NCF Nation: Logan Ryan

Memphis

Spring Start: Feb. 28

Spring game: April 6

What to watch:
  1. Quarterback: Jacob Karam returns as the starter after throwing for 1,895 yards, 14 touchdowns and three interceptions. But coach Justin Fuente says Karam will be pushed during the spring and has to win the starting job all over again.
  2. Bump up the physicality: Fuente has said repeatedly that he wants to see his team be more physical, especially now that it is joining the Big East. The spring is the perfect chance to improve in this area. "We will play some of the same teams we played last year, but they will be the bigger, more physical teams we played last year," he said. "We have to understand that we have a lot of ground to make up. That is not ground that is made up easily."
  3. Competition at defensive back: The Tigers lose two starters from their defensive backfield -- Cannon Smith and Robert Steeples -- and Fuente is excited about the competition at this position going into the spring.
Rutgers

Spring Start: March 26

Spring game: April 27

What to watch:
  1. Quarterback: Even though coach Kyle Flood says Gary Nova is his starter, you can bet there is going to be competition at this position going into the spring, especially with a new offensive coordinator in Ron Prince. That doesn't mean there will be changes, but certainly Prince is going to want to take a look at all the players he has available to evaluate what they can or cannot do.
  2. Defensive leaders: Rutgers lost its top defensive playmakers and needs to find guys who can step in for Scott Vallone, Khaseem Greene, Steve Beauharnais and Logan Ryan, to name four. Plus, there is a new coordinator in Dave Cohen, so there might be some adjustment period.
  3. Huggins stepping up: The time is now for the highly heralded local recruit to live up to the expectations that came with him when he arrived on campus. Jawan Jamison is gone off to the NFL, so all eyes have turned to Huggins to see if he has what it takes to be the next 1,000-yard rusher.
SMU

Spring Start: March 25

Spring game: April 20

What to watch:
  1. Replacing Zach Line: The Mustangs have to replace their top runner over the past several seasons in Line, who had three straight 1,000-yard seasons. Leading the charge this spring are junior college All-American Traylon Shead and reserve back Rishaad Wimbley, who switched from defense a few seasons ago.
  2. New defensive starters: The Mustangs lost the bulk of their playmakers on defense in Margus Hunt and linebackers Taylor Reed and Ja'Gared Davis. Finding guys to step up without them is a huge priority. Watch for Zach Wood at defensive end in place of Hunt; and Kevin Pope and Robert Seals at linebacker.
  3. More consistency at QB: June Jones' offense runs best when the quarterback is at his best. Garrett Gilbert returns as the starter, but he is going to need to find much more consistency this spring and into the fall. Two numbers that have to be improved: accuracy (53 percent in 2012) and touchdown-to-interception ratio (15-to-15 in 2012).
USF

Spring Start: March 20

Spring game: April 13

What to watch:
  1. New coaches, new style: Coach Willie Taggart has promised to ratchet up the intensity and transform his team into more of a smash-mouth group. That process begins in the spring, when he has his first opportunity to really show his players what he expects out of them. You can bet he expects a lot more physicality from his offensive and defensive lines to start.
  2. Quarterback competition: Who will emerge as the starter? Will we even know after the spring? Matt Floyd and Bobby Eveld, the top two candidates, have plenty of work to do as they fight to win the starting job. But this competition could very well go into the fall, when freshman Mike White arrives on campus.
  3. Defensive back improvement: This was the worst group the Bulls had a year ago and the one in most need of immediate improvement. USF registered two interceptions in 2012, tied with Auburn for the fewest among all 120 schools in the nation. And they both came in the same game -- against UConn on Nov. 3.
Temple

Spring Start: March 22

Spring game: April 20

What to watch:
  1. New staff: Matt Rhule certainly has a familiarity with Temple, having served as an assistant there under both Al Golden and Steve Addazio. But anytime a new coach comes in, there is change, so the spring gives him his first chance to really start implementing his style and what he wants to get accomplished.
  2. Quarterbacks: You can bet this competition is going to be open this spring, with Chris Coyer, Juice Granger and Kevin Newsome all returning. Coyer and Granger both started a year ago; Newsome transferred in from Penn State a few years ago. How this shakes out is one major story to watch.
  3. Running backs: Montel Harris and Matt Brown are gone, taking with them 1,426 yards rushing and 16 of the team's 21 rushing touchdowns. Jamie Gilmore got more carries as the season went on when Brown was hurt; Kenny Harper also is back and certainly will be relied upon even more.

Big East at the combine

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

Best Big East moments of 2012

January, 14, 2013
1/14/13
11:00
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The calendar reads 2013, but it is time to take a quick look back at the best moments of the 2012 season.

Best moment, period: Louisville 33, Florida 23, Allstate Sugar Bowl. OK this game was technically played in 2013, but it still counts as the best moment the Big East had. Louisville may be headed out the door, but the Big East should own this moment, considering the constant beating it has taken over the past two seasons. Louisville is proof that the Big East can survive without its big-name programs. Remember, Louisville was only added to the Big East after the first raid took Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College. Since joining in 2005, the Cardinals have gone to two BCS games and have an up-and-coming football program. It stings that they are leaving, but the program has taken off under the Big East umbrella.

Best Big East game: Louisville 34, Cincinnati 31, overtime. I thought this was the most thrilling game of the season, and had folks talking Big East football on a Friday night in October. Cincinnati had 10-point leads in the first and second half before the Cardinals came back twice under Teddy Bridgewater. After Bridgewater threw the go-ahead 64-yard touchdown pass to DeVante Parker with 1:56 to go, Cincinnati did not cave. Munchie Legaux answered with a 26-yard, game-tying touchdown pass of his own to Damon Julian with 1:03 to go to send the game into overtime. One of the moments everybody will remember is the "Butch Jones shrug," after botching the ice-the-kicker timeout. Jones called timeout just before Louisville kicker John Wallace attempted a 30-yard field goal in overtime. The snap was high and the kick sailed wide. Wallace nailed the try that counted, and the Cardinals escaped with the win.

[+] EnlargeTyler Matakevich
Cal Sport Media/APTemple's defense got a boost after freshman LB Tyler Matakevich cracked the starting lineup.
Best performance by a freshman: Tyler Matakevich, LB, Temple. Matakevich was an unheard-of prospect when the season began, but that all changed at the end of 2012. Matakevich won Big East Freshman of the Year honors after he completely dominated when he got his opportunity in the starting lineup. He ended up with double-digit tackles in seven of the eight games he started.

Best performance by a sophomore: Bridgewater. There is no doubt Bridgewater was the best player in the Big East this season, as he ended up throwing for 3,718 yards, 27 touchdowns and eight interceptions while completing 68.5 percent of his passes. His emergence gives the Big East a legitimate Heisman contender in 2013.

Best performance by a junior: Logan Ryan, CB, Rutgers. Ryan had another outstanding season as one of the premier shutdown cornerbacks in the country, finishing as an All-Big East first-team selection. He was second on the team with 94 tackles and was the only player in the nation with at least 90 tackles, four interceptions and 18 passes defended.

Best performance by a senior: Khaseem Greene, LB, Rutgers. There were plenty of outstanding senior performances this season, but Greene was the best of them, repeating as Big East Defensive Player of the Year. Greene ended the season with 136 tackles, six sacks and six forced fumbles.

Best comeback performance: Syracuse. When the Orange started the year 2-4, how many of you predicted Doug Marrone would become the next coach of the Buffalo Bills? Syracuse ended the season as one of the league's hottest teams with wins in six of its last seven games. Last year was the exact reverse -- Syracuse started 5-2 and could not win another game. Interesting how that all worked out, isn't it?

Best "firsts": Syracuse and Pitt both hit offensive firsts this season. Syracuse had a 3,000-yard passer, 1,000-yard receiver and 1,000-yard rusher for the first time in school history. Ryan Nassib finished with 3,749 yards passing; Jerome Smith had 1,171 yards rushing; and Alec Lemon had 1,070 yards receiving. Meanwhile, the Panthers had a 3,000-yard passer and 1,000-yard rusher in the same season for the first time in school history. Tino Sunseri finished the season with 3,288 yards, while Ray Graham had 1,042.

Best record: Big East 4-1 vs. SEC. Now this is truly something the Big East can brag about. The lone blemish belongs to Pitt, which lost to Ole Miss in the BBVA Compass Bowl. While it may be true that three of those four wins came against teams with losing records, you can't deny how important it was for Louisville to beat Kentucky and Florida; for Syracuse to go on the road and beat Missouri in November to clinch bowl eligibility; and for Rutgers to go on the road and beat an Arkansas team that was ranked in the preseason. Before the year began, many opined about the tough games for the Orange and Scarlet Knights on the road, particularly since they were late additions to the schedule. Neither opponent may have been as good as advertised in the preseason, but there's still no denying the enormity of the wins.
Rutgers leading rusher Jawan Jamison announced Saturday he would forgo his final two years of eligibility to enter the NFL draft.

Jamison was an All-Big East second-team selection after rushing for a team-best 1,075 yards in 2012. The redshirt sophomore averaged 4.2 yards per carry and scored four touchdowns this season. He also caught 28 passes for 323 yards and two touchdowns.

“Jawan has been an exciting player for us during his career,” Rutgers coach Kyle Flood said in a statement. “He is a running back with tremendous vision, great balance and has the gift to make people miss in the open field. We wish Jawan well as he begins his journey to play in the NFL.”

Jamison joins cornerback Logan Ryan as early entrants into the NFL draft. While Ryan appears to be an early round selection, Jamsion has not been rated as highly among underclassmen backs among draft experts. But Jamison said on a teleconference Saturday that he received a third-round grade from the NFL draft advisory board, and that was a huge influence on his decision.

This is a relatively weak group of running backs, so that could help him, too.

"It actually surprised me," Jamison said of getting the third-round grade. "I thought it was going to be lower. When I got it, I was really excited. I feel like we made the best decision, and that's why I decided to declare."

An ankle injury slowed Jamison in the final month of the regular season and the bowl game. He did earn early comparisons to former Scarlet Knights back Ray Rice, but his productivity dipped once he got hurt. Still, Jamison was the third Rutgers player since 1976 to rush for 1,000 yards in a season, and the seventh player at Rutgers to record a 1,000-yard season.

Jamison said his ankle is still sore, and the injury did not really have an impact on his decision. He will work now to strength it as he prepares to improve his draft stock even further. As for what he can add to a team, Jamison said, "I just feel like I can do whatever my coaches want me to do, catch passes, run outside, pass block, too. I feel I can do it all."
Rutgers junior cornerback Logan Ryan made it official Monday, deciding to forego his final year of eligibility to enter the NFL draft.

[+] EnlargeRutgers Scarlet Knights defensive back Logan Ryan
AP Photo/Scott A. MillerLogan Ryan will be the fifth player since 2008 to leave Rutgers early to turn pro.
Ryan is the fifth player since 2008 to leave Rutgers early to turn pro.

“Logan embodies everything we look for when recruiting a potential student-athlete,” Rutgers coach Kyle Flood said in a statement. “He is a smart, tough, disciplined player with a tremendous work ethic and talent. He has represented our program in first class fashion and we know he will continue to excel when playing on Sundays.”

Those who have left school early since 2008 have been quite successful at the next level. Ray Rice was a second round pick of the Baltimore Ravens in the 2008 NFL draft. Kenny Britt was a first round pick of the Tennessee Titans in 2009, while Anthony Davis was selected with the 11th overall pick in 2010 by the San Francisco 49ers.

Last year, Mohamed Sanu left early and became a third-round pick of the Cincinnati Bengals.

Ryan was an All-Big East selection the last two seasons. This year, he finished second on the team with 94 tackles, and is the only player in the nation with at least 90 tackles, four interceptions and 18 passes defended. Ryan currently ranks first in the conference and tied for eighth nationally in passes defended, averaging 1.5 per game.

ESPN NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper has Ryan rated one of the top junior cornerbacks available for the draft and is rated the No. 39 overall player. Given the way he has played, and all of his pro potential, this move does not come as much of a surprise. He is the highest rated of all the current Rutgers play on the roster, and clearly got a good enough grade from the NFL draft advisory board to come out.

His departure means Rutgers will have to replace seven starters off one of the best defenses in the Big East.

Source: Logan Ryan to enter NFL draft

December, 31, 2012
12/31/12
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Rutgers cornerback Logan Ryan has opted to enter the NFL draft, a source told Joe Schad of ESPN.

Ryan is set to make his announcement at 11 a.m. ET. The 6-foot, 190-pound Ryan is rated one of the top junior cornerback prospects available for the draft.

We'll have more on this after Ryan's news conference.

Big East mailblog

December, 28, 2012
12/28/12
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Our last mailbag of 2012!

(Sheds a tear).

Lev in Hoboken, N.J., writes: Do you think Jawan Jamison will declare or is ready for the NFL? Also where do you see Logan Ryan and Khaseem Greene falling in the draft?

Adelson: I think Jamison would be best served if he stayed in school for another year, though the weak running back class in the 2013 draft may impact his decision. Ryan is one of the best cover cornerbacks in the country, and rated the No. 2 junior prospect at his position by Mel Kiper Jr. I am not sure what he will do. As for where they will get drafted, I have not seen a solid analysis yet on that. Ryan is the only Rutgers player ranked among the Top 50 prospects. So I would figure Ryan would get picked ahead of Greene, and both would be gone by round four. But that is just a guess.


Barb in Cincinnati writes: Hi AA, re: Chris C's comments about not selling out Nippert. The AD is correct that our winning ways are pretty recent and that is true. It takes time to get fans back when your team has been bad for a long time. But the other issue is the competition that UC has from the Bengals & Reds. Michigan, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Ohio State don't have any other sports, what else is there for people to do in Ann Arbor or Lansing but go to their football games? We'll fill the seats, it's improved so much over the last few years.

Adelson: Bearcatvol in Dalton, Ga., also wrote in and pointed out there are thousands of obstructed view seats at Nippert as well. Cincinnati has sold out its full-view seats so that is big. But again, this all comes down to creating more financial opportunities with premium seating AND making itself more attractive to prospective leagues whenever another wave of realignment happens.


Lucy the Bearcat writes: AA, I see a lot of talk that Willie Taggart is the best hire the Big East made. I'm wondering why? He is much younger than Tommy Tuberville and has accomplished much less over the course of his career. Isn't it a safe bet Taggart will use the BE as a stepping stone and leave USF in a few years? Maybe I'm wrong, but Tuberville has nothing more to prove, and at his age could easily finish his career at UC. I just don't see a guy with a 16-20 record being a better hire than Tuberville. You even said it yourself. Taggart could be demanding big money from bigger programs before long. To me, that's not the ideal coach everyone's making him out to be.

Adelson: Here is why I say he is the best hire. USF is in major need of revitalization, and picked the best, young coach with ties to the area to get it turned in the right direction. I think most of us believe USF should have won a Big East title by now, given its location and resources. I think he is the perfect guy to take this team to the top. I don't think the future has anything to do with the hire right now. You are right -- Tuberville doesn't have anything to prove, and Cincinnati is already at the top of the Big East. There is no doubt that it was huge to get a coach in from the Big 12, but there are no guarantees he stays for the long-term, either. I just think Taggart is a better overall fit in Tampa, given his background and how he took a program that was consistently winless into a bowl team (and back-to-back 7-5 regular season). That's more impressive that what Tuberville did at Texas Tech, if you ask me.


Michael Foster in Miami writes: Shakespeare's "What's in a name?" comes to mind when I think about the Big East. What are the chances that the Big East grabs a few more schools from out West, then re-names itself. I'll even provide the new name free of charge. Let's call it the "Coast to Coast Conference." That sounds great to me. My main point here is that much like the mini-van, the Big East suffers an image crisis. IF YOU AGREE..TRY TO GET SOME SUPPORT FOR THE ENDEAVOR...."Coast to Coast" sounds better than down the drain.

Adelson: Michael, I agree -- the Big East should let the basketball schools keep the name and begin rebranding with a new name. Continuing on as the Big East will only serve as a constant reminder of what this league used to be, hampering efforts to foster a new image.


Doug in Middletown, Conn., writes: Where do you see this Boise State dilemma going? Do you see Boise joining the Big East or pulling out? If they pull out, what do you think will happen to the Big East?

Andrea Adelson: I do not think even Boise State knows what it is going to do at this point, so it is too early to really hazard a guess. It will all come down to money -- where can Boise State make more? I still think the answer might be the Big East, but it is going to be a tough decision. If Boise State does leave, well, the Big East will survive, somehow. This league has been an eight team conference for years, so it is not necessary to be at 12 to move forward.


Gordon Hudson in Richfield, Utah, writes: All this realignment talk is really confusing. Do you think the Big East would be stronger if they had two divisions, one in the East and one in the West? They could keep their Eastern schools in one division, then have a West division with Boise State, San Diego State, and then get Air Force, BYU, Houston, SMU, Colorado State, and UNLV? The division champs could play each other and keep their BCS status. The Mountain West Conference is horrible, mostly because of their commissioner. Maybe a conference name change would help. We who live in the West would love that. As a BYU fan, it would be good to get into a conference again, even though independence hasn't been too bad. Would it ever happen?

Adelson: You are not the first who has suggested this idea to me. First, the Big East does have two divisions though the West does not really have many Western teams. And second, the Big East is not keeping its automatic spot in the BCS, no matter who ends up joining the league. I can see the value in having more of a partnership with the Mountain West in order to bring in more Western teams, especially since it is going to be hard to bring anybody else in right now with no answers on Boise State or TV money at this point. But I'm not sure if that is feasible, especially when you begin to consider travel for basketball and the other sports.

Russell Athletic Bowl keys

December, 28, 2012
12/28/12
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Here are three keys for Rutgers in the Russell Athletic Bowl against Virginia Tech.

1. Establish the run. This is the whole key to the Rutgers offense, and, well, it has been missing of late. In its two losses to end the season, Rutgers managed 104 TOTAL yards in the ground. In each of its three losses this year, Rutgers failed to rush for more than 100 yards. So that must change for the Scarlet Knights to have any chance at winning. What should help is having Jawan Jamison completely healthy. The Rutgers run game started stalling when he hurt his ankle late in the season. He was not quite the same running back we saw in the first half of the year, averaging 33.7 yards in the final three games. But he says now he is totally fine for the bowl game. Rutgers needs a big game from him.

2. Get after Logan Thomas. No-brainer, right? Virginia Tech has struggled when the junior quarterback is pressured into making mistakes. Of his 14 interceptions this season, Thomas threw 12 of them in six losses. That includes five total against Pitt and Cincinnati. So you can bet that is exactly what the aggressive Scarlet Knights' defense is going to do in this game. Rutgers has 16 interceptions this season and one of the better defensive backfields in the Big East. Watch for junior corner Logan Ryan, who could be playing his final game for the Scarlet Knights. Ryan said he will decide whether to leave for the NFL draft after the bowl game.

3. Take some risks. I think it is safe to say that Rutgers fans want to see the Scarlet Knights get a little more creative with their play calling. This is the perfect time to do it. Obviously Rutgers wants to win to get to 10 wins for only the third time in school history, but this game also is a springboard into 2013. If the coaches show a little more confidence in Gary Nova, and he can make some plays to get the ball to his talented receivers, you can imagine what that would do for him and for Rutgers heading into the offseason.

There is not much time for reflection just yet -- not with the Russell Athletic Bowl against Virginia Tech looming on Friday.

But there is no question this Rutgers defense has set a new standard for future teams to match. What we have seen develop over the past few years has been a throwback type of group that has been the strongest part of this team, that has produced a two-time Big East Defensive Player of the Year in Khaseem Greene and four first-team Big East selections in 2012.

It's a defense that has produced an iron man in Scott Vallone, who has started every single game of his career (that's 50 in all). No other defensive player in the nation has started as many games.

It's a defense that has produced one of the top cover cornerbacks in the nation, Logan Ryan.

[+] EnlargeKhaseem Greene
Will Schneekloth/Icon SMIThe Rutgers defense, led by linebacker Khaseem Greene, has allowed opponents just 105 rushing yards on average per game.
It's a defense that is relentless, aggressive and tenacious.

It's a defense this program surely will miss.

"We may not be the biggest, longest, fastest guys on the field but we're a bunch of determined guys that run to the football, create our own luck in terms of turnovers and interceptions," Vallone said, in describing his group. "We’re an attacking defense. We don’t sit back and wait, so those are things we’ve prided ourselves on and something I’ve been proud to be a part of the last four, five years."

Six seniors on defense will start their final game in Orlando. Ryan could be gone as well, if he chooses to leave early for the NFL draft. What this entire senior class has accomplished will go down in the school record books. That is especially true of the defense. Take a look at some of the highlights from this year:

  • Rutgers ranks in the top 25 nationally in four major defensive statistical categories: scoring defense (fourth, 14.3 ppg), total defense (14th, 321.3 ypg), pass efficiency defense (25th, 115.35) and rushing defense (11th, 105.0 ypg). Rutgers also is tied for fourth nationally with 18 touchdowns allowed and tied for the fourth fewest rushing touchdowns allowed.
  • Rutgers is holding opponents to the fourth-lowest single game rushing average since 1950, allowing only 105 rushing yards per game. Only two Rutgers teams (1976 and 1964) have held opponents to less than 100 yards per game since 1950.
  • A season of firsts, too: Rutgers held Temple to 191 yards of total offense Oct. 20 at Lincoln Financial Field -- the first time in school history the Scarlet Knights have allowed less than 200 yards in a Big East road game. Then against Cincinnati, Rutgers allowed only three points -- the lowest point total it has allowed to a Big East opponent on the road.

"We’ve got a very competitive and a great challenge ahead of us in playing Virginia Tech, but I do believe that after that game, people are going to look back at this senior class and certainly these players on defense and they will have accomplished as much as anybody in their body of work in the history of our program," coach Kyle Flood said.

Until then, Greene says he will savor every moment of his final game in a Rutgers uniform.

“I want to go out the right way and I’m sure my teammates, especially the senior class, feels exactly the same," Greene said. "We’re going to take in every moment leading up to the game and even during the game and once it’s said and done, we’ll definitely reminisce and talk about this time."

ESPN.com All-Big East team

December, 10, 2012
12/10/12
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The time has finally come to announce our picks for the ESPN.com All-Big East team.

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

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

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

Here is the team in its entirety:

OFFENSE

QB: Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville

RB: Montel Harris, Temple

RB: George Winn, Cincinnati

WR: Alec Lemon, Syracuse

WR: Devin Street, Pitt

TE: Travis Kelce, Cincinnati

OT: Eric Lefeld, Cincinnati

OT: Justin Pugh, Syracuse

C: Mario Benavides, Louisville

OG: Austen Bujnoch, Cincinnati

OG: Antwan Lowery, Rutgers

K: Brandon McManus, Temple

RS: Matt Brown, Temple

DEFENSE

DE: Trevardo Williams, UConn

DE: Dan Giordano, Cincinnati

DT: Scott Vallone, Rutgers

DT: Aaron Donald, Pitt

LB: Greg Blair, Cincinnati

LB: Yawin Smallwood, UConn

LB: Khaseem Greene, Rutgers

CB: Adrian Bushell, Louisville

CB: Logan Ryan, Rutgers

S: Shamarko Thomas, Syracuse

S: Calvin Pryor, Louisville

P: Brandon McManus, Temple

Second-half surge lifts Rutgers to 7-0

October, 20, 2012
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Rutgers' brand of football is typically not conducive to blowouts. The Scarlet Knights reached the midpoint of the season unscathed on the backs of a strong ground game and opportunistic defense and special teams.

A double-digit halftime deficit Saturday at Temple surely had some shaking their heads at a program that has consistently stumbled when on the precipice of great things. But Rutgers may truly be different this season under first-year head coach Kyle Flood, a notion it suggested in a Week 4 shootout win at Arkansas and one it supported after its 35-10 win at Temple.

The defense and special teams were there, as always, with Leonte Carroo blocking a Brandon McManus punt early in the fourth quarter and Khaseem Greene later returning a fumble 19 yards for a score.

But Rutgers' offense stepped up again when needed most, with Gary Nova tossing four touchdown passes on a day he completed 17 of 27 passes for 232 yards with just one interception. Four different receivers accounted for the scores, with Jawan Jamison using a nasty move midway in the third quarter for a 32-yard touchdown that put the Scarlet Knights in front for the first time on the day.

Jamison was everywhere on the afternoon, rushing for a game-high 114 yards on 20 carries and adding game highs of five catches and 81 receiving yards. The running back has now rushed for more than 100 yards in six of seven games this season.

Rutgers' offense capitalized throughout the second half. Nova hit Mark Harrison for a 5-yard score in the third quarter after Logan Ryan picked off Chris Coyer, and the Scarlet Knights' signal caller later found D.C. Jefferson for a 10-yard score early in the fourth quarter following the blocked punt.

Temple entered the day riding a two-game winning streak and showed plenty of positive signs early, but the Owls received an up-close measuring stick of what it may take to win the conference this season. Rutgers is only 4-0 in the conference and 7-0 overall, but it learned a little more about itself in a 35-0 second-half rout.
Here are my picks for the Big East all-conference team.

Offense
QB B.J. Daniels, USF
RB Lyle McCombs, UConn
RB Ray Graham, Pitt*
RB Montel Harris, Temple*
TE Ryan Griffin, UConn
OT Justin Pugh, Syracuse
OT Martin Wallace, Temple
C Mario Benavides, Louisville
OG Chris Jacobson, Pitt
OG Mark Popek, USF
WR Alec Lemon, Syracuse
WR Andre Davis, USF

Defense
DE Trevardo Williams, UConn
DT Scott Vallone, Rutgers
DT Aaron Donald, Pitt
DE Ryne Giddins, USF*
DE Walter Stewart, Cincinnati*
LB Khaseem Greene, Rutgers
LB DeDe Lattimore, USF

LB Sio Moore, UConn
CB Logan Ryan, Rutgers
CB Adrian Bushell, Louisville
S Hakeem Smith, Louisville
S Duron Harmon, Rutgers

Special teams
PK Kevin Harper, Pitt
P Pat O'Donnell, Cincinnati
RS Ralph David Abernathy IV, Cincinnati

* = tie

Notes: About those ties. Graham is a no-brainer all-conference back when healthy. The only problem is I have no idea how healthy Graham is right now or how healthy he is going to be when the season ends. He could start slow and finish fast. Or maybe he won't regain his old form. So I am hedging my bets a little and putting him on there with Montel Harris of Temple. Harris has the potential for a 1,000-yard season.

Defensive end: I really think Williams, Giddins and Stewart have the potential to hit double-digits in sacks this season. That is how highly I think of them. And if the Big East coaches have ties on their all-conference team at the end of the year, so can I!

Tight end: This was a tough one. Griffin is in my preseason Top 25 countdown, but I was a little worried when I saw he would not be starting against UMass. Coach Paul Pasqualoni said not to pay attention to the depth chart because he and John Delahunt are interchangeable. Still got me to thinking that Hubie Graham of Pitt could very well be the first-team tight end at the end of the season.

Receiver: This is a toss-up. I really love Davis' potential. I know a lot are going to clamor for Devin Street to be on the list. He is my next man up. I went with Lemon over Street because I have more confidence in the Syracuse passing game than Pitt.

100 Days Countdown: Big East

May, 22, 2012
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As part of the “College Football Live” 100 Days 'Til Kickoff countdown, here’s a look at the top 10 players in the Big East. For those wondering, the Big East blog will still have its annual preseason Top 25 player countdown a little later in the summer.

Without further ado:

[+] EnlargePitt's Ray Graham
AP Photo/Keith SrakocicRay Graham could be the Big East's best player if healthy.
1. Ray Graham, RB, Pitt. Taking a calculated risk here, considering we have no idea how Graham is going to look a year after tearing his ACL. Coach Paul Chryst says Graham will be ready for fall camp. If Graham is able to return to form, he should be the best player in the league.

2. Khaseem Greene, LB, Rutgers. Greene goes into the season as the preseason favorite to win Big East Defensive Player of the Year honors for the second straight season after sharing honors with Derek Wolfe in 2011. Though he broke his ankle in the bowl game, he will be ready for fall camp. Side note: Isn't it a neat that he and Graham are brothers?

3. Aaron Donald, DT, Pitt. Donald emerged last season, finishing second in the league with 11 sacks. He has shifted inside to tackle this year, but he is the most productive and experienced player returning to the Pitt defensive line and should continue his upward trajectory.

4. Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville. Bridgewater had a sensational freshman season, winning league newcomer of the year honors. Hopes are high for him to build off his impressive campaign in his second year as a starter. Louisville will do more to take advantage of his athleticism, with plans to install some hurry-up offense.

5. Logan Ryan, CB, Rutgers. Ryan led the league with 16 passes defended -- 13 breakups and three interceptions last season. Defensive back is one of the strongest positions across the league, and Ryan leads the way as the Big East's best cornerback.

6. Hakeem Smith, S, Louisville. Smith has gotten better in each of his seasons with the Cardinals, so this season should feature more of the same. In 2011, he had 84 tackles, tied for second in the league, with nine pass breakups. He also tied for second in the league with three forced fumbles and made the Big East first team.

7. Ryne Giddins, DE, USF. Giddins emerged in the second half of last season (yes, I know many of you still remember him for his personal foul against West Virginia) and is in line to have a breakout year for the Bulls, who should have one of the stronger defensive lines in the Big East.

8. B.J. Daniels, QB, USF. Daniels should be the best quarterback in the Big East, considering he is going into his fourth year as a starter. Is this the year he finally lives up to expectations and delivers a long-awaited -- and first -- league title?

9. Walter Stewart, DE, Cincinnati. Coach Butch Jones says he has not been around a player as focused as Stewart in a long time. That is saying something, considering the defensive stars the Bearcats had last season. Stewart is poised to give Cincinnati a huge presence at rush end.

10. Lyle McCombs, RB, UConn. McCombs ran for more than 1,000 yards as a freshman last season and returns for 2011 with much more confidence -- and the Huskies hope a better offensive line. He goes into the season as the unquestioned featured back.

2011 Big East All-Bowl Team

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

OFFENSE

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.

DEFENSE

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.

SPECIAL TEAMS

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.

Rutgers, West Virginia face must wins

October, 27, 2011
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Certainly every game on the schedule is a must-win. But there has got to be an even bigger sense of urgency for Rutgers and No. 25 West Virginia after they both lost last week.

Each has one conference loss, which puts them right in the thick of the wide-open Big East. After Saturday, though, one of these teams will have two league defeats. That will make it much more difficult to compete for a conference championship.

[+] EnlargeGreg Schiano
Jim O'Connor/US PresswireRutgers coach Greg Schiano says his team will focus on slowing down WVU QB Geno Smith.
“Coach (Greg) Schiano stresses the Big East doesn’t have a Big East championship game so every game is like a championship,” Rutgers cornerback Logan Ryan said in a phone interview. “We’ve got to prepare that hard each and every week.”

Both teams played uncharacteristically in their losses last week. Rutgers (5-2, 2-1), one of the best teams in the nation in turnover margin, finished at minus-2 against the Cardinals after Gary Nova threw three interceptions.

The defense, which had 24 sacks going into the game, did not have any against an offensive line that has struggled big time. In fact, it was the first time all season that Louisville did not give up a sack.

That pass rush is going to have to be more consistent against the Mountaineers (5-2, 1-1), who gave up four sacks last week to Syracuse and failed to do a good enough job protecting Geno Smith. West Virginia could never get its high-powered offense going because Smith was constantly harassed.

That was a change, too. West Virginia went into the game having allowed just seven sacks in six games. Smith threw two costly interceptions that changed the momentum of the game. Four of his five interceptions this season have come in two losses to LSU and the Orange.

“It’s not only the pressure, it’s the hits and the quarterback pressures you get in addition to the sacks,” Schiano said. “Sacks aren’t always the most important thing. (Teddy) Bridgewater did a nice job of throwing the ball and not taking the big hit too many times. When you watch the Syracuse tape, they did a very good job of hitting the quarterback.

“When you have a great quarterback like Geno Smith, that’s going to be one element. You better mix up your coverages; you better mix up your looks. He’s one of the top quarterbacks in America and we really are going to have to be on our game to have any chance of slowing him down.”

Syracuse exposed some major weaknesses on the West Virginia defense as well. The Mountaineers got no pass rush, continuing a trend that has hurt this team throughout the season. The linebackers also did not have their best game. Quite frankly, nobody had their best game.

“We’ve got to play tougher,” West Virginia defensive lineman Julian Miller said in a phone interview. “There’s no excuse for anything we did out there in all three phases of the ball. That was made obvious and evident.

“You go into a game and you never expect to get out-toughened. Here at West Virginia, the whole identity of this school and this program is toughness. It’s not West Virginia football, and I think that’s what happened. We got away from playing tough, hard-nosed football and we got beat.”

Aside from seeing how both teams play up front, this game features three of the best receivers in the Big East in Mohamed Sanu of Rutgers and Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin of West Virginia. They are the top three Big East leaders in receptions per game and receiving yards per game, so slowing them down is obviously going to be a big part of the game plan for both teams.

Ryan said Bailey has come into his own as a receiver and is now a more complete player than he was a year ago. “That’s a great challenge for me and our defense as a whole, do our job to contain him,” he said.

The greatest challenge, of course, is for both teams to put last week behind them and try to move forward.

“We just have to execute our game plan,” Miller said. “If we don’t do that, then we could have another Syracuse on our hands. It’s all about us executing and being able to play our game and play West Virginia football.”

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