NCF Nation: Nate Allen

Big East in the NFL draft

April, 26, 2010
4/26/10
8:00
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The NFL's fortnight of drafting -- what, it was only three days? Really? -- came to an end this weekend. I already touched on the first-round results on Friday. Here's a look at where Big East players went the rest of the draft, with some quick comments on each pick:

Second round

No. 37: Nate Allen, S, South Florida, to Philadelphia: No surprise here, as Allen was mentioned as a possible first-rounder at various points.

Third round

No. 65: Jerome Murphy, CB, South Florida to St. Louis: Here is proof that college production isn't always the most important thing to NFL scouts. Murphy struggled against some of the Big East's better receivers, but he has great physical tools and hopefully will find his niche in the pros.

Fourth round

No. 99: Mardy Gilyard, WR, Cincinnati, to St. Louis: If you watched any Bearcats games the past two years, you know that the Rams got an absolute steal. Think Sam Bradford will like having Gilyard around?

No. 101: Mike Williams, WR, Syracuse, to Tampa Bay: He was a first-round talent who was lucky to get picked this high given his off-the-field issues.

No. 107: Marcus Easley, WR, UConn, to Buffalo: Easley had great workouts, and though some thought he would go higher than this, it's still a great story for a guy who was a walk-on this time a year ago.

Fifth round

No. 157: Arthur Jones, DT, Syracuse, to Baltimore: Jones was talked about as a possible first-rounder earlier in his career. This is a great value pick for a player who will always give maximum effort.

Sixth round

No. 177: Carlton Mitchell, WR, South Florida, to Cleveland: Mitchell looked impressive in his workouts, but falling to the sixth round makes you question if he made the right choice in skipping his senior year.

No. 182: Nate Byham, TE, Pittsburgh, to San Francisco: The best blocking tight end in the Big East during his career.

No. 204: Tony Pike, QB, Cincinnati, to Carolina: Pike has to be disappointed that he fell this low and that he was drafted by the same team that took Jimmy Clausen a couple rounds earlier.

Seventh round

No. 226: George Selvie, DE, South Florida, to St. Louis: How much would you have bet against the notion that Selvie would be a seventh-round pick at this time last year? Selvie's production dropped after his breakout sophomore year, and now he'll have to prove himself again.

No. 227: Dorin Dickerson, TE, Pittsburgh, to Houston: Surprised to see Dickerson go this low after his great Combine performance. He's a tweener who needs the right team to showcase his skills.

No. 231: Selvish Capers, OT, West Virginia, to Washington: Capers has a lot of talent and potential.

No. 237: Ryan D'Imperio, LB/FB, Rutgers, to Minnesota: The Scarlet Knights' linebacker was drafted as a fullback although he never played it in college.

No. 238: Ricardo Mathews, DT, Cincinnati, to Indianapolis: Mathews didn't get as much attention on the Bearcats' defense as some other players but had a nice senior season.

No. 249: Robert McClain, CB, UConn, to Carolina: McClain had four interceptions last year and also served as the team's punt returner.

Here's a handy-dandy list of NFL Draft picks per Big East school:

South Florida: 5

Rutgers: 3

Cincinnati: 3

Connecticut: 2

Pitt: 2

Syracuse: 2

West Virginia: 1

Louisville: 0

And, finally, some notable players who weren't drafted (I'll have more later on those who signed free-agent contracts): Andre Dixon and Lindsey Witten from UConn; Aaron Webster and Alex Daniels from Cincinnati; Scott Long from Louisville; and Jarrett Brown from West Virginia.

Big East announces postseason awards

December, 9, 2009
12/09/09
3:24
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Dion Lewis is the Big East's offensive player of the year, while Pitt teammates Greg Romeus and Mick Williams shared the defensive player of the year award in voting by the league's head coaches. It's the first time two teammates have ever shared that honor.

Cincinnati's Mardy Gilyard repeated as the league's special teams player of the year, while Brian Kelly made it a three-peat on coach of the year honors.

Lewis, who rushed for nearly 1,700 yards, also was named the Big East rookie of the year. He's the first to win both offensive and rookie awards since Virginia Tech's Michael Vick.

The league also announced its postseason first and second All-Big East teams and made the late Jasper Howard an honorary captain. The UConn cornerback was stabbed to death hours after the Huskies' Oct. 17 win over Louisville.

"We regard the Big East Conference as the biggest family in collegiate athletics,” commissioner John Marinatto said in a statement. “As a family, we wanted to respectfully remember Jasper Howard and honor his memory."

When I revealed my own awards on Tuesday, I chose Williams as the defensive player of the year but noted how close it was between him and Romeus. Obviously, the coaches couldn't decide.

Here's the complete list of all the award winners and the first- and second-team selections. There are a few differences between the official Big East team and my choices for the ESPN.com All-Big East team. Because the league simply awards extra spots when there are ties, both Bill Stull and Tony Pike are officially first-teamers at quarterback. Anthony Davis made the league first team but not mine at offensive tackle; while Davis is clearly the most naturally gifted lineman in the league, there's no way he was consistent or productive enough this season to earn that distinction.

The coaches also chose Cincinnati's Chris Jurek at center, while I had UConn's Moe Petrus. Either one is a fine choice.

On defense, the official team has five defensive linemen, four linebackers and three cornerbacks, plus two safeties. Well, you could definitely stop some offenses with that kind of lineup. I think it's time the league institute some tiebreaker rules, because in an eight-team league, that's completely ridiculous.

Anyway, one of the main differences in the league's team and my own is the coaches voted for West Virginia's Robert Sands at safety over my pick, South Florida's Nate Allen. I have no beef with that, since I wrestled with that choice for a long time.

Most people would have picked two-time All-American defensive end George Selvie as the preseason defensive player of the year. The South Florida senior only made the league's second team, however.

ESPN.com's All-Big East team

December, 8, 2009
12/08/09
3:15
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The official league selections will come out tomorrow. Here are my choices for the best of the Big East, from a season's worth of observations and some consultation from league coaches:

Offense

QB: Tony Pike, Cincinnati

RB: Dion Lewis, Pittsburgh

RB: Noel Devine, West Virginia

WR: Mardy Gilyard, Cincinnati

WR: Jonathan Baldwin, Pittsburgh

TE: Dorin Dickerson, Pittsburgh

OT: Jason Pinkston, Pittsburgh

OT: Jeff Linkenbach, Cincinnati

C: Moe Petrus, Connecticut

OG: John Malecki, Pittsburgh

OG: Zach Hurd, Connecticut

Defense

DE: Greg Romeus, Pittsburgh

DE: Jason Pierre-Paul, South Florida

DT: Mick Williams, Pittsburgh

DT: Chris Neild, West Virginia

LB: Lawrence Wilson, Connecticut

LB: Kion Wilson, South Florida

LB: Derrell Smith, Syracuse

CB: Devin McCourty, Rutgers

CB: Aaron Berry, Pittsburgh

S: Aaron Webster, Cincinnati

S: Nate Allen, South Florida

Specialists

K: Tyler Bitancurt, West Virginia

P: Scott Kozlowski, West Virginia

KR: Mardy Gilyard, Cincinnati

PR: Robert McClain, Connecticut
Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett

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

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

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

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

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

I'll have much more to come throughout the day from the Steel City.

Big East midseason review

October, 20, 2009
10/20/09
9:30
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Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett

Reports of the Big East's demise were greatly exaggerated.

 
 Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images
 Tony Pike has completed 64 percent of his passes for 1,633 yards and 15 touchdowns with just three interceptions.
The season began with no Big East teams in either major top 25 poll. Most observers figured the league would be down after losing such stars as Pat White, Donald Brown, LeSean McCoy and Scott McKillop to the NFL.

But through the first half of the season, the Big East looks as strong as ever. This week, there are three teams from the conference in both major top 25 polls. That's more than the Pac-10, and the same number as the ACC and Big Ten. The league has a legitimate national championship contender in Cincinnati, which is No. 5 in the BCS standings. The Big East has gone 26-7 in nonconference games, and its .788 winning percentage is better than every conference except the SEC.

New stars have emerged, like Pitt's Dion Lewis and South Florida's Jason Pierre-Paul and B.J. Daniels, while returning players like Tony Pike, Bill Stull and Jarrett Brown have taken a step forward. Even guys who were absent or invisible last year, like Mike Williams and Andre Dixon, have bounced back with career years.

Big East offenses have been potent, with six teams averaging at least 29 points and players like Pike, Lewis, Noel Devine and Mardy Gilyard among the national statistical leaders.

The second half of the season will be all about the conference race, with Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and West Virginia battling it out as the top contenders. But the Big East remains so balanced that just about any team can beat another.

If there are upsets in the second half, critics can't say it's because the league is weak or down. The Big East proved itself in the first half.

Now here's a quick look at some of the first-half highlights:

Offensive player of the mid-year: Tony Pike. There are a number of candidates here, including Devine, Lewis, Dixon and even Pike's teammate, Gilyard. But Pike is the trigger man for the best offense and the best team in the league, and he's been as good as any quarterback in the country so far.

Defensive player of the mid-year: Jason Pierre-Paul, South Florida. There is no clear-cut leader for this award, but there are a plethora of candidates, including UConn's Lindsey Witten and Lawrence Wilson, Cincinnati's Aaron Webster, Syracuse's Derrell Smith, Pitt's Greg Romeus and Mick Williams and South Florida's George Selvie and Nate Allen. I pick Pierre-Paul because, even though he's only been fully involved in about four games, he's been the most disruptive defensive force I've seen this year. He already has 8.5 tackles for loss despite getting a late start, and he's been nearly unblockable at times. The scary part is, he should only get better.

Surprise of the first half: Cincinnati's defense. Those who paid close enough attention knew that the Bearcats had veterans and weren't starting from scratch despite losing 10 senior starters from 2008. But nearly everyone thought there would need to be an adjustment period, particularly with a new scheme and new coordinator. Hardly anyone could have forecast Cincinnati ranking 13th nationally in scoring defense, allowing a little more than 14 points per game.

Disappointment of the first half:
Rutgers. All of the momentum built from last year's seven-game winning streak ended in the opener, a humbling 47-15 home loss to Cincinnati. The Scarlet Knights had the perfect schedule to contend in the Big East but have lost their first two conference games, at home. Their offense has sputtered against good competition.

Best game: Syracuse's 37-34 win over Northwestern was an old-fashioned shootout that came down to a dramatic last-second field goal. That it was the first win for new coach Doug Marrone in a raucous Carrier Dome made it even sweeter for Orange fans.

Best coach: It was Brian Kelly in 2007. It was Brian Kelly in 2008. And it's Brian Kelly in the first half of 2009.

Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett


Bulls and bears are the lingo of the stock market, while Bulls and Bearcats are the top teams in the Big East. Coincidence? Well, yeah. But that's one way to introduce this week's Big East stock report (with special teams our bonus category this week):

Stock up

1. Nate Allen: The South Florida safety has always had NFL-caliber talent, and he's living up to that his senior year. He played great at Florida State and had two interceptions at Syracuse.

2. Mike Williams: His stock was already high, but now it's soaring. The Syracuse receiver continues to shine and had 13 catches for 186 yards and two touchdowns against South Florida despite the Bulls knowing he's their best playmaker. Is Williams the best receiver in the Big East? Right now, yes.

3. West Virginia special teams: After looking shaky in the spring and earlier in the season, the Mountaineers are improving in the kicking game. Punter Scott Kozlowski was the Big East special teams player of the week. West Virginia allowed 25.5 yards per return on its much-maligned kickoff coverage team -- not great, but better than its season average.

4. Cincinnati fundraising: The school announced that donors had matched a $1 million private gift for an athletics project that includes long-awaited football practice fields. No better time to strike than when your football team is in the top 10. Construction of those fields is the only way the school has a prayer of keeping Brian Kelly.

5. Ray Graham: Dion Lewis isn't the only freshman running back capable of big things at Pitt. Graham bounced back from a first-half fumble to post 75 yards and a touchdown at Louisville. He's got a little LeSean McCoy flair to his game as well.

Stock down

1. Cincinnati's time of possession: Opponents are trying their best to keep the Bearcats off the field, and Cincinnati has had the ball for a little more than 35 minutes in its last two games combined.

2. West Virginia's pass defense: The losses of Ellis Lankster and Quinton Andrews have hurt more than expected. The Mountaineers have been sliced up by both Auburn and Colorado, though they did pick off the Buffaloes' Cody Hawkins three times last week.

3. Syracuse's pass defense: Without starting defensive back Phillip Thomas, the Orange gave up two huge passing plays against South Florida. Thomas will be back this week. Could we see a shootout in the Carrier Dome this Saturday between Greg Paulus and Jarrett Brown?

4. Steve Kragthorpe: Just when you thought the Louisville coach's stock couldn't get any lower, his home stadium empties in the second half as Pitt outscores the Cardinals 28-0. Kragthorpe took over as offensive coordinator this season, and his team is last in the Big East in scoring. Speculating on the next coach has become a full-time obsession in Louisville. Kragthorpe had better beat Southern Miss this week.

5. South Florida's kicking game: Eric Schwartz missed a field goal and an extra point at Syracuse, one week after missing two at Florida State. The Bulls may lose a game because of their field goal troubles at some point this year.

Player of the year race: Offense

1. Tony Pike, QB, Cincinnati: Has completed 66.7 percent of his passes for 1,493 yards and 13 touchdowns with three interceptions.

2. Noel Devine, RB, West Virginia: Has rushed 73 times for 540 yards and six touchdowns, averaging 7.4 yards per carry.

3. Mike Williams, WR, Syracuse: Has 41 catches for 623 yards and five touchdowns.

4. Mardy Gilyard, WR, Cincinnati: Has 38 catches for 517 yards and seven touchdowns.

5. Dion Lewis, RB, Pitt: Has rushed 107 times for 580 yards and seven touchdowns, averaging 5.4 yards per carry.

Player of the year race: Defense

1. George Selvie, DE, South Florida: Still the anchor for the Bulls' dominant defensive front.

2. Lindsey Witten, DE, UConn: This week's game at Pitt will be big to prove whether he was an early-season wonder or a yearlong force.

3. Nate Allen, S, South Florida: See above.

4. JK Schaffer, LB, Cincinnati: Has three interceptions and 31 tackles on the year.

5. Greg Romeus, DE, Pitt: Had 3.5 sacks last week and is now second in the league in that category.

Player of the year race: Special teams

1. Ryan Lichtenstein, K, Syracuse: Has converted 9 of 10 field goals this season, including the game-winner against Northwestern.

2. Mardy Gilyard, KR, Cincinnati: Numbers are down for last year's winner of this award, but he does have a punt return touchdown.

3. Cameron Saddler, KR, Pitt: Freshman is averaging 31.5 yards per return.

4. Trent Guy, KR, Louisville: Senior is averaging 30.2 yards per return.

5. Desi Cullen, P, UConn: Leads league with a 43.9-yard average.

Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett


Put some backspin on it.

Team of the week: South Florida. The Bulls won a Big East road game and cracked the polls for the first time this season, joining Cincinnati as the only league teams to be ranked in 2009.

Best game: Slim pickings from a short week. I guess the honor will go to West Virginia's 35-24 win over Colorado, which at least featured a lot of big plays.

Biggest play: For the second week in a row, it's a Cincinnati interception in the red zone. This time JK Schaffer saved the Bearcats from having a really tight game on their hands by picking off a Miami pass in the end zone late in the third quarter.

Best call: And for the second straight week, it's a pass play dialed up by South Florida's Mike Canales. This time, he opened the second half with a play action bomb that resulted in B.J. Daniels' 85-yard touchdown pass to Carlton Mitchell. That set the tone for the rest of the game.

Big Man on Campus (Offense): Noel Devine, RB, West Virginia. He was nearly unstoppable against Colorado, running for 220 yards on 22 carries, including a 77-yard score.

Big Man on Campus (Defense): Nate Allen, S, South Florida. He had eight tackles and a pair of interceptions at Syracuse to continue his strong season.

Big Man on Campus (Special teams): Scott Kozlowski, P, West Virginia. Kozlowski averaged 48 yards on four kicks, including a 56-yarder.

Worst Hangover: Louisville. The Cardinals were geeked up to beat Pitt, breaking out new uniforms and staging a black-out in front of a sold-out crowd. The fans wished they could black out the second half, in which the Panthers outscored Louisville 24-0.

Strangest moment: On two separate occasions in the first quarter of the Syracuse-South Florida game, one team turned the ball over only to have the other team give it back on the very next snap.

OK, time to pay it forward. (games listed in descending order of interest and importance):

Connecticut (3-1) at Pittsburgh (4-1, 1-0 Big East): Could be an early contender elimination game. We'll found out which of these teams is a serious threat in the league race.

West Virginia (3-1) at Syracuse (2-3, 0-1): The Mountaineers have owned Syracuse the past several years, but the Orange are a bit feistier these days.

Southern Mississippi (3-2) at Louisville (1-3, 0-1): Two old-school rivals meet, and that's appropriate because Louisville has been playing like it's back in the mid-1980s again.

Texas Southern (1-4) at Rutgers (3-1, 0-1): I will pay attention to this game because it's part of my job. Anyone else doing so will need a similar excuse.

Byes: Cincinnati, South Florida

Big East helmet stickers

October, 3, 2009
10/03/09
8:59
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett

Noel Devine, RB, West Virginia: Devine carried 22 times for a career-high 220 yards and a touchdown in the Mountaineers' 35-24 win over Colorado on Thursday.

Jacob Ramsey, RB, Cincinnati: Ramsey carried 12 times for 103 yards and three touchdowns in Cincinnati's 37-13 win at Miami.

Greg Romeus, DE, Pittsburgh: Romeus had 3.5 of the Panthers' six sacks in a 35-10 win at Louisville on Friday night.

Carlton Mitchell, WR, South Florida: Mitchell had six catches for 139 yards and two touchdowns in the Bulls' 34-20 win at Syracuse.

Nate Allen, S, South Florida: Allen had eight tackles and two interceptions in the Bulls' victory.

Big East stock report

September, 30, 2009
9/30/09
8:53
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Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett


More reliable than Wall Street, here comes the weekly Big East stock report. Your bonus category this week is coach of the year race.

Stock up

1. South Florida's defensive line: I ranked the Bulls' D-line No. 2 in my preseason position rankings primarily because I didn't know how good the newcomers would be. All questions were answered in the Florida State game, when this group played like one of the best in the country. "It would be a challenge for an NFL offensive line against this team," Syracuse coach Doug Marrone said this week.

2. B.J. Daniels: This may be heresy, but when I saw Daniels run the show for the Bulls, I didn't think Matt Grothe as much as I did a young Pat White. Not as fast as White, but with a stronger arm. Maybe Daniels will be the one who eventually breaks Grothe's yardage record.

3. Jonathan Freeny: The junior is developing into the pass-rusher that Rutgers needs, with four sacks already on the season.

4. Delone Carter: The Syracuse back had four touchdowns against Maine. He's built like a fire hydrant and runs with 100 percent effort.

5. Cameron Saddler: The Pitt freshman was one of the lone bright spots in the NC State loss, with 111 total yards and some nice kick returns. He's becoming a weapon in the offense at receiver.

Stock down

1. Pitt's discipline: The dumb penalties and missed assignments have to get fixed in a hurry before the Panthers start Big East play.

2. Louisville's red zone production: The Cardinals have scored just seven touchdowns in 17 trips inside the 20 and have missed three field goals in the red zone. And when they did score a touchdown in the fourth quarter to make it 23-13 at Utah last week, Steve Kragthorpe didn't go for two to make it a one score contest. He said later he was thinking about winning the game at that point; seems like an extra point would help in that regard.

3. UConn's hands: Seven fumbles against Rhode Island is crazy. At least the Huskies recovered four of them -- and won 52-10.

4. Cincinnati's kickoff coverage: The Bearcats gave up 26 yards per return to Fresno State. Hey, we've got to find something to criticize this team for, right?

5. Saturday tailgating: This week in the Big East, anyway. There are only two games involving league teams on Saturday, and both of them will kick off by 1 p.m.

Player of the year race: Offense

1. Tony Pike, QB, Cincinnati: Has completed 70.5 percent of his passes for 1,223 yards, 11 touchdowns and two interceptions. Runaway leader at this point.

2. Mardy Gilyard, WR, Cincinnati: Has 32 catches for 442 yards and six touchdowns.

3. Dion Lewis, RB, Pittsburgh: Has rushed 86 times for 493 yards (5.7 yards per carry) and seven touchdowns.

4. Noel Devine, RB, West Virginia: Has rushed 51 times for 320 yards (6.3 ypc) and five touchdowns.

5. Mike Williams, WR, Syracuse: Has 28 catches for 437 yards and three touchdowns.

Player of the year race: Defense

1. George Selvie, DE, South Florida: Leader of the league's nastiest unit.

2. Lindsey Witten, DE, UConn: Numbers down the last two games, but he's also been dealing with a stomach bug.

3. Lawrence Wilson, LB, UConn: Leads league with 42 tackles and has been strong in absence of Scott Lutrus.

4. Nate Allen, S, South Florida: Showed his potential with a great game at Florida State.

5. Aaron Webster, S, Cincinnati: Bearcats still looking good on defense, and he's their leader.

Coach of the year race:

1. Brian Kelly, Cincinnati: The way he replaced so many parts and made this team even better makes him the front-runner for a third straight trophy.

2. Jim Leavitt, South Florida: Losing Matt Grothe and still winning at Florida State says a lot.

3. Doug Marrone, Syracuse: Has the Orange at .500 for the first time since 2006.

4. Randy Edsall, Connecticut: Lost a slew of draft picks but has the Huskies at 3-1.

Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett


TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- South Florida defensive coordinator Joe Tresey could point to schemes and personnel for his team's defensive domination of Florida State on Saturday. But he had a simpler explanation.

"Most of our kids weren't good enough to play for these guys," Tresey said. "They came into this game and they had a little chip on their shoulder. They didn't talk about it a lot. But just kind of deep down inside, they wanted to show up and show them they could play."

There's no doubt about that any more. South Florida's 17-7 win was no fluke. The Bulls didn't just benefit from Florida State mistakes or lucky bounces. They dictated the outcome with a faster, stronger, hungrier group of players.
 
 AP Photo/Phil Coale
 Jim Leavitt soaks in his team's win over Florida State Saturday.


We've seen them do this before. Two years ago, they won at Auburn and beat West Virginia to rise to No. 2 in the nation. Last year, they beat Kansas and made another brief top 10 appearance.

But this was the first time South Florida had ever taken down one of the Sunshine State's holy triumvirate of FSU, Miami and Florida. Now the 13-year-old program can say with a straight face that it deserves a membership in that exclusive club. After all, the Bulls just nailed the interview.

"It's only one game," head coach Jim Leavitt said. "We haven't done what those guys have done. They've won national championships.

"But now when people ask me should you be in the Big Four, I can say, well, at least we should be talked about once in a while."

Speaking of a big four, South Florida's defensive line was the most prestigious group on this field.

The Seminoles rushed for 313 yards last week in a 54-28 win at BYU. On Saturday, they managed just 19 rushing yards. The Bulls' defensive front manhandled the FSU offensive line the whole game, finishing with five sacks and nine tackles behind the line of scrimmage as a unit. Even those statistics don't tell the whole story of how one sided the matchup was.

Because South Florida got so much pressure with just its front four, the rest of the defense could drop into coverage or help out against the run. Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder found success scrambling and throwing the first three games this season; on Saturday he mostly had to run for his life while a Bulls lineman chased him in the backfield.

"We know we're an athletic defensive line, and all we did was come out and be relentless," George Selvie said.

Even field-position disadvantages were turned into an advantage. The Seminoles had first-and-goal on the 3 early in the second quarter but got stuffed on three straight running plays. Selvie flashed his two-time All-American form, while junior college transfer Jason Pierre-Paul -- who just joined the program late in training camp -- provided a menacing bookend, often meeting Selvie at the intersection of Ponder and pounding.

"I've only been here a couple of weeks, and I'm still learning the system," said Pierre-Paul, in what must prompt frightening thoughts for Big East quarterbacks.

Defensive tackles Craig Marshall and Aaron Harris combined for three sacks, too. Safety Nate Allen played like the potential pro he's always been, while freshman Jon Lejiste helped set a tone early with a cannonball hit on Tavares Pressley to cause a fumble. South Florida held the line despite losing starting linebackers Kion Wilson and Chris Robinson to injury and being forced to turn to two true freshmen at that spot.

"The courage was unbelievable," Leavitt said.

After his players had finished celebrating on the field and headed back up the tunnel, Leavitt took a moment to soak everything in. He looked up at his jubilant fans, made a Bulls sign with each hand and leaned his head back, not minding the light rain that was dripping on his face.

He stood there like that for a couple of minutes. Later, he said he nearly broke down and cried then, thinking about this seminal victory over the Seminoles.

"It changes history," he said.

Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett

The Big East doesn't put out an official preseason all-conference team. But I do. Below are my picks for the best in the league for 2009. Pittsburgh leads the way with six selections.

Offense

QB Tony Pike, Cincinnati
RB Noel Devine, West Virginia
RB Victor Anderson, Louisville
WR Mardy Gilyard, Cincinnati
WR Jonathan Baldwin, Pittsburgh
OT: Anthony Davis, Rutgers
OG: John Malecki, Pittsburgh
C: Ryan Blaszczyk Rutgers
OG: Art Forst, Rutgers
OT: Jason Pinkston, Pittsburgh
TE: Nate Byham, Pittsburgh


Defense

DE: George Selvie, South Florida
DT: Arthur Jones, Syracuse
DT: Scooter Berry, West Virginia
DE: Greg Romeus, Pittsburgh
LB: Ryan D'Imperio, Rutgers
LB: Scott Lutrus, Connecticut
LB: Reed Williams, West Virginia
CB: Aaron Berry, Pittsburgh
CB: Brandon Hogan, West Virginia
S: Nate Allen, South Florida
S: Robert Vaughn, Connecticut

Specialists

P: Rob Long, Syracuse
PK: Jake Rogers, Cincinnati
KR: Mardy Gilyard, Cincinnati
PR: Jasper Howard, Connecticut

Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett

My colleagues Chris Low and Ted Miller have an interesting debate today over who's the best safety in college football: Tennessee's Eric Berry or USC's Taylor Mays.

Berry and Mays are getting a lot of attention this preseason, and rightfully so. But the debate made me think that the Big East has some pretty good safeties this year, too. In fact, it may be one of the deeper positions in the league.

Here are my top five Big East safeties for 2009, in no particular order:

Nate Allen, South Florida: Incredibly athletic guy, with a prototypical NFL body. Needs to bounce back from a slightly disappointing junior season.

Aaron Webster, Cincinnati: Brought a real toughness to the Bearcats' defense when he moved into the starting lineup after a few games last season. A big hitter who will be called upon to lead an inexperienced defense.

Robert Vaughn, Connecticut: Flies a little under the radar, like most Huskies. All he does is produce, with nine interceptions the past two years and 27 straight starts.

Dom DeCicco, Pittsburgh: Really came on at the end of last year, including a big Sun Bowl performance. Has a nose for the ball.

Robert Sands, West Virginia: Unusually tall (6-foot-5) for a safety, he started nine games as a true freshman and looks like a future star.

That's a pretty good list, and I didn't even include Rutgers' Joe Lefeged, West Virginia's Sidney Glover or Pitt's Elijah Fields. There may not be a Taylor Mays or Eric Berry in this league, but the Big East has some awfully good safeties, too.

 
 Icon SMI
 Jim Leavitt wants his players to keep their fast start in perspective.

Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett

Rising up in the polls isn't new for South Florida.

Staying there would be, however.

The Bulls recognize this reality, which is why they're trying to stay focused after last Friday's 37-34 win over Kansas. That victory lifted them to 3-0 and No. 12 in the Associated Press Top 25.

"It's early right now," coach Jim Leavitt said after the game. "I don't think one game makes a season. Our players have to put this in perspective.

"Last year, we got going a little bit, then we dropped off."

South Florida ascended all the way to No. 2 in the poll last season after starting off 6-0 with wins over West Virginia and Auburn. But the rarified-air residence lasted only a week, as it immediately fell at Rutgers and spiraled into a three-game losing streak.

"Last year, I think it became a job," defensive end George Selvie said. "Nobody was holding anything back against Auburn and West Virginia. But then it became a job. We need to make sure we go out there and have fun."

A great opportunity awaits. Right now, the Bulls aren't scheduled to face another ranked team until the season finale at West Virginia, a team they've beaten two years in a row. They could be favored in every game until then. The toughest game before West Virginia looks like an Oct. 30 date at Cincinnati, but the Bearcats are debuting a new starting quarterback this week.

So the Bulls mostly need to focus on themselves. While they've been strong on both sides of the ball -- ranking 13th nationally in total offense and 25th in total defense -- they've been prone to occasional lapses that doomed them in the past. Against Central Florida, they gave away a two-touchdown lead late before winning in overtime. Against Kansas, they fell behind 20-3 before rallying.

"We can't have that first half replayed," safety Nate Allen said. "It was like we weren't all here or something. We can't do that down the road or we might get beat. We've still got a lot of improvement to make."

That may be the biggest difference between this year's South Florida and last year's. The Bulls see their current rise as the beginning of the journey, not the destination.

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

It was inevitable that the Big 12 would lose some nonconference games again after last weekend's history-making sweep. So this weekend's results weren't really that astounding.

The conference could have gotten a bump if Kansas QB Todd Reesing had hooked up with Ray Brown late in the South Florida game. The pass, instead, was intercepted by USF's Nate Allen and provided the window that the Bulls needed for a game-winning field goal on the final play of the game.

Iowa State's loss at Iowa really wasn't that surprising. The Cyclones struggled against a tougher-than-advertised Iowa defense. And special-teams breakdowns in field goals and kick coverage bit them again as coach Gene Chizik still is looking for his first career road victory.

But other than that, the Big 12 looked strong. After three weeks, the conference has a combined 28-4 record with three of the defeats coming against foes from BCS conferences.

Here's a look at a few specific things we learned over the weekend.

1. The lack of a running game finally caught up with Kansas -- For as well as Reesing played -- save for that one fateful play -- the Jayhawks would have been much better off with at least a semblance of a token running attack. Kansas produced 61 yards rushing against Florida and is averaging 105 yards rushing per game to rank 101st nationally. The Jayhawks won't be able to beat many Big 12 foes without balancing the offense a little and taking some of the pressure from Reesing.

2. The biggest loser this week was Texas -- Hurricane Ike's postponement has put the Longhorns in a tough scheduling bind. Instead of having a week off before a tough Big 12 start that will include games against Colorado, Oklahoma and Missouri, the Longhorns now will have Arkansas thrown on top of it. I bet coach Mack Brown liked it better the old way. And it probably didn't make him feel any better that there wasn't a drop of rain in Austin on Saturday.

3. Oklahoma QB Sam Bradford is progressing nicely, thank you -- Want to know the best way to judge that? He makes everything look so easy that throwing five touchdown passes and running another one -- a performance for the ages in the Sooner annals -- almost seems routine. Oklahoma delivered a 41-point beating to Washington that was the Huskies' worst home defeat since 1929. Bradford's handling of the Sooners' no-huddle offensive attack has been superb. That improvement, on top of the Sooners' other offensive and defensive weapons, have placed them as a legitimate BCS title game threat.

4. Forget about Michael Crabtree, Josh Smith, Josh Freeman or Jeremy Maclin -- The most exciting player in the Big 12 is Baylor QB Robert Griffin. His record-setting performance against Washington State -- even if it was against a jet-lagged Cougar defense -- was a memorable one. And sorry, Big 12 defensive coordinators, but he'll only be getting better with more experience.

5. Nebraska coach Bo Pelini has to be smiling as he reviews his game film today -- Pelini finally saw the Cornhuskers play with the hard edge that he craves in their systematic dismantling of New Mexico State. For the first time this season, the Huskers ran the ball with authority, piling up 330 yards. And the Nebraska secondary had its best game of the season, too. New Mexico State QB Chase Holbrook, a career 70 percent completion percentage passer coming into the game, was 15-for-30 for 142 yards and two interceptions. The Cornhuskers are looking good heading into their nonconference finale against Virginia Tech in two weeks.

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