NCF Nation: Pat White

Hope springs in the Big East

May, 22, 2013
5/22/13
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This fall will mark the final college football season that concludes with a BCS title game. The era has had its ups and downs for all, so here we will take a look at the best and worst of the past 15 years in the Big East:

BEST
1. BCS bowl performances: For all of the heat that this conference gets, it will likely exit the BCS era with no worse than a .500 record in BCS bowls. The Big East is 8-7 in BCS bowls during the past 15 years, winning its past two (Louisville over Florida in the 2013 Sugar, West Virginia over Clemson in the 2012 Orange.) The ACC, by comparison, has a 3-13 record in BCS bowls.

2. National title game appearances: Miami and Virginia Tech might both be ACC members right now, but the schools had combined for three national title game appearances as members of the Big East. Virginia Tech lost to Florida State in the Sugar Bowl following the 1999 season and Miami fell to Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl following the 2002 season, while the Hurricanes defeated Nebraska in the Rose Bowl following the 2001 season. The Big Ten has three title game appearances, the ACC has three and the Pac-12 has three only if you count USC's appearances following the 2004 and 2005 seasons, both of which were vacated by the NCAA.

3. Realignment replacements (the first time around): After losing Boston College, Miami and Virginia Tech to the ACC, the Big East was able to scoop up Cincinnati, Louisville and USF from Conference USA as football members (and Marquette and DePaul as non-football members). Cincinnati has won a share of four of the past five league titles and Louisville has won a share of the past two, in addition to appearing in a pair of BCS bowl games.

[+] EnlargeGreg Schiano
Bob Donnan/USA TODAY SportsGreg Schiano scooped up the accolades by leading Rutgers to an 11-2 mark in 2006.
4. Coaches: Virginia Tech's Frank Beamer won five different coach-of-the-year awards (Bear Bryant, Eddie Robinson, AP, Walter Camp and Maxwell) in 1999. Miami's Larry Coker won the Bryant award in 2001. Rutgers' Greg Schiano won five different coach-of-the-year awards (Liberty Mutual, Robinson, Home Depot, Walter Camp and Maxwell) in 2006. Cincinnati's Brian Kelly won the Home Depot award in 2009, giving the conference 12 coach of the year awards from four different coaches during the BCS era.

5. Bowl record: Matchups can often get more and more uneven as we look at the landscape of bowl games, but the Big East has certainly taken care of business when it comes to the postseason, going 46-29 in bowl games since the 1998 season.

WORST
1. Realignment losses (the next time around): This almost goes without saying, as no conference has suffered from realignment more than the Big East. Gone or soon-to-be gone are Boston College, Miami, Virginia Tech, Pitt, Syracuse, West Virginia, Rutgers and Louisville in football. (TCU, Boise State and San Diego State all left before playing a down as football-only members.) Notre Dame and the Catholic 7 (DePaul, Georgetown, Marquette, Providence, Seton Hall, St. John's and Villanova) all left in other sports.

2. Status/money: As a result of realignment, the Big East no longer has a guaranteed tie-in to an elite bowl game. And it is not sharing in the same revenue split from the future playoff as the ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC. Simply put, there will be one less major conference starting in the 2014 season, as the Big East simply is not in the same place that it was as recently as two years ago.

3. BCS bowl appearances: The Big East's 15 BCS-bowl appearances are the lowest among any AQ school, as the conference has never received more than one bid in a year. The ACC received two following the 2011 season, with conference champion Clemson going to the Orange Bowl (and getting crushed by Big East champion West Virginia) and Virginia Tech going to the Sugar Bowl (and losing in overtime to Michigan).

4. QBs in draft: Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater may change things with another strong performance in 2013, and there have been other notable performances in recent years (WVU's Pat White, for one), but outside of Virginia Tech's Michael Vick (No. 1 overall, 2001) and Syracuse's Donovan McNabb (No. 2, 1999), the Big East has not had a quarterback drafted in the first round in the BCS era.

5. Conflicting interests: The divide between basketball and football schools played a large part in the split-up of the Big East. So, too, did the trust and double-speak. Look no further than departing member Pitt and its chancellor, Mark Nordenberg, who led a five-school contingent that sued Boston College in 2003 following the Eagles' departure for the ACC, saying at the time: "This is a case that involves broken commitments, secret dealings, breaches of fiduciary responsibility, the misappropriations of conference opportunities and predatory attempts to eliminate competition."

Pregame: Outback Bowl

January, 1, 2013
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Michigan (8-4, 6-2 Big Ten) vs. South Carolina (10-2, 6-2 SEC)

Who to watch: South Carolina sophomore defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. Against a somewhat suspect Michigan offensive line -- other than future NFL first-round tackle Taylor Lewan -- Clowney could have a huge day. He tied for second in the FBS with 13 sacks, and was second in tackles for loss (21.5, 1.95 per game). Between the Wolverines’ line and a running game which rarely produced this season, this sets up well for Clowney.

What to watch: Michigan’s offense. One of the bigger questions for the Wolverines is where senior Denard Robinson will line up and how often. Michigan likely plans on using Robinson at quarterback, running back and wide receiver. In addition to it being Robinson’s last college game -- and a potential preview of what he’ll try to do in the NFL -- he needs 85 rushing yards to tie former West Virginia quarterback Pat White for the FBS quarterback rushing record.

Why to watch: Besides the NFL-level matchup between Clowney and Lewan and the potential explosiveness in Robinson’s last game, this could be a chance to see South Carolina, one of the more promising teams next year, jump-start a run for the 2013 season. The Gamecocks should return most of their offense next season, along with Clowney and a few others on defense, which could set them up for another successful year in the SEC. On the Michigan side, if quarterback Devin Gardner has a good day -- he’s averaged 251.25 yards passing in his four starts -- it could set him up for a special 2013 season.

Prediction: While Michigan’s offense could be very fun to watch and explosive with Robinson moving all over the field, the Wolverines still have the same issues with their running backs and offensive line that they’ve had all season long. Add into that a secondary missing starting cornerback J.T. Floyd because of suspension, and it could be a tough day for Michigan. Gardner and Robinson keep it close on offense, but South Carolina has too much. South Carolina 24, Michigan 17.
RodriguezChris Coduto/Icon SMICoaches around the country have implemented parts of Rich Rodriguez's hurry-up spread offense.
Here's an interesting story from Andrea Adelson about "copycat coaches." It's interesting not only because it's a good topic but also, for our purposes, because its central figure is new Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez, arguably the father of the modern day, run-first spread-option attack.

Andrea sent over the Q&A she did with Rodriguez, which we're going to publish in its entirety. It includes lots of background on Rodriguez and his innovative offense, which has been copied by a lot of folks -- yes, including that guy up in Eugene.

Thanks to Andrea for doing all the legwork and writing a nice story.

When was the first time you had coaches asking for pointers on your offense?

Rich Rodriguez: When we went to Tulane, the second year we had a good year, with Shaun King. Then you had some games on TV, and that was the first time after that season that a lot of coaches started coming and visiting and calling. We beat BYU in a bowl game, and Lavell [Edwards] was the head coach, Norm Chow the offensive coordinator. So after the game, they said, ‘Would you come over and talk some football with us? I’m thinking are you kidding me? This is Norm Chow and Lavell Edwards, the passing gurus. I said I’ll do it on one condition. You have to give me some of your information, too. You have to teach me what you’re doing. Norm and I have been friends since that time. It was a great trip.

What was your connection with Tommy Bowden at Tulane?

RR: At Glenville, I went to the Bowden Passing Academy and I always talked football. Tommy had taken an interest in what we were doing. We never worked together when he called me to be offensive coordinator. It was really flattering. I asked, ‘Will you let me run my offense?’ He said sure. Tommy was the first big name, big coach, who took an interest in what we were doing. When we went to Tulane, there were a few folks. At Clemson, we saw a few more. Then at West Virginia, it wasn’t as good the first year we were there, but after that it took off again. I can remember Urban [Meyer], when he first got the Bowling Green job, we were at a coaches convention hospitality bar. He told me, ‘I’d like to run some of your offense.’ So he sent his whole staff for a week, we traded some ideas and so we always traded ideas. The Oklahoma guys, Bob Stoops and I became friends. They would come to our place or we’d go to Oklahoma and spend the week. After the Sugar Bowl year in the 2005 season, we had a whole bunch more. Some 30 different staffs come in, Penn State, Ohio State some non-traditional non-spread coaching staffs. I said maybe I am being too open, but I thought it was a great opportunity for us to learn, too. To pick their brains.

(Read full post)

Best, worst moments of BCS

June, 28, 2012
6/28/12
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The BCS will still exist for the next two seasons, but the formal announcement of a four-team playoff means it is almost time to say goodbye to the old way of doing business.

So what are some of the best and worst moments in BCS history for the Big East? Let's take a trip down memory lane.

Best

2002 BCS National Championship Game: No. 1 Miami 37, No. 2 Nebraska 14. Nothing tops Miami winning the national championship in 2001. Hard to believe that was 11 years ago that the Hurricanes were in the Big East and dominating in a major way. That 2001 team is one of the best that ever has played college football, featuring a huge share of NFL players and one of the most unflappable (and underrated) quarterbacks in Ken Dorsey. I covered that team, and I will never forget the way it absolutely dominated Nebraska in the Rose Bowl.

2008 Fiesta Bowl: No. 9 West Virginia 48, No. 4 Oklahoma 28. West Virginia came into the game reeling. The Mountaineers lost their shot at playing for a national title after getting upset by Pitt 13-9 in the Backyard Brawl. Then coach Rich Rodriguez left for Michigan. Nobody gave them much of a shot. But instead, Pat White absolutely dominated in one of the best performances of his career, running for 150 yards and throwing for 176 in the victory, led by interim coach Bill Stewart. West Virginia was able to overcome the loss of Steve Slaton in the game, and the big win led to Stewart being elevated to head coach.

Worst

2011 Fiesta Bowl: No. 7 Oklahoma 48, UConn 20. There is no question this was the biggest mismatch of the BCS era. Oklahoma went into the game with an 11-2 mark; UConn went in at 8-4. The matchup, consequently, began a debate about whether the Big East should really have automatic entry into the BCS. None of the blame should have been directed at the Huskies, who pulled off several close finishes to make it to their first BCS game. But the truth is they were not in the same ballpark as the Sooners, who had a 34-10 lead early in the third quarter. UConn never scored an offensive touchdown.

2010 Sugar Bowl: No. 5 Florida 51, No. 3 Cincinnati 24. The Bearcats went undefeated in the regular season but were not able to play for a national championship. After the regular season ended, coach Brian Kelly left for Notre Dame, and his departure may have contributed to the way they played against the Gators -- inspired in Tim Tebow's final game. Florida jumped out to a 30-3 halftime lead, and Cincinnati only had 246 yards of total offense.
Landry Jones and Jordan TodmanGetty ImagesLandry Jones leads heavily favored Oklahoma against Jordan Todman and Connecticut.
We've heard it ever since the bowl pairing was announced: Connecticut has no chance, and this might be the most lopsided matchup of the entire season. Oklahoma enters as the champion of the Big 12, a conference with five teams in the top 20.

Connecticut, to its credit, won its final five games to get here, but needed a 52-yard field goal in its season finale to win the Big East, a conference with one team (West Virginia) in the BCS top 25.

Even Vegas agrees, pinning the Sooners as a 17-point favorite.

So the big question is simple: What reason do we have to believe that we're not in for a snoozer on Saturday night?

[+] EnlargeOklahoma's Bob Stoops
AP Photo/Ross D. FranklinThe last time Bob Stoops was at the Fiesta Bowl, he left with West Virginia interim coach Bill Stewart consoling him.
Ted Miller: David, let's start with karmic reasons! For one, when everyone thinks one thing, it's inevitably wrong. Second, Oklahoma has a history of flopping in BCS bowl games, losing to opponents great (USC, Florida) and small (West Virginia, Boise State). The Sooners have been hearing non-stop how much better they are than UConn all week. That's been in their heads during preparation. You wonder if they will show up with their A-game on Saturday, no matter how often they claim they are fully and completely motivated. Further, UConn has been hearing about how lousy they are, how they don't deserve to be here. Heck, some want to change BCS rules so an unranked team won't get into a BCS bowl game again! You should expect the Huskies, a well-coached team, to come out focused and angry. We always talk about how important motivation is in a bowl game. That's an area where the Huskies should have a decided edge.

Or do you think this is cracked and the Sooner are going to come out on fire?

David Ubben: Yeah, for as much as the Huskies have heard they don't belong here, Oklahoma has heard just as much about those famous flops on big bowl stages. Those didn't happen back in the 70s. Plenty of the guys on this team were there or played in the losses to West Virginia and Florida. They want to prove those days are behind them, and close a pretty good season by Oklahoma standards with a win. Also, unlike those teams, which had some of the best players in college football like Tim Tebow, Percy Harvin and Pat White, there's nothing about UConn that's particularly scary or gamebreaking. Jordan Todman is solid, but he's not a guy that's going to give Oklahoma nightmares like Noel Devine did.

And though teams like Boise State and West Virginia were short on program pedigree like the Huskies, they were also short on losses, where Connecticut has a healthy surplus. All five of those losses came to experienced teams and those five teams have the same number of losses combined (4) as the unranked Huskies have in just this season.

So, if Oklahoma is ready to play, are there any reasons for Sooners fans to be concerned?

Ted Miller: Well, I think we can all agree that if Oklahoma comes out and plays its best, it's going to win the game. It's simply more talented in nearly every area.

But this is college football, and talent doesn't always carry the day. UConn's recipe for success here isn't revolutionary. It needs to win the turnover battle, probably decisively. It needs to win third down on both sides of the ball. It needs to establish its running game and play keep-away from a potent Sooners offense. It needs to make at least a few plays downfield in the passing game to keep the Sooners defense reasonable honest when it tries to gang up on the line of scrimmage against running back Jordan Todman. And it needs to win the red zone, scoring TDs when it's there and keeping the Sooners out of the end zone when they are there.

What can't happen? UConn can't make mistakes. And it must maintain some pass-run balance to keep the Sooners honest.

So that's a fairly involved scenario for a UConn win. What do the Sooners need to do to prove the experts correct?

David Ubben: You're right, I think even Connecticut players would admit Oklahoma is the more complete team, but two of the greatest equalizers in football are turnovers and weather. Unfortunately, the three-point shot in college football (a.k.a. a field goal) isn't quite as effective as in basketball.

Since we'll be indoors, Oklahoma can count out that as a factor.

[+] EnlargeConnecticut's Jerome Junior
AP Photo/Fred BeckhamConnecticut may need to win the turnover battle to beat Oklahoma. Jerome Junior (15) was one of two Huskies with four interceptions this season.
Turnovers, however, could be an issue. If Oklahoma loses this game, I'd be willing to guarantee that it lost the turnover battle. Landry Jones has been much, much more careful with the ball in 2010, but he caught a bit of the turnover bug against Oklahoma State. If Connecticut can do something similar and -- here's the important part -- capitalize off them with points, then we'll have a ball game.

Don't expect the Sooners to put the ball on the ground, though. They've lost just five fumbles this year in 13 games, good for sixth nationally.

So, theories aside, let's get down to it. How does this play out?
Ted Miller: I think UConn comes out with a sound plan and plays hard. I expect the game to be close at halftime, with the notion of a huge upset still alive. But the Huskies lack the firepower to keep up, touchdown for touchdown, with the Sooners. I expect the UConn defense will start to wear down due to the Sooners fast-paced offense, and that will create big-play opportunities in both the passing and running game for Oklahoma. Once the Sooners get up by double-digits, I don't see the Huskies being capable of loading up on the passing game to mount a comeback.

So let's say 42-24 Oklahoma.

What's your take?

David Ubben: Yeah, I'm taking Oklahoma 41-20. Oklahoma hasn't seen a back as good as Todman this year that also plays in a power system. The closest thing has been Cyrus Gray at Texas A&M, who ran for 122 yards and the Aggies beat Oklahoma.

But unlike A&M, Connecticut doesn't have enough weapons elsewhere to keep up with an Oklahoma offense that it won't be able to stop barring turnovers. Remember, Connecticut is playing without nickel back Mike Lang, too. Oklahoma should be able to move the ball consistently, and while I think it might be close early, I tend to buy into your idea of them being worn down.

I think the Huskies can catch the Sooners on play action a couple times for big plays, but not enough to outscore them.

When a player like Denard Robinson comes along, the natural response is to identify a suitable comparison.

Not surprisingly, the first name mentioned is Pat White, the former West Virginia star who, like Robinson, thrived in Rich Rodriguez's spread offense. Rodriguez has acknowledged some links between White and Robinson, although "Shoelace" has a long way to go to catch up with one of the best players in recent college football history.

Others saw Robinson's quick start for Michigan and likened him to Vince Young, college football's ultimate dual-threat superstar. ESPN's Stats & Info crew produced a chart for last week's notes comparing Robinson's first five games to Young's first five at Texas in 2005. Turns out, Robinson had a better completion percentage (69.8-62.4), more rushing yards (905-355), more rushing touchdowns (9-2) and almost as many pass yards (1,008-1,021), although Young had three more pass touchdowns (10-5).

[+] EnlargeAntwaan Randle El
AP Photo/Darron CummingsMichigan's Denard Robinson has been compared to former Big Ten MVP Antwaan Randle El of Indiana.
But Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz might have come up with the best comparison when discussing Robinson last week.

"What he's done is amazing, remarkable," Ferentz said. "The first thought I had was of my early years trying to prepare for guys like [Antwaan] Randle El. ... It brought back some good scar tissue."

Iowa went just 1-3 against Indiana when Randle El quarterbacked the Hoosiers between 1998-2001. The Hawkeyes aim for better results Saturday in their first matchup against Robinson and Michigan at Michigan Stadium.

Randle El preceded the wave of dual-threat quarterbacks in college football and certainly was a novelty in the Big Ten. The Indiana star earned Big Ten MVP honors in 2001 and Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors in 1998, and he still holds league records for quarterback rushing in a career (3,895 yards) and in a season (1,270 yards in 2000).

Robinson already occupies the top two spots on the Big Ten single-game quarterback rushing chart -- he set the record with 258 yards against Notre Dame and tied Mike Kafka's mark with 217 against Indiana. Randle El's name, meanwhile, appears throughout the top performances. He had five rushing performances of 150 yards or more, including bursts of 210 yards and 209 yards during the 2000 season.

"I just remember any time Iowa played Indiana, there was this guy running around," Iowa safety Tyler Sash recalled. "He could run like a running back and throw the ball like a quarterback. If coach Ferentz is comparing [Robinson] to Antwaan Randle El, who is one of the best dual-threat quarterbacks the Big Ten's ever had, that speaks highly of Denard and his abilities."

Both Robinson and Randle El wasted no time making an impact as starting quarterbacks.

Robinson piled up 197 rush yards and 187 pass yards in his first career start Sept. 4 against Connecticut. Randle El passed for 385 yards and three touchdowns and added 82 rush yards and three more scores in his collegiate debut against Western Michigan in 1998, breaking Indiana's single-game total offense record with 467 yards.

"They're a little bit different players," Ferentz said, "but they put the same kind of pressure on you and they're the catalysts of a very explosive, high-powered offense. That was true when Randle El was at Indiana. They were a very tough team to defend, and I think Michigan is the same way."

Rodriguez didn't coach in the Big Ten during Randle El's run, but he admired the Indiana star from afar.

"He was such an explosive player," Rodriguez said. "He'd sure be a lot of fun to have in this offense. Denard has some of those same qualities, not only from an athletic, running and throwing standpoint, but also from what I understand from a leadership and a take-charge standpoint.

"Denard's just a young guy, this is his first year starting, but I think he has a lot of those same qualities."

Here's a look at how Robinson's first six starts compare with Randle El's in 1998 (Randle El sat out the 1997 season as a partial qualifier).

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.

Big East players of the decade

January, 19, 2010
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It's not easy coming up with a list of the 10 best players of the past decade in the Big East.

You could almost make the list solely from Miami players between 2000 and 2003; the Hurricanes were that dominant with that many unbelievable athletes on the roster.

But there were several other outstanding players on other teams throughout the decade. When trying to pare down the top 10, I gave extra benefit to longevity. Many stars had amazing single seasons -- guys like Willis McGahee, Donald Brown and Elvis Dumervil -- but I leaned toward those who did it over a longer period of time. NFL production doesn't hurt one's case but is not a major determining factor; this is a list of the best Big East players, not top future pros.

So without further ado, here's my Top 10:

10. Brian Brohm, QB, Louisville: Brohm held the league's all-time career yardage mark before Matt Grothe broke it this past season. He led the Cardinals to the 2007 Orange Bowl title, and he still owns Big East records for passing yards in a career (9,956), season (4,024) and a game (555).

9. Mardy Gilyard, WR, Cincinnati: Gilyard's 3,003 career receiving yards rank just 40 yard behind the league's all-time leader, Rutgers' Kenny Britt. But he is also a two-time league special teams player of the year for his tremendous work on kick returns, and he was one of the main catalysts for the Bearcats' back-to-back Big East titles in 2008 and 2009.

8. Ken Dorsey, QB, Miami: Dorsey is the only Big East quarterback who can say he won a national title in the aughts. He finished his career with a ridiculous 38-2 record, was a two-time Big East offensive player of the year award winner, a two-time Heisman Trophy finalist and the co-MVP of the 2002 Rose Bowl.


Ron Scheffler/US PresswireFormer West Virginia quarterback Pat White had a 4-0 record in bowl games.
7. Sean Taylor, DB, Miami: Taylor was an incredible physical specimen who was as feared a defensive player as the league has ever seen. The hard-hitting safety had 10 interceptions while winning 2003 Big East defensive player of the year honors. Tragically, his life was cut short when he was killed in his home in 2007.

6. Dwight Freeney, DE, Syracuse: Freeney was a holy terror on quarterbacks. His 34 career sacks ranks as the third most in Big East history, and he recorded 17.5 of them his senior year. He has gone on to stardom with the Indianapolis Colts.

5. Bryant McKinnie, OT, Miami: It's easy to forget the big guys up front sometimes, but it's impossible to omit McKinnie from this list. The 2001 Outland Trophy winner and two-time All-American did not allow a sack in his college career. He finished eighth in Heisman Trophy balloting in 2001 -- for an offensive lineman, that's staggeringly high.

4. Ray Rice, RB, Rutgers: Rice had two of the top three rushing seasons in Big East history and finished his three-year career with 4,926 rushing yards, only 113 yards behind all-time leader and four-year player Avon Cobourne of West Virginia. Rutgers' running game has sputtered ever since Rice left campus, and he has blossomed into a star at the next level.

3. Ed Reed, DB, Miami: Reed's Big East record of 21 career interceptions may not be broken for a long, long time. The two-time All-American had nine picks and returned three for touchdowns in 2001 alone.

2. Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Pittsburgh: Fitzgerald finished second in the 2003 Heisman Trophy race and ought to have won it. His incredible season saw him catch 92 passes for 1,672 yards and 22 touchdowns. He was almost as good in 2002, as well.

1. Pat White, QB, West Virginia: White may or may not be the best player on this list, but his accomplishments put him above the rest. He finished his career as the NCAA's all-time leader in rushing among quarterbacks, led West Virginia to two BCS bowl wins and went 4-0 in bowls as a starter. Maybe more importantly, he helped save the Big East by leading the Mountaineers to a win over Georgia in the 2006 Sugar Bowl when the league's credibility and BCS status were in question. For pure impact and career achievement, White is the Big East's man of the decade.

Very honorable mention: Andre Johnson, Kellen Winslow, Willis McGahee and Jonathan Vilma, Miami; Donald Brown, UConn; Kenny Britt, Rutgers; Elvis Dumervil, Louisville; Antonio Bryant and Darrelle Revis, Pitt; Mathias Kiwanuka, Boston College; DeAngelo Hall, Virginia Tech.

That's my list. Who's in your Top 10 of the past 10 years?

Big East lunchtime links

April, 29, 2009
4/29/09
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Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett

• Greg Paulus wrapped up his two-day visit to Syracuse by attending a graduate student reception at the school's Newhouse School with Doug Marrone, the Daily Orange reports.

• Marrone has joined the Twitter craze.

• West Virginia coach Bill Stewart is changing his approach to walk-ons, Dave Hickman writes in the Charleston Gazette.

• Where is George Selvie projected to go in the 2010 draft? The St. Petersburg Times' Greg Auman looks at some absurdly early mocks.

• Are the Miami Dolphins trying to bring the spread offense to the NFL with Pat White? Some league officials think so, the Sun-Sentinel's Omar Kelly writes.

Big East lunchtime links

April, 27, 2009
4/27/09
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Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett

The Cincinnati Enquirer's Bill Koch has an interesting look at how building a signature athletic hub on campus has both helped and hurt Cincinnati financially. The Bearcats are facing a budget shortfall and have had to cut three men's sports teams.

In addition to the debt from the facility that must be financed, Varsity Village costs approximately $1.1 million a year to operate -- $700,000 for utilities and $400,000 in maintenance and custodial costs, [athletic director Mike] Thomas said.
UC, compared with the seven other Division I football schools in the Big East, is ill-equipped to absorb that kind of debt year after year. According to Thomas, the average combined revenue produced by the men's basketball and football programs among the eight Big East football schools is $26 million per year. UC ranks last in that group at $14 million.

• Greg Paulus was in Syracuse this weekend and apparently met with Orange football coaches on Sunday night, Donnie Webb writes in the Syracuse Post-Standard.

In draft news ...

• Pat White was thrilled to be drafted by the Wildcat-running Miami Dolphins, Mike Casazza writes in the Charleston Daily Mail. Within this story, there is word that undrafted offensive linemen Greg Isdaner (Dallas Cowboys) and Ryan Stanchek (Atlanta Falcons) have signed free-agent deals.

• UConn's Julius Williams and Tyler Lorenzen signed with Jacksonville, while Dahna Deleston signed with the Bears and Keith Gray inked with Carolina, Desmond Conner writes in the Hartford Courant.

• Louisville's Hunter Cantwell signed with the Carolina Panthers, Mike Grant says in The Courier-Journal.

Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett

Twenty-seven Big East products had their name called over the weekend in the NFL draft. Three league schools had their best drafts ever.

Cincinnati had six players taken, the most of any Big East team and the most in program history. The previous school record had been five, which happened in 1998, 1960 and 1947. The Bearcats were one of only nine schools to have six or more players drafted this year.

Connecticut had never had a player taken in the first two rounds of the draft before Saturday. Four Huskies went in the first two rounds this year, including the school's first-ever first-rounder, running back Donald Brown.

Rutgers had a record-setting five players drafted, including the Scarlet Knights' first-ever first-rounder, wide receiver Kenny Britt. The most Rutgers had ever previously had drafted in one year was three, in 2007.

Here's a rundown of all the league draft picks and some commentary:

Cincinnati

Player, Position, Round, Team

Connor Barwin, DE, 2, Houston Texans

• DeAngelo Smith, DB, 5, Dallas Cowboys

Brandon Underwood, DB, 6, Green Bay Packers

Mike Mickens, DB, 7, Dallas Cowboys

Trevor Canfield, OG, 7, Arizona Cardinals

Thoughts: Kind of surprising that Mickens went after Underwood and Smith, when he was generally regarded as the best pro prospect of the three for most of his career. The fifth round is lofty territory for a punter, but Huber is that good.

Connecticut

Player, Position, Round, Team

• Donald Brown, RB, 1, Indianapolis Colts

Darius Butler, DB, 2, New England Patriots

Will Beatty, OT, 2, New York Giants

Cody Brown, OLB, 2, Arizona Cardinals

Thoughts: We thought UConn would have a huge day, and the Huskies sure did.

Louisville

Player, Position, Round, Team

Eric Wood, C/OG, 1, Buffalo Bills

George Bussey, OT, 5, New England Patriots

Thoughts: Bussey didn't get much pre-draft buzz, but the Patriots must have liked the former walk-on who became a three-year starter and All-Big East performer. Wood will play guard for the Bills.

Pittsburgh

Player, Position, Round, Team

LeSean McCoy, RB, 2, Philadelphia Eagles

Scott McKillop, LB, 5, San Francisco 49ers

LaRod Stephens-Howling, RB, 7, Arizona Cardinals

Derek Kinder, WR, 7, Chicago Bears

Thoughts: OK, Pitt fans. How do you feel about McCoy going to Philly? Will you still root for him? Getting McKillop in the fifth round seems like a steal.

Rutgers

Player, Position, Round, Team

• Kenny Britt, WR, 1, Tennessee Titans

Mike Teel, QB, 6, Seattle Seahawks

Jason McCourty, DB, 6, Tennessee Titans

Courtney Greene, DB, 7, Seattle Seahawks

Tiquan Underwood, WR, 7, Jacksonville Jaguars

Thoughts: I didn't think Teel would get drafted, but good for him. The Titans and Seahawks must have liked Greg Schiano's program.

South Florida

Player, Position, Round, Team

Tyrone McKenzie, OLB, 3, New England Patriots

Thoughts: Despite all that Florida talent, the Bulls had the smallest draft class in the Big East.

Syracuse

Player, Position, Round, Team

Tony Fiammetta, FB, 4, Carolina Panthers

Ryan Durand, OG, 7, Tennessee Titans

Thoughts: Durand was another guy who wasn't on many mock draft boards. There were some good fullbacks in the Big East, including Pitt's Conredge Collins and Louisville's Brock Bolen. But Fiammetta was the only one drafted.

West Virginia

Player, Position, Round, Team

Pat White, QB/WR, 2, Miami Dolphins

Ellis Lankster, CB, 7, Buffalo
Bills

Pat McAfee, K, 7, Indianapolis

Thoughts: Can't wait to see how the Dolphins, who showed a lot of creativity on offense last year, use White.

Prominent players who went undrafted:

Hunter Cantwell, Louisville

Greg Isdaner and Mortty Ivy, West Virginia

Jamaal Westerman, Rutgers

• C.J. Davis, Pittsburgh

Julius Williams, UConn

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

The departure of a three-year starter at quarterback is never cause for celebration, but Northwestern offensive coordinator Mick McCall could get exactly what he wants in the backfield this fall.

 
  Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images
  Mike Kafka is one option for the Wildcats at quarterback in 2009.

Northwestern's spread offense works best with a mobile quarterback who poses a legitimate rushing threat. After all, the roots of the Wildcats' system can be traced directly to Rich Rodriguez, who has directed dynamic offenses with mobile quarterbacks (Shaun King, Woody Dantzler, Pat White) and struggled mightily when his quarterbacks lack foot speed (Michigan's 2008 season).

McCall also enjoyed his best coaching success when he mentored mobile quarterbacks Josh Harris and Omar Jacobs at Bowling Green.

Outgoing Northwestern starter C.J. Bacher and his predecessor Brett Basanez showed decent mobility at times, but the team has lacked a true rushing threat since Zak Kustok finished his career in 2001.

McCall will have two when spring practice opens March 30.

"It puts a lot of pressure on the defense when the quarterback can run and be able to break some things open that way," McCall said. "The defense definitely has to be a lot different."

Projected starter Mike Kafka already has established himself as a rushing threat in the Big Ten. Making his first start in three years Nov. 1 against Minnesota, Kafka set a Big Ten quarterback record with 217 rushing yards. He followed with 83 rushing yards the next week against Ohio State.

Backup Dan Persa can move a bit, too.

As a high school senior in Bethlehem, Pa., he became the first player in state history to eclipse 2,000 passing yards and 1,000 rush yards in the same season. Despite serving as Northwestern's third-string quarterback last fall, Persa was used regularly on special teams, even returning a kickoff against Michigan.

Kafka and Persa should enhance a rushing attack that loses Tyrell Sutton, a four-year starter at running back, but McCall chooses to focus more on their arms than their legs.

"We've still got to find ways to move the football through the air because you cannot sit there and pound the quarterback and pound him and pound him, and expect him to throw for 65 percent completion or 70 percent completion," McCall said. "[Tim] Tebow can't even do it, and you're talking about a guy who's won a Heisman.

"We've got to be realistic about what our guys can do and how many hits they can take."

(Read full post)

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Admit it. You look around and see the big, bad SEC playing its conference championship game while the ACC hands out free Super Bowl tickets hoping somebody, anybody besides me will come watch this rerun of last year's game and it makes you drool with envy. Green envy.

You see that man with the bum knee shuffling around Happy Valley, and wish that your coach in Tallahassee was the winningest coach in college football, while quietly mumbling curses on the NCAA. You see Bradfords and McCoys throwing for more yardage than you drive to work and wish you, too, had a Heisman Trophy candidate to talk about over the water cooler.

That's what we're all about here today in the blogosphere. Anything green, anything Irish, and envy tops the list. Happy St. Patrick's Day, my envious ACC friends.

Here are three things the ACC envies about other conferences:

1. The Big 12 and SEC conference title games -- Imagine, the ACC championship game not only drawing a packed stadium, but essentially featuring two teams in a play-in game for the national championship. The SEC's title game has drawn capacity crowds in 15 of its 17 games. There were 75,892 fans who saw Florida beat Alabama last year, and the ACC had 27,360 for the repeat of Virginia Tech vs. Boston College. And the Big 12? That title game generated more attention than the ACC championship before Texas, er, Oklahoma even took the field.

2. The SEC and Pac-10 BCS bowl records -- The ACC was overjoyed to win its second BCS bowl game in 11 tries last year. Baby steps, ACC, baby steps. The SEC is 12-5 in BCS bowls and the Pac-10 is 9-4. They both have had at least six different schools play in BCS bowls while the ACC has had four. Florida State, Maryland, Virginia and Wake Forest have all represented, but the once mighty Seminoles are 1-5 and the Hokies are 1-2.

3. Heisman hopefuls -- It goes beyond Big 12 quarterbacks. The Big Ten had Shonn Greene and Javon Ringer, the SEC had Tim Tebow and Knowshon Moreno, the Pac-10 had Reggie Bush and Matt Leinart. Even the Big East had Pat White and Donald Brown to throw in the mix. Heck, Ball State quarterback Nate Davis got some consideration. Meanwhile, ACC fans are still talking about Chris Weinke and Charlie Ward. Somebody cue up "Glory Days" from the Boss.

Big East lunchtime links

February, 24, 2009
2/24/09
12:00
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett

• Syracuse's hopes of landing running back David Oku seem to have taken a nosedive after the news that Oku has moved to Lincoln, Neb.

• Pat White has gained 14 pounds since the Meineke Car Care Bowl, Drew Rubenstein writes in the Dominion Post.

• The Star-Ledger's Tom Luicci analyzes the three finalists in Rutgers' athletic director search -- and what each might mean to the football program. 

• South Florida's Jim Leavitt is the seventh-longest tenured head coach in the FBS, according to one site.

Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett

• Nebraska linebackers coach Mike Ekeler, who played under Jim Leavitt at Kansas State, interviewed for the South Florida defensive coordinator's job over the weekend, Greg Auman writes in the St. Petersburg Times. Also interviewed was former Cincinnati defensive coordinator Joe Tresey.

• There's plenty of value to be had at the Carrier Dome this fall, Bud Poliquin writes in the Syracuse Post-Standard. Orange football season tickets can be had for as low as $12.50 per game. It's part of the school's plan to fill up the dome again in these tough economic times. Of course, the only real way to bring out the fans is for Doug Marrone to build a winner.

• The Rutgers athletic director search is down to three finalists, including a former Scarlet Knights football player, Tom Luicci writes in The Star-Ledger.

• Cincinnati got a pair of coveted 2010 commitments from its own backyard, showing that the Bearcats might now be able to keep the best local talent at home, Bill Koch writes in the Cincinnati Enquirer.

• Pat White had a good day at the NFL combine.

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