expected to dominate.

Injuries played a major role Saturday against TCU. Martin and running back D.J. Harper were hurt. The top three cornerbacks were hurt. The starting center was hurt. But everybody has injuries this time of year. Boise State did not have enough to respond.

So here the Broncos sit for a second year in a row, trying to come to terms with a season that will end away from the national spotlight.

"We're definitely bummed about it," senior safety George Iloka said in a phone interview. "We're not used to losing, but I feel the mood is a little different this year. Last year, the depression was a lot longer. It was a full-out depression. But now guys know what we have to do to bounce back. We have a lot more seniors this year, so as veterans if we have our heads down, there is no way the younger guys are going to have their heads up. We have to lead by example. It's about the next game and getting better and proving we are better."

This a group that has lost three total games by a combined five points. Crushing to be sure. But the Broncos still have a chance to set the school record for wins by a senior class. They need to win out to make that happen. They have been to and won a BCS game, in 2009. They have had a player in Moore become the first Heisman finalist in school history. They beat a team from the SEC for the first time in history.

Iloka has been trying to emphasize those positives as the Broncos prepare to move forward at San Diego State on Saturday.

"This loss doesn't define us," he said. "The loss from last year doesn't define us nor does any win define us. It's a body of work. That's why we keep our heads held high. We've only lost three games. We can't be down in the dumps, and we've got to get better to prepare for San Diego State. They're a good team. We definitely can't be hungover from last Saturday."

Coach Chris Petersen expects Martin and Harper back for the game, but said the Broncos will be without their top three cornerbacks -- Jerrell Gavins, Jamar Taylor and Ebo Makinde. True freshman Lee Hightower and sophomore Quaylon Ewing-Burton will start.

Boise State has three games left in the regular season before going to either the MAACO Las Vegas Bowl or the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl. Not the way the Broncos envisioned closing the season.

“All the losses are crushing,” Petersen said during his news conference Monday. “People don’t understand how tough these losses are to the coaches, to the kids. You put your heart and soul into it year-round, and when you don’t get it done, it’s hard.”

Lunchtime Links

May, 4, 2011
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Here are your links for today.

Cornerback Jamar Taylor is the fastest player at Boise State. But check out the numbers Doug Martin posted at the team's "pro day."

BYU football shores up the quarterback position.

Malcolm Williams, a backup at TCU, got drafted in the seventh round by the Patriots.

Former Air Force coach Fisher DeBerry honors his mother.

Hawaii is a veritable football factory.

Nebraska could be using more of the Pistol, the offense of Nevada coach Chris Ault.

FAU received a $2 million gift for its football stadium.
The big day might be months and months away, but some Boise State players are already gearing up for the season opener against Georgia on Sept. 3 in the Georgia Dome.

Running back Doug Martin and cornerback Jamar Taylor both said in separate phone interviews that they had taken a glimpse at Georgia game tape this spring. None of that is particularly unusual when it comes to scouting your first game, but there is no doubting the players understand the importance of the game -- yet another huge nonconference game against a high-quality opponent to start the season.

"It's never too early to start watching Georgia film," Taylor said. "It's always [in the] back of our head. We have to be ready. I’ve watched some film, started when I found out we were playing them. We treat it like we treated the Virginia Tech game. Every game is big."

No team is judged as harshly as Boise State when it comes to nonconference games. It will be interesting to see whether the run-up to the Georgia game is as intense as it was before the opener against Virginia Tech last season. My guess is no, because Georgia will not be a Top 10 team the way the Hokies were last season. On the other hand, Georgia is from the mighty SEC. And as anybody who follows the non-AQ schools will tell you, there is no way little bitty ol' Boise could go unscathed through the rough and tumble SEC, home of the past five national champions.

I asked Taylor whether that meant Boise State had to prove something agianst an SEC team.

"We don’t shy away from anybody," Taylor said. "Whoever’s on the schedule, we’re going to play. The SEC of course is a great conference. They have some big guys, but we’re going to bring it no matter who we play. We’re just worried about ourselves and what we need to bring to the table."

SEC folks will kindly remind anyone who will listen that the last time the Broncos played Georgia, the Bulldogs spanked 'em 48-13 in 2005. I wrote a blog post last season explaining why that game has no bearing on the Broncos of today.

Now it is time to hear from you, loyal readers. Will Boise State beat Georgia? It is early yes, but never too early to start making predictions. Vote in my super cool poll, and we shall discuss the results next week.

Checking in with Chris Petersen

April, 19, 2011
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I had a chance to check in with Boise State coach Chris Petersen today, and here is a little of what he had to say about the team now that spring practice is over.

Unanswered questions. There are plenty at receiver, where Titus Young and Austin Pettis are gone, and in the secondary, where Winston Venable and Jeron Johnson are also gone. But when I asked for the biggest unanswered question post-spring, Petersen said, "You have questions across the board always. Even if you’ve got a Kellen Moore coming back, the question is, ‘Can he perform like he has the last three years?’ People take things for granted and then, 'OK, if something happens to Kellen, who’s going to be the guy that steps in and carries the flag?' We can’t miss a beat if something like that happens. You have to think about that. Every coach does. We have a tremendous amount of questions so that’s why it’s always a work in progress. We made some strides in spring, but now the summer program and summer conditioning are really important."

[+] EnlargeJeron Johnson
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesReplacing Jeron Johnson will be a tall order for the Boise State defense.
Replacing Johnson. Much of the focus this spring has been on replacing the receivers, but perhaps an even bigger hole to fill is the one Johnson leaves behind. He led the team in tackles for three straight seasons, and was literally the last line of defense in the Broncos' secondary. Jeremy Ioane, Cedric Febis and Travis Stanaway are all competing for the job. Febis missed the spring with an injury, and Stanaway got hurt and missed the last week. Petersen also mentioned cornerback Quaylon Ewing, who got some work at safety.

"I’ve said this forever: Jeron Johnson is one of our most unsung heroes over the past two to three years," Petersen said. "He has made so many plays for us. I’m talking line of scrimmage, 3 and 4 yards downfield, where if he doesn’t make the play it’s going to be a huge explosive play. A sure tackler, really smart player and we’ve known that for a long time. Those are tremendous shoes to fill."

Replacing Venable. Just as valuable to the Boise State defense was Venable, who won the team's defensive most valuable player award. Hunter White and junior college transfer Dextrell Simmons are leading the chase to get the starting job. Jon Brown is in the mix, though he sat out the spring with an injury.

Moore's improvement. Where does Moore get better? He has put together three outstanding seasons, throwing 99 touchdown passes to just 19 interceptions, and was a Heisman Trophy finalist in 2010. What will he be focusing on in the offseason? Certainly he has to develop his relationship with his receivers -- Tyler Shoemaker, Chris Potter, Geraldo Hiwat, Kirby Moore and Troy Ware among them. But as for working on individual improvements, footwork is going to be vital.

"We just want Kellen to play like he’s been playing," Petersen said. "There’s always little details, always little decisions to make differently, setting his feet, stepping into some throws to make him a cleaner thrower -- that is one area we’re paying attention to. Kellen’s played as well as anybody in the country the last several years. If he can do that, we’ll be in good position."

Finishing. Doug Martin and Jamar Taylor said last week the team was re-focused on finishing games, a hard lesson it learned after blowing a halftime lead in a loss to Nevada that ended its undefeated season. I asked Petersen if that was a point of emphasis from the coaches.

"It’s not different than it’s been in the past," he said. "The team we had last year was a really good team. To me, it’s the best team we’ve had since I’ve been here. That doesn’t mean your best team is going to win every game. We’re going to get most people’s best shot every game. If it’s not all clicking just right -- that’s why we play the game. That’s why coaches are so paranoid about things. You understand the best teams don’t always win. That game at Nevada was a great game. Nevada is one heck of a team. We’ve been saying forever those guys were underrated. We had chances to win, but that’s why you play the game."

I had to follow up and ask whether that loss was harder than all the others because he felt that was the best team he has had at Boise State. "That’s just part of coaching," he said. "Every game that we’ve lost here has been tremendously painful. That’s just how it is. These kids know how to win and they win a lot, and when we don’t, it hurts and it hurts bad."

Boise State: 'We need to finish'

April, 14, 2011
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Nobody at Boise State talks about what happened last season. What is there to say?

But the hurt of seeing their BCS chances and an undefeated season slip away in an overtime loss to Nevada linger and are being used to serve a purpose headed into 2011. The overriding lesson from that game, in which Boise State blew a 24-7 halftime lead: finish.

“It’s always in the back of our heads knowing we didn’t play our best game,” cornerback Jamar Taylor said in a recent phone interview. “We need to finish. We’re carrying that into this year, using it as motivation. Finish that’s our main thing, start fast and finish strong, never give in. Even if we’re up by 100 points, we have to keep our foot on the gas pedal.”

When asked whether this was something that was discussed among teammates, Taylor replied, “It doesn’t need to be said out loud. We know what we need to do. We know what we did last year and want to carry that motivation into this year, go out there and play every game hard for all four quarters.”

The 34-31 loss to the Wolf Pack knocked the Broncos out of BCS contention and into the MAACO Las Vegas Bowl against Utah, a consolation prize after being one of the biggest national stories for the entire season. As stunning as the implosion was to watch on television, it was worse for the players on the sideline. They were unaccustomed to losing, let alone losing after holding such a big lead.

“The sting is always there,” running back Doug Martin said. “You never like to lose. You always reminisce about it, but you have to face reality. For me, the hurt passed after the Utah game. You just have to move on. We need to focus on finishing.”

Boise State has plenty of players left on the team who went through that loss, but other new faces that are eager to make an impact in 2011. This will be a different team with a different identity, though the Broncos are expected to be ranked in the preseason Top 10 again -- largely because quarterback Kellen Moore returns, along with the bulk of their front seven.

As they wrap up spring practice Saturday, Boise State has gotten some answers at receiver -- its biggest question mark headed into the season. With Titus Young and Austin Pettis gone, several guys have showcased themselves, from Tyler Shoemaker to Chris Potter to Geraldo Hiwat to Kirby Moore. Newcomer Troy Ware could also have a big impact.

Boise State has a new offensive coordinator in Brent Pease as well, though he is anything but new. Pease served as receivers coach before leaving in late December to become Indiana offensive coordinator. He returned to Boise State a short time later as offensive coordinator when Bryan Harsin left for Texas.

Martin said the offense has welcomed Pease, who plans on adding a few new wrinkles to an offense that will remain relatively the same. Defensively, Boise State has to find replacements for Jeron Johnson, Winston Venable, Brandyn Thompson and Ryan Winterswyk.

Among those who have stood out this spring: Travis Stanaway, Jerrell Gavins, Jeremy Ioane, Hunter White and junior college transfer Dextrell Simmons.

The spring game Saturday is going to be a scrimmage because injuries have taken their toll on the team this season. There is plenty of work ahead, but players already have one valuable lesson they will take with them into a brand new season.

Boise State spring wrap

May, 6, 2010
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2009 overall record: 14-0

2009 conference record: 8-0

Returning starters
Offense: 10, defense 10, punter/kicker 2

Top returners
QB Kellen Moore, OL Nate Potter, DE Ryan Winterswyk, DT Billy Winn, S Jeron Johnson, WR Titus Young, RB Jeremy Avery, CB Brandyn Thompson, WR Austin Pettis, S Winston Venable

Key losses
CB Kyle Wilson, TE Richie Brockel, OL Kevin Sapien

2009 statistical leaders (* denotes returners)

Rushing: Jeremy Avery * (1,151 yards)
Passing: Kellen Moore * (3,536 yards)
Receiving: Titus Young * (1,041 yards)
Tackles: Jeron Johnson * (91 Total; 54 UA, 37 Asst)
Sacks: Ryan Winterswyk * (9.0 sacks/48 yards)
Interceptions: Brandyn Thompson * (6 INT, 67 Yards, 1 TD)

Spring Answers

1. Filling in for Wilson: The only void in the secondary is the one left at cornerback by first-round draft pick Kyle Wilson. There’s an abundance of young talent available, including Jerrell Gavins, Jamar Taylor and Ebo Makinde, who had a terrific spring.

2. Depth at receiver: Boise State returns four receivers who had 20 or more catches last year, but this spring was about the development of young players such as sophomores Chris Potter and Mitch Burroughs and freshmen Aaron Burks and Geraldo Hiwat. The Broncos have mainstays in Austin Pettis, Titus Young and Tyler Shoemaker, but these young players, including Kirby Moore, will give the Broncos even more depth.

3. D-line looks strong: The Boise State defensive line was one of the best in the country last season and should be just as good, if not better, in 2010. During scrimmages this spring, the defensive line got pressure on Moore and forced him into uncharacteristic mistakes. While there were some injuries on the line, it should be better and deeper than 2009.


Fall Questions

1. What to do with the running backs? The Broncos have nine running backs who could fight for time this year. Nine. But realistically, Jeremy Avery, Doug Martin and D.J. Harper will be the main backs while the others sit or fight for carries. This isn’t anything new. Boise State has had multiple backs before; it’s just a matter of determining how to divvy up the carries.

2. Offensive line shuffle: The good thing about playing so many offensive linemen the past couple of years is that there is no lack of depth. However, there could be a lack of consistency, which is why the Broncos are trying to settle on a permanent offensive line. It didn’t help that some of the main guys were out this spring, but the Broncos should have a nice group from which to choose.

3. Replicating special teams: The Broncos have had great special teams for quite some time, but with Kyle Wilson gone, the Broncos need a new threat to fill the void. Titus Young was great on kick returns and Chris Potter can help out with punts. Doug Martin and Jerrell Gavins also will be options on returns.

Ford never put it all together

February, 24, 2010
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As players, they had nothing in common. But when I heard the news about Mike Ford's dismissal from South Florida, I immediately thought of Elijah Fields.

Like's Pitt's talented but troubled safety, Ford had a world of potential but simply couldn't meet the requirements necessary to stay on the field. And like Fields, he won't be around for his senior season.

[+] EnlargeMike Ford
John E. Sokolowski/US PresswireMike Ford never lived up to his potential after his breakout year as a freshman.
Bulls fans dreamed of big things from Ford when he rushed for 645 yards and 12 touchdowns as a freshman. He was a big back who could plow it in at the goal line, but he also had speed.

But Ford would never run for as much as 500 yards in a season again. He had problems with injuries and maintaining his weight. He was arrested twice. He got suspended for a game in 2007 and for the start of the 2009 season. He never could seem to get out of Jim Leavitt's doghouse and, for long stretches, it seemed like he had disappeared.

Then there was the breakout game in the 2010 International Bowl when he ran all over Northern Illinois in the second half and finished with 207 yards. I -- and I'm sure many Bulls fans felt the same way -- was looking forward to seeing what Ford could do as a senior under new coach Skip Holtz, who may have made more of a commitment to using running backs than Leavitt's staffs ever did.

An in-shape, motivated Ford getting 20 to 25 carries a game would have been intriguing to say the least. He was one of those players that fans always asked me about in chats and e-mails, because his talent was so obvious when he was on the field.

We don't know yet what Ford did to earn his dismissal. But, like Fields, he must have known he was on a very short leash, even with a new coaching staff in town. For him to commit even a minor transgression shows a recklessness and foolishness that is mind-boggling.

Sometimes it's good for a new head coach to dismiss a player for a rules violation, especially one as talented as Ford. That shows the rest of the team that the new sheriff means business. I'm sure, though, Holtz would rather had Ford in the backfield this spring, even though he still has a lot of available options there. The Bulls could go with Mo Plancher, Lindsey Lamar, Jamar Taylor, Richard Kelly ... the list goes on and on.

None had quite the package of potential that Ford had. It's a shame he could never fully realize all his skills had to offer.
Spring practice is just around the corner, and that means it's time to start looking at two-deeps and position battles. While some players know what their roles will be in the fall, others will begin heated competitions for playing time during spring drills in hopes of impressing their coaches. Here are a few position battles worth watching this spring in the Big East:

  • Pittsburgh quarterback: Pitt may well be the preseason Big East favorite, but the Panthers have to figure out their quarterback situation first. Sophomore Tino Sunseri came close to winning the job in a heated three-way battle last year and settled in as Bill Stull's backup. Pat Bostick, however, has improved his mechanics and has won big games in the past. This should be a good competition that might not be settled until the fall.
  • Louisville quarterback: Three players -- Justin Burke, Adam Froman and Will Stein -- all started games under center for the Cardinals, and none of the trio distinguished himself as heads and shoulders above the rest. Whoever wins the job in the spring might not necessarily be the guy in the fall, as new coach Charlie Strong is bringing in some promising freshmen quarterbacks as well.
  • South Florida running back: Skip Holtz has suggested he'd like to have a real No. 1 tailback, something the Bulls haven't had in a long time. Mike Ford had a huge game against Northern Illinois in the International Bowl and may finally be ready to assume that go-to-guy role as a senior. Sophomore Lindsey Lamar will push for the job, as well as possibly Jamar Taylor and several newcomers.
  • Rutgers receiver and cornerback: Like last year, the Scarlet Knights go into the spring with one proven wideout (this time, Mohamed Sanu) and a bunch of question marks. It's time that someone from the group including Julian Hayes, Tim Wright, Keith Stroud and Marcus Cooper separate himself. At corner, Rutgers needs a replacement for Devin McCourty. Will a guy like Brandon Bing step forward, or will one of two redshirt freshmen -- Darrell Givens and Logan Ryan -- make a move in the spring?
  • Cincinnati's defensive front seven: With a new coaching staff and probably a change back to a 4-3 scheme, the Cincinnati players have basically been told they're back to square one this spring. Add to that fact that both defensive ends and two starting linebackers were seniors this past season, and there are a lot of jobs up for grabs. The constants appear to be defensive tackle Derek Wolfe, linebacker JK Schaffer and Walter Stewart, who could either play linebacker or on the line. After that, it's one big competition.
Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett

PITTSBURGH -- Greetings from Heinz Field, where it's homecoming for No. 20 Pitt against South Florida today.

It rained nearly all day Friday, but the skies are clear this afternoon and the temperature should be about 60 degrees by kickoff.

One bit of pregame news for South Florida: Running back Jamar Taylor, who's missed the entire season with a knee injury, will dress and is expected to play. How much of a role he will have is questionable.

What I like about this game is that, using strictly the eyeball test, these two teams might have the most impressive overall rosters in the Big East. I'm not saying they're the best or even the most talented teams. But they both have athletes who look imposing coming off the bus.

And the high level of skill players on both sides makes for some enticing matchups. A few I'm most interested in today are:
  • George Selvie vs. Jason Pinkston: The Bulls' senior defensive end had a great battle last week with Cincinnati left tackle Jeff Linkenbach and will face another of the league's best today. Jason Pierre-Paul will give sophomore right tackle Lucas Nix a handful as well.
  • Jonathan Baldwin vs. Jerome Murphy and Nate Allen: The Panthers' 6-foot-5 freak of an athlete at receiver will go against one of the league's better corners and perhaps its best safety. Murphy will have to play better than his mistake-filled game against Cincinnati.
  • Dion Lewis vs. Kion Wilson: The battle of 'ions. The Big East's leading rusher will surely be met several times by the Bulls' tough-as-nails middle linebacker. We'll see if Wilson has any more success wrapping up the 5-foot-8 ball of fury than other defenders have so far this season.

I'll have much more to come throughout the day from the Steel City.
Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett

With spring practice rapidly approaching, players are about to take their battle positions in the Big East.

Several starting jobs will be up for grabs around the league. Some of the highest-profile skirmishes will include the Rutgers quarterback competition, the fights to succeed LeSean McCoy and Scott McKillop at Pitt and the 10 new starting spots on Cincinnati's defense.

Here are five other key position battles to keep an eye on this spring, presented in no particular order:

Connecticut quarterback: This is a duel that began last season, when both Zach Frazer and Cody Endres split time filling in for the injured Tyler Lorenzen. With Lorenzen graduated, one of them has to claim the job outright. There are a lot of similarities between the two, including size, playing experience and strengths and weaknesses. Both will be operating on somewhat of a clean slate this spring with new offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead. Expect this battle to continue into fall camp.

Louisville quarterback: The Cardinals signed junior college quarterback Adam Froman, who is on campus and will be ready for spring drills. They didn't sign him so he could ride the bench. But head coach Steve Kragthorpe insists there will be an open competition to succeed Hunter Cantwell, and there's no one on the roster with much of a résumé. Junior Tyler Wolfe has looked impressive at times in practice but needs to pick up the finer points of the position. NC State transfer Justin Burke and sophomore Zack Stoudt will also try to impress this spring.

Rutgers running back: The Scarlet Knights could have used a revolving door in their backfield last season. At different times, Kordell Young, Jourdan Brooks, Joe Martinek and Mason Robinson all had moments as the featured back. Young led the way with 550 yards in just seven games but has had trouble staying healthy. With Rutgers breaking in a new starting quarterback this season, the running game might have to carry a bigger load this year, and someone needs to put his mark on this position.

South Florida running back: The Rutgers tailback position was a model of consistency compared to the Bulls' backfield in 2008. Mike Ford, Moise Plancher, Benjamin Williams, Jamar Taylor and Richard Kelly all split time there thanks to injuries, ineffectiveness and a spread-the-ball philosophy by former offensive coordinator Greg Gregory. All but Williams are back this spring to resume their competition, and a new playcaller could change the way South Florida uses its backs. Quarterback Matt Grothe desperately needs someone dependable behind him so he doesn't have to carry so much of the offense on his shoulders.

West Virginia receiver: The Mountaineers want to feature more of a true downfield passing attack this season, which means they will need to identify some go-to receivers. Several candidates will vie for that role this spring, even with slot receiver Jock Sanders currently suspended. Alric Arnett showed flashes of great promise in 2008 and caught two scores in the Meineke Car Care Bowl; he just needs to be more consistent. Wes Lyons can be a major factor with his 6-foot-8 frame. Bradley Starks is an athletic guy who's made the adjustment from quarterback. And hotshot freshman Logan Heastie is already enrolled and ready for the spring. The competition to become the No. 1 wideout should be fun to watch.

Which battles are you most looking forward to watching this spring?

Big East internal affairs

November, 12, 2008
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Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett

Cincinnati: Coach Brian Kelly says that strong safety Aaron Webster has added toughness to the Bearcats since he moved into a starting role after the Akron game. "He's brought a physicality to our defense that we were lacking," Kelly said. "And having him on our defense has elevated everybody." The only non-senior starter on defense, Webster was named Big East defensive player of the week after he recorded 13 tackles, including two for loss, in last week's win at West Virginia. Also for the Bearcats, senior Dustin Grutza is expected to serve as the No. 2 quarterback for Friday's game at Louisville. Grutza hasn't played since breaking his leg in Week 2 at Oklahoma.

Connecticut: The job of replacing the irreplaceable Darius Butler begins this week. Butler, who played cornerback, wide receiver and returned kicks for the Huskies, is out perhaps as long as the regular season with a knee injury. Junior Robert McClain will start at corner and will be backed up by Terry Baltimore. Freshman Jordan Todman will take over the primary kick-return duties. Butler had been playing about 12-to-15 snaps on offense and provided an electric presence that will be hard to match.

West Virginia: The Mountaineers' short-yardage woes resurfaced in the Cincinnati game, and some of that can be blamed on injuries. Fullback Will Johnson couldn't play because of a quad injury. Backup quarterback Jarrett Brown, who had been used as a blocker and short-yardage specialist earlier in the season, was still nursing shoulder and leg problems and couldn't go. Coach Bill Stewart said he planned to "turn him loose" for the Louisville game on Nov. 22. Center Mike Dent missed the Cincinnati game with a neck injury, and Stewart described him as "week-to-week."

South Florida: The banged-up Bulls could get running backs Mike Ford and Jamar Taylor back for the Rutgers game. Neither made the trip to the Cincinnati game because of injuries but were working out in drills earlier this week. The status of offensive lineman Zach Hermann (foot) and tight end Trent Pupello (concussion) remains unknown. Quenton Washington took over starting cornerback duties from Tyller Roberts for the Cincinnati game and is listed as the starter there again this week.

Syracuse: Orange coach Greg Robinson will stick with Cam Dantley as his starting quarterback this week against Connecticut, but backup Andrew Robinson will see time. The coach hasn't specified how much or what role Andrew Robinson would play. Third-string quarterback David Legree told the Syracuse Post-Standard that he feels he's ready to play after two years in a back-up role. Tailback Delone Carter returned for the Louisville game after a four-week absence with a hamstring problem. He did not play against Rutgers, but Greg Robinson said that was not a health issue.

Big East internal affairs

October, 29, 2008
10/29/08
12:02
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett

Connecticut: Donald Brown's amazing season has left Andre Dixon a forgotten man this season. Dixon actually led the Huskies in rushing last season, but he's only gotten three carries this year as Brown has piled up more than 1,300 yards. Dixon was slowed by an ankle injury at the start of the year but is healthy now. UConn coach Randy Edsall says Dixon hasn't done anything wrong and is contributing on special teams; there just aren't enough handoffs to go around the way Brown is performing.

South Florida: The Bulls' comeback attempt at Louisville was hampered by injuries. Running backs Mike Ford and Jamar Taylor were limited, while starting right tackle Marc Dile (leg), tight end Trent Pupello (head) and linebacker Brouce Mompremier (head) got hurt and had to leave the game. True freshman Danous Estenor took over for Dile, who returned to practice this week. Senior guard Zach Hermann, who has been out since the opener with a broken foot, will travel to Cincinnati and may play.

Syracuse: The Orange hope to have two additions to their backfield on Saturday against Louisville. Fullback Tony Fiammetta should be good to go after missing the South Florida game with a lower leg problem, while backup tailback Delone Carter appears ready after sitting four games with a hamstring injury. Fiammetta is important as both a blocker and in the receiving game, while Carter can either give starting halfback Curtis Brinkley a breather or come in on two-back sets.

Pittsburgh: The season-ending ankle injury to center Robb Houser means that fifth-year senior Dom Williams will return to the starting lineup. Williams will play left guard, while C.J. Davis moves over to center. Williams, the team's oldest player at 24, started the first two games of 2005, including one against this week's opponent, Notre Dame. If Williams falters, Pitt will probably turn to true freshman tackle Lucas Nix.

West Virginia: The Mountaineers shredded Auburn's defense in last week's 34-17 win without one of their most effective offensive players. Backup quarterback Jarrett Brown did not play because of lingering shoulder and thigh injuries. West Virginia had been using Brown in the backfield with Pat White as a blocker/runner/decoy on short-yardage situations. Brown has practiced this week and should be ready to play at Connecticut. Freshman right guard Josh Jenkins, out since the Rutgers game with a knee injury, could return to add depth to the offensive line.

Big East internal affairs

September, 17, 2008
9/17/08
9:55
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett

Every Wednesday, we'll keep you updated on depth chart changes, injuries and other inside info to get you ready for the weekend.

West Virginia: Head coach Bill Stewart plans to add a few new faces to the lineup Thursday night at Colorado. Middle linebacker Reed Williams will make his season debut, allowing Mortty Ivy to slide over to his more natural outside position. Receiver Wes Lyons, a formidable target at 6-foot-8, has recovered from an August knee scope and should see some significant time. Stewart also expects to rotate young players such as Donnie Barclay and Josh Jenkins on the offensive line.

Louisville: The Cardinals didn't score on offense in their only game so far against an FBS team (a 27-2 loss to Kentucky), and injuries may slow their attack down tonight against Kansas State. Four of the five starting offensive linemen left the Tennessee Tech game with injuries, and though head coach Steve Kragthorpe hasn't given out specifics on their status, it appears that the left side of the line is in doubt. Left tackle George Bussey and left guard Mark Wetterer may not play tonight, potentially leaving quarterback Hunter Cantwell's blind side vulnerable to K-State blitzes if their replacements don't perform well.

South Florida: Could Jamar Taylor be emerging as the main guy in the Bulls' backfield? The sophomore -- who transferred from Alabama after the spring of 2007 -- broke out against Kansas with 72 yards on 11 carries, plus a 13-yard score. "I've never seen Jamar Taylor run like that," coach Jim Leavitt said of the way Taylor busted through tackles and holes. With Mike Ford and Ben Williams still out with ankle injuries, Taylor could assume the bulk of the carries this week at Florida International.

Connecticut: Coach Randy Edsall said during the summer that safety Darius Butler could play some snaps on offense. Through the first two games, that idea seemed forgotten. But Butler saw 11 snaps on offense versus Virginia last week, making two catches for 40 yards and running for a 13-yard score. He's extremely athletic and gives a new dimension to the Huskies' offense, but Edsall wants to be careful not to wear his defensive star down.

Cincinnati: The Bearcats' kicking situation has gotten more confusing. Brandon Yingling replaced the struggling Jake Rogers after the first game but wasn't called on for any field goals at Oklahoma. Yingling still hasn't attempted a college field goal. The walk-on has been suffering from an illness that's kept him out of practice, while Rogers is recovering from having his wisdom teeth pulled. So freshman Danny Milligan is now getting a look at kicker as Cincinnati prepares for Miami (Ohio) this weekend.

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