NCF Nation: Ryan Griffin

One of the bigger surprises nationally from an NFL draft weekend that produced no shortage of them was just how well UConn fared. The Huskies had a school-record five players selected in the 2013 draft, a number that was tied for 10th-most among all colleges, along with Oregon, Texas A&M and North Carolina.

Gee, which of those is not like the other?

In fact, you could extend that question to include all 13 schools that had five or more players taken in this year's draft. The Tar Heels are the only team among the group of 13 that did not play in the postseason, and that's because the 8-4 program was dealing with a bowl ban.

Do UConn fans look at this year's record NFL sendoff as a positive recruiting tool, or does it just make consecutive 5-7 seasons in Paul Pasqualoni's first two years all the more disappointing?

To be fair, anyone who has followed this program closely either during this past season or throughout the lead-up to the draft should not be all that surprised by the showing this past weekend. Trevardo Williams (fourth round, 124th overall, Texans) led the Big East in sacks in each of the past two seasons, Blidi Wreh-Wilson (third, 70, Titans) was the team's MVP and Sio Moore (third, 66, Raiders) dazzled throughout the evaluation process.

The Huskies, after all, ranked No. 9 nationally in total defense in 2012, allowing just 309.92 yards per game. Four of their five draftees were on the defensive side of the ball, with tight end Ryan Griffin (sixth, 201, Texans) being the lone outlier.

The problem, of course, was an offense that ranked 110th nationally in yards per game, 118th in scoring, 117th in rushing and, most of all, 110th in turnover margin.

Pasqualoni was quick to the point in an interview Monday with the Hartford Courant's Desmond Conner:
“Well if you turn the ball over [on offense] and you give up a big play at an inopportune time [on defense] regardless you’re chances of winning are slim,” Pasqualoni said. “That would be my first response to it. The biggest factor in winning football games, still, and it’s no revelation, nothing new and it’s not anything anybody doesn’t know, it’s that the turnover…if you turn the ball over in tight games you stand a good chance of losing, No.1.”

UConn brings back Chandler Whitmer under center and Lyle McCombs in the backfield, along with its entire starting offensive line from 2012. It also stripped George DeLeone of his offensive coordinator duties, though he is still in charge of the line.

Whether all of those pieces, plus the addition of offensive coordinator T.J. Weist, can help the Huskies make the jump to postseason play in 2013 remains to be seen.

Big East recruiting recap, Part 1

February, 7, 2013
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National signing day is in the books. Let's take a look at how some of next season's Big East schools fared. (Andrea Adelson will have Part 2 for you later in the day.)

CENTRAL FLORIDA

Needs filled: Defensive linemen. The Knights brought in four defensive linemen, including a pair of top-50 defensive end prospects in four-star Seyvon Lowry (Jacksonville, Fla./First Coast) and three-star Blake Keller (Bradenton, Fla./Manatee).

Holes remaining: Wide receiver. UCF did not sign a single receiver prospect this year, although it had landed four in the Class of 2012.

CINCINNATI

Needs filled: Tight end. The Bearcats brought in three tight ends, including ESPN 300 four-star prospect Travis Johnson, their highest-rated pickup this year. Cincinnati had landed no tight ends in the Class of 2012.

Holes remaining: Offensive linemen. Cincinnati signed two offensive linemen, one year after landing just three.

CONNECTICUT

Needs filled: Tight end. The Huskies signed four tight ends after losing their top two (Ryan Griffin, John Delahunt) to graduation.

Holes remaining: Defensive backs. UConn signed just two true DBs (one safety, one cornerback) a year after signing just three. The Huskies lose two starting corners (Blidi Wreh-Wilson, Dwayne Gratz) from this past season, too.

HOUSTON

Needs filled: Defensive linemen. The Cougars signed four defensive linemen last year and added five more this year. You can never have too many bodies up front, especially when jumping to a new conference.

Holes remaining: Running back. It's hard to find holes over a two-year recruiting period that netted 52 total new players, but just two from the Class of 2013 were running backs, one fewer than last year.

LOUISVILLE

Needs filled: Wide receiver. The Cardinals' top two commits of this class are receivers: ESPN 150 prospect James Quick (Louisville, Ky./Trinity) and ESPN 300 recruit Richard Benjamin (Tampa, Fla./Tampa Bay Tech). They return their top four pass-catchers from this past season, too, with all having notched at least 40 receptions in 2012. (They also bring back quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, the reigning Big East offensive player of the year.)

Holes remaining: Running back. Louisville did not land any running backs this year, and it signed just one in the Class of 2012.

UConn surprises Pitt 24-17

November, 9, 2012
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Many of us thought a letdown could be in store for Pitt on Friday night after the Panthers dropped a triple-overtime heartbreaker to Notre Dame last week.

But nobody expected what actually happened against the Huskies.

Connecticut -- so hapless on offense for most of the season -- set the tone early on with dominant play up front and then held off a furious Pitt rally to end a four-game losing streak and win 24-17 and keep its bowl hopes alive. Pitt failed to show up in the first half, trailing 24-0 at halftime before deciding to make a game of it.

The Huskies (4-6, 1-4) helped them out, continuing their second-half scoring struggles. In five Big East games, UConn has a total of three second-half points. In this one, Jarred Holley intercepted Chandler Whitmer in the end zone with 4:57 to go and the Huskies up 24-10.

Pitt (4-6, 1-4) turned the mistake into a score when Tino Sunseri threw an 18-yard touchdown pass to Mike Shanahan with 2 minutes, 46 seconds remaining. But Whitmer made up for his earlier miscue with a huge third-down conversion on a pass to Shakim Phillips to ice the game.

Pitt now has to win out over Rutgers and South Florida to get back to a bowl game. Panthers fans have come to expect these types of games from the most enigmatic team in college football. One week, they lose to Youngstown State. Another week, they nearly upset the No. 3 team in the country.

On Friday night, it was just another bad loss to a team that was winless in Big East play going into the game. Consider:
  • UConn was one of the worst teams in the nation in total offense, scoring offense and rushing offense going into the game. The Huskies had gone four consecutive games without rushing for 100 TOTAL yards. But against the Panthers, they went over the century mark and Lyle McCombs had his first 100-yard game since Sept. 22 against Western Michigan.
  • The Huskies scored over 20 points for the first time since notching 24 on Sept. 29 against Buffalo.
  • UConn, maligned all season for the play of its offensive line, had perhaps its best game of the season in successfully controlling the line of scrimmage.

The Huskies also got an 80-yard punt return for a touchdown from Nick Williams in the first half to help build their 24-0 lead. Two huge players on the night for UConn: tight end Ryan Griffin, who tied a career-high with six receptions for 84 yards and a score; and linebacker Sio Moore, who was a one-man wrecking crew.

Pitt simply could not move the ball with any consistency, getting 48 total yards rushing. Sunseri ended up with over 300 yards passing, but it was too little, too late.
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How's that for a bounce-back performance?

A week after turning it over four times and ruining an upset chance on the road, Syracuse connected on all cylinders Friday night, riding a 100-yard receiver, a 100-yard rusher and a quarterback who was nearly flawless to victory in a 40-10 rout of Connecticut.

Not the happiest of homecomings for Paul Pasqualoni.

The Huskies' defense entered the Carrier Dome ranked sixth in the nation, but it had no answer for an Orange team that rattled off the game's final 27 points, including a 20-0 second-half shutout.

Ryan Nassib got to call it a day early after completing 14 of 20 passes for 251 yards with two touchdowns and no turnovers, adding 20 rushing yards on six carries. Jerome Smith ran for 133 yards on just 19 carries, and Alec Lemon was all over the field, catching eight passes for 166 yards, including an 11-yard touchdown grab late in the third quarter that made it 37-10.

UConn's offense was predictably stagnant, totaling negative-6 rushing yards on the night. Lyle McCombs played but managed just 17 yards on 11 carries. In a rather fitting play to cap the contest, Chandler Whitmer was picked off in front of the goal line by Shamarko Thomas, who then danced around and wasted 17 seconds before finally getting tackled deep in UConn territory with 54 seconds remaining. Whitmer was assessed a personal foul on the return as well.

That was the only throw that Whitmer had picked off, and it marked just the fourth interception of the season recorded by Syracuse. Whitmer completed 23 of 41 passes for 291 yards and a touchdown. That score was a 32-yard second-quarter toss to Ryan Griffin that cut the lead to 13-10, but it was all Syracuse from that point forward.

You can't ask for much more than what Syracuse showed in another Friday-night home victory, its second this season. The Orange are now 2-1 in Big East play, getting a win they desperately needed if they want to go bowling for the first time in two years. The forecast is not so bright for the Huskies, who have dropped three consecutive games to open conference play and will have a bye week to try to gather themselves.

An offense averaging just 9 points per Big East contest will get plenty of dissection, but on Friday night it was the defense that let UConn down.
Here are my picks for the Big East all-conference team.

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

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

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

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

* = tie

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

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

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

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

Big East: D-E-F-E-N-S-E

May, 4, 2012
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Anybody who has watched the Big East in recent years realizes this a much more defensive league, than offensive league.

Last season, seven of the eight teams ranked in the top half of the nation in total defense. The "worst" defense, Syracuse, ranked No. 64 -- just outside the top half. In 2010, six of eight teams ranked in the top half of the nation in the same category. The "worst" two defenses -- Cincinnati and Rutgers -- were ranked No. 61 and 63, respectively. In 2009, the worst defense, Cincinnati, ranked No. 67 in the nation.

I went back and looked at recent draft history to see how this translated to the next level.

[+] EnlargeChandler Jones
Jason O. Watson/US PresswireSyracuse defensive end Chandler Jones was drafted in the first round by New England last month.
Sure enough, defensive players were selected more than offensive players, and in higher rounds to boot.

In the past two drafts, 21 of the 34 players selected came from the defense. In the recently concluded NFL draft, eight of the 12 Big East players came from the defense. More pronounced, five of the seven players drafted in the first three rounds were defensive, and all played defensive line (Bruce Irvin, Chandler Jones, Derek Wolfe, Kendall Reyes and John Hughes).

Going back to the 2010 draft, 12 of the 16 players taken in the first three rounds were on defense.

We can continue looking a bit deeper to see defensive line has been an incredible strength, not just in the draft this year. In the past four drafts, the Big East has had at least one defensive lineman drafted in the first three rounds. Last year, two of the first four Big East picks were linemen. In 2010, Jason Pierre-Paul of USF went in the first round.

Coaches like Charlie Strong, Greg Schiano, Randy Edsall, Dave Wannstedt, Paul Pasqualoni and Jim Leavitt all have had a hand in the transformation, given their defensive backgrounds.

So will the trend hold for the 2013 draft?

In the super early mock drafts for next season, there are no Big East players listed in the first round. But CBS Sports already has a listing of the top draft prospects, by position. Eleven defensive players are listed among the Top 25 players at their respective positions, compared to five on offense.

However, there are more offensive players ranked among the Top 5 at their positions. Justin Pugh of Syracuse is listed as the No. 4 offensive tackle; Ray Graham of Pitt is listed as the No. 5 running back; and Ryan Griffin of UConn is listed as the No. 5 tight end.

The top-ranked defensive player is Khaseem Greene, at No. 6 among outside linebackers. Sio Moore of UConn also makes that list, at No. 9.

There is obviously an entire season of football to be played, and all these projections will change. But the way the Big East's defensive players have emerged is a trend worth noting.
It is time to evaluate the receiver position in the Big East. For the postseason rankings, I am going to include tight ends as well. Before the season started, I did them separately, but it makes more sense to do them together.

This is a position group that has a clear-cut 1-2. To me, the rest are pretty interchangeable, as no other group really stood out to me this season.

1. West Virginia. Slam dunk to have the Mountaineers on top, given the way Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey performed this season. Each had 1,000-yard seasons -- the first time in school history two players hit that mark. Bailey led the Big East with 12 receiving touchdowns, and was No. 1 in receiving yards per game. Austin was third in receiving yards per game and second in receptions per game. Add in Ivan McCartney, also ranked among the top-10 receivers in the Big East and that says it all. Preseason ranking: No. 2.

[+] EnlargeWest Virginia's Stedman Bailey
Kim Klement/US PRESSWIREWest Virginia's Stedman Bailey led the Big East in touchdowns and yards receiving per game.
2. Rutgers. Mohamed Sanu had an unbelievable season for Rutgers with a school and Big East record 115 receptions. He dominated at receiver, leading the league in receptions per game and finishing second in receiving yards per game. That domination meant his teammates did not get as many opportunities -- Brandon Coleman only had 17 receptions; Mark Harrison 14, Quron Pratt had 32. But when you have an unstoppable force like Sanu, you keep going to him. Preseason ranking: No. 1.

3. Syracuse. When you think of the Orange, you don't necessarily think of high-profile receivers. But Alec Lemon and Nick Provo teamed to have outstanding seasons this year. Both posted career years, Provo made the Big East first team and Lemon made the second team. The two combined for 119 catches and 13 touchdowns. Depth wasn't great, but the performance of Lemon and Provo make up for that and vaults Syracuse here. Preseason ranking: No. 5.

4. Cincinnati. I thought the Bearcats receivers had a down year. D.J. Woods didn't really live up to his potential, and Anthony McClung led the team with 683 yards. That is the fewest yards for the team's leading receiver since 2006. What really sticks out: when Zach Collaros got hurt, the receivers as a whole never really stepped up the way they should have to help Munchie Legaux. Preseason ranking: No. 3.

5. Louisville. The Cardinals did get much better play out of their receivers, and were helped with the impact freshman DeVante Parker and Eli Rogers made. They didn't have anybody with eye-popping numbers, but they did have consistent enough performances out of this group. Preseason ranking: 7.

6. USF. The Bulls were really hurt by injuries at this position, and never really had a go-to guy emerge. Sterling Griffin was en route to a good season before he got hurt; A.J. Love got hurt as well. That left the position in the hands of many young, inexperienced guys. I thought Deonte Welch really had a nice second half. He was their best receiver when Griffin was out. Preseason ranking: 6.

7. UConn. Considering the way the Huskies struggled in the pass game, Kashif Moore, Isiah Moore and Ryan Griffin all put together solid seasons for UConn. Both Moores ranked in the top 10 in the Big East in receiving, and Griffin was the second-best tight end behind Nick Provo. Depth was lacking at the position -- as only five players caught double-digit passes, and only three are true wide receivers. Preseason ranking: 8.

8. Pitt. The Panthers got their tight ends and running backs involved heavily in the pass game, probably because there was depth lacking at the actual receiver position. Devin Street put together a solid season, with 754 yards receiving, and Mike Shanahan was decent. But otherwise, big plays were lacking. Passing game woes obviously had an impact. Preseason ranking: 4.

Big East recruiting needs

January, 23, 2012
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National signing day is inching ever closer, so it is time to take a look at the biggest recruiting needs for every team in the Big East.

Cincinnati

Defensive line. Cincinnati loses a host of seniors from this position, including Co-Defensive Player of the Year Derek Wolfe, John Hughes, Monte Taylor, and Rob Trigg. Factor in the key contributors for 2012 will be seniors in Dan Giordano, Brandon Mills and Walter Stewart and it is time to reload at this position.

Receiver. There is some promising young talent on the roster, but several guys are going to be leaving in the next few years. The Bearcats really need a guy who can stretch the field and make some big plays to join Anthony McClung and Alex Chisum.

Secondary. The Bearcats are going to take a hit at this position after 2012, losing a ton of seniors-to-be, including Cam Cheatham, Drew Frey, Dominique Battle and Reuben Johnson. Senior safety Wesley Richardson is already gone. The lone four-star commitment the Bearcats have is from a safety, Marcus Foster.

UConn

Quarterback. This need has been addressed in this recruiting cycle, with junior college transfer Chandler Whitmer and Casey Cochran already enrolled in school.

Tight end. With the impending departure of Ryan Griffin and John Delahunt, the Huskies could use another young player to be groomed to take over. Tight end is a critical part of the UConn offense.

Offensive line. UConn is losing its two best linemen in Moe Petrus and Mike Ryan. Of the 16 linemen currently listed on the roster, seven are juniors or seniors. Linemen generally take a redshirt season, so it never hurts to sign more to be able to restock.

Louisville

Linebacker. The Cardinals are losing Dexter Heyman and have a lot of juniors and seniors on their roster at this position. It is no surprise, then, that three of the top players coming in are linebackers -- Keith Brown and James Burgess are already enrolled; four-star recruit Nick Dawson has given a commitment.

Offensive line. Louisville has young players here, but not much depth, as evidenced this season when several true freshmen were forced to play much earlier than anticipated. It never hurts to build depth here, and the Cardinals have gotten a huge commit from four-star guard Abraham Garcia out of Miami.

Running back. This was an area the Cardinals struggled in this season, having to move quarterback Dominique Brown to the position. Victor Anderson is gone, and this team could really used another back to carry the load.

Pitt

Quarterback. This one is pretty self explanatory if you watched Tino Sunseri play. Mark Myers and Trey Anderson are also on the roster, but the Panthers are in definite need here -- which is why so many fans are looking forward to commit Chad Voytik coming to town.

Linebacker. This has been an area of inconsistency for the Panthers, who lose their best player in Max Gruder. There are some young players with talent in Todd Thomas and Ejuan Price, but this position could definitely use an upgrade.

Receiver. The play of the offense was disappointing this season, and that includes the receivers. Pitt could use some players to stretch the field. Ronald Jones was a start this season. But when you consider that Cameron Saddler, Mike Shanahan and Devin Street will all be upperclassmen in 2012, this is a definite area of need.

Rutgers

Receiver. Mohamed Sanu is gone, and Mark Harrison is a senior to be. There is plenty of young talent, but there is a reason Rutgers has commitments from four athletes. This gives the Scarlet Knights the flexibility to try them at receiver or running back, another area of need.

Running back. Once Savon Huggins got hurt this year, Rutgers had Jawan Jamison and Jeremy Deering at running back and that was about it. Depth has to be developed here.

Offensive line. Strides have absolutely been made at this position, but coach Greg Schiano likes to reiterate that the Scarlet Knights aren't going to pull themselves out of the hole they were in overnight. They need another solid draft class at this position to keep building.

USF

Secondary. Injuries and inconsistent play this season showed the Bulls really lacked some depth and need some immediate help in this area, which is why they signed junior college cornerbacks Fidel Montgomery and Josh Brown. One of their top four-star commitments is cornerback Chris Bivins.

Quarterback. Beyond B.J. Daniels, a senior in 2012, the Bulls have Bobby Eveld and Matt Floyd as the two heirs to take over. Eveld has been less than impressive, and we don't know much about Floyd. The Bulls would be served to get another quarterback in as they prepare for the future.

Running back. Darrell Scott is gone, and the Bulls are really in need of a game breaker at this position. Demetris Murray is going to be a senior, and nobody else really has stepped up at the position. Depth has to be built here, because USF goes into spring practice with four running backs on the roster.

Syracuse

Defensive line. The Orange are losing Chandler Jones and Mikhail Marinovich and could really used some difference-makers up front who can help get after the quarterback. Depth is an issue here. One of their big commitments so far has been defensive end Josh Manley out of Georgia.

Secondary. This was one of the weakest parts of the team and now the Orange lose Phillip Thomas and Kevyn Scott, and there was a lack of depth when injuries hit this position in 2011. Brooklyn prep safety Wayne Morgan would be a huge get to add to this unit.

Receiver. Alec Lemon is a senior, Van Chew is gone and who knows what happens with Marcus Sales. The bottom line is the Orange are in major need of a game-changer to turn 15-yard passes into 40-yard receptions.

West Virginia

Quarterback. Geno Smith is a rising senior and after him it is crickets in the form of one player behind him in Paul Millard. So consider this need majorly filled with Ford Childress, ranked No. 139 on the ESPNU 150.

Offensive line. The most inconsistent part of the team in 2011, West Virginia has a major need here. The Mountaineers struggled so badly here they started converted defensive lineman Curtis Feigt late in the season. Don Barclay is gone, and Joe Madsen, Jeff Braun and Josh Jenkins are all upperclassmen.

Defensive line. Julian Miller, Josh Taylor and Bruce Irvin are gone, and there are depth concerns here. West Virginia has four commitments from defensive linemen already.

Final: Cincinnati 35, UConn 27

December, 3, 2011
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Cincinnati survived a serious second-half scare from UConn to hold on for a 35-27 win and clinch a share of the Big East title -- a season removed from a losing season.

Cincinnati, Louisville and West Virginia all finish as Big East co-champions. The BCS representative will be determined by the final BCS standings -- where it is almost certain West Virginia will finish as the highest-ranked team. We won't know officially until the standings are unveiled Sunday night, but No. 23 West Virginia is the only Big East team currently ranked in the Top 25.

The Bearcats jumped out to a 28-6 halftime lead but there was fight left in the Huskies in the second half. UConn quarterback Johnny McEntee played much better, and was able to find some holes in the Cincinnati secondary as he led the Huskies on a comeback. McEntee threw two fourth-quarter touchdown passes -- to Mark Hinkley and Ryan Griffin. That 25-yard touchdown pass to Griffin came one play following an interception by Munchie Legaux.

Cincinnati got the ball with 5:46 remaining. All UConn needed was one stop to try and complete its comeback bid. But the Bearcats made two third-and-short conversions with runs, and they were able to ice the game despite being outscored 21-7 in the second half. Dave Teggart ended up with four field goals on the day for the Huskies, who had to play the majority of the game without backup quarterback Scott McCummings (concussion).

Legaux threw three touchdown passes, but also had two interceptions. The Bearcats were not as effective using Jordan Luallen as they were last week, as he had four catches for no yards. It was the defense that really made the difference in this game. Walter Stewart scored a touchdown after snatching the ball from McEntee in the end zone, and Drew Frey had an interception return for a touchdown.

The Bearcats had six sacks in the game, and John Hughes and Derek Wolfe were absolute terrors behind the line of scrimmage. Now Cincinnati can look forward to getting back to a bowl game, most likely the Liberty Bowl. UConn ends the season without a bowl berth, a year after representing the Big East in the BCS.

Western Michigan 38, UConn 31

October, 1, 2011
10/01/11
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Do you want to how much UConn missed starting cornerback Blidi Wreh-Wilson against Western Michigan?

Alex Carder racked 479 yards passing and five touchdowns, and three receivers finished with more than 100 yards in the Broncos' 38-31 upset win against the Huskies. Chleb Ravenell caught the 41-yard game-winning touchdown pass on Gary Wilburn, the replacement for Wreh-Wilson, sitting out with a knee injury.

It was a completely disappointing defensive performance for the Huskies, who seemed helpless against the Western Michigan air attack. Jordan White finished with 12 catches for 173 yards and two touchdowns; Ravenell had nine catches for 123 yards and two touchdowns; and Robert Arnheim had 10 catches for 113 yards.

UConn spent the entire day chasing Western Michigan, which led 17-7 at halftime. But Johnny McEntee tried to lead the Huskies back, throwing four touchdown passes of his own. McEntee threw a 26-yard touchdown pass on fourth down to Nick Williams to tie the game at 31 with 2:03 to go.

But the defense could not hold. Western Michigan needed to just two plays to go ahead again. McEntee drove UConn down the field to try and win it, and had a nice long completion to Ryan Griffin. But Griffin was stripped at the end of the run, and Western Michigan recovered.

If there was a bright side, McEntee showed some spark in leading this team. Lyle McCombs ran for 136 yards. But there is not much you can do when the defense cannot get any stops. UConn dropped to 2-3, and now faces the daunting task of going to West Virginia next week.

Non-AQ Players of the Week

September, 19, 2011
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Here are the non-AQ players of the week, as selected by each conference. The independent players of the week are selected by a national media panel.

Conference USA

Offense: Case Keenum, QB, Houston. Ryan Griffin, QB, Tulane. Keenum led the biggest comeback in school history in a 35-34 win at Louisiana Tech, completing 25-of-40 passes for 351 yards and three touchdowns to overcome a 27-point third quarter deficit. Griffin completed his first 11 passes for 164 yards and finished the game 22-of-26 for 281 yards and a career-high-tying three touchdowns in a 49-10 win over UAB.

Defense: Korey Williams, LB, Southern Miss. Williams led the Golden Eagles with 10 tackles, seven of which were solo stops, in a 52-6 win over Southeastern Louisiana. He added one tackle for loss and an interception return for a touchdown.

Special teams: Nick Adams, KR, UAB. Adams set a UAB single-game record with 194 kick return yards and took a Tulane kickoff back 92 yards for a touchdown in a loss to Tulane.

Independent

Offense: Trent Steelman, QB, Army. Had 28 carries for 108 yards and three touchdowns in a 21-14 win over Northwestern.

Defense: Robert Blanton, CB, Notre Dame. Grabbed an interception deep in Notre Dame territory and returned it 82 yards, setting up a game-sealing field goal for the Fighting Irish over Michigan State.

Special teams: George Atkinson III, RB/KR, Notre Dame. Had 142 yards on four kickoff returns, including an 89-yard touchdown, in a 31-13 home win over No. 15 Michigan State. Atkinson is the first Fighting Irish freshman to return a kickoff for a score since Raghib Ismail in 1988.

MAC

East Division
Offense: Tyler Tettleton, QB, Ohio.
Threw for a career-high 285 yards and three touchdowns to lead the Bobcats to a 44-7 victory over Marshall and improve to 3-0 on the year -- its best start to a season since 1976. He also also rushed for a touchdown and a season-best 53 yards.

Defense: Dwayne Woods, LB, Bowling Green. Had a game-high 12 tackles and two tackles for loss in the Falcons’ 28-27 loss to Wyoming.

Special Teams: Matt Weller, K, Ohio. Was a perfect 3-for-3 on field goals, connecting from 20, 21 and 34 yards and was 5-for-5 in extra-point attempts in a win over Marshall.

West Division
Offense: Jordan White, WR, Western Michigan.
Had 13 catches for a season-high 177 yards in a 44-14 win over Central Michigan. White had two touchdowns and a career-best 241 all-purpose yards.

Defense: Travis Freeman, LB, Ball State. Had a season-high 12 tackles in a 28-25 victory over Buffalo.

Special Teams: John Potter, K, Western Michigan. Scored for 14 points in a 44-14 win over Central Michigan with five extra points and a career-matching three field goals (33, 43, 43).

Mountain West

Offense: Kellen Moore, QB, Boise State. Ronnie Hillman, RB, San Diego State. Moore went 32-of-42 passes for 455 yards and five touchdowns. The 32 completions are a single-game career high for Moore, while the five touchdowns tied his career high. Hillman rushed for 191 yards on a career-high 32 carries and tied his career-high with four touchdowns in a 42-24 win over Washington State.

Defense: Larry Parker, DB, San Diego State. Josh Biezuns, DL, Wyoming. Parker helped forced three turnovers, including two fourth-quarter interceptions, as the Aztecs beat Washington State 42-24. The two interceptions were the first two of his career. Biezuns forced a fumble, recovered a fumble, had two sacks for 15 yards and combined with fellow senior defensive lineman Gabe Knapton to block the potential game-tying extra-point attempts with 3 seconds left as Wyoming beat Bowling Green 28-27.

Special teams: Greg McCoy, DB, TCU. Returned a kickoff 94 yards for a touchdown in the second half, setting the tone for TCU to score 14 points in the opening 4:18 of the third quarter in its 38-17 win over ULM.

Sun Belt

Offense: Corey Robinson, QB, Troy. Set new career highs for pass attempts (63), completions (36) and rushing yards (33) in a loss to Arkansas. His 373 passing yards were the third most of his career.

Defense: Isame Faciane, DT, FIU. LaDarrius Madden, DB, Troy. Faciane had arguably the biggest play of the game against UCF when he picked up a fumble by Jeff Godfrey and returned it 51 yards for a game-tying touchdown in the win over the Knights. Madden had six total tackles and a 53-yard interception return for a touchdown.

Special Teams: Melvin White, DB, Louisiana. Made the momentum turning play against Nicholls State with a 68-yard blocked field goal return for a touchdown. The Cajuns outscored the Colonels 24-7 after the blocked field goal.

WAC

Offense: Mike Ball, RB, Nevada. Rushed for 124 yards and two touchdowns in Nevada’s 17-14 win at San Jose State.

Defense: Logan Harrell, DT, Fresno State. Recorded a career-high 11 tackles and tied his career-high with 4.5 tackles for a loss of 23 yards in a 27-22 win over North Dakota.

Special teams: Jake Hurst, P, Nevada. Punted six times for 259 yards, A 43.2-yard average, in the win over San Jose State. He had a long of 49 yards and placed two inside the 20-yard line.

Weekend Rewind: Non-AQs

September, 19, 2011
9/19/11
1:00
PM ET
Let's take a look back at the weekend that was for the non-AQs:

The good: FIU pulled off yet another big win, this one against UCF, 17-10. The Panthers are 3-0 for the first time in school history and received votes in both polls for the first time in school history. They did it without star receiver T.Y. Hilton, who hurt his hamstring. But coach Mario Cristobal says his star player should be fine. ... Trent Steelman had a terrific game for Army, scoring three touchdowns in a 21-14 win over Northwestern. It was Army's first win over a team from a Big Ten team since 1988 -- which also was the last time it played a team from that conference. And that team was -- Northwestern. ... Ohio is 3-0 for the first time since 1976 after beating Marshall 44-7. ... Ronnie Hillman had 191 yards rushing and four touchdowns in a 42-24 win over Washington State and is now the second-leading rusher in the nation. Hillman is tied for the national lead in rushing touchdowns with eight this season.

The bad: Perhaps bad is a kind way of describing BYU's performance against Utah. The Cougars and Utes generally play a tough, close game. Twelve of the previous 14 meetings had been decided by a touchdown or less. Then came Saturday. BYU had seven turnovers -- three from quarterback Jake Heaps -- and lost 54-10 to its biggest rival. Incredibly, the score was 14-10 at halftime. But one mistake after another snowballed, and BYU faces some serious questions heading into its game against UCF on Friday night.

The upset: If you had asked for any non-AQ game considered a lock for a win Saturday, you probably would have picked Hawaii over UNLV. The Warriors came in as 20-point favorites, have a win over Colorado already this season and played Washington well. But the Rebels shocked the Warriors in one of the more stunning upsets of the day, winning 40-20. I admit it. I did a double-take when I saw the score. Hawaii had four fumbles, 6 yards rushing and converted 1-of-9 third-down opportunities in the disappointing loss. UNLV had scored 24 combined points in its first two losses of the season to Wisconsin and Washington State. But perhaps the UNLV victory should not come as a huge shock. UNLV has beaten Hawaii four of the last five times they have played in Sam Boyd Stadium.

Then there is Western Kentucky, which lost for the 17th straight time at home. Only this loss was to FCS Indiana State 44-16. It was Indiana State's first win over an FBS opponent since 2001.

The oh-so-close: Navy played with South Carolina every step of the way in its game, taking a 21-17 lead into the fourth quarter. But South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore was just too much to contain as he ran for 246 yards and three touchdowns in the 24-21 win. ... Temple was right there with Penn State as well, holding a 10-7 lead until late in the fourth quarter. But for the second straight season, the Nittany Lions squeaked out a close victory, breaking Owls' hearts again.

The comeback: The common knock on Houston is that the Cougars generally lose at least one game a season that they should not. That looked to be happening against Louisiana Tech, as Houston trailed 34-7 with 5:11 to go in the third quarter. But alas, the Cougars have Case Keenum, who engineered a furious rally. Houston scored the final 28 points of the game to cap the biggest comeback in school history and win 35-34. Keenum began the rally with a 50-yard touchdown pass to Patrick Edwards, and he ended it with a 32-yard touchdown pass to Edwards with 1:36 remaining in the game. Keenum has now engineered three of the top four biggest comebacks in Houston history. In addition to this one, he rallied Houston from 19 points down against UTEP in a 42-37 win in 2008; and from 17 points down against UAB in a 45-20 win, also in 2008.

The heartbreak: Bowling Green had a furious late fourth quarter rally, overcoming a 28-14 deficit when Matt Schilz threw touchdown passes on two straight drives. But Wyoming blocked the game-tying extra point with 3 seconds left to hold on and win 28-27. Wyoming is 3-0 for the first time since 1996. ... San Jose State was 15 yards away from pulling off one of its biggest wins in years. The Spartans trailed Nevada 17-7 in the fourth quarter before Matt Faulkner delivered one touchdown drive and had his team marching down the field for another. But his pass in the end zone was intercepted by Duke Williams with 1:10 left and the Wolf Pack survived 17-14. The road is much tougher for Nevada next, with games at Texas Tech and at Boise State. ... Miami (Ohio) knows the feeling. Zac Dysert had a pass broken up in the end zone as time expired, and the RedHawks lost to Minnesota 29-23.

Milestone watch: TCU coach Gary Patterson earned his 100th career victory as the Horned Frogs’ head coach in a 38-17 win over ULM Patterson is 100-29 in 11 seasons, and needs 10 more wins to surpass Dutch Meyer (109-79-13, 1934-52) as TCU’s all-time winningest coach. Meyer coached TCU to its 1935 and 1938 national championships. Patterson is one of nine active head coaches to have 100 wins at their current school.

Helmet stickers

Ryan Griffin, QB, Tulane. Went 22-of-26 for 281 yards and tied a career high with three touchdown passes in a 49-10 win over UAB.

Logan Harrell, DT, Fresno State. Recorded a career-high 11 tackles and tied his career high with 4.5 tackles for a loss in a 27-22 win over North Dakota.

Kellen Moore, Boise State. Completed 32 of 42 passes for 455 yards and five touchdowns in a win over Toledo. The 32 completions is a single-game career high for Moore, while the five touchdowns tied his career high. The five passing TDs also tied the MWC single-game record for most by a senior. The 42 pass attempts were second most in his career, as were his 455 yards.

Trent Steelman, QB, Army. Ran the ball 28 times for 108 yards and three touchdowns in a 21-14 win over Northwestern. It was his second straight three-touchdown rushing effort.

Jordan White, WR, Western Michigan. Had 13 receptions for 177 yards and two touchdowns in Western Michigan's 44-14 win over Central Michigan. White moved into fourth place on the career receptions list at WMU with 195, is now third in career 100-yard receiving games (13) and is tied for seventh in career receiving TDs (17).

Melvin White, DB, Louisiana. Returned a blocked field goal 68 yards for a touchdown to break a tie and help the Ragin Cajuns beat Nicholls State 24-7. He also forced a fumble that led to the first score of the game.
Here is your Big East preseason all-conference team:

Offense

QB Geno Smith, West Virginia
RB Isaiah Pead, Cincinnati
RB Ray Graham, Pitt
OG Jeremiah Warren, USF
OG Zack Chibane, Syracuse
C Moe Petrus, UConn
OT Mike Ryan, UConn
OT Don Barclay, West Virginia
TE Ryan Griffin, UConn
WR Tavon Austin, West Virginia
WR Mark Harrison, Rutgers

Defense

DE Brandon Lindsey, Pitt
DE Bruce Irvin, West Virginia
DT Kendall Reyes, UConn
DT Derek Wolfe, Cincinnati
LB JK Schaffer, Cincinnati
LB Sio Moore, UConn
LB Max Gruder, Pitt
CB Keith Tandy, West Virginia
CB Blidi Wreh-Wilson, UConn
S Hakeem Smith, Louisville
S Jarred Holley, Pitt

Special teams

K Dave Teggart, UConn
P Pat O'Donnell, Cincinnati
RS Lindsey Lamar, USF
Time to rank the tight ends. This could end up being a position of strength in the league -- four of the eight teams have a player on the Mackey Award watch list, given annually to the best tight end in the nation.

[+] EnlargeRyan Griffin
David Butler II/US PresswireRyan Griffin caught 31 passes for 245 yards and one touchdown last season.
1. Ryan Griffin, Connecticut. No question he is athletically gifted and had a good season in 2010, catching 13 passes for 246 yards and a touchdown. But new offensive coordinator George DeLeone wants him to be pushed harder, to reach his full potential. Perhaps that is why John Delahunt also was listed atop the post-spring depth chart.

2. Nick Provo, Syracuse. Provo has made himself quite valuable in the passing game, having caught 33 passes for 365 yards last season. Can he stay healthy all year?

3. Josh Chichester, Louisville. Potential is a word that is thrown around a lot in these rankings. Going to use it again here with the 6-foot-8, 240-pound Chichester. It would not surprise me if he ended the season as the top tight end in the league. No question he is going to have a huge role in the Cardinals' offense, especially with questions in the receiving corps.

4. D.C. Jefferson, Rutgers. Another player with mounds of potential, it is time for Jefferson to show why many believe he could be the best tight end in the league. Perhaps a new position coach in Brian Angelichio will help him live up to expectations.

5. Andreas Shields, USF. Shields sits atop the post-spring depth chart following the loss of Kevin Gidrey. He did play in all 13 games last season and started the bowl game. He caught five passes for 74 yards and could be a bigger threat in the pass game this season.

6. Adrien Robinson, Cincinnati. Robinson is not listed atop the Bearcats' post-spring depth chart, but I think he has the potential to win the job over Travis Kelce and Blake Annen (listed as No. 1 now). He is big, strong and athletic and needs to step up with Ben Guidugli gone.

7. Hubie Graham, Pitt. Another player with potential after transferring from Illinois, Graham will play more of an H-back/tight end position and should have more of a role in the passing game than Brock DeCicco. Todd Graham likes them both.

8. John Delahunt, UConn. There is a reason he is pushing Griffin for the starting job. Delahunt caught five passes for 76 yards, has good hands and is a good blocker. No question the Huskies have the best depth in the league.

Previous rankings:
We continue our team position rankings today with receiver. This is an area of great potential for plenty of teams around the league, especially with some of the high-octane offenses that we are going to see. Only three teams return their leading receiver from last season. The overriding theme seems to be this: there is a lot of talent, but much of it is unproven. So how are these receivers going to step up?

To make these rankings, I considered returning starters, accolades for returning starters, depth and potential.

[+] EnlargeMark Harrison
AP Photo/Mike CarlsonMark Harrison caught 44 passes for 829 yards and 9 touchdowns last season.
1. Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights have proven talent and depth at this position, putting them at the top spot in these rankings. When healthy, Mark Harrison and Mohamed Sanu form one of the top 1-2 punches in the entire league. Add in Brandon Coleman, who had an outstanding spring, along with Tim Wright returning from injury and the top four looks as solid as it gets. Let's not forget incoming speedsters Miles Shuler and Tejay Johnson, who have the potential to play as well.

2. West Virginia. The Mountaineers have Tavon Austin, Stedman Bailey and a whole bunch of questions at the position. But with the new offense Dana Holgorsen is bringing in, other receivers have a chance to be more effective. Austin is about as close as you can come to a surefire first-team All-Big East player. Ryan Nehlen had a nice spring and could be the surprise of the season. So could Tyler Urban, a converted tight end. How will Brad Starks do after shoulder surgery? Will Ivan McCartney live up to his potential? There is talent here and great potential if everybody lives up to expectations.

3. Cincinnati. The Bearcats are stocked with talent, but many of these skill players have got to gain experience and fast with Armon Binns, Marcus Barnett, Vidal Hazelton and Ben Guidugli gone. D.J. Woods is expected to be a first-team All-Big East selection. But beyond he and Anthony McClung, you have got young guys -- junior college transfers Kenbrell Thompkins and Damon Julian, redshirt freshman Dyjuan Lewis, freshmen Shaq Washington, Chris Moore, Alex Chisum and Max Morrison. Thompkins showed great promise in the spring.

4. Pittsburgh. The Panthers lose their leading receiver in Jon Baldwin, but the duo of Mike Shanahan and Devin Street could each be 1,000-yard receivers. Behind them, though, there are some questions and inexperience. Junior Cameron Saddler is going to have to step up. Redshirt freshmen Salath Williams, Drew Carswell, junior college transfer Josh Brinson and true freshman Justin Jackson are all young but have a chance to be big contributors. Pitt also is waiting to hear whether UNC transfer Brendon Felder will have his petition for immediate eligibility granted.

5. Syracuse. The Orange have plenty of solid returning receivers in Van Chew, Marcus Sales and Alec Lemon but what this team is really lacking is big-play potential. In five games last season, Syracuse failed to complete a pass that went longer than 30 yards. In fact, Ryan Nassib averaged 6.5 yards per pass attempt. A healthy Jarrod West could help those numbers improve. Dorian Graham has to work on his hands, too.

6. USF. The Bulls lose leading receiver Dontavia Bogan, but they return injured players Sterling Griffin and A.J. Love to the mix, which is going to be huge. Lindsey Lamar and Evan Landi also return, along with Terrence Mitchell, Joel Miller and Faron Hornes. Deonte Welch had a nice spring game and is listed as a backup behind Landi. True freshman Andre Davis has the potential to contribute as well. The Bulls have plenty of depth here but there are still some questions about this group, especially with Griffin and Love coming off injuries.

7. Louisville. The Cardinals lose their top two receivers, and have got to figure out a way to make big plays and stretch the field with a young group. Josh Bellamy appears to be the go-to man headed into 2011, and much is going to be expected of Andrell Smith and Michaelee Harris. Both are coming off injuries and were unable to practice in the spring. True freshmen are most likely going to be relied upon, giving Eli Rogers and DeVante Parker and opportunity to play.

8. Connecticut. A playmaker has got to emerge from this group to help out whoever is going to be playing quarterback. The Huskies lost leading receiver Mike Smith because of academics. Kashif Moore, Ryan Griffin and Isiah Moore return but UConn is going to need some of its redshirt freshmen like Geremy Davis and Tebucky Jones Jr. to step up. The Huskies are not preparing to run the spread, so the potential for a 1,000-yard receiver in this group is low.

Previous rankings:

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