NCF Nation: Lawrence Wilson

Scouts Inc. has come up with comprehensive draft boards for every position as we draw ever closer to the 2011 NFL draft (and, hopefully, a 2011 NFL season).

Let's start on the offensive side of the ball and take a look at where some Big East hopefuls are ranked. First, the skill positions:
Now, the offensive linemen/tight ends:
Now let's move to the defensive side and see where Scouts Inc. rates some Big East defenders:
  • Doug Hogue, LB, Syracuse: sixth round

These projections aren't gospel by any means, but they should give you a pretty good idea of how Big East hopefuls are being viewed right now.
On Monday, I looked at the results posted by Big East offensive linemen, running backs, receivers, tight ends and preliminary numbers for the linebackers. Let's check in now on some more updates by top performers for the defensive guys from the league (performance ranks are listed by position).

Defensive line

Pittsburgh's Jabaal Sheard had the fifth-fastest 40-yard dash time at 4.69 seconds. He was 12th in the broad jump.

Linebackers

Scott Lutrus put up strong numbers, finishing first in vertical leap (38 inches) second in the 60-yard shuttle, third in the three-cone drill, fourth in the 20-yard shuttle, tied for fifth in the broad jump and tied for seventh in the 40 at 4.68 seconds. Here's what our Scouts Inc. team wrote about Lutrus's performance:
"Lutrus (6-2˝, 241) far exceeded expectations based on what we've seen on film. ... We now have to go back to the tape to see if we missed something during our initial evaluation and figure why his explosiveness and lateral quickness are so much better at this point."

Syracuse's Doug Hogue was fifth in the 40 at 4.63 seconds. He tied for fifth in the broad jump, tied for sixth in vertical leap and was 12th in the three-cone drill.

West Virginia's J.T. Thomas tied for seventh in the 40, tied for 10th in the 20-yard shuttle, and tied for 13th in the 60-yard drill.

Connecticut's Greg Lloyd tied for 14th in the three-cone drill.

UConn's Lawrence Wilson tied for 13th in both the vertical leap and 40-yard dash. Would you have guessed Lutrus would beat teammate Wilson in the 40?

Safeties

West Virginia's Robert Sands showed off his array of skills. He tied for second with a 35-inch vertical leap and had the best broad jump at 10 feet, four inches. His 40 time of 4.57 seconds was third.

Cornerbacks

Rutgers' Joe Lefeged, a safety in college who was listed with the cornerbacks at the combine, tied for the fifth-best 40 time at 4.43 seconds. He also tied for 11th in the vertical leap and 14th in the broad jump.

West Virginia's Brandon Hogan tied for 10th on the bench press with 19 reps at 225 pounds.
The Big East won't have a heavy presence at next week's Under Armour Senior Bowl, but some of the top seniors from the league in 2010 will be participating.

The game announced the invitees from the league Thursday afternoon, adding six alongside the previously announced inclusion of Noel Devine. Here is the list of invitees:

Connecticut: Lawrence Wilson, LB

Louisville: Johnny Patrick, DB; Bilal Powell, RB

Pittsburgh: Jason Pinkston, OL

Rutgers: Joe Lefeged, DB

West Virginia: Noel Devine, RB; Chris Neild, DL

Also, Rutgers announced on Thursday that defensive end Jonathan Freeny and linebacker Antonio Lowery will play in the inaugural Eastham Energy College All-Star Game this Sunday. West Virginia safety Sidney Glover, South Florida receiver Dontavia Bogan and center Sampson Genus, and Louisville defensive end Rodney Gnat are also listed on the rosters for that game. It will be held at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Ariz.
Here is the list of players from the Big East who will be participating in the East-West Shrine Game, a showcase for seniors and NFL hopefuls:
  • Doug Hogue, LB, Syracuse
  • Greg Lloyd, LB, Connecticut
  • Lawrence Wilson, LB, Connecticut
  • Ryan Bartholomew, OL, Syracuse
  • Scott Lutrus, LB, Connecticut
  • Terrell McClain, DT, South Florida
  • Zach Hurd, OL, Connecticut

The 86th annual game will be held Jan. 22 in Orlando.

ESPN.com's All-Big East team

December, 8, 2010
12/08/10
10:30
AM ET
Welcome to the ESPN.com 2010 All-Big East team. Unlike the official league team, we don't do ties here. One man, one spot.

I compiled the following list after watching each team the entire season and through consultation this week with some coaches throughout the league. Later on today, I'll offer up some thoughts on the selections, explaining my picks and the toughest omissions.

Here is the team:

Offense

QB: Geno Smith, West Virginia
RB: Jordan Todman, Connecticut
RB: Bilal Powell, Louisville
WR: Armon Binns, Cincinnati
WR: Jon Baldwin, Pittsburgh
TE: Cameron Graham, Louisville
OT: Jason Pinkston, Pittsburgh
OG: Zach Hurd, Connecticut
C: Sampson Genus, South Florida
OG: Mark Wetterer, Louisville
OT: Byron Stingily, Louisville

Defense

DE: Jabaal Sheard, Pittsburgh
DT: Chris Neild, West Virginia
DT: Terrell McClain, South Florida
DE: Julian Miller, West Virginia
LB: Lawrence Wilson, Connecticut
LB: Derrell Smith, Syracuse
LB: J.T. Thomas, West Virginia
CB: Brandon Hogan, West Virginia
CB: Johnny Patrick, Louisville
S: Robert Sands, West Virginia
S: Sidney Glover, West Virginia

Specialists

K: Dave Teggart, Connecticut
P: Dan Hutchins, Pittsburgh
KR: Lindsey Lamar, South Florida
PR: Doug Beaumont, Louisville
TAMPA, Fla. -- Lawrence Wilson grew up in Tuscaloosa, Ala. He went to Paul Bryant High School, for crying out loud. Yet Wilson couldn't get as much as a head nod from any SEC schools.

Now he's a fifth-year senior linebacker for Connecticut, and maybe the perfect poster boy for these underdog, under-loved Huskies.

[+] EnlargeUConn's Lawrence Wilson
Cliff Welch/Icon SMI Lawrence Wilson returned an interception 55 yards for the Huskies' only touchdown of the game.
Wilson's 55-yard first-half interception return was the only touchdown for UConn on Saturday night, but his team somehow found a way to beat South Florida 19-16 and clinch its first-ever BCS berth.

"Payback is what I call it," Wilson said. "For overlooking me. Now we're going to the BCS. I can't believe it."

Neither, probably, can the rest of the country, or even the rest of the Big East. The Huskies are in just their ninth year of playing at the FBS level and their seventh in a automatic bid conference. What's more, they started this year 3-4 overall and 0-2 in league play before improbably winning their final five games. At 8-4 and never having once been ranked this season, UConn is shockingly BCS-bound.

It is also bound for a month's worth of knocks from critics. None of it will leave a mark.

"People have already said a lot of things about us," quarterback Zach Frazer said. "That's fine. We know we deserve to be here."

Saturday's game showed why a lot of people doubt the Huskies' ability to compete in a BCS bowl.

They managed only 232 total yards against South Florida, which came in with a simple yet effective plan: Stop the UConn running game. Everybody has tried that this year, but most failed. The Bulls overloaded the box all night and practically begged Frazer to beat them over the top.

Yet even with the numbers stacked against the run, star tailback Jordan Todman pounded it 33 times into the crowd. He gained only 93 yards, just the second time this season he has been held under 100 in a game. The longest Connecticut run of the night went for nine yards.

Running it in a phone booth still is usually a more preferable option than throwing it. Frazer, never an accurate passer, completed less than half his attempts (13-of-29) for a paltry 112 yards, the fourth straight game the Huskies have been held under 125 yards passing. You can already envision the headaches an athletic defense like Oklahoma or Virginia Tech will cause with a month to prepare against such a one-dimensional attack.

But Saturday's game also illustrated UConn's strengths: its resiliency and resourcefulness.

The defense came up with a crucial stand after South Florida drove to the 5-yard line in the final two minutes with three chances to take the lead. Frazer completed two key passes after USF's tying field goal to get within kicker Dave Teggart's range.

Special teams proved to be enormous all night. Teggart drilled the 52-yard game-winner with 17 seconds left after making a 50-yarder earlier in the half. Punter Cole Wagner was an unsung hero, averaging 53 yards on six punts in a game of field position. And returner Robbie Frey kept setting up the Huskies in good spots; he got the winning drive started on the UConn 40.

"Football is not about style points; it's about winning and losing," head coach Randy Edsall said. "This is who we are."

Is that identity good enough to merit a BCS game? You bet, Edsall says.

"The bottom line is we won the game and nobody can take anything away from us," he said. "We played by the rules and we won the Big East, so we get the BCS. That's what the rules are, and we're going."

Few would have thought that possible on Oct. 23. The Huskies got blasted 26-0 at Louisville that afternoon, just days after Edsall dismissed starting quarterback Cody Endres for failing a second drug test. Connecticut had lost to Rutgers the week before and was blown out by Michigan and Temple earlier in the year. The season hung in the balance.

"You could see it on everyone's faces -- we were like, 'Where are we going to go and what's going to happen?'" Frazer said. "We could have easily gone down the tank and gone home for Christmas."

But this is a team that learned to battle back from adversity last year, when teammate Jasper Howard was murdered after a midseason game. Following some heartbreaking losses, the players regrouped to win their four games. Edsall is hoping that the Orange Bowl takes the Huskies because Howard, who would have been a senior this year, called Miami home.

Reps in loud blazers from both the Fiesta and Orange bowls checked out the delirious UConn locker room, and perhaps they argued over who should get stuck with the Huskies. This a team that nobody wanted in a BCS game, full of players hardly any big schools wanted, with a style of play nobody wants to watch.

Like it or not, though, the Huskies are going to the BCS. And nobody can overlook them any more.

"We worked for it and we earned it," Wilson said. "We had a hard path, but we proved we're a great team."

video

Video: UConn's Lawrence Wilson

December, 5, 2010
12/05/10
12:20
AM ET


Brian Bennett talks with UConn LB Lawrence Wilson about beating USF and going to the BCS.

Halftime: UConn 10, South Florida 3

December, 4, 2010
12/04/10
9:34
PM ET
TAMPA, Fla. -- Quick halftime analysis from Raymond James Stadium, where Connecticut leads South Florida 10-3.

Turning point: No doubt about this one. UConn linebacker Lawrence Wilson grabbed a pass tipped by lineman Trevardo Williams and returned it 55 yards for a touchdown and the lead with 1:11 left. The interception happened on the first play after Jon Lejiste picked off Zach Frazer inside the USF 10 and returned it to midfield. The crowd was stunned into silence at the unbelievable turnaround.

Stat of the half: UConn has 124 total yards while USF has 131, and each is averaging right at 4 yards per play. That's how close it is. This has been a defensive battle, and the Huskies have come up with the huge defensive play for a score.

What South Florida needs to do: The Bulls' defensive strategy has been pretty clear. They're loading the box to stop the running game, and doing a reasonably effective job at it. Jordan Todman has 50 yards on 16 carries at the half, a down game for him. USF is playing single coverage against the UConn wide receivers and daring Frazer to beat it. That has worked and should continue to work. But the Bulls need to find a way to move the ball with true freshman walk-on quarterback Bobby Eveld, who has already thrown two interceptions. It may take a big special teams or defensive play for South Florida to win this game.

What Connecticut needs to do: The Huskies are just 30 minutes away from a BCS bid. They need to hold on and not succumb to the pressure of the moment. Frazer must hit a couple of long throws to loosen up the defense, but he can't make mistakes like he did on the Lejiste interception late in the half. The defense is playing great, and the Bulls don't look capable of scoring much against it. If they stick with what got them to this point, UConn will be going to a BCS game.

Week 13 review/Week 14 preview

November, 29, 2010
11/29/10
2:00
PM ET
Only one more week to go in the regular season. I'm not crying, it's just been raining. On my face.

Let's look back at the penultimate week in the Big East.

Team of the week: South Florida. West Virginia and UConn scored key conference wins. But the Bulls planted a flag in their state and gave Skip Holtz a signature victory with the overtime upset at Miami. That's one that should propel South Florida in recruiting and help continue to build the school's brand.

[+] EnlargeUSF
Steve Mitchell/US PresswireSouth Florida players celebrate their 23-20 overtime win over Miami.
Best game: You know I'm a sucker for overtime games, so it's got to be South Florida's 23-20 win in extra time over those Hurricanes, even it was offensively-challenged most of the time. You know who else loves working overtime? The Bulls, who are a remarkable 9-0 in overtime, including 2-0 this year. If you can't beat them in regulation, might as well forfeit.

Biggest play: West Virginia led 14-7 as the third quarter began at Heinz Field. Three plays from scrimmage later, the Mountaineers were up 21-7 when Geno Smith hit Tavon Austin with a 71-yard touchdown pass. All hope seemed to evaporate out of the Pitt players' bodies at that point, and the Backyard Brawl was effectively over.

Best call: This call came not from a coach, but a player. Jordan Todman was supposed to throw the ball late in the first half with Connecticut near the Cincinnati goal line. But after Todman took the handoff, he saw that that his receiver was bottled up. So he stopped and cut to the outside, knowing that if he didn't make the end zone, valuable seconds would tick off. He scooted in and gave the Huskies a 24-10 halftime lead which they would never relinquish.

Big Man on Campus (Offense): Todman. Not even two injured arms can stop this guy. He rushed for 175 yards and three scores on 31 carries despite missing most of the second quarter with an injured right arm.

Big Man on Campus (Defense): Brandon Hogan, CB, West Virginia. Hogan's interception and 53-yard return to the Pittsburgh 2 on the game's first play set the tone for the Backyard Brawl. He also had a forced fumble and recovery, and he kept Jon Baldwin from shaking free for big plays most of the afternoon.

Big Man on Campus (Special teams): Justin Brockhaus-Kahn, P, South Florida. In a game where field position became crucial, the Bulls' punter wore out his leg with 10 punts for an average of 41 yards per attempt. His kicking, and the Bulls' excellent work on coverage, limited Miami's explosive return game.

Worst hangover: Pittsburgh. Losing to West Virginia is one thing. Getting embarrassed by your rival by 25 points on your home field is quite another. The Panthers are just 6-5 in what was supposed to be a special season, and the Big East was there for the taking like never before. Dave Wannstedt's popularity with his fan base might have reached its lowest point.

Strangest moment: Cincinnati had a chance to tie the score at 17 late in the first half, but Zach Collaros was picked off inside the UConn 10-yard line by defensive tackle Kendall Reyes. That gave us the always-amusing sight of a big man (Reyes goes 6-foot-4, 298 pounds) rumbling the other way, and Reyes looked surprisingly spry while going 84 yards for the apparent touchdown.

Ah, but he did not get the carrot. Linebacker Lawrence Wilson was called for a block in the back near the end of the run even though it would have been hard for anyone to stop the runaway train that was Reyes with even the most minor interference from blocking teammates. "Me and Bama [Wilson] discussed it," Reyes told the Connecticut Post with a smile after the game. "We'll handle it."

Now, for the last time in 2010 (I'm not crying; my eyes are just a little sweaty today), let's preview the regular-season week ahead (Games listed in descending order of interest/importance):

Connecticut (7-4, 4-2 Big East) at South Florida (7-4, 3-3): As close as the Big East gets this year to a league championship game. Huskies win and they're in the BCS. But the Bulls are hot and would love to play spoilers. (ESPN2, 8 p.m. ET).

Rutgers (4-7, 1-5) at No. 24 West Virginia (8-3, 4-2): The Mountaineers have to hold serve to even have a chance if UConn stumbles. That shouldn't be too difficult the way the Scarlet Knights are gasping toward the finish line. (ABC, Noon ET).

Pittsburgh (6-5, 4-2) at Cincinnati (4-7, 2-4): Pitt has to hope that West Virginia and UConn lose and it can pull off the biggest back-into-the-BCS job of all-time. The Bearcats are just playing out the string. (ESPN, Noon ET).

Big East awards race update: Week 13

November, 23, 2010
11/23/10
10:00
AM ET
Only two regular-season games left -- or one, for Louisville and Syracuse -- for players to make to their cases for some individual hardware.

Player of the year race: Offense

1. Jordan Todman, RB, Connecticut: Todman all but engraved his name on the trophy with a 130-yard, two-touchdown day against Syracuse on Saturday. He went over 1,300 yards for the season with two games left.

2. Armon Binns, WR, Cincinnati: Binns solidified his stake as the best receiver in the Big East, at least production-wise, with a six-catch, 139-yard performance against Rutgers. He needs 35 more yards to reach 1,000 for the season.

3. Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia: Smith didn't do a whole lot in the Louisville game, completing just 9 of 20 passes, but he continues to be the most important player on the Mountaineers' offense.

4. Bilal Powell, RB, Louisville: Powell has been quiet most of the past few games because of injury, and on Saturday he barely made a dent in the stat sheet while dealing with an illness and the sick West Virginia defense.

5. Zach Collaros, QB, Cincinnati: Collaros tossed four more touchdown passes against Rutgers, giving him a league-best 24 on the season.

Player of the year race: Defense

1. Jabaal Sheard, DE, Pittsburgh: Sheard was relatively quiet stats-wise against South Florida but is still the most-feared defender in the Big East.

2. Chris Neild, DT, West Virginia: The Mountaineers' defense is on a historic pace without a lot of superstars, but Neild starts it off as the anchor up front.

3. Lawrence Wilson, LB, Connecticut: Had eight more tackles against Syracuse to go over 100 for the second straight year.

4. Keith Tandy, CB, West Virginia: Grabbed his Big East-best sixth interception versus Louisville.

Coach of the year race

1. Doug Marrone, Syracuse: No matter what else happens, winning seven games and getting the Orange back to a bowl should be enough for Marrone to win this award going away.

Coordinator of the year race


1. Jeff Casteel, West Virginia: His defense is just astounding, allowing 12.9 points and 88 rushing yards per game while leading the nation in third-down defense. If he doesn't get mentioned for head-coaching jobs this December, I'll be dumbfounded.

2. Scott Shafer, Syracuse: The Orange defense is responsible for the team's major turnaround, and Syracuse was flat-out nasty on the road because of it.

3. Mark Snyder, South Florida: Inherited a defense that lost five starters to the NFL and not only didn't lose a beat, but made them tougher against the more physical teams in the league.

4. Vance Bedford, Louisville: People usually talk about Charlie Strong when they mention the Cardinals' defense, but Bedford is the defensive coordinator. Louisville's defense is posting its best numbers in more than a decade. Considering the lack of elite talent on that side of the ball, especially up front, that's amazing.

Considering the way the Big East is gone, it's not at all amazing that all the coordinators on this list come from the defensive side of the ball.

Week 11 review/Week 12 preview

November, 15, 2010
11/15/10
2:00
PM ET
The Week (11) that Was:

Team of the week: Connecticut. Every other Big East team cheered on the Huskies as they knocked off Pitt 30-28 on Thursday night. That was the second straight big home win for UConn, following the upset of West Virginia two weeks ago.

[+] EnlargeSouth Florida's Dontavia Bogan
AP Photo/Garry JonesThis TD grab by Dontavia Bogan helped South Florida to an important win against Louisville.
Best game: Three of the four games were decided by three points or less. But I'm a sucker for overtime games, so I'm going with South Florida's 24-21 win against Louisville, which featured a late touchdown, field goal intrigue in the final seconds and a controversial coaching decision in OT.

Biggest play: Ross Krautman's 24-yard field goal with 1:07 left in Syracuse's 13-10 victory against Rutgers. It wasn't the most exciting play or the prettiest game to watch, but that field goal meant the Orange will be going bowling for the first time since 2004.

Best call: Randy Edsall doesn't normally have a reputation as a riverboat gambler. But on 4th-and-1 from his own 19, and his team clinging to a two-point lead with 2:50 left, Edsall decided to go for it. Jordan Todman picked up four yards, Pitt never got the ball back and the Big East race got a lot tighter.

Big Man on Campus (Offense): Todman, RB, Connecticut. Todman rushed 37 times for 222 yards in the win against Pittsburgh.

Big Man on Campus (Defense): Lawrence Wilson, LB, Connecticut. Wilson had 11 tackles and a sack in the Huskies' big win.

Big Man on Campus (Special teams): Krautman, K, Syracuse. In addition to his game-winner, the freshman from New Jersey helped sink Rutgers with a 48-yarder in the third quarter of a game where points were scarce.

Strangest moment: According to West Virginia players, Cincinnati receiver D.J. Woods woofed to them in pregame warm-ups, saying Milan Puskar Stadium "is my house and my field." Why Woods would want to fire up the Mountaineers defense on the road is anybody's guess. West Virginia linebacker J.T. Thomas told teammates that he wanted Woods' head "or I'll go get it myself." Woods was held well below his average, with just three catches for 32 yards, as Cincinnati got blasted 37-10.

Worst hangover: Rutgers. Yeah, Pitt lost a game it shouldn't have, but the Panthers still have a one-game lead. The Scarlet Knights have now lost three straight games and could only muster 10 points at home. The offense continues to be one of the worst in the nation, and now the program is in danger of missing a bowl game for the first time in six years. And Saturday was its second straight loss to Syracuse.


Now let's look ahead to Week 12, where we actually have all Saturday games and even some night contests. (Games listed in descending order of interest and importance):

˙˙Pittsburgh (5-4, 3-1 Big East) at South Florida (6-3, 3-2): Can Pitt maintain its first-place lead? Or will the red-hot Bulls move into a first-place tie? (ESPN2, Noon ET)

Connecticut (5-4, 2-2) at Syracuse (7-3, 4-2): Something's got to give, as UConn is winless on the road and the Orange are 0-2 at home in Big East play. Winner remains in the BCS hunt. (ESPNU, 7 p.m. ET)


West Virginia (6-3, 2-2) at Louisville (5-5, 2-3): The Cardinals try to get that elusive sixth win in their home finale, while the Mountaineers try to build some momentum. (ESPN3.com, Noon ET)

Rutgers at Cincinnati (3-6, 1-3): It's a basement bowl! Rutgers can't score, and Cincinnati can't stop anybody. (ESPN3.com, 7:30 p.m. ET)

Big East stock report, Week 4

September, 22, 2010
9/22/10
9:08
AM ET
Ring the bell. Time for the stock report to open.

Stock up

1. Ryan Nassib: It was only Maine, but still the Syracuse quarterback threw for five touchdowns in just his third college start. Nassib is completing nearly 59 percent of his passes and has eight scores. Says Doug Marrone: "I think he can be a special player."

2. Chandler Jones: Another Syracuse player makes the list. I thought this could be the year Jones turned in a breakout season, and the defensive end might be on his way after recording two sacks and a pair of forced fumbles against Maine.

3. Bruce Irvin: There was plenty of preseason hype about West Virginia's junior-college transfer, but there wasn't much production in the first two games. Then Irvin recorded three sacks against Maryland, and fans began chanting "Bruuuuuce!" He is looking pretty boss.

4. D.J. Woods: Cincinnati hasn't had a lot of bright spots in September, but Woods is one of them. The junior receiver had six catches for 146 yards and two scores in the loss at NC State.

Stock down

1. Zach Frazer: The UConn quarterback hasn't thrown an interception, but he's also completing only about half his passes. As a senior, he should be playing with more consistency, and the return of Cody Endres from suspension may put some pressure on him to get better.

2. Pitt's police blotter: Taken individually, the three arrests of Pittsburgh players since this summer don't have much in common with one another. The latest incident involved a walk-on offensive linemen fighting someone. But given the spotlight the program was already under after the earlier incidents involving Jabaal Sheard and Jason Douglas, you'd think Pitt's players would be on their best behavior.

3. Cincinnati's returns: The Bearcats rank second-to-last in the Big East in kickoff return average, with only one return over 30 yards this season, and last in punt return average. It's clear that Mardy Gilyard doesn't work here anymore.

4. West Virginia's big-play defense: The Mountaineers gave up 60- and 80-yard touchdown passes against Maryland, a week after giving up a 96-yard pass at Marshall. Think LSU might try to hit a few deep balls?

Player of the year race: Offense

1. Noel Devine, RB, West Virginia: Has eclipsed 100 yards in all three games for the Big East's lone ranked team. But he'd better watch out for teammate ...

2. Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia: Smith has simply been terrific since midway through the fourth quarter of the Marshall game and is the Big East's top-rated passer.

3. Jordan Todman, RB, Connecticut: Leads the Big East in rushing and had a 192-yard day against Temple. But late fumble marred his performance.

4. Jon Baldwin, WR, Pitt: He can make a statement on Thursday versus Miami.

5. Ryan Nassib, QB, Syracuse: He leads the league with eight touchdown throws.

Player of the year race: Defense

1. Joe Lefeged, S, Rutgers: He was great in the first two games. Let's see what he can do against North Carolina.

2. Robert Sands, S, West Virginia: Still a force, but he's obviously dealing with some health issues.

3. JK Schaffer, LB, Cincinnati: Leads league in tackles, though his team needs to play better.

4. Derrell Smith, LB, Syracuse: Second behind Schaffer in tackles and had a big game against Maine.

5. Lawrence Wilson, LB, Connecticut: Mostly held in check against Temple, though he did have a sack.

Big East stock report, Week 3

September, 15, 2010
9/15/10
9:09
AM ET
Money never sleeps. Nor does the Big East stock report. Bring on the ticker.

Stock up

1. Geno and Tino: Heading into the season, sophomores Tom Savage and B.J. Daniels had the most experience of any Big East quarterbacks. But it's a different pair of sophomores who rank Nos. 1 and 2 in passing yards among league signal-callers after two weeks: West Virginia's Geno Smith and Pitt's Tino Sunseri. Smith was mighty impressive in leading West Virginia on two long scoring drives to win at Marshall, while Sunseri made strides from Week 1 in a pass-heavy game plan against New Hampshire.

[+] EnlargeJoe Lefeged
Samuel Lewis/Icon SMIJoe Lefeged has two forced fumbles and an INT so far in 2010.
2. Joe Lefeged: The Rutgers safety has been a beast on defense and in special teams and jumps up in our player of the year race below. It seems like every year, Rutgers has a breakout star in the defensive backfield who also excels at special teams work. Last year, it was Devin McCourty. This year, it's Lefeged.

3. Demetris Murray: Yes, there was the costly fumble on the exchange from B.J. Daniels deep in Florida territory. But I really liked how Murray ran the ball for most of the game in The Swamp. South Florida might have found its No. 1 tailback in Murray.

4. Louisville's defensive pressure: The Cardinals registered eight sacks on Saturday versus Eastern Kentucky, led by Rodney Gnat's four. Sure, it was only Eastern Kentucky. But when you consider that Louisville had only 14 sacks in 2008 and 23 in 2009, this counts as a definite improvement.

Stock down

1. Brandon Hogan: The West Virginia cornerback was arrested for DUI and has been suspended indefinitely. This comes after Bill Stewart already gave him plenty of second chances. Coaches get blamed a lot when players mess up. But some players just never "get it." Hogan has NFL potential, but he needs to get his act together fast.

2. Tom Savage: I still believe in Rutgers' quarterback, but the results after two weeks scream "sophomore slump." Savage has completed just 50 percent of his passes, has only one touchdown throw and is averaging just 110 passing yards per game. And that's not against Alabama and Ohio State; the Scarlet Knights have played Norfolk State and Florida International. The entire Rutgers offense is struggling, and Savage is a big reason why.

3. Greg Romeus and Dion Lewis: The reigning offensive and co-defensive players of the year probably won't repeat their titles. Romeus could miss the majority of the season after undergoing back surgery this week. I discussed Lewis' early struggles here.

4. Syracuse's frequent-flyer miles: After traveling about 6,000 miles, round trip, to their first two games against Akron and Washington, the Orange finally return home for this Saturday's game. The next two weeks should provide a happy homecoming, with Maine and Colgate lined up for what should be easy wins and a 3-1 record.

Player of the year race: Offense

1. Noel Devine, RB, West Virginia: Devine is averaging a solid if not spectacular 111 rushing yards per game but is capable of breaking one at any time.

2. Jordan Todman, RB, Connecticut: Todman is leading the Big East in rushing yards (256) and touchdowns (four). But West Virginia is 2-0 and UConn is 1-1. Todman is definitely on the rise, though.

3. Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia: Smith leads the Big East in completion percentage (72.2) and passing yards (532) and is tied for the lead with three passing touchdowns. He's also got the most memorable two drives of the season so far.

4. Jon Baldwin, WR, Pittsburgh: The Panthers showed a preference for throwing the ball last week, and anything that means more opportunities for Baldwin is a good thing. He's averaging 85.5 receiving yards per game and has two touchdowns. Look for those numbers to go up.

5. Bilal Powell, RB, Louisville: Powell is off to a really nice start, ranking second in the league in rushing yards and rushing TDs. But it will be hard for him to win the award unless Louisville finds ways to win more games.

Player of the year race: Defense

1. Robert Sands, S, West Virginia: Pass defense looked a little shaky at times against Marshall. But with Romeus sidelined, Sands is still the biggest star in the league on defense.

2. Joe Lefeged, S, Rutgers: A lot of his impact has come on special teams, but he's been really good on defense as well.

3. Lawrence Wilson, LB, Connecticut: Last year's tackles leader is tied with Syracuse's Derrell Smith for the most stops in the conference so far this year.

4. JK Schaffer, LB, Cincinnati: Had nine tackles and a pass breakup against Indiana State, and the Bearcats' defense has been pretty solid so far.

5. Mistral Raymond, CB, South Florida: Turning into a very good cornerback. Florida didn't look his way much on Saturday.

Dion Lewis vs. Noel Devine

So far, it's no contest between our two preseason favorites for offensive player of the year. Here are the stats:

Devine: 46 carries for 223 yards (4.8 ypc) and two touchdowns.

Lewis: 35 carries for 102 yards (2.9 ypc) and two touchdowns.

Tom Savage vs. B.J. Daniels

Lots of fuel for the debate about which QB is better after this week. Daniels was brilliant at times and awful at others against Florida, while Savage's struggles continue.

Savage: 17-for-34 (50 percent) for 220 yards, one touchdown and one interception.

Daniels: 20-for-42 (47.6 percent) for 348 yards, three touchdowns and four interceptions. Has has also run for 130 yards and a score.
Connecticut at Michigan is one of the more intriguing opening-week matchups. The Wolverines desperately need to get off to a good start, while UConn has drawn a lot of offseason buzz. Plus, the biggest Big House yet makes its debut.

Big Ten blogger Adam Rittenberg and Big East blogger Brian Bennett break it all down.

BB: All right, Adam. No more talk of the Big Ten raiding the Big East. Just Big Ten and the Big East meeting, thankfully, on the field. How badly does Michigan need this win, and are the Wolverines aware of just how good Connecticut is?

[+] EnlargeRich Rodriguez
Icon Sports MediaAfter another rough offseason, coach Rich Rodriguez needs to start the season off with a win.
AR: Michigan needs this game real bad, but not for the obvious reasons. We saw this team start fast last year and fall apart in Big Ten play, so a win against Connecticut might still be greeted with some skepticism. Michigan needs a win because it needs something good to happen after another rough offseason. The Wolverines need to show their fans that progress is being made, especially on the defensive side of the ball. They need to get their renovated stadium fired up again. They need to revive what's left of the Michigan mystique. This gets us to your second question (double-barrel, tsk, tsk). After the last two seasons, the Wolverines shouldn't be taking any team lightly, especially a very solid UConn team that consistently produces NFL talent and has an outstanding head coach in Randy Edsall. Michigan players know many folks are picking them to lose to the Huskies.

Let's look a little deeper at UConn. What are the two or three things Michigan must be most concerned about on Saturday?

BB: I know, it was bad question form but we're trying to save space here. Anyway, Michigan must be most concerned about the UConn running game. The Huskies have a big, physical offensive line that bulldozes people. Jordan Todman went over 1,100 yards last year, and they have a stable of other backs including USC transfer D.J. Shoemate.

Defensively, Connecticut has three standout, senior linebackers in Lawrence Wilson (140 tackles last year), Scott Lutrus and -- surprise! -- Greg Lloyd. They can all run and make plays. And mostly, Randy Edsall's team never beats itself. UConn is always very well coached, fundamentally sound and avoids mistakes.

[+] EnlargeRandy Edsal
Jim Owens/Icon SMIA win for Randy Edsall's Huskies against Michigan would be one of the biggest in Connecticut history.
On the other hand, the Huskies are small up front defensively and will have their hands full with Michigan's offensive line. Speed could be a major issue, as it was whenever Rodriguez played Edsall when the former was at West Virginia. The secondary is also unsettled and was the worst in the Big East against the pass last year.

What other areas should concern UConn?

AR: Michigan certainly can put up a ton of points. Everyone is fussing about the quarterback situation, but I'm not overly concerned. Denard Robinson and Tate Forcier both have experience in Rodriguez's system, and true freshman Devin Gardner might be the most natural fit for the offense. You can't underestimate the importance of Year 3 in the spread. The O-line should be solid, as center David Molk returns to a group that has a good mix of experience and promising young players.

Rodriguez hasn't announced a starter at quarterback, but Robinson seems likely to take the first snap. He's got ridiculous wheels, and he has improved as a passer after completing just 45.2 percent of his throws last year. Forcier also brings some playmaking ability to the backfield, especially when he's on the move. The receiving corps could be a strength for Michigan, as Roy Roundtree leads a group that boasts excellent speed.

The biggest questions for Michigan are on defense, especially after losing Big Ten co-MVP Brandon Graham and corner Donovan Warren. There's not much depth in the secondary, so the Wolverines need a strong performance from hulking nose tackle Mike Martin and the rest of the defensive line. The kicking game also is a concern.

Connecticut had a historic win at Notre Dame last year but fell just short against several good teams on the road. How do the Huskies get over the hump at what should be a fired-up Big House?

BB: This is a veteran, confident UConn team that won't be intimidated by the atmosphere. As long as the Huskies can keep the Michigan quarterbacks from running wild like Pat White used to do against them, I like their chances of pulling this one off. They're going to score points with Zach Frazer running the no-huddle offense and the running game pounding away. I say they get an early lead, causing Michigan and its fans to get nervous and tight. Dave Teggart kicks a winning field goal in the final minute for a 31-28 win.

Your take?

AR: I agree that UConn won't flinch at what's left of the Michigan mystique, but I still expect the Wolverines to make some big plays early and feed off of the atmosphere. Robinson doesn't need much space to take it to the house, and I expect him and some of the backs to break off several big runs behind an improved offensive line. Michigan's defense worries me, especially in the back seven, but Martin leads a strong effort from the front four to contain the Huskies' rushing attack. This one definitely goes down to the wire, but I have the more desperate team winning. Michigan, 28-27.
Forget all the conference realignment talk that makes Big East fans sweat. The real action to watch is on the field this year in an intriguing, balanced league race. Here are five major storylines to watch:

[+] EnlargeBurch Jones
AP Photo/David KohlWill the Bearcats be able to stay on top of the Big East with Butch Jones roaming the sidelines?
1. Can Cincinnati three-peat? The Bearcats have run roughshod over the Big East the past two years, winning back-to-back titles and 13 of 14 league games in the process. But now they must continue the magic with a new coaching staff led by Butch Jones. The offense should keep humming at a high level, with Zach Collaros replacing Tony Pike and USC transfer Vidal Hazelton making up for Mardy Gilyard's lost production. The question marks -- again -- are on defense, where several starters are gone and depth is minimal. The schedule (early games at Fresno State, at NC State and against Oklahoma, plus road conference games against West Virginia and UConn) offers few favors.

2. Is West Virginia back? Don't call it a comeback, as LL Cool J might say. The Mountaineers have won nine games each of the past two years and have been mere whiskers away from winning Big East titles. Still, that represents a dip from the heyday of 2005-07, when West Virginia won 11 games and finished in the Top 10 each year. This team is loaded with stars like Noel Devine, Jock Sanders and Robert Sands and more returning starters than any other league team. The players and coaches say it's time to get back to the days of double-digit wins. Bill Stewart isn't on the hot seat and doesn't deserve to be, but there's little doubt this is a big year for him and the program.

3. Stars shining bright: The Big East returns its best batch of star players since 2007. The electric Devine came back to create more highlights for his senior year. Pitt's Dion Lewis was among the nation's top rushers as a true freshman. Teammate Jon Baldwin might be the most physically gifted receiver in the country. Throw in some promising young quarterbacks (including Collaros, Rutgers' Tom Savage and South Florida's B.J. Daniels) and a batch of defensive playmakers (Sands, Pitt's Greg Romeus, UConn's Lawrence Wilson), and the Big East has players who can light up league Saturdays while challenging for national awards.

4. New eras: While Jones is new to Cincinnati and brings a distinct management style, he's replaced Brian Kelly before and hopes to keep the program zipping along. Two other first-year coaches, South Florida's Skip Holtz and Louisville's Charlie Strong, are trying to remake the culture. Holtz looks to get the Bulls over the hump in the Big East instead of settling for fast starts and slow finishes. Strong wants to return the Cardinals to their winning ways after a disastrous three-year stint under Steve Kragthorpe. And though Greg Schiano is the longest-tenured coach in the league, Rutgers is in a sense beginning a new era as well. The Scarlet Knights enter the season depending on a ton of freshmen and sophomores, ushering in what they hope is a window for title contention.

5. Quest for respect: The Big East is always fighting to earn respect nationally, and this season brings several high-profile chances to do just that (albeit many of them on the road). Cincinnati welcomes Oklahoma to Paul Brown Stadium. South Florida plays at Florida and Miami. West Virginia is at LSU. Pitt plays at Utah, at Notre Dame and home against Miami. Connecticut opens at Michigan. Syracuse plays Boston College and at Washington. North Carolina comes to Rutgers. With a fair share of wins in these difficult games, the league could forever put to rest those old Big Least jokes.

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