NCF Nation: Robert Sands

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

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

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

Defensive line

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


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

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

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

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

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


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


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

West Virginia's Brandon Hogan tied for 10th on the bench press with 19 reps at 225 pounds.

The Big East's all-bowl team

January, 14, 2011
Let's put a final bow on bowl season with the Big East's All-Bowl team:


Quarterback: Ryan Nassib, Syracuse

Nassib, who struggled down the stretch of the regular season, took advantage of Kansas State's shaky defense to complete 13-of-21 passes for 239 yards and three touchdowns in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl.

[+] EnlargeSyracuse's Delone Carter
William Perlman/US PRESSWIRESyracuse's Delone Carter ran over Kansas State for 198 yards and two touchdowns in the Pinstripe Bowl.
Running backs: Delone Carter, Syracuse, and Dion Lewis, Pittsburgh

Carter ran 27 times for 198 yards and two scores in the Pinstripe Bowl. Lewis rumbled for 105 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries in the BBVA Compass Bowl before declaring for the NFL Draft.

Wide receiver: Marcus Sales, Syracuse

Sales came almost out of nowhere to record five catches for 172 yards and three touchdowns against Kansas State. No other Big East receiver had even a fraction of his stats in the postseason.

Tight end: Cameron Graham, Louisville

The league's best tight in the regular season kept it up in the Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl, catching three passes for 31 yards and a touchdown.

Offensive line: Jacob Sims and Sampson Genus, South Florida; Jason Pinkston, Pittsburgh; Mark Wetterer, Louisville; Justin Pugh, Syracuse.

Sims and Genus were part of a USF line that pushed back Clemson's talented defensive front in the Meineke Car Care Bowl; Sims in particular helped keep Da'Quan Bowers quiet, which is not an easy thing to do. Pinkston showed some fire in protecting his quarterback after Tino Sunseri was hit late, and the Panthers ran for 261 yards while surrendering zero sacks against Kentucky. Wetterer and Pugh helped open holes for their high-scoring postseason offenses.


Defensive line: Brandon Lindsey, Pittsburgh; Terrell McClain, South Florida; Bruce Irvin, West Virginia.

Lindsey stepped up his game in the regular season when Greg Romeus was hurt and did so again in the bowl with Jabaal Sheard out. McClain didn't record many stats but was his usual dominant self in the middle against Clemson. Irvin had two sacks and a forced fumble against NC State in the Champs Sports Bowl.

Linebackers: Derrell Smith, Syracuse; J.T. Thomas, West Virginia; Brandon Heath, Louisville; DeDe Lattimore, South Florida.

I went with a 3-4 look on defense to recognize the many strong performances by linebackers during bowl. Just about all of these guys had double-digit tackles and/or a couple TFLs.

Cornerbacks: Johnny Patrick, Louisville; Quenton Washington, South Florida

After getting burned on a play early, Patrick was all over the field. He forced a fumble and blocked a punt. Washington also blocked a punt and had a 45-yard interception return.

Safeties: Dom DeCicco, Pittsburgh, and Robert Sands, West Virginia

DeCicco had nine tackles and a forced fumble, while Sands had eight tackles and a sack.


Punter: Cole Wagner, Connecticut

Wagner punted seven times for an average of 46.9 yards -- with a long of 52 yards -- against Oklahoma in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl.

Placekicker: Chris Philpott, Louisville

Philpott only got the call once, but he made the game-winning 36-yarder in the fourth quarter.

Kick returners: Jeremy Wright, Louisville, and Robbie Frey, Connecticut

Both Wright and Frey returned kickoffs for touchdowns in their bowl games. Wright's was especially crucial, as it tied the score in the fourth quarter.

Punt returner: Terrence Mitchell, South Florida

Mitchell had a 34-yard punt return against Clemson.
These are strange times indeed at West Virginia, with Bill Stewart about to enter his one-year, lame-duck phase, several offensive assistants getting ready for their last game with the Mountaineers and an introductory news conference for Dana Holgorsen (at which Stewart will appear) taking place Wednesday.

All the while, the team needs to focus on Tuesday's Champs Sports Bowl game against a tough opponent in NC State. There are more possible distractions then a fireworks explosion inside a candy factory. But the team is trying to close ranks and stay on task as much as possible.

"We talked about it a little bit," safety Robert Sands said. "Everybody understands it's a business and stuff like this is going to happen. We can't do anything about it. The only thing we can do is play football."

Stewart brushed off speculation that he will retire after the bowl game and tried to keep his Tuesday bowl news conference solely about the upcoming game. He'll talk Wednesday about his job and the Holgorsen hire, but he doesn't think that will become a sideshow.

"I’ve taken my marching orders, and we’re going to go finish this thing this year," he said. "Before we talk about 2011, I need to focus on 2010. How do we finish? That’s what I’ve asked the team. How will you be remembered? That’s the most important thing to this football team right now -- we want to finish."

West Virginia (9-3) still has a chance to accomplish one of its preseason goals: winning 10 games. To do so, the Mountaineers must find a way to stop NC State quarterback Russell Wilson, who accounts for more than 300 all-purpose yards per game. They'll also be without their best cornerback with Brandon Hogan sidelined with a knee injury. Wilson will be the top quarterback they have faced all year, and his mobility can cause the defense problems.

Sands compared Wilson to South Florida's B.J. Daniels, who struggled against West Virginia this year but led the Bulls to victory last year in Tampa.

"We had a pretty good game plan for [Daniels] this year, and I think we'll have a good game plan this time," he said. "Both are tremendous athletes. He's constantly putting up good numbers, so you have to respect that. At the same time, we've got a group of guys over here that are ready to put some pressure on him."

When Wilson is on, the Wolfpack can put up a lot of points. But West Virginia's offense played its best down the stretch, and Noel Devine should be healthier after three weeks' rest.

"I think we were kind of hitting our stride late," quarterback Geno Smith said. "Yeah, it came late but we've been through a lot this season."

The Mountaineers are still going through a lot. But they're doing their best to not let it affect this game.

"There are no awkward feelings out here," Smith said. "It's still the same as it was about three weeks ago. We're out at practice getting after each other."'s All-Big East team

December, 8, 2010
Welcome to the 2010 All-Big East team. Unlike the official league team, we don't do ties here. One man, one spot.

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

Here is the team:


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


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


K: Dave Teggart, Connecticut
P: Dan Hutchins, Pittsburgh
KR: Lindsey Lamar, South Florida
PR: Doug Beaumont, Louisville

What to watch in the Big East: Week 13

November, 24, 2010
1. Battle for first place: The three-team jostling match for the Big East's BCS bid could be down to two, or possibly just one team by Saturday. Pittsburgh can clinch the title with a win over West Virginia and a Connecticut loss to Cincinnati. West Virginia could force a first-place tie by beating Pitt, and UConn hopes for a Pittsburgh loss since it holds the tiebreakers over the Panthers and Mountaineers. This thing could be decided this weekend or set us up for an exciting finish next week.

2. Desperate measures: The margin of error is gone for three Big East teams. Louisville, Cincinnati and Rutgers each have six losses and must win this weekend in order to preserve bowl hopes. Louisville and Rutgers play in a postseason elimination game, while the Bearcats hope to get back to any bowl after winning the past two conference titles.

[+] EnlargeTino Sunseri
AP Photo/Keith SrakocicTino Sunseri has led Pitt to victories in four of the team's past five games.
3. Brawl, y'all: The Backyard Brawl is always worth watching, especially with the stakes raised this year. And it should be a brawl. West Virginia's defense is allowing just 12.9 points per game, while Pitt has held opponents to under 16 points in conference play. A lot will ride on the shoulders of sophomore quarterbacks Tino Sunseri and Geno Smith, who could be making the first of three starts against one another. Can either offensive line handle the pressure from the opposing defense? Can either team mount a successful running game? This one might come down to one or two big plays, and both teams have the playmakers to spring one.

4. Pitt receivers vs. West Virginia's secondary: The Panthers and Mountaineers are the two most-talented teams in the league, which leads to some outstanding individual matchups. There's the head-to-head rushing battle between Noel Devine and Dion Lewis, Bruce Irvin versus Jason Pinkston on third down, Tino/Geno, etc. But the one I'm most looking forward to seeing is the Panthers wideouts going against the Mountaineers defensive backs. Jon Baldwin had eight catches for 127 yards last year, but West Virginia's Robert Sands had a key interception in the fourth quarter. Baldwin will likely get matched up against the Big East's best cornerback, Brandon Hogan, while league interceptions leader Keith Tandy will take on Mike Shanahan. Pitt has the tallest receivers in the league, but the 6-foot-5 Sands can give them trouble. Should be fun to watch all day.

5. Heinz special: In a game expected to be close and defensive-minded, special teams could make the difference. Watch what Pitt does if it stalls outside the West Virginia red zone. Panthers kicker Dan Hutchins has been money from inside the 40 but is just 1-for-5 from 40 yards and out, including last week's miss at South Florida that could have sealed the game. Pitt has struggled with special-teams plays in big games (see: Cincinnati 2009, UConn 2010). West Virginia won last year's game on a Tyler Bitancurt field goal. And remember the Heinz Field turf will be chewed up, which could affect footing on kicks.

6. Revved-up Bearcats: An arena football game broke out at Nippert Stadium last week as Cincinnati put up 69 points and 661 yards against Rutgers. The Bearcats got back to balance, as the previously missing running game exploded behind Isaiah Pead's 213-yard effort. And they had only one turnover. The performance was no surprise to Connecticut, which saw Cincinnati put up 711 total yards in last year's 47-45 win over the Huskies. But this year's Bearcats have been far more inconsistent. Did they finally find a groove, or was last week's outburst a product of Rutgers' implosion? West Virginia and Pitt will be hoping for the former.

7. UConn pass attack: The book on beating UConn has been to load up against the run and make quarterback Zach Frazer make plays. The Huskies, after all, have the Big East's worst passing offense. But Cincinnati can't stop anybody through the air; receivers often roam wild in the Bearcats' secondary. The last four Big East opponents have scored at least 31 points against Cincinnati, so Connecticut should have plenty of opportunities to connect on big strikes.

8. A little respect: The Big East went just 2-11 against BCS conference opponents this season, with the wins coming over Maryland (West Virginia) and Vanderbilt (UConn). This week brings a final chance to salvage a little nonconference respect before bowl season, and the opportunities involve the BCS league with which the Big East is most closely aligned: the ACC. In fact, both games (South Florida at Miami and Boston College at Syracuse) feature former Big East teams. The Bulls will be playing for more than league pride; they're looking to score another victory over one of the Big Three in their own state. The Orange, meanwhile, are trying to put a positive cap on a breakthrough season, and to finally give their home fans something to cheer about.

9. Points at a premium? Syracuse has mostly won games in spite of its offense, and the same can be said for Boston College. The Eagles rank just 106th nationally in scoring and will be without star tailback Montel Harris this week. The Orange, meanwhile, are 94th in the country in points scored. Neither Syracuse quarterback Ryan Nassib nor BC counterpart Chase Rettig will blow you away with stats. This could be a big-time defensive battle featuring some outstanding linebackers: Luke Kuechly and Mark Herzlich for the Eagles, and Derrell Smith and Doug Hogue for the Orange. And speaking of tough sledding for the offense, how is South Florida going to move the ball on a fast, aggressive defense that turned Pitt into mush earlier this season?

10. Louisville's pressure vs. Rutgers' offense: Just about every week, we wonder how Rutgers' offensive line is going to hold up against an opposing defense. It's clear by now what the answer is: not well. The Scarlet Knights have another major challenge Friday against a Cardinals defense that is second in the league in sacks and has been playing great overall for the past month or so. Both teams really need this game (see No. 2) and Louisville would like nothing more than to clinch bowl eligibility in the same place it was humiliated at the end of the 2008 season.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- West Virginia defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel kept repeating the stats before and during practice last week: Louisville was leading the Big East in rushing at more than 192 yards a game.

"Man, we heard it all week," linebacker Anthony Leonard said. "If we even looked like we were playing sideways, coach Casteel jumped on us."

[+] EnlargeCameron Graham and Terence Garvin
AP Photo/Ed ReinkeThe Mountaineers' defense clamped down on the Cardinals, allowing just 171 yards of total offense.
It was the coaching equivalent of poking a bear with a stick. The Mountaineers already have one of the nation's top defenses, and when challenged this week, they responded with arguably their most dominating effort of the season in a 17-10 win at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium.

The Cardinals, who hadn't been held below 100 yards rushing all year, managed only 26 rushing yards on 30 attempts. Star tailback Bilal Powell, already battling an illness, had a sickly 3 yards on four carries. The longest run by a Louisville running back? Six yards. Punter Chris Philpott had 21 of the team's rushing yards on a successful first-half fake.

Backed into a one-dimensional box, the Cardinals had no answer. Their only touchdown came on a defensive fumble recovery in the end zone. That's why West Virginia's slim seven-point lead in the final 24 minutes never felt in danger.

"The defense was just itching to get back out on the field," linebacker J.T. Thomas said. "We wanted to make more plays. We want to go out and dominate people."

Defense has kept the Mountaineers (7-3, 3-2) in the Big East title hunt. Their offense has failed to score more than 20 points in four of the past five games, but West Virginia still hasn't given up more than 21 points in a game this season.

That formula might be good enough to make a BCS game. The Mountaineers don't control their own destiny, but they will play Pittsburgh on Friday with a chance to tie for first place in the conference. Pitt won by an identical 17-10 score at South Florida on Saturday to maintain a one-game lead in the standings. These two defense-heavy teams figure to put the brawl in the Backyard Brawl.

"It's going to be a dogfight," safety Robert Sands said. "If you thought you've seen some hitting this year, you're really going to see some hitting come the day after Thanksgiving."

Pittsburgh will have to find a way to move the ball against Casteel's 3-3-5 scheme, which is playing as well as any defense in recent school history.

It's a unit loaded with seniors and with answers for seemingly everything. Noseguard Chris Neild rarely shows up in the stat column, but he occupies two blockers almost every play and blows up the middle of the line of scrimmage. That allows linebackers and safeties to fill every gap and bring pressure from different angles. There's so much experience in the back end that Casteel can disguise looks without worrying about overloading his players' circuit boards.

And once West Virginia gets the offense into a third-and-long situation, watch out. Sack specialist Bruce Irvin comes in at defensive end and is so fast that most teams have to use two blockers against him. Irvin had two sacks on Saturday, giving him 10 sacks on just 17 tackles this season.

Louisville was just 2-for-13 on third downs Saturday, and the defense has held its last two opponents to just 2-for-25 on third down.

[+] EnlargeNoel Devine
AP Photo/Ed ReinkeNoel Devine was West Virginia's most effective weapon on offense, gaining 119 combined rushing and receiving yards and scording a TD.
"We're just confusing the heck out of quarterbacks," Thomas said. "We're coming from all over the place, dropping here, dropping there. We're playing man coverage, zone coverage, a little bit of everything. I don't know what [our coaches] are doing in the lab, but they need to keep doing it."

If the Mountaineers could only get their offense playing at the same level, or even in the same neighborhood, they'd be virtually unbeatable in the Big East, and there would be no pressure on head coach Bill Stewart. But the offense struggled in gaining just 261 yards and had four three-and-outs in the second half, proving that last week's 37-point outburst was more a by-product of Cincinnati's inability to stop anybody who can fog a mirror.

"For offensive enthusiasts, that probably wasn't what they came to see," Stewart said. "And for that I'm sorry."

Stewart may have to win the Big East to keep his many critics off his back. Those detractors will be the ones apologizing if this defense leads the Mountaineers to a BCS game.

Week 7 review/Week 8 preview

October, 18, 2010
There was nothing more significant that happened in Week 7 than the neck injury to Rutgers' Eric LeGrand. It's devastating, and fans from all schools have been sending in their prayers and condolences.

On to more trivial matters, as we review the games and action from the week.

Team of the week: Pittsburgh. The Panthers haven't had much reason to celebrate this season, but a 31-point road win against a Syracuse team that was jacked up on confidence will do the trick. Pitt fumbled away its nonconference opportunities, but it would be foolish to count this team out of the Big East race.

[+] EnlargeArmon Binns
Jim Owens/Icon SMICincinnati receiver Armon Binns had three touchdown catches against Louisville.
Best game: Cincinnati's 35-27 win against Louisville was far and away the most entertaining game of the week in the Big East. It was a shootout in the first half, as the Cardinals took a 24-21 lead into the locker room. The scoring slowed down in the second half, but there were many big plays, big performances and an exciting finish.

Biggest play: Robert Sands' interception of South Florida quarterback B.J. Daniels in the final minute before halftime of West Virginia's 20-6 win on Thursday. The pick set up a Mountaineers' score right before intermission to make it 17-3 and put the game on ice. Lesson to USF coach Skip Holtz: Never let Daniels pass near the end of the half while in his own territory. That proved disastrous against both Florida and West Virginia.

Best call: The touchdown set up by the Sands play was an exciting hook-and-ladder pass that Jock Sanders lateraled to Noel Devine. Gotta give credit to Bill Stewart and Jeff Mullen for that, especially after criticizing them for the double-pass play that failed against Maryland. But, actually, my award for best call involves the first West Virginia touchdown. The Mountaineers had their big-back look with Ryan Clarke and a fullback in the I, but Geno Smith faked the handoff and found a wide open Brad Starks for a 31-yard strike. West Virginia hadn't passed much out of that formation, and it clearly caught USF off guard.

Big Man on Campus (Offense): Cincinnati receiver Armon Binns had eight catches for 175 yards and three touchdowns, including the game-clinching 62-yard score in the fourth quarter. Good to see Binns have a monster game after he'd been relatively quiet much of the year.

Big Man on Campus (Defense): West Virginia cornerback Keith Tandy was burned repeatedly in last year's game against South Florida. On Thursday, he had 10 tackles, an interception and a forced fumble to prove he's no longer a weak link in the chain.

Big Man on Campus (Special teams): Pitt's Dan Hutchins averaged 50 yards on five punts and had two downed inside the 20. He also made his lone field-goal attempt, a 24-yarder.

Strangest moment: Rutgers seemingly had everything in place for a game-winning field-goal try against Army after rallying from a 17-3 deficit. Chas Dodd completed a pass to Mohamed Sanu at the Army 28 on first down. Then Dodd ran for a 2-yard loss, trying to get the ball to the middle of the field. Then Army called timeout, and Rutgers somehow got a delay of game penalty after that stoppage as Dodd couldn't find his helmet on the sideline.

Forced to run another play, Rutgers gave up a sack. And then Dodd threw an interception on fourth down, forcing overtime. Fortunately for the Scarlet Knights, they still went on to win.

"We fouled that thing up," head coach Greg Schiano said. "I've made a lot of really good, time-management decisions over 10 years, really good ones that have won games for us. That one could have lost the game for us. That's my job to take control, and that was a bonehead move by me."

Worst hangover: Syracuse. The Orange kicked away a lot of momentum and fan excitement by losing 45-14 at home to Pittsburgh on Saturday. They surely thought they had improved to the point where they wouldn't get blown out at home like that in a conference game. You could sense the resignation by the home fans, many of whom headed for the Carrier Dome exits midway through the third quarter.

Now let's look ahead to Week 8, the first week when all eight Big East teams are squaring off head-to-head in conference play (Games listed in descending order of importance/interest):

Rutgers (4-2, 1-0 Big East) at Pitt (3-3, 1-0): The only matchup featuring two teams with undefeated Big East records. Rutgers had owned this series until Pitt struck back last year. How will the Scarlet Knights react after the LeGrand injury? (, Noon ET).

Connecticut (3-3, 0-1) at Louisville (3-3, 0-1): The past three games in this series have all been close, with UConn winning all three. One of these two teams will essentially be out of the Big East race by Saturday night. (ESPNU, 3:30 ET)

Syracuse (4-2, 1-1) at No. 20 West Virginia (5-1, 1-0): How do the Orange bounce back while taking on what looks like the best team in the league? Can the Mountaineers keep things rolling and avoid a letdown? (ESPN2, Noon ET)

South Florida (3-3, 0-2) at Cincinnati (3-3, 1-0): Two teams going different routes, as the Bearcats have turned it on offensively, while the Bulls continue to search for answers on that side of the ball. (ESPN2, Friday, 8 ET)
Stop me if you've heard this one before. South Florida is hanging around, playing great defense, but a B.J. Daniels interception proves really damaging.

Bulls fans are getting a little tired of this story. Daniels threw a pick to Robert Sands in the final minute of the first half, and West Virginia capitalized one play later with a pass to Jock Sanders, who lateraled to Noel Devine for a touchdown and a 17-3 lead.

That's eight interceptions for Daniels on the year. The USF quarterback looked a little more comfortable in this game as the Bulls put him in the shotgun and let him run around more. Still, Daniels has thrown for only 50 yards and has run for just four yards on nine carries.

Skip Holtz took a risk in letting Daniels throw deep in his own territory late in the half, and it didn't work out any better than it did against Florida. The growing pains for Daniels continue.

Meanwhile, West Virginia is three points away from breaking 20 for the first time in five years against the Bulls. The Mountaineers' game plan has been to counter USF's speed with the passing game, and Geno Smith has been sharp. He has completed 18-of-23 passesfor 171 yards, while the Mountaineers have only run for 43 yards. Devine was basically invisible before catching that touchdown pass.

The Bulls adjusted to the short passing game during the second quarter and shut down the West Virginia offense for several possessions in a row. But the worst defense is a mistake-proned offense, and unfortunately for the Bulls, that's what they are with Daniels right now.

Big East stock report: Week 6

October, 6, 2010
Stock up

1. Ray Graham: Yeah, a 277-yard running day will make your stock go up. The Pittsburgh running back is averaging a whopping 9.5 yards per carry, and his 164 yards per game ranks third nationally.

2. UConn's second halves: In the past two weeks against Buffalo and Vanderbilt, the Hu have outscored their opponents 50-7. Now if UConn can just put together two halves like that in the same game.

3. Adam Froman: The Louisville quarterback has had two solid games in a row and now leads the Big East in total offense despite having several inexperienced receivers to work with.

[+] EnlargeRay Graham
AP Photo/Keith SrakocicRay Graham rushed for 277 yards and three touchdowns against Florida International last week.
4. Jeremy Deering: The Rutgers true freshman had four catches for 66 yards and was one of the lone bright spots in the loss to Tulane.

Stock down

1. Jon Baldwin's production: Baldwin had only two catches for 14 yards against Florida International and has just 15 catches for 211 yards on the season. It seems like he should put up those kinds of numbers every game, not over a four-game span.

2. Rutgers' offensive line: The Scarlet Knights have already allowed 13 sacks and have been a main cause of the school's continual offensive struggles.

3. Eric Schwartz: The USF kicker is just 1-of-5 on field-goal attempts this season and has now lost his job to Maikon Bonani.

4. D.J. Shoemate: Even with Robbie Frey injured, the USC transfer can't move up to No. 2 running back on UConn's depth chart right now.

Player of the year race: Offense

1. Jordan Todman, RB, Connecticut: Has more than 150 more rushing yards than the next closest player in the Big East.

2. Ray Graham, RB, Pittsburgh: At this pace, he'll make a serious case.

3. Zach Collaros, QB, Cincinnati: Leads league in passing yards; will need big finish.

4. Noel Devine, RB, West Virginia: If bone bruise is healed, he should keep putting up stats.

5. Ryan Nassib, QB, Syracuse: Top-rated passer in the league; schedule about to stiffen.

Player of the year race: Defense

1. Robert Sands, S, West Virginia: Back on top after idle week.

2. JK Schaffer, LB, Cincinnati: Leads league in tackles, is as steady as it gets.

3. Joe Lefeged, S, Rutgers: Drops a bit because of poor team performance.

4. Derrell Smith, LB, Syracuse: Leader of a solid defense that needs to prove it in league play.

5. Jabaal Sheard, DE, Pittsburgh: Stepped up his game with Greg Romeus out.

Freshman of the year race:

1. Stedman Bailey, WR, West Virginia: Redshirt freshman has 10 catches for 137 yards and three touchdowns.

2. Marquis Spruill, LB, Syracuse: True frosh is starting at linebacker and has 24 tackles this season.

3. Terrance Mitchell, DB/KR, South Florida: Mitchell has already made an impact on special teams and is pushing for more playing time on defense.

4. Shamar Stephen, DT, Connecticut: Redshirt freshman has become a starting defensive tackle for Huskies.

5. Jeremy Deering, WR, Rutgers.

Big East stock report, Week 4

September, 22, 2010
Ring the bell. Time for the stock report to open.

Stock up

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

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

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

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

Stock down

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

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

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

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

Player of the year race: Offense

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

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

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

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

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

Player of the year race: Defense

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

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

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

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

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

Big East stock report, Week 3

September, 15, 2010
Money never sleeps. Nor does the Big East stock report. Bring on the ticker.

Stock up

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

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

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

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

Stock down

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

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

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

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

Player of the year race: Offense

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

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

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

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

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

Player of the year race: Defense

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

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

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

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

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

Dion Lewis vs. Noel Devine

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

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

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

Tom Savage vs. B.J. Daniels

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

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

Daniels: 20-for-42 (47.6 percent) for 348 yards, three touchdowns and four interceptions. Has has also run for 130 yards and a score.

Big East season predictions

August, 30, 2010
The season is upon us.

Games begin Thursday, and we'll be full bore into college football by the weekend. So it's a final chance to make some predictions, and here are my picks for some various Big East 2010 awards/honors:

Big East winner: Pittsburgh

The schedule is downright frightening. The Panthers have some question marks, particularly along the offensive interior. And the league is as balanced as it's ever been. But I've been picking Pitt all offseason, and this is a team with as much or more high-end talent as anybody in the Big East, led by Dion Lewis, Jon Baldwin and Greg Romeus. If the Panthers are who we thought they were, as Dennis Green might say, then they should be able to navigate their difficult schedule and win their first outright Big East title.

Offensive MVP: West Virginia running back Noel Devine

Lots of candidates here, including last season's winner (Lewis), Cincinnati's Zach Collaros, Rutgers' Tom Savage, et al. I just feel like Devine is primed for a huge year as a senior, eager to prove he can do it all to satisfy the NFL scouts. And with a more experienced offensive line and potentially a more consistent passing game, he could find even more running room for his explosive bursts. It's awfully tough to go against Lewis; then again, winning an award like this two years in a row is hard for any player because the expectation levels increase.

Defensive MVP: West Virginia safety Robert Sands

Again, I'm going away from conventional wisdom here in not picking Romeus, last year's co-defensive player of the year. Sands was a play-making monster in the second half of last season and should continue to build on that with a veteran defense around him. And if you're wondering why I would pick the offensive and defensive players of the year from West Virginia and then choose Pitt as the champion, there is precedent: last season, Pittsburgh had the offensive and both co-defensive players of the year, yet finished second.

Surprise team: Connecticut

A strong season by UConn wouldn't surprise anyone who follows this blog or the Big East in general. Still, there are a lot of people who don't know much about the Huskies, and Randy Edsall's team could very well win the league's BCS bid for the first time. Remember that UConn gets West Virginia, Pitt and Cincinnati at home this season.

Team most likely to disappoint: Cincinnati

Only because expectations have been built so high. It's pretty hard to top 12-0, especially when you change coaching staffs and play a schedule that includes road games against N.C. State, Fresno State, West Virginia and UConn and a home-away-from-home matchup with Oklahoma. The Bearcats are a definite Big East contender, but many of their fans might be disappointed with a 9-3 type of season.

Newcomer of the year: Cincinnati receiver Vidal Hazelton

Hazelton comes into an offense tailor-made for receivers to put up huge stats, and the talented former USC Trojan should be ready to make a major impact in his one and only season in the Big East.

Freshman of the year: Rutgers receiver Jeremy Deering

Taking a stab at a wild card here. With injuries to the Scarlet Knights receiving corps, there is opportunity for the speedy Deering, who can also make a major impact on special teams and with some Wildcat stuff. I also seriously considered West Virginia's Ivan McCartney and South Florida's Terrence Mitchell.

Coach of the year: Randy Edsall, Connecticut

With Brian Kelly and his Vulcan death grip on the coach of the year award gone, Edsall will be the popular choice if he leads the Huskies to the breakthrough season many are predicting.

Can't-miss game: West Virginia at Pittsburgh, Nov. 26

The Backyard Brawl is always an event, and this year it could be for the Big East title. Pitt and WVU enter the season as the only two ranked teams, and look at the scores of the past three years to see just how close this rivalry has been: 13-9 (Pitt in '07), 19-15 (Pitt in '08) and 19-16 (WVU in '09).
Forget all the conference realignment talk that makes Big East fans sweat. The real action to watch is on the field this year in an intriguing, balanced league race. Here are five major storylines to watch:

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

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

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

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

5. Quest for respect: The Big East is always fighting to earn respect nationally, and this season brings several high-profile chances to do just that (albeit many of them on the road). Cincinnati welcomes Oklahoma to Paul Brown Stadium. South Florida plays at Florida and Miami. West Virginia is at LSU. Pitt plays at Utah, at Notre Dame and home against Miami. Connecticut opens at Michigan. Syracuse plays Boston College and at Washington. North Carolina comes to Rutgers. With a fair share of wins in these difficult games, the league could forever put to rest those old Big Least jokes.
It's time to get back to our post-spring rankings of each Big East position group. A lot of teams have question marks in their secondaries heading into this summer; let's look at how they stand in comparison to one another:

[+] EnlargeSands
AP Photo/Jeff GentnerRobert Sands snagged five interceptions last season.
1. West Virginia: The Mountaineers play five defensive backs in their 3-3-5 alignment and should be well stocked for 2010. Safety Robert Sands should compete for league defensive player of the year honors if he continues his rapid development, while senior Sidney Glover is an experienced playmaker at one of the other safety spots. West Virginia needs Brandon Hogan to rediscover his form and for Keith Tandy to keep improving, and this could be one of the team's strongest units.

2. Rutgers: The Scarlet Knights lost the best cornerback in the Big East when Devin McCourty took his skills to the NFL, but I still like the group that's returning. Joe Lefeged should step up and assume McCourty's leadership role as a senior safety, while Khaseem Greene looks ready to become a front-line safety. David Rowe is a solid corner, and either Brandon Bing or Logan Ryan should fill the other spot. The Scarlet Knights have a lot of talented young players here to provide quality depth, as well.

3. Syracuse: The Orange officially have five returning starters in the secondary because of injuries last year, and several players gained valuable experience during 2009. There's a good mixture of veteran leadership with guys like seniors Mike Holmes, Da'Mon Merkerson and Max Suter as well as rising stars like Shamarko Thomas and Phillip Thomas.

4. Pittsburgh: Antwuan Reed helped answer a big question with a strong spring at cornerback. The other corner spot will likely be filled by either junior college transfer Saheed Imoru or Buddy Jackson, with Ricky Gary around to add depth. The safety position should be in good shape when Dom DeCicco and Andrew Taglianetti return from their injuries, while Jarred Holley established himself as a dependable safety last year.

5. South Florida: The Bulls lost a pair of draft picks in Nate Allen and Jerome Murphy and have some young players moving into key roles this season. The good news is those youngsters have talent. The key will be whether Quenton Washington and Kayvon Webster can hold down the cornerback spots.

6. Cincinnati: There's healthy competition in the secondary for the Bearcats, who increasingly gave up big plays in the passing game as the 2009 season wore on. Dominique Battle, Camerron Cheatham, Chris Williams and Reuben Johnson all vied for playing time at corner this spring. Drew Frey is a steady safety. The group needs to make more plays than it did a year ago but should embrace a more aggressive scheme this year.

7. Connecticut: The Huskies ranked last in pass defense last season and lost two senior stalwarts from the secondary. The defensive backfield was in disarray at times this spring. The return of Blidi Wreh-Wilson from his shoulder injury this summer should help out the cornerback spot with Dwayne Gratz. Jerome Junior should be solid at one safety spot, while Kijuan Dabney is trying to win the other job after moving from linebacker. The Huskies are counting on a lot of young players to improve quickly before the season begins.

8. Louisville: The Cardinals had so much trouble finding playmakers in the secondary this spring that running back Darius Ashley moved to corner to help out. Johnny Patrick is one of the league's better cornerbacks but needs help in the defensive backfield. The healthy return of safety Terence Simien would provide a boost, but this remains a trouble spot heading into the fall.