NCF Nation: JK Schaffer

How does Cincinnati gain respect?

October, 9, 2012
Well, it only took seven weeks for Cincinnati to finally appear in the AP Top 25.

I know what Cincinnati fans are asking. What took so long?

Cincinnati finished in the Top 25 to end last season, and has won a share of the Big East title three of the past four seasons. But that information has seemingly escaped the voters. Despite all that recent success, Cincinnati was one of four ranked teams at the end of 2011 left out of the 2012 preseason Top 25. The others? Baylor, Houston and Southern Miss, teams that do not have the recent pedigree Cincinnati has. Cincinnati has been to two BCS bowls; Baylor, Houston and Southern Miss have been to zero.

So what gives?

[+] EnlargeButch Jones
Rob Leifheit/US PresswireDespite playing in two BCS bowls and dominating the Big East in recent seasons, Butch Jones and Cincinnati still don't seem to get much national recognition.
I asked coach Butch Jones why the perception about his program has not changed despite its continued success.

"I don’t know," Jones said. "All we can do is work on our body of work. If you just put your head down and keep working on a day-to-day basis, your body of work will talk for itself. We’re still nowhere where we need to be as a football team right now. There's going to be some challenging games down the stretch but I do think it’s great for our conference, the level of quality of teams we have in the Big East. It’s great for our fan base. It’s not where you start, but where you finish. We can’t worry about that."

It is, of course, great for the Big East that No. 21 Cincinnati, No. 20 Rutgers and No. 18 Louisville are all ranked and undefeated. But do you know what would be better for the Big East? For the outside world to realize there is a perennial Top 25 team in this conference now that West Virginia is gone.

Full disclosure: I also have underestimated Cincinnati in my two years on the beat, something I have taken flak for among Bearcats supporters. During Big East media day, Jones' wife reminded me in her good-natured way that JK Schaffer gave me a talking to last season about ranking Cincinnati so low in my preseason power rankings. She warned me not to do it again.

Oops. I did it again.

Here is what I and the rest of the country should have realized: Cincinnati has carried the Top 25 torch among the trio currently ranked, finishing in the AP rankings four of the past five years. It is obvious that Cincinnati just reloads and does not rebuild, and has a darn good coach in Jones, a man players respect and want to play all out for every week.

As for the bigger point on national perception: More traditional powers like Florida and Texas finished outside the Top 25 last season. But lo and behold they were ranked going into 2012.

In the end, that is what much of this comes down to. Recognized national powers from bigger conferences get the benefit of the doubt. Newcomers to weaker conferences have to prove themselves every single season. Cincinnati is relatively new to the national scene, comparatively speaking. So it takes time to burn yourself into the national consciousness.

But how long should it take? That is the bigger question that has to be addressed. Jones, however, is not biting on that one.

"We’ve got more important things to worry about," Jones said. "We have to worry about Fordham and continuing to be a better football team. We don’t worry about that, we just worry about our team getting better each and every day."

Big East position rankings: LB

February, 22, 2012
We continue with our final 2011 position rankings by moving to linebacker. There were plenty of exemplary individual performances in this group, as six teams were represented on the Big East first and second teams. But this evaluation is of the unit as a whole, so I am factoring in the performance of every starter, along with depth and stats.

[+] EnlargeKhaseem Greene
Rich Kane/Icon SMIKhaseem Greene's position switch went better than anyone could have expected, as he ended up leading the conference in tackles.
1. Rutgers. Khaseem Greene's move to linebacker was the smartest position change of the year, pushing the Scarlet Knights into the top spot in this category. Greene led the league with 140 tackles en route to Big East Co-Defensive Player of the Year honors. He was essentially all over the field. Greene and Steve Beauharnais were the only linebacker tandem to finish in the top 10 in the Big East in tackles for loss. Add in the much-improved Jamal Merrell and it's easy to see why this group is No. 1. Preseason ranking: No. 4.

2. Cincinnati. J.K. Schaffer had yet another outstanding season for the Bearcats, racking up 100 tackles once again. But quietly, Maalik Bomar put together a nice year as well, and that helped make up for some serious question marks that surrounded this unit going into the season. True freshmen Dwight Jackson and Nick Temple made contributions, but on the whole it was the Schaffer show again and that was enough to boost this group. Preseason ranking: 8.

3. Louisville. Dexter Heyman and Preston Brown had career seasons for the Cardinals, elevating the position and helping Louisville post another outstanding season on defense. Heyman and Brown finished in the top 15 in the Big East in tackles, and Heyman ranked fourth in the league with 16 tackles for loss. His play earned him second-team honors, and he leaves a big hole to fill for 2012. Preseason ranking: 3.

4. UConn. The Huskies were one of two teams without a linebacker on the Big East first or second team. But I thought this position group was vastly underrated for most of the year. Sio Moore came up with some big plays, and Yawin Smallwood and Jory Johnson developed nicely throughout the season. To illustrate how active Moore was, he was the top linebacker in tackles for loss with 16. This unit should be even better in 2012. Preseason ranking: 2.

5. USF. The Bulls were the other team without a linebacker named to the Big East first or second team but that shouldn't diminish the season DeDe Lattimore had. He had seven sacks, 13 tackles for loss and led the team in tackles. In fact, all three linebackers led the team, in Mike Lanaris and Sam Barrington. But the group as a whole underachieved, as the Bulls struggled to get teams off the field and were often times out of position to make a play. Preseason ranking: 1.

6. West Virginia. Middle linebacker Najee Goode had a terrific season, earning first team Big East honors. But beyond him, there were few significant contributions. Injuries hurt and so did inexperience. Plus, the expected emergence of junior college transfer Josh Francis never materialized. Between Jared Barber, Jewone Snow and Doug Rigg, there was not much doing in this group. Preseason ranking: 5.

7. Pitt. The problem in evaluating Pitt is this -- Brandon Lindsey played both end and linebacker in the hybrid Panther role. Does he get evaluated with the line group or the linebacker group? He started eight games on the line, so I gave more weight to his contributions at end. However, I did take him into account for this unit, though it was not enough to life this group up much as a whole. Max Gruder was solid, but otherwise this was a lackluster bunch. Todd Thomas showed some spark but injuries slowed him down. Between Shane Gordon, Greg Williams and Tristan Roberts, there were problems all year. Preseason ranking: 6.

8. Syracuse. It was a struggle for the Orange on defense this season, and linebacker was no exception. Marquis Spruill had to make the transition to middle linebacker and struggled at times. Dyshawn Davis showed glimpses as a true freshman. Dan Vaughan actually was the leading linebacker in tackles. You generally want your linebackers to lead the team in that category, and that was not the case this season. But there is talent here. Another year of development for Spruill and Davis could yield big things in 2012. Preseason ranking: 7.
With one day to go before signing day, it is worth taking a look back at how the players on the Big East first-team fared when they were coming out of high school.

You will see, once again, that recruiting rankings generally have nothing to do with the way a player will do in college. So anybody freaking out about what your school does or does not have in the way of commitments for 2012, just take a deep breath. And look at how some of the most unheralded players out of high school become some of the best in the Big East.

I used ESPN recruiting rankings. Note only one player honored on the first team was ranked as an ESPNU150 player. Many on defense came in as either athletes, receivers or quarterbacks.


[+] EnlargeCincinnati defensive tackle Derek Wolfe in action during a college football game against Akron, Saturday, Sept. 17, 2011 in Cincinnati.
AP Photo/Al BehrmanCincinnati defensive tackle Derek Wolfe -- the 2011 co-Big East Defensive Player of the Year -- was unranked coming out of high school.
WR Mohamed Sanu, Rutgers. Sanu was ranked the No. 18 safety in the nation coming out of high school in 2009, with a scout grade of 80.

WR/RS Tavon Austin, West Virginia. Austin was rated the No. 41 running back in the nation coming out of high school in 2009 -- three spots behind De'Antwan Williams (Rutgers) and one spot behind Jason Douglas (Pitt). Know who else was ranked ahead -- Victor Marc and Bradley Battles of USF.

OT Justin Pugh, Syracuse. Unranked at his position for the class of 2009, Pugh got a scout grade of 40. Talk about making the most of somebody who was "undervalued."

OT Don Barclay, West Virginia. Ranked No. 65 at his position in the class of 2007. One other West Virginia player was ranked athead of him, at No. 55 -- Gino Gradkowski, who transferred to Delaware.

OG Randy Martinez, Cincinnati. Rated the No. 161 defensive end in the class of 2007.

OG Art Forst, Rutgers. Forst was ranked the No. 25 offensive tackle in the class of 2008 -- the second-highest Big East player on the list behind Lucas Nix of Pitt.

OG Andrew Tiller, Syracuse. Tiller was unranked and did not even get a scouts grade when he was being evaluated in 2009 out of Nassau Community College.

C Moe Petrus, Connecticut. The best center in the Big East was unranked and had no scouts grade when he signed with UConn in 2007.

TE Nick Provo, Syracuse. Provo was ranked No. 86 at his position in the class of 2007

QB Geno Smith, West Virginia. Smith has lived up to his billing -- ranking No. 97 on the ESPNU150 in the class of 2009. He was the No. 8 player at his position and No. 15 in the state of Florida.

RB Isaiah Pead, Cincinnati. The No. 152 ranked running back in the class of 2008, Pead got a scout grade of 71. He just won MVP Honors on the Senior Bowl.

RB Ray Graham, Pittsburgh. Rated the No. 66 running back in the class of 2009, Graham was rated behind West Virginia's Daquan Hargrett (left program) and USF's Adaris Bellamy (academics).

RB Antwon Bailey, Syracuse. Ranked the No. 128 running back in the class of 2008 -- well behind fellow signee Averin Collier (No. 42). Collier was considered the gem of the class, but academics derailed his career.

K Dave Teggart, Connecticut. Teggart was ranked the No. 25 kicker in the class of 2007.


DL Derek Wolfe, Cincinnati. Wolfe was unranked at his position in the class of 2008 and got a scout grade of 40. Four years later, he was the co-Big East Defensive Player of the Year.

DL Kendall Reyes, Connecticut. Reyes also was unranked in his position in the class of 2007 with a scout grade of 40. Believe it or not, he came into UConn at 220 pounds (he's now around 300) and now has a shot to be a mid-round draft pick.

DL Chandler Jones, Syracuse. Jones came to Syracuse as a 230-pound tight end, unranked and giving a scout grade of 40. Now he is headed to the NFL draft as a projected second-to-third round pick.

DL Bruce Irvin, West Virginia. Irvin took an incredible journey to West Virginia through Mt. SAC junior college after dropping out of high school.

LB JK Schaffer, Cincinnati. Schaffer was ranked the No. 93 outside linebacker in the class of 2008, behind such players as Tyler Urban, Marvin Booker (Rutgers), Quavon Taylor (USF) and Marcus Witherspoon (Rutgers).

LB Khaseem Greene, Rutgers. No ranking or scout grade for Greene, who went to prep school before arriving at Rutgers.

LB Najee Goode, West Virginia. Goode was a quarterback and linebacker in high school who was not ranked.

CB Adrian Bushell, Louisville. Bushell was ranked the No. 21 cornerback in the class of 2008 and originally signed with Florida. After playing at junior college, he made an immediate impact with the Cardinals.

CB Keith Tandy, West Virginia. Tandy was ranked the No. 207 quarterback in the nation in the class of 2007. The same group that featured Jimmy Clausen and Ryan Mallett.

S Drew Frey, Cincinnati. Frey was a receiver coming out of high school and unranked, with a scout grade of 40.

S Hakeem Smith, Louisville. Smith was ranked the No. 93 receiver in the class of 2009, but his athleticism allowed him to switch to defense and emerge as one of the best safeties in the league.

S Jarred Holley, Pittsburgh. Also a receiver in the class of 2008, Holley was ranked No. 230 at that position with a scout grade of 65.

S Duron Harmon, Rutgers. The No. 49 athlete in the class of 2009, he was ranked below teammate Jamal Merrell, Todd Thomas of Pitt and Kayvon Webster of USF.

P Pat O'Donnell, Cincinnati. O'Donnell was unranked with a scout grade of 40, but he has emerged as one of the most impressive iron men in the league.

Big East offseason to-do lists

January, 20, 2012
Every team has plenty to do in the offseason. Today, I present to you my top priorities for each Big East program headed into the 2012 season.

  • Settle on a quarterback. If 2011 was any indication, then Munchie Legaux seems a sure bet to start next season. He showed flashes, but he needs to spend the bulk of his offseason developing a nice rhythm and chemistry with his receivers. That was one of the biggest roadblocks for him when he took over for Zach Collaros. Cincinnati has some good talent at receiver -- with Anthony McClung, Kenbrell Thompkins and Alex Chisum coming back -- so this must be a top priority.
  • Develop senior leadership. The Bearcats are losing the best senior class in school history, filled with leaders left and right. With guys such as Collaros, Isaiah Pead and JK Schaffer gone, who is going to take the responsibility of leading this team? That is something that must be worked on throughout the offseason.
  • Find a quarterback. Sounds the same as last season, right? The Huskies never really found one in 2011 and that is a big reason why they struggled. Spring practice has the potential to have five different quarterbacks taking reps in Johnny McEntee, Scott McCummings, Michael Nebrich, Chandler Whitmer and Casey Cochran. Somebody has to emerge to take a hold of this offense.
  • Work on improving the secondary. The weakest part of this team last season ranked No. 113 in the nation, so this is a clear area that has to get better. The Huskies were hurt when starting cornerback Blidi Wreh-Wilson missed a good chunk of the season with a knee injury, and they also had to rely on freshmen in Byron Jones and Ty-Meer Brown. This group will be much more experienced, so you have to hope they will be much better, too.
  • Mature. The Cardinals were one of the youngest teams in the nation last season, and their immaturity showed at times. But now they enter the offseason with exceedingly high expectations. Many preseason lists have them ranked in the Top 25 and challenging for the Big East title. This team will still be young in 2012, so it will be imperative for coach Charlie Strong to help get this group to mature quickly and stay focused.
  • Work on the run game. Strong wants the run game to be the bread-and-butter of the offense, and this was an area that took a step back in 2011 with Bilal Powell gone. Louisville went from being ranked No. 1 in the Big East to No. 5 in the Big East, averaging 121.5 yards per game. That is down over 50 yards per game. Dominique Brown and Jeremy Wright are back, but they have to be consistent and the Cardinals probably need somebody else to emerge.
  • New identity. A new coach means a new identity, so it will be interesting to see how the Panthers look under Paul Chryst and his new staff. We will find out when spring practice opens in March. There is plenty of talent on the roster, but the big question is how will the talent be utilized?
  • Is Tino the man? This is starting to sound like a trend, right? The Panthers have quarterback issues as well after Tino Sunseri had a season to forget. Much of his performance can probably be laid at the feet of former coach Todd Graham, who stubbornly tried to run an offensive system that was not suited for the players he had. You can be sure Chryst will open up the quarterback competition to see who emerges.
  • Handle expectations. The Scarlet Knights have not been so good in the past when the pressure is on. All you have to do is look back at what happened this season, with a shot to win a share of the Big East title. Now they are getting some preseason love and probably have their best team since 2006. So coach Greg Schiano is going to have to do a good job of managing preparation and focus because expectations were raised off a successful 2011 campaign.
  • Quarterback derby. Yet another Big East team with a quarterback question mark. Chas Dodd and Gary Nova ended up splitting the starts this past season. Now there is the possibility that former quarterback Tom Savage transfers back in. I don't know if Schiano can afford to keep playing musical chairs with his quarterbacks every season.
  • Re-focus. The Bulls have to put 2011 behind them and focus on the future. This is still a team that has the talent to win. Coach Skip Holtz has to find a way to get that done. This is going to be a veteran team that has been through good times and bad. He needs leaders who will their teammates to victory, who know how to win close games and are determined to get this team back on top. Who are they?
  • New defense. USF brings in new defensive coordinator Chris Cosh from Kansas State, its third different coordinator in the past four years. Getting the players adapted to his scheme as soon as possible has to be a point of emphasis in the spring and throughout the offseason.
  • More offensive consistency. To be sure, Ryan Nassib and Alec Lemon both had career years and made strides for the Orange. But a lot of that was because the run game was inconsistent, and Syracuse found itself trailing late in several games. This team has to find a way to sustain drives and score -- Syracuse was No. 7 in the Big East in scoring offense (24.2 ppg).
  • Shore up the defense. The Orange lose some of their best players on the defensive line, and have to get better in the secondary, which was a major problem for most of the year. Syracuse ranked No. 98 in the nation in pass defense, and they lose some key contributors. Shamarko Thomas is really going to have to step up and take control of this group.
West Virginia
  • Big 12 or Big East? The Mountaineers are bent on leaving for the Big 12, regardless of any court outcomes. On-field issues have nothing on trying to figure out where you are going to be playing. And who you are going to be playing.
  • Defense. Coach Dana Holgorsen has hired a few defensive assistants, but still no word yet on who is going to run the show. That, of course, will determine the future course of this defense. It appears an inevitability that they will no longer use the 3-3-5 that former coordinator Jeff Casteel ran. Plus, players such as Keith Tandy, Najee Goode, Bruce Irvin and Julian Miller are gone. Shoring up this unit has to be tops on Holgorsen's list.

2011 Big East All-Bowl Team

January, 13, 2012
Without further adieu, here is your 2011 Big East All-Bowl team:


QB: Geno Smith, West Virginia. Smith was named the Discover Orange Bowl MVP after the Mountaineers routed Clemson 70-33. Smith ended up with Orange Bowl records for passing yards (401), touchdowns responsible for (six) and total offense (433). He threw just 11 incompletions and had zero interceptions.

RB: Isaiah Pead, Cincinnati. The Big East Offensive Player of the Year turned in a terrific final performance as a member of the Bearcats in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl against Vanderbilt. Pead set a school bowl record with 149 yards rushing in a 31-24 win, his sixth 100-yard game of the season. His 12-yard touchdown run with 1:52 remaining sealed the team's first bowl victory since 2007.

RB:Jawan Jamison, Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights run game was inconsistent all season, but the redshirt freshman stepped up against Iowa State in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl. Jamison was named MVP of the game after gaining 131 yards and two touchdowns on 27 carries. It was his third 100-yard game of his career. All of them happened this season.

[+] EnlargeWest Virginia Mountaineers wide receiver Tavon Austin
Douglas Jones-US PRESSWIREWest Virginia WR Tavon Austin had 280 all-purpose yards in the Orange Bowl.
WR: Tavon Austin, West Virginia. The best playmaker on the Orange Bowl field was pretty much unstoppable. Austin racked up an Orange Bowl record with 280 all-purpose yards, including 117 yards receiving, 46 yards rushing and 117 yards on kickoff returns. He also set Orange Bowl records for receptions (12) and receiving touchdowns (four).

WR: Josh Bellamy, Louisville. Bellamy set a season-high with 98 receiving yards in a loss to NC State in the Belk Bowl. Still, he had the most receiving yards by a Cardinal in a bowl game since Harry Douglas had 165 against Wake Forest in the 2007 Orange Bowl. His 53-yard reception in the first quarter was a career long and the second-longest pass play for Louisville this season.

OG: Randy Martinez, Cincinnati. Martinez has been one of the most consistent offensive linemen for the Bearcats over the past two seasons, and he graded out near the top once again in the Liberty Bowl. Martinez helped pave the way for 221 rushing yards -- second most against FBS competition this season.

OG: Betim Bujari, Rutgers, OT: Desmond Wynn, Rutgers. Bujari made just his third start of the season, on the left side no less. Wynn slid over from guard to tackle. But the combination worked for the Scarlet Knights, who put together perhaps their best effort on the offensive line all season. Rutgers ran for 173 yards -- their second-highest total of the season. And they did not allow a sack.

OT: Don Barclay, West Virginia, C: Joe Madsen, West Virginia. One of the biggest knocks against the Mountaineers this season was their inconsistency on the offensive line. In the days leading up to the Orange Bowl, Madsen said he felt the unit had played to the level of its competition. The hope was that facing several NFL draft prospects on the Clemson line would help West Virginia play better. Whatever works, right? West Virginia ran for 188 yards and did not allow a sack in its domination of the Tigers.


DL: Myles Caragein, Pitt. The Panthers may not have had the greatest game in the BBVA Compass Bowl against SMU, but Caragein was solid for most of the afternoon, with six tackles, 2.5 for loss, 1.5 sacks and a pass breakup.

DL: Derek Wolfe, Cincinnati. Wolfe ended his Co-Defensive Player of the Year season with six tackles, including two for loss, against Vanderbilt.

DL: Aaron Donald, Pitt. Donald did his part for the Panthers, with one sack, a forced fumble, a tackle for loss and five tackles in all. Pitt racked up four sacks on the day and held SMU to 61 yards rushing in the loss.

LB: Najee Goode, West Virginia. Goode was a part of an outstanding defensive effort, with 1.5 tackles for loss, one sacks, one pass breakup and one fumble recovery against Clemson.

LB: Khaseem Greene, Rutgers. After posting one of the best regular seasons in school history, Greene finished everything off with a team-high 13 tackles in the Pinstripe Bowl to finish the year with 140, tied for fifth in the school single-season record books. Unfortunately, he could not complete the game after breaking his ankle. He is expected to be fine for 2012.

LB: JK Schaffer, Cincinnati. Schaffer had nine tackles, a sack and a tackle for a loss in a win over Vanderbilt. He closes out his career with 337 stops, a mark that ranks him ninth on the Big East career list.

LB: Nick Temple, Cincinnati. The true freshman saved his best performance of the season for the final game of the season. Temple had a career-high eight tackles, a forced fumble and his first career interception in a win over Vanderbilt. Simply put, he was everywhere for the Bearcats.

S: Darwin Cook, West Virginia. Cook had perhaps the play of the game in the Orange Bowl, when he scooped up a fumble by Andre Ellington and returned it 99 yards for a touchdown to seize momentum in the second quarter against Clemson. West Virginia ended up scoring 35 points in the frame to put the game way, way, way out of reach.

S: Eain Smith, West Virginia. With starting Terence Garvin out because of a knee injury, many wondered whether Cook and Smith would take more on their shoulders. They both delivered in a big way. Smith finished with a game-high 13 tackles, including 12 solo stops, and assisted on a tackle for loss.

CB: Keith Tandy, West Virginia. Tandy had six tackles and an interception on the night, and was part of a secondary that completely shut down Sammy Watkins, holding him to 66 yards on five catches. After a shaky start, West Virginia hunkered down and gave up just 78 yards passing in the second half. Tajh Boyd completed only 52 percent of his passes.

CB: Logan Ryan, Rutgers. Ryan really seemed to grow up throughout the season and ended the year with another big performance. Logan had seven tackles -- 2.5 for loss -- one interception and half a sack in the win over Iowa State.


PK: Tyler Bitancurt, West Virginia. Bitancurt was 10-for-10 on extra-point attempts in the Orange Bowl, setting a new record for extra points attempted and made in any bowl game.

P: Justin Doerner, Rutgers. Doerner had a terrific performance against Iowa State with a season-best 49.7-yard average on six punts. Two of them went inside the 20. One of them went 57 yards. His average was tops among the five Big East punters in bowl games.

KR: Ralph David Abernathy IV, Cincinnati. After Vanderbilt went up 21-17 early in the fourth quarter, Abernathy took the ensuing kickoff and returned it 90 yards for a score to put the Bearcats up for good. It was the first return for a score in his career.

AP: Austin. See above.

Early 2012 Big East power rankings

January, 10, 2012
Because I love you all so much, I now present to you my early 2012 Big East power rankings. The season is one day old, so I reserve the right to change my mind based on spring practice and then fall practice. To say these are way early is to say West Virginia beat Clemson. Understatement!

1. West Virginia.* You see the asterisk there for obvious reasons. Will the Mountaineers be in this league in 2012, or will somebody else get to be called the favorite in the preseason? Should West Virginia return to this league, that performance in the Orange Bowl should frighten the rest of this conference. Now granted, there will be some major questions on this defense, but if Geno Smith, Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey can put up half a hundred every week, the Mountaineers are going to be really tough to beat.

2. Rutgers. This was a tough call for me. The Scarlet Knights still have quarterback issues, a nonexistent running game and are losing Mohamed Sanu. But they also return 16 starters, including Co-Big East Defensive Player of the Year Khaseem Greene. Everything should be in place for this team to make a serious run. The offensive line will be better; I firmly believe the quarterback play will be better; and there is enough talent at receiver to make up for Sanu's loss.

3. Louisville. Right now, I think it is a toss up between Louisville and Rutgers. The Cardinals also return a majority of their starters, including freshman of the year Teddy Bridgewater, along with a talented receiving corps and an offensive line that solidified itself as the season went on. What I worry about most right now is maturity and leadership. Louisville seems to thrive in an underdog role, and that will not be the case in 2012.

4. Cincinnati. The Bearcats lose 21 seniors, including Offensive Player of the Year Isaiah Pead, Co-Defensive Player of the Year Derek Wolfe, defensive leader JK Schaffer and starting quarterback Zach Collaros. There is a lot of young talent on this team, but the key word is young. How will the Bearcats handle themselves without so many of their best players?

5. USF. This has got to be the year the Bulls make a serious run at the Big East. The only problem is they have no idea how to win Big East games, and that prevents me from listing them higher than middle of the road in this league. There are going to be a lot of returning starters and returning seniors on this team, and plenty of talent. But there are some holes that have to be filled on the offensive line, defensive line and in the secondary. B.J. Daniels must win this season.

6. Pitt. I truly believe Paul Chryst is the best hire Pitt could have made this time around. But does that mean he has what he needs to be able to turn this team into a serious Big East contender? There are major question marks at quarterback, offensive line, defensive line and linebacker. The defense was the strength of this team but it's losing most of its best players. How does Ray Graham come back from knee surgery? I think of all the Big East teams, the Panthers have the most questions headed into the offseason.

7. UConn. Should we talk again about quarterback issues for the Huskies? It was the same theme in the preseason last year. We are no closer today to knowing who is going to lead this team, because there will be yet another quarterback competition. Running back should be an area of strength, just like last season, and there are some good players returning on the defensive line. But offensive line and secondary are also two major questions that must be improved for this team to contend again.

8. Syracuse. The Orange lost their best players on defense in Phillip Thomas, Chandler Jones and Mikhail Marinovich, along with 1,000-yard rusher Antwon Bailey. There are also depth questions on the offensive line, defensive line and at receiver. Ryan Nassib took a good first step this season, but he's got to make bigger steps this year. First and foremost, this team must find an identity and solve all the issues that plagued them at the end of this season. All-Big East team

December, 9, 2011
Editor’s Note: Tune into the “AT&T ESPN All America Team Show” on Saturday (ABC, 1:30 p.m. ET) to see who ESPN’s writers and experts selected.

You saw what the coaches had to say when they picked the All-Big East team. Now it is my turn. I only have a few different opinions than the coaches. To start, West Virginia receiver Stedman Bailey is on my first team over Tavon Austin. Bailey finished with more yards; Austin with more receptions. But I thought Bailey was a little more consistent over the course of the entire season.

I also have West Virginia defensive lineman Julian Miller on the first team ahead of Bruce Irvin. Miller got off to a slow start, mostly because he was hobbled with an injury. But late in the season with games on the line, he was almost unstoppable. Pitt running back Ray Graham also gets a nod even though he missed the final five games of the season with a knee injury.

Without further adieu:


QB: Geno Smith, West Virginia

RB: Isaiah Pead, Cincinnati

RB: Ray Graham, Pitt

OT: Don Barclay, West Virginia

OT: Justin Pugh, Syracuse

C: Joe Madsen, West Virginia

OG: Randy Martinez, Cincinnati

OG: Andrew Tiller, Syracuse

WR: Mohamed Sanu, Rutgers

WR: Stedman Bailey, West Virginia


DL: Julian Miller, West Virginia

DL: Kendall Reyes, UConn

DL: Derek Wolfe, Cincinnati

DL: Chandler Jones, Syracuse

LB: JK Schaffer, Cincinnati

LB: Najee Goode, West Virginia

LB: Khaseem Greene, Rutgers

S: Hakeem Smith, Louisville

S: Duron Harmon, Rutgers

CB: Adrian Bushell, Louisville

CB: Keith Tandy, West Virginia


PK: Dave Teggart, UConn

P: Pat O'Donnell, Cincinnati

RS: Tavon Austin, West Virginia

Weekend Rewind: Big East

December, 5, 2011
Time to take a look at the week that was in the Big East:

[+] EnlargeWest Virginia
Kim Klement/US PresswireWest Virginia had plenty to celebrate after rallying to defeat South Florida last week.
The good: Defense ruled the day in all three games this past weekend. Four teams combined for five defensive scores. You can see more about that in my One Good Thing video later today. West Virginia is the new "cardiac team" of the Big East, after needing last-minute wins in its final three games of the season to get a share of the Big East championship and a BCS spot. The Mountaineers faced late deficits in all those games, and found a way to win. Against South Florida, it was Najee Goode with a forced fumble by B.J. Daniels that allowed Tyler Bitancurt to make the field goal to win the game 30-27. Running back Dustin Garrison had a 5-yard touchdown run for his sixth touchdown of the season -- but his first since the UConn game Oct. 8. Pat Miller had an interception return for a touchdown, the third defensive score of the season. The last time West Virginia got three defensive scores in a season was 2007. ... Cincinnati coach Butch Jones earned his third conference championship as a head coach (2007, 2009 Central Michigan) after the Bearcats claimed a share of the Big East. The Bearcats had two defensive scores, giving them six this season. That is the most since Cincinnati got seven defensive scores in 2002. Linebacker JK Schaffer has 103 tackles this season, becoming the fifth Cincinnati player to eclipse the 100-tackle plateau for three consecutive seasons. ... Pitt forced six turnovers against Syracuse, a season-high for the Panthers. The six turnovers are the most for Pitt since is recorded six against Ohio on Aug. 31, 2002 (five interceptions, one fumble recovery). Freshman running back Isaac Bennett got his first career start. The Panthers burned his redshirt once Ray Graham was lost for the season. ... Though Syracuse lost, Antwon Bailey went over 1,000 yards rushing this season, giving the Big East three 1,000 yard rushers (Isaiah Pead, Lyle McCombs).

The bad: The season could not have ended worse for USF and Syracuse. The Orange lost five straight to close out the year, and had six turnovers against the Panthers, essentially dooming their chances of making a second-straight bowl game. Syracuse played without defensive end Mikhail Marinovich, who sat out with an injury. That ended his team-best streak of 36 consecutive starts. The last time the rst-string defense took the eld without Marinovich was on Nov. 29, 2008 at Cincinnati. ... USF was able to get quarterback B.J. Daniels to start despite a bruised shoulder, but his late fumble against the Mountaineers proved costly. Daniels seemed hesitant to run all night and favored his shoulder, but he did have some good plays that sparked a Bulls rally in the second-half. But as has been the theme this season, the defense could not come up with a critical stop when it mattered most. Ryne Giddins was called for a personal foul penalty on what ended up being the game-winning drive. Had he not attempted to punch a player, USF would have gotten a stop on West Virginia. The Bulls ended their worst season since 2004. ... UConn moved to 0-5 in games at Cincinnati, though the Huskies gave it a valiant effort after trailing 28-6 at halftime. The Huskies had several wasted opportunities to score touchdowns inside the red zone, and close the season without winning consecutive games. UConn also was 0-3 on the road in Big East play, with losses to West Virginia, Pitt and the Bearcats. This is the first season the Huskies will not be in a bowl game since 2005.

Quick bowl look:

Belk Bowl, Dec. 27: Louisville vs. NC State. The Cardinals are the hottest team in the Big East, having finished the season 5-1, while the Wolfpack are probably one of the most inconsistent teams in the ACC. Louisville barely lost to UNC, which did lose to NC State. Cincinnati smacked the Wolfpack earlier this year, too.

New Era Pinstripe Bowl, Dec. 30: Rutgers vs. Iowa State. Fans might not be happy about not getting a vacation destination, but at least they get to stay close to home to see Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights have been good in bowl games -- 4-1 under Greg Schiano -- and get a team that has lost two straight since pulling one of the biggest upsets of the season.

AutoZone Liberty Bowl, Dec. 31: Cincinnati vs. Vanderbilt. The Bearcats lost to Tennessee this season, but this is a vastly different team than the one that dropped that game. Vanderbilt is absolutely much improved, but the Bearcats are going to be motivated to post another 10-win season.

Discover Orange Bowl, Jan. 4: No. 23 West Virginia vs. No. 15 Clemson. An offensive shootout is expected in this one between two of the more fun groups to watch. Love the matchup between Geno Smith and Tajh Boyd in this game. I still can't believe this is the first trip to the Orange Bowl for the Mountaineers.

BBVA Compass Bowl, Jan. 7: Pitt vs. SMU. How about the all-disappointment bowl in this one? The Panthers won a share of the Big East title last season and dropped to 6-6 under first-year coach Todd Graham. SMU won the West Division in C-USA last season, but finished 7-5, with losses in four of its final six games.

AutoZone Liberty Bowl

December, 4, 2011
Cincinnati Bearcats (9-3) vs. Vanderbilt Commodores (6-6)

Dec. 31, 3:30 p.m. ET (ABC)

Cincinnati take from Big East blogger Andrea Adelson: Most everyone expected the Bearcats to be better this season, with veteran players returning at key positions on offense and defense. But just how much better was the big question. Cincinnati answered that early, jumping out to a 7-1 start to the season behind vastly improved play from its much-maligned defense. Then the season turned.

Quarterback Zach Collaros broke his ankle early against West Virginia and was lost for the regular season. All of a sudden, a team that controlled the Big East was no longer in control at all. The Bearcats lost to the Mountaineers and dropped one to Rutgers the following week, dealing them what would be a death blow to their BCS chances. What perhaps hurts most was this team had a lead on West Virginia in the fourth quarter and could not hold on for the win.

But the Bearcats can still call themselves Big East champions for the third time in four seasons, so that should help take the sting away. Running back Isaiah Pead had another terrific season, becoming the first Cincinnati back in 25 seasons to post back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons. The defensive front played outstanding all season, stuffing the run and getting great pressure on the quarterback with 44 sacks and 106.5 tackles for loss. Defensive tackle Derek Wolfe was a load to handle inside, and linebacker JK Schaffer had 100 tackles for the third straight season.

This was also a team that made a complete turnaround when it came to turnover margin. Last year, the Bearcats were last in the Big East at minus-15 in this category. This year, they led the Big East at plus-11. The good news for Cincinnati is that Collaros is expected back for the bowl game, but he might remind everyone what could have been for the Bearcats this season.

Vanderbilt take from SEC blogger Chris Low: James Franklin vowed when he took the Vanderbilt job that he was unconcerned about what had or hadn’t happened in the past there.

Never mind that the Commodores had been the rest of the SEC’s punching bag. Franklin saw to it that they punched back, and they’re headed to a bowl game for only the fifth time in school history.

Vanderbilt earned that trip by going to Winston-Salem, N.C., on the final weekend of the regular season and routing Wake Forest 41-7 for its sixth win of the season.

The Commodores were agonizingly close to being an eight- or even a nine-win football team. They lost in overtime at Tennessee and lost three more close games to Arkansas, Florida and Georgia by a combined 13 points.

Vanderbilt leaned on its veteran defense early in the season. The Commodores intercepted 17 passes, which is tied for second in the SEC.

But where they made the most improvement was on offense, especially after Jordan Rodgers took over at quarterback in Week 7. He had plenty of help, too. Junior running back Zac Stacy set a school record with 1,136 rushing yards. The offensive line made major strides, and sophomore receiver Jordan Matthews became one of the SEC’s premier big-play threats in the passing game.
The regular season is a wrap, folks. So what did we learn in Week 14?

[+] EnlargeDustin Garrison
AP Photo/Chris O'MearaDustin Garrison and West Virginia are likely bound for a BCS bowl game after beating USF.
1. West Virginia is almost certainly in the BCS. West Virginia rallied to beat USF 30-27 and Cincinnati beat UConn 35-27 to force a three-way tie atop the Big East standings. The Bearcats, Louisville and Mountaineers can all call themselves champions, but it is West Virginia that most likely claims the BCS bid. Barring any unforeseen circumstances, No. 23 West Virginia will finish as the highest-ranked Big East team in the final BCS standings when they are unveiled Sunday night. Nobody believed Louisville and Cincinnati would finish as champions, but West Virginia was the preseason choice to win the league so you can say the Mountaineers met expectations. They may have not done it in dominating fashion -- they needed comeback wins in their final three games -- but good teams find a way to win the close matches. Just ask USF. Now the Big East is faced with quite the awkward situation. It is embroiled in a lawsuit with its BCS rep.

2. Cincinnati roared. When the game kicked off between Cincinnati and UConn, the Bearcats knew they were on the outside looking in when it came to a BCS spot. Some wondered whether that would affect their performance. Cincinnati vowed it was all about the ring, and indeed the defense came out with an inspired showing -- two defensive scores, six sacks, 13 tackles for loss and three quarterback hurries. Walter Stewart had one of the highlight plays of the year when he stripped Johnny McEntee in the end zone. J.K. Schaffer had 11 tackles and finished with more than 100 for the third straight season. Derek Wolfe had 10 tackles, five for loss. John Hughes had nine tackles, four for loss. The Huskies made a game of it late, but the overall performance on defense was pretty stellar.

3. Pitt salvages season. No way did anybody in Pittsburgh, let alone coach Todd Graham, think that the Panthers would go 6-6 this season. He came into the job boasting of lofty goals with his spread, no-huddle offense. But reality hit early, when it became apparent that he simply did not have the personnel to run the offense the way it should be run. Still, becoming bowl eligible after a 33-20 win over Syracuse has to take some of the sting off a season that fell short of expectations. The offense wasn't exactly a well-oiled machine against the Orange -- six Syracuse turnovers essentially saved the day. Graham will gladly take the extra practice time that comes with bowl preparation, and another opportunity to send the senior class out the right way.

4. USF, Syracuse, UConn staying home. All three of these teams made bowl games last season -- UConn was in the BCS -- but all three fell short this year. Each finished 5-7, for a variety of reasons. USF and Syracuse ended the season on major losing skids. The Bulls opened 4-0 and dropped six of their final seven. Syracuse opened 5-2 and lost five straight after failing to generate much offense. UConn was never able to win consecutive games, gave up too many big plays in the passing game, and could never quite get its quarterback situation figured out. Syracuse finished 1-6 in Big East play for the fifth time in six years.

5. Bulls disappoint. Preseason expectations were highest for USF, so its collapse probably is the most disappointing in the league. The Bulls end with their first losing season since 2004, when they went 4-7, the year before they joined the Big East. Four of its losses came on the final play of the game. Five of them featured blown second-half leads. That includes its loss to West Virginia. Just when it appeared USF might work its magic on West Virginia in Tampa yet again, it killed itself with turnovers and penalties. The final five minutes were a microcosm of the season. B.J. Daniels fumbles deep in West Virginia territory. The ensuing Mountaineers drive is aided by a personal foul penalty on USF. As West Virginia lines up for the field goal, USF gets flagged again, making it a chip shot for Tyler Bitancurt. Bulls fans want Skip Holtz on the hot seat, but he's not going anywhere just yet.
For a team that went 4-8 last season, all that really matters to Cincinnati is winning a championship.

Cincinnati is focused on that more than any bowl destination. The Bearcats (8-3, 4-2) have to beat UConn (5-6, 3-3) to pick up a share of the Big East title, their third in four seasons.

"The only thing that matters to us right now is getting that ring," linebacker JK Schaffer said in a phone interview. "We understand this week is all about a championship. For the senior class, we can win this championship and not play in any bowl game at all and we'll be just as proud. The bowl game is like a bonus to us. We want to win a championship. You look around our locker room, you look around our team room, it doesn't say Orange Bowl everywhere. It says Big East championship everywhere."

[+] EnlargeCincinnati's Isaiah Pead
Richard Mackson/US PRESSWIREA bowl win over an SEC foe helped Isaiah Pead and Cincinnati silence some critics of the Big East.
West Virginia beat USF on Thursday night, essentially eliminating Cincinnati from BCS contention. But when you consider the adversity this team has faced over the past two seasons, you believe it when the players say they are only focused on the championship. Last year, they struggled under first-year coach Butch Jones as he completely revamped the program and style of play. Players really bought in this season, and have undergone a physical transformation. This is a team that wants to overpower you, and has done that for the most part.

Cincinnati jumped out to a 7-1 start and was in control of its destiny. But after quarterback Zach Collaros broke his ankle against West Virginia, the Big East race suddenly opened up. Cincinnati dropped two games in a row and was in danger of falling out of contention for a league title.

The Bearcats rebounded with a win over Syracuse last week that featured a heavy dose of running back Isaiah Pead and some huge runs from backup quarterback Jordan Luallen. Now they are back where they expected to be -- they just have to finish.

"We've been through a lot, we've fought through a lot," Schaffer said. "Our confidence level is at an all-time high and we're just ready to get out there and play. We've had a good week of practice, and everyone knows it's going to take a full out effort on offense, defense and special teams to win this championship."

The Huskies, meanwhile, have to win in order to become bowl eligible. They hit the road for the first time since the end of October. This team has been much different in league play away from home. UConn is 0-2, and lost its games to West Virginia and Pitt by a combined 78-36.

These teams have similar strengths this season. Both have gotten great play up front -- UConn ranks No. 3 in the nation in rushing defense; the Bearcats rank 10th nationally in rushing defense (100.6 ypg) and lead the nation in tackles for loss (8.5 per game).

Both are playing two quarterbacks, and both are strong in the run game with the Huskies' Lyle McCombs and the Bearcats' Pead, the top two rushers in the Big East. That's especially important for Cincinnati without Collaros behind center.

There is no doubt both teams have motivation to win. Cincinnati is trying to supplant UConn as Big East champs.

"Everyone wants to show that we're still in it and that we're still good," UConn defensive end Trevardo Williams said. "We don't want to be doubted. We want everyone to believe in us and this is an opportunity for us to show that."

Big East awards tracker

November, 30, 2011
With one week left in the regular season, my choices for Big East players and coach of the year have become clear. Here is my pitch for the award winners. The Big East will make its announcement next week.

Offensive Player of the Year: Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia. Smith has shattered single-season school records for completions (291), attempts (448) and yards (3,741). He needs 283 yards to tie the Big East single-season passing record of 4,024 yards, set by Louisville’s Brian Brohm in 2007. The offense may not be a work of perfection right now, but there is no denying he has been solid running the new offense under Dana Holgorsen. Not only does he lead the Big East in passing, he ranks No. 8 in the nation in that category. He has thrown at least one completion that has gone over 40 yards in nine of 11 games this season, and has been hands down the best offensive player in the league. Runner-up: Mohamed Sanu, WR, Rutgers.

Defensive Player of the Year: Khaseem Greene, LB, Rutgers. Greene turned in the most solid performance of all defenders this season, making a huge impact in just about every game he played. When he started the year, Greene was a big unknown because he switched to linebacker from safety. But his exceptional speed allowed him to succeed in the middle of the revamped Rutgers defense. Greene leads the Big East with 127 tackles, to rank No. 9 in the nation. He had double-digit tackles in seven games this season, including a career-high 17 in a win over USF. Greene closed the season with double-digit tackles in three of his final four games. He also contributed two forced fumbles and three sacks as well. Runner-up: JK Schaffer, LB, Cincinnati.

Freshman of the Year: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville. One of the big questions surrounding Bridgewater was whether he would be able to live up to the hype he had coming in as a four-star recruit out of Miami. After watching him lead the Cardinals to a come-from-behind win over Kentucky, most everyone could see he would develop into something special. Bridgewater took over the starting role after that game and has been solid all season. He broke the school record for passing yards by a freshman with 1,855 yards, and finished the year with 12 touchdowns to nine interceptions. Runner-up: Lyle McCombs, RB, UConn.

Coach of the Year: Charlie Strong, Louisville, OR Butch Jones, Cincinnati. This is a close one for me between Strong and Jones. Both have engineered remarkable turnaround seasons for their teams. Cincinnati went 4-8 last season and is one the verge of winning a share of the Big East title. Louisville started the season 2-4 and finished up on a 5-1 run that got the Cardinals at least a share of the Big East title. I have to wait for my final vote on this one until the games play out Saturday. Both are deserving of the award.

What to watch in the Big East: Week 13

November, 23, 2011
Here are the top story lines to watch in the Big East headed into Week 13:

1. BCS berth on the line. It is conceivable for the Big East to find out its BCS representative after this weekend. Rutgers can clinch if it beats UConn, and Louisville and West Virginia lose; Louisville can clinch if it beats USF, and Pitt and Cincinnati lose. As has been widely discussed, five teams have hopes of getting into a BCS game. Four of them have a chance to win out -- West Virginia and Pitt play each other Friday night, and one will most likely be eliminated from contention. Unless, of course, everybody loses and there ends up being a six-way tie for first. Yes. That is possible.

[+] EnlargeWest Virginia defense
Charles LeClaire/USPRESSWIREWith Pitt and West Virginia changing conferences, the future of the Backyard Brawl is uncertain.
2. Final Backyard Brawl? Much has been made about the potential for this to be the final Backyard Brawl. Pitt will be leaving the Big East for the ACC; West Virginia will be leaving for the Big 12. This is a series that began in 1895, and the two teams have played every year since 1943. This has developed into one of the most heated rivalries in the nation, and game that generally has major implications and plenty on the line. So let's hope the two schools and figure out a way to keep this game alive as a nonconference matchup every year.

3. Dana Holgorsen vs. Todd Graham. The two coaches exchanged all the necessary pleasantries this week when they were asked about their turbulent past, when Graham was at Tulsa and Holgorsen was at Houston and Oklahoma State. Both said everything is fine between them; they respect each other; they are great coaches. But the drama between them in the past certainly adds a juicy subplot to an already heated rivalry game. Hopefully nobody tries to pull the ol' Jim Harbaugh back slap when the game ends.

4. Will B.J. Daniels play? Daniels bruised his shoulder in a loss to Miami last week, and now a backup quarterback could determine what happens to the Big East. Coach Skip Holtz is preparing Bobby Eveld to start against Louisville on Friday morning. Remember, the Cardinals win a share of the Big East title if they beat the Bulls. You can bet the Cardinals would welcome facing the backup quarterback with their conference title hopes on the line.

5. Tampa voodoo. It's no secret that Louisville has had a difficult time winning in Tampa. Louisville is 0-4 in Tampa, and has lost by an average margin of 21 points. In fact, Raymond James Stadium is the only road venue in which the Cardinals are winless. Coach Charlie Strong has addressed this fact with his team, but he has to work doubly hard this week to keep his team focused on the Bulls and not a potential BCS berth.

6. Munchie redux. It's no secret that Cincinnati quarterback Munchie Legaux struggled in his first start last week against Rutgers, as the Bearcats tallied their fewest yards since 2005. Coach Butch Jones said he was going into the game against Syracuse on Saturday with Legaux as his starter, but opened up the competition during the week in order to help push Legaux. Backup Jordan Luallen might see game action. This is the third straight season Cincinnati will face Syracuse with its backup quarterback.

7. Syracuse after the bye. The Orange have lost three straight, and are hoping their bye week has given them a chance to fix what has gone wrong. They have been unable to run. Ryan Nassib has not been nearly as accurate, and the offensive line has not blocked particularly well. Syracuse has not won a game since Oct. 21. Back then, Louisville was 3-4 and Syracuse was 5-2. My how fortunes have changed. The Orange are fighting for bowl eligibility; the Cardinals are fighting for a BCS berth.

8. Rutgers goes for first title. The Scarlet Knights have a shot at clinching a share of their first Big East title, and becoming the first team in league history to go from worst to first. The only other time Rutgers played its final regular-season game with Big East implications was in 2006. The Scarlet Knights ended the 2006 regular season with a 41-39 triple overtime loss at No. 15 West Virginia as they finished the season 5-2 in the league and tied for second.

9. UConn bowl hopes. The Huskies need to win out in order to become bowl eligible, a year removed from representing the conference in the BCS. The past three games against Rutgers have been close, and the Scarlet Knights have won them all. In fact, seven of the past nine meetings have been decided by a touchdown or less. This is the final home game of the season for the Huskies, and the question is how are they going to slow down a suddenly powerful Jawan Jamison and super receiver Mohamed Sanu?

10. Next to 100 tackles? Rutgers linebacker Khaseem Greene is the only Big East defender with more than 100 tackles -- a total of 114 through 11 games. Max Gruder of Pitt has 90 and JK Schaffer of Cincinnati has 89 as the two try to reach the 100-tackle mark this weekend. If Schaffer gets 11 tackles, he would have 100 for the third straight season. That would make him the fourth player in Big East history to accomplish that feat.

Weekend Rewind: Big East

November, 21, 2011
Let's take one look back at the Big East in Week 12 and a quick lookahead to the games in Week 13.

[+] EnlargeJawan Jamison
Jim O'Connor/US PresswireThe Bearcats had trouble containing Rutgers running back Jawan Jamison in Saturday's game.
The good: Rutgers snapped a five-game losing streak to Cincinnati and is now in position to earn a share of its first Big East title. The Scarlet Knights did everything right -- as Jawan Jamison notched a career-high 200 yards rushing and Rutgers limited Cincinnati to 67 yards rushing. Rutgers held Cincinnati to 225 yards of total offense. The Scarlet Knights are 39-4 (.907) under coach Greg Schiano when holding an opponent under 300 yards of total offense. They are also 28-7 when rushing for 150 yards or more in a game, since 2006. Mohamed Sanu had a relatively quiet day with six catches, but he now has 100 on the season. ... Louisville rebounded from an uninspired loss to Pitt last week with a win over UConn. The Cardinals (6-5, 4-2) have their most wins in Big East play since 2006, when they went 6-1. Adrian Bushell made his return to the field after serving a one-game suspension with a huge play, returning the opening kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown. He was the fourth player in school history to return a kickoff 100 yards for a score, and the first since Trent Guy did it against Kentucky in 2007. The Cardinals had success on the ground again, rushing for 126 yards against the No. 6 run defense in the country. Dexter Heyman had a monster day, with 3.5 tackles for loss. ... Though Cincinnati lost, linebacker JK Schaffer had a huge game, with 13 tackles, including three for loss and 1.5 sacks. He now has over 300 career tackles, the most of any active Big East player.

The bad: What more can be said for the way Cincinnati played on offense in a 20-3 loss to Rutgers. Everybody knew it was going to be difficult for backup Munchie Legaux to step in for Zach Collaros at quarterback, but did anybody envision it would be as bad as it looked? Cincinnati was held to a season-low 225 yards of offense -- its lowest total since gaining 146 against Rutgers in 2005. Legaux only completed 12 passes with an interception. Not only did he have several passes batted down at the line of scrimmage, his receivers dropped many catchable balls as well. The Bearcats' inability to throw was a huge reason why they could not get anything going on offense. Rutgers was locked in on stopping the run, and worked its game plan perfectly. ... How many heartbreaking losses can one team take? USF dropped yet another game by three points, losing to Miami 6-3 when Jake Wieclaw made a 36-yard field goal as time expired. USF lost in overtime to Rutgers when San San Te made a field goal and Maikon Bonani missed his short attempt at the end of regulation. The Bulls also lost to Cincinnati when the Bearcats rallied to win in the fourth quarter. It was a tough loss to take when you consider how good the defense played all game. USF had six sacks, the second-highest total in school history, and allowed the fewest points all season. In fact, it was the lowest scoring game in school history. But when it came down to crunch time, Miami was able to drive into field-goal range and USF simply could not get a stop when it was needed. Miami converted three third downs on that final drive, which went 15 plays. ... UConn running back Lyle McCombs had a season-low 33 yards rushing but went over 1,000 yards on the season in a loss to Louisville. The Huskies were totally stymied on the ground, a big reason why they only had the ball for 21 minutes against Louisville. What hurt even more -- dropped passes. UConn had nine of them, including two that very well could have been touchdowns. Poor tackling was also a problem, and coach Paul Pasqualoni described his team's overall effort as "puzzling." Now UConn has to win out just to become bowl eligible.

Week 13 schedule


Louisville at USF, 11 a.m., ESPN2

Pitt at West Virginia, 7 p.m., ESPN


Cincinnati at Syracuse, noon, Big East Network

Rutgers at UConn, noon, ESPN2

Big East superlative tracker

November, 16, 2011
Let's take a look at the top candidates for offensive and defensive player of the year and coach of the year in the Big East.

Offensive Player of the Year

1. Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia. Smith is on pace to break the Big East single-season records for passing yards, completions, attempts, and touchdown to interception ratio. Smith threw for 372 yards and a touchdown in a win over Cincinnati, and has seven games where he has thrown for 300 yards or more. There are still areas where coach Dana Holgorsen wants to see improvement. West Virginia has not been able to finish its drives on a consistent basis of late. Smith might be a product of the Holgorsen system, but there is no denying he has had one of the best seasons in the Big East.

2. Mohamed Sanu, WR, Rutgers. Sanu has also had one of the most impressive seasons in the league this year, setting the new single-season record for receptions with 94. He should easily surpass 100 receptions with two games left to go. Sanu leads the Big East and is second in the nation in receptions per game (9.4) and is second in the league in receiving yards per game (97.3). He needs 18 yards Saturday against Cincinnati to go over 1,000 on the season.

3. Isaiah Pead, RB, Cincinnati. Pead is probably a long shot, unless he puts the Bearcats on his back in these final three games and does all he can to win a championship. Even if he doesn't, Pead has had a great season, scoring a league-high 10 rushing touchdowns and averaging 103.8 yards a game. He needs 73 yards against Rutgers to go over 1,000 on the season.

Defensive Player of the Year

1. Khaseem Greene, LB, Rutgers. It feels as if Greene has taken command of the race here after another double-digit tackle performance against Army. Greene leads the league with 105 total tackles, and 53 solo tackles. His move to linebacker really has paid off.

2. JK Schaffer, LB, Derek Wolfe, DT, Cincinnati. Schaffer is having another nice season, with 76 tackles, but Wolfe might be even better. One of the biggest reasons the Bearcats are better this year is because they are better up front. A big reason why is Wolfe, who is second in the league with seven sacks and leads the Big East with 14.5 tackles for loss. Wolfe had a terrific game against West Virginia and might be ahead of Schaffer at this point.

Coach of the Year

1. Butch Jones, Cincinnati. The final three weeks of the season will be a big test for Jones, who must win out with a backup quarterback.

2. (Coach of Future Big East champion). If Louisville, Rutgers or West Virginia win the Big East title, I could see Charlie Strong, Greg Schiano or Dana Holgorsen winning coach of the year.