NCF Nation: Ryan Blaszczyk
Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett
The Big East doesn't put out an official preseason all-conference team. But I do. Below are my picks for the best in the league for 2009. Pittsburgh leads the way with six selections.
QB Tony Pike, Cincinnati
RB Noel Devine, West Virginia
RB Victor Anderson, Louisville
WR Mardy Gilyard, Cincinnati
WR Jonathan Baldwin, Pittsburgh
OT: Anthony Davis, Rutgers
OG: John Malecki, Pittsburgh
C: Ryan Blaszczyk Rutgers
OG: Art Forst, Rutgers
OT: Jason Pinkston, Pittsburgh
TE: Nate Byham, Pittsburgh
DE: George Selvie, South Florida
DT: Arthur Jones, Syracuse
DT: Scooter Berry, West Virginia
DE: Greg Romeus, Pittsburgh
LB: Ryan D'Imperio, Rutgers
LB: Scott Lutrus, Connecticut
LB: Reed Williams, West Virginia
CB: Aaron Berry, Pittsburgh
CB: Brandon Hogan, West Virginia
S: Nate Allen, South Florida
S: Robert Vaughn, Connecticut
P: Rob Long, Syracuse
PK: Jake Rogers, Cincinnati
KR: Mardy Gilyard, Cincinnati
PR: Jasper Howard, Connecticut
All teams are not created equal. And not all positions on a given team are on a level playing field.
There are some position groups that are much stronger than others. Today, we take a look at the areas where some Big East teams are simply loaded:
• South Florida's defensive line: Probably the most impressive-looking group, physically speaking, that I saw all spring. The Bulls' D-line is full of tall, rangy, athletic specimens. There's George Selvie, of course, but don't forget about Terrell McClain and Aaron Harris. And when Jason Pierre-Paul and Ryne Giddins come in this summer, the defensive line is going to be even more loaded.
• Pittsburgh's defensive line: The Panthers defensive front is just as strong as South Florida's, but in a different way. Dave Wannstedt prefers undersized, hyper-athletic players up front, and he's got them in spades with Greg Romeus, Jabaal Sheard and Mick Williams, among others.
• Rutgers' offensive line: The Scarlet Knights return all five starters from their offensive front, the only team in the Big East to do so. But this is more than just a collection of veterans. There are real stars on this unit in left tackle Anthony Davis and Rimington Trophy candidate Ryan Blaszczyk at center. Throw in improving right tackle Kevin Haslam, and you've got one loaded line.
• Connecticut's linebackers: All three of the Huskies' starting linebackers -- Scott Lutrus, Lawrence Wilson and Greg Lloyd -- are back, as well as the top three backups. And one of UConn's top recruits, Mike Osiecki, also plays linebacker. This is one position that's in extremely good hands for Randy Edsall.
Others considered: Cincinnati's wide receivers, Connecticut's safeties, Louisville's wide receivers, Rutgers' linebackers, South Florida's wide receivers, Syracuse's running backs and West Virginia's defensive line.
Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett
Pittsburgh: Panthers fans were shocked to see Pat Bostick come in at quarterback for the final few plays at Navy for some meaningless handoffs. Bostick played last year as a true freshman after Bill Stull got hurt, and the plan seemed to be to redshirt him this season so he would have three years remaining, as Stull is only a junior. Head coach Dave Wannstedt said he wanted Bostick to get some work in case Stull gets hurt this year. But many around the program are wondering if this means that the coaching staff has soured on Bostick as their quarterback of the future.
West Virginia: The Mountaineers hope to get defensive lineman Pat Liebig back for Thursday's game against Auburn. Liebig, who was granted a sixth year of eligibility, has missed the last three games with a concussion. If Liebig plays, he'll back up Doug Slavonic. West Virginia has also tried to get wide receiver Bradley Starks ready at quarterback in the last week because Pat White and Jarrett Brown have been dealing with injuries.
Rutgers: True freshman Art Forst has started the past two games at right guard. Forst, who enrolled early in January, had spent all of his time working at tackle until earlier this month. He certainly has the size of a tackle at 6-foot-8 and 310 pounds. Center Ryan Blaszczyk is the only player to start at the same position on the offensive line the entire season as the Scarlet Knights continue to seek the right mix up front.
Connecticut: If Zach Frazer isn't able to play Saturday because of the head injury he suffered against Rutgers, redshirt freshman Cody Endres would get the start. Endres completed 4 of 5 passes against Virginia in mop-up work earlier this season. Backing up Endres would be a walk-on freshman, Johnny McEntee, whom coach Randy Edsall likes for his poise and quick release. Receiver D.J. Hernandez, who played quarterback for two years before switching positions, is not in the mix to take over signal-calling duties.
Louisville: The Cardinals defensive front should be at full strength against South Florida. Senior tackle Adrian Grady missed the Middle Tennessee State game with an academic issue but will be back Saturday. Defensive end Rodney Gnat left that game early with an injury but is expected to play. The front four has been very good for Louisville lately, accounting for seven sacks in the past three games.
Rutgers: Looking to spark his slumping offense, coach Greg Schiano made several changes to his offensive line last week at West Virginia. Only two starters, left tackleAnthony Davis and center Ryan Blaszczyk, remained at their original positions. Kevin Haslam moved from left guard to right tackle, Mike Gilmartin switched from right tackle to right guard and split snaps with true freshman Art Forst, and Kevin Haslam went from right tackle to left guard. Schiano was non-committal this week when asked if we would use that alignment again after the Scarlet Knights mustered only 72 yards rushing in Morgantown.
West Virginia: With senior Reed Williams shutting it down and planning for a medical redshirt, the Mountaineers have turned to sophomore Anthony Leonard at middle linebacker. Leonard made his first career start last week versus Rutgers and recorded a team-high nine tackles. He is the fourth different player to start at that position in five games for West Virginia. Meanwhile, a handful of Mountaineers are dealing with head injuries, including quarterback Pat White, center Mike Dent and defensive lineman Pat Liebig.
Louisville: The competition is on again for the Cardinals' backup quarterback spot. Matt Simms, son of former New York Giants quarterback Phil Simms, has returned from his four-game suspension and split reps this past week with Tyler Wolfe. Head coach Steve Kragthorpe said he would decide on a No. 2 signal-caller the day before Friday's game at Memphis. Although starter Hunter Cantwell has recovered well from his ankle injury against Connecticut, Louisville would like the peace of mind of having a reliable backup.
Connecticut: After Bruce Carter blocked three straight punts against UConn on Saturday, North Carolina coach Butch Davis said his team exploited the Huskies' new personal protector. That would be linebacker C.J. Marck, who filled in for injured tight end Steve Brouse. But Connecticut coach Randy Edsall said after watching the film that Marck wasn't to blame, and that it was another player who failed to execute his technique. He declined to identify which player was at fault. With Brouse out several weeks, Martin Bedard has moved into a starting role, and backup offensive lineman Dan Ryan has switched to No. 88 to play tight end in some packages.
Pittsburgh: One reason for the Panthers' resurgence this season is that they have avoided a rash of injuries that's plagued the program in recent years. Linebacker Adam Gunn (neck) is the only serious, season-ending injury that has struck the team through five games. Linebacker Shane Murray, who hurt his knee in preseason, hasn't played a lot of snaps this season but is nearing full strength. With a bye this week, Pitt should be close to full health as it heads into the final seven games.