NCF Nation: Scott Kozlowski's All-Big East team

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


QB: Tony Pike, Cincinnati

RB: Dion Lewis, Pittsburgh

RB: Noel Devine, West Virginia

WR: Mardy Gilyard, Cincinnati

WR: Jonathan Baldwin, Pittsburgh

TE: Dorin Dickerson, Pittsburgh

OT: Jason Pinkston, Pittsburgh

OT: Jeff Linkenbach, Cincinnati

C: Moe Petrus, Connecticut

OG: John Malecki, Pittsburgh

OG: Zach Hurd, Connecticut


DE: Greg Romeus, Pittsburgh

DE: Jason Pierre-Paul, South Florida

DT: Mick Williams, Pittsburgh

DT: Chris Neild, West Virginia

LB: Lawrence Wilson, Connecticut

LB: Kion Wilson, South Florida

LB: Derrell Smith, Syracuse

CB: Devin McCourty, Rutgers

CB: Aaron Berry, Pittsburgh

S: Aaron Webster, Cincinnati

S: Nate Allen, South Florida


K: Tyler Bitancurt, West Virginia

P: Scott Kozlowski, West Virginia

KR: Mardy Gilyard, Cincinnati

PR: Robert McClain, Connecticut

Posted by's Brian Bennett

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

Stock up

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

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

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

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

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

Stock down

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

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

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

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

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

Player of the year race: Offense

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

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

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

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

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

Player of the year race: Defense

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

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

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

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

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

Player of the year race: Special teams

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by's Brian Bennett

Put some backspin on it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Byes: Cincinnati, South Florida

Big East lunchtime links

March, 31, 2009

Posted by's Brian Bennett

It's a late lunch for the links today as I just finished up practice and interviews at Cincinnati.

• The Syracuse Post-Standard's Donnie Webb has more on the promotion of freshman Ryan Nassib to starting quarterback, including reaction from last year's starter Cam Dantley and former starter Andrew Robinson, who's been switched to tight end.

"They obviously came to a consensus on what they wanted, so I respect their decision, obviously," Dantley said. "It just made me keep realizing, I've been in this situation before. Nothing new to me. I'm going to keep on working regardless."

"I feel a sense of relief," Robinson said, "and I feel a sense of rejuvenation with my football-playing career. I think it's going to work out for the better. I really do. I'm not just saying that just because it's the right thing to say. I'm saying that because that's really the way I feel."

• Pitt's uber-talenteed Jonathan Baldwin is working to become a more complete receiver, Colin Dunlap writes in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

• Scott Kozlowski is trying to follow in the footsteps of Pat McAfee as West Virginia's punter, Dave Hickman writes in the Charleston Gazette.

• Zach Frazer and Moe Petrus are spending time off the field mentoring kids, Desmond Conner says in the Hartford Courant.

• Rutgers kicker San San Te had back surgery after being bothered by a stress fracture all season in 2008, Tom Luicci writes in The Star-Ledger.