NCF Nation: Tony Miliano

Big East all-bowl team

January, 10, 2013
1/10/13
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It's time to unveil the Big East all-bowl team, honoring those players who had the best performances in the postseason.

OFFENSE

QB: Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville. What more can I say about Bridgewater, who began his 2013 Heisman campaign with a big game against Florida in the Allstate Sugar Bowl? Bridgewater went 20-of-32 for two touchdowns in the decisive 33-23 win.

RB: Prince-Tyson Gulley, Syracuse. Gulley was a running machine, busting free for a career-high 213 yards and three total touchdowns in a 38-14 win over West Virginia in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl.

RB: George Winn, Cincinnati. Winn capped a great senior season, running for 130 yards and a touchdown in a 48-34 win over Duke in the Belk Bowl.

OT: Justin Pugh, Syracuse. There is a reason Pugh has declared early for the NFL draft. He showed why he is one of the best tackles in the country in the win over West Virginia, helping pave the way for 369 yards rushing and protecting Ryan Nassib well.

OT: Alex Kupper, Louisville. Those who have followed the Cardinals believe Kupper had one of the best performances of his career in the win over the Gators. For the first time in a four-game stretch, Louisville was able to get its run game going.

C: Mario Benavides, Louisville. Benavides has been the best center in the Big East for several years, and he played well in the final game of his career.

OG: Austen Bujnoch, Cincinnati. Bujnoch played with a foot injury after missing most of the bowl practices and had another great game as the Bearcats ran for 222 yards.

OG: Zack Chibane, Syracuse. Chibane teamed with Pugh on the left side to open huge holes all day.

TE: Travis Kelce, Cincinnati. Kelce capped his monster season with a monster game, catching five passes for a career-high 123 yards -- including the 83-yard game-winning touchdown catch with 44 seconds left.

WR: Anthony McClung, Cincinnati. McClung had three catches for 110 yards and a 25-yard touchdown against Duke in the Belk Bowl in one of the best performances of his career.

WR: Devin Street, Pitt. The Panthers had a dreadful day on offense, but Street was a bright spot with seven catches for 83 yards and a touchdown in a 38-17 loss to Ole Miss in the BBVA Compass Bowl.

DEFENSE

DL: Marcus Smith, Louisville. Smith came through in a big way on the line in a dominating performance against Florida. His name does not show up often on the stat sheet, but he made his presence felt.

DL: Brandon Sharpe, Syracuse. Sharpe was a big reason why Geno Smith was flustered all day long. Sharpe finished with four tackles, a sack and a forced fumble on the day.

DL: Jamil Merrell, Rutgers. Merrell had a huge game in a 13-10 overtime loss to Virginia Tech, notching a career-high two sacks in the game as the Scarlet Knights held the Hokies to 196 yards of total offense.

LB: Siriki Diabate, Syracuse. Diabate led the way with 10 tackles, three tackles for loss and half a sack, and he contributed to a safety early in the win over the Mountaineers.

LB: Greg Blair, Cincinnati. Blair set a Cincinnati bowl record with a game-high 15 tackles. He forced and recovered a fumble early that changed the momentum against the Blue Devils.

LB: Preston Brown, Louisville. Brown finished with 13 tackles -- 1.5 for loss -- and one pass breakup in the win over the Gators.

LB: Khaseem Greene, Rutgers. Greene was a stalwart once again, finishing the loss to Virginia Tech with 11 tackles, half a sack and one forced fumble he recovered in the end zone -- the only Rutgers touchdown of the game.

CB: Terell Floyd, Louisville. Floyd's 38-yard interception return for a touchdown on the opening play of the game set the tone for the Cardinals. It was Louisville's first defensive score of the season.

CB: Brandon Jones, Rutgers. Jones set a career high and Rutgers single-game bowl record with two interceptions against the Hokies.

S: Jason Hendricks, Pitt. Hendricks had a great game in a loss to the Rebels, with a whopping 17 tackles, two tackles for loss and an interception.

S: Calvin Pryor, Louisville. Pryor had six tackles and registered his fifth forced fumble on the season when he recorded his first sack of the season in the third quarter.

SPECIAL TEAMS

P: Matt Yoklic, Pitt. Yoklic had plenty of opportunities to punt in this game and made the most of them, leading all Big East postseason punters with a 48.3-yard average on six punts.

K: Tony Miliano, Cincinnati. Miliano led all Big East kickers during postseason play with 12 points -- making both his field goal attempts and all six extra-point attempts against Duke.

Rutgers D keys win at Cincinnati

November, 17, 2012
11/17/12
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And then, effectively, there were two.

No. 22 Rutgers remains the lone Big East team unbeaten in conference play, and the conference crown will now hinge on its Nov. 29 finale against Louisville. The Scarlet Knights control their own destiny and they seized a huge opportunity Saturday at Nippert Stadium, playing typical Rutgers football en route to a 10-3 win over Cincinnati.

With Jawan Jamison limited from last week's ankle injury, Savon Huggins picked up the workload the way few backups could. The sophomore carried the ball 41 times for 179 yards, and Rutgers' defense kept the Bearcats in check throughout the day, coming within 11 seconds of pitching its second shutout of the season before Tony Miliano kicked a 36-yard field goal to account for the final margin.

Rutgers recovered the ensuing onside kick.

Like most Scarlet Knights wins, this one was far from pretty to the outside eye. But it's been their formula for success all season, and it now has them 5-0 in Big East play.

Mark Harrison's 71-yard touchdown catch with 6:13 left in the first half was the only touchdown of the game. Harrison finished the day with 106 yards on four catches.

Gary Nova was just 11-of-19 for 186 yards with two picks, both coming in the red zone. But Brendon Kay threw two picks of his own, including one at the Rutgers 3, and he finished the day just 17-of-31 for 251 yards, with a team-best 46 rushing yards.

Big East leading rusher George Winn had nowhere to run all day, netting just 35 yards on 11 carries. Khaseem Greene led the way again for the Scarlet Knights, notching a team-best 11 tackles and recording two sacks.

Rutgers dominated time of possession (37:13 to 22:47), and it limited Cincinnati to 3 of 11 on third down and 0 of 2 on fourth down, including a red zone stop in the second half with the score still 7-0.

Everyone wondered if Rutgers would be able to keep up when facing a strong offense in conference play. Turns out it didn't matter. The Scarlet Knights' defense is that good, and it now has them in prime position to capture the program's first-ever Big East title.
We have come to the final group in the 2011 postseason position rankings: special teams. This one is all encompassing -- kickers, punters, returners, and team coverage -- which has made it quite the task to evaluate as one group. Some teams had returns that excelled and kickers that were so-so. Some had great kickers but a so-so return game.

I tried to give equal weight to all parts. In the end, I took the rankings in several special-teams categories and used an average ranking to help determine these. Special weight was given to game-changing plays as well.

1. Cincinnati. The Bearcats ranked in the top two in four of the five statistical categories I used to evaluate special teams as a whole. The only area lacking was field goals, but I thought overall Tony Miliano had a decent year for a true freshman, even considering his missed kick against West Virginia. Ralph David Abernathy IV emerged as a dynamite kickoff man, and Pat O'Donnell was the best punter in the Big East again. Kickoff coverage was solid as well. Preseason ranking: 5.

2. UConn. Nick Williams averaged just 5.6 yards a return on punts. He was not particularly dynamic on kickoff returns, either, ranking No. 4 in the Big East after going into the season as one of the top returners in the league. UConn was one of two Big East teams without a kickoff return for a touchdown. But still, the Huskies were solid in every other category. Dave Teggart once again was the Big East first-team kicker, and Cole Wagner averaged 41.1 yards a punt. Preseason ranking: 1.

[+] EnlargeTavon Austin
Charles LeClaire/US PresswireTavon Austin had two kickoff returns for touchdowns last season.
3. West Virginia. Tavon Austin was hands down the best returner in the Big East this season, and one of the best in the nation. But since this is an evaluation of special teams as a whole, everything is taken into account. West Virginia had the worst punting situation in the Big East, and ranked last in kickoff coverage. There were several critical blocked field goals as well. Special teams absolutely improved as the year went on, and some players made big plays -- Eain Smith comes to mind. But Austin alone wasn't enough to elevate the group higher. Preseason ranking: 7.

4. Rutgers. Once again, the Scarlet Knights were highly effective at blocking kicks -- a staple under coach Greg Schiano. Jeremy Deering was solid in the kickoff return game as well. But San San Te had the worst field goal percentage in the Big East (64.5 percent), and kickoff coverage ranked No. 7 in the conference. Rutgers only had an opportunity to return 16 punts last season, averaging about 6 yards a return. Preseason ranking: 6.

5. Pitt. The Panthers lost their punter and field goal kicker from a year ago and did perhaps better than expected in special teams overall. Punter Matt Yoklic was second in the league in punts, though Kevin Harper did struggle at times with his field goals. Losing Cameron Saddler really hurt the punt return game as well. Preseason ranking: 8.

6. Syracuse. Ross Krautman led the Big East in field goal percentage (78.9) but he only had 19 attempts on the season, second fewest in the Big East. Punt returns were essentially nonexistent -- with only 12 attempts for an average of 3.1 yards a return. Jeremiah Kobena was a nice addition at kickoff returner, but the Orange still ranked No. 6 in the Big East in that category and kickoff return coverage as well. Preseason ranking: 4.

7. Louisville. Chris Philpott had a disappointing season, ranking No. 7 in the league in field goal percentage (66.7). He and Josh Bleser averaged 37.3 yards a punt. Punt returning ranked No. 7 in the Big East as well, and aside from Adrian Bushell's 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, that category was just average for the Cardinals. Preseason ranking: 3.

8. USF. I think the Bulls were the biggest disappointment in this category. Lindsey Lamar, who was the first-team Big East selection at returner last year, had zero this year and ranked No. 9 in the league in kickoff return average. His average was down some six yards from last season. When Terrence Mitchell got hurt and missed the second half of the season, no one was dynamic at punt returner, either. Maikon Bonani ranked No. 3 in field goal percentage but fairly or not is going to be remembered for missing a field goal that would have beaten Rutgers, and eventually gotten the Bulls bowl eligible. Preseason ranking: 2.

Big East all-freshman team

December, 16, 2011
12/16/11
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Earlier this week, I listed a few of my top freshmen in the Big East. Now I present my Big East All-Freshman team. True freshmen and redshirt freshmen are included. Some positions were much easier to fill than others. Here is my team:

Offense

QB: Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville

RB: Lyle McCombs, UConn

RB: Dustin Garrison, West Virginia

WR: Michaelee Harris, Louisville

WR: Deonte Welch, USF

WR: DeVante Parker, Louisville

OL: Kaleb Johnson, Rutgers

OL: Quinterrius Eatmon, USF

OL: Jake Smith, Louisville

OL: John Miller, Louisville

OL: Eric Lefeld, Cincinnati

Defense

DL: B.J. Dubose, Louisville

DL: Elkino Watson, USF

DL: Jamaine Brooks, Louisville

LB: Yawin Smallwood, UConn

LB: Dyshawn Davis, Syracuse

LB: Todd Thomas, Pitt

LB: Jewone Snow, West Virginia

DB: Ty-Meer Brown, UConn

DB: Calvin Pryor, Louisville

DB: Andrew Johnson, Louisville

DB: Byron Jones, UConn

Specialists

K: Tony Miliano, Cincinnati

P: Jonathan Fisher, Syracuse

KR: Jeremiah Kobena, Syracuse

The toughest choices for me were at running back and receiver. I went back and forth between Garrison and Rutgers redshirt freshman Jawan Jamison. Their yardage and touchdown totals are virtually identical, but Garrison has a much better yards per carry average and was a more explosive player this season. Receiver was probably the toughest because of the three freshmen receivers for Louisville. I had Eli Rogers on this list at various points, but went with Parker because of his six touchdown receptions.

You also see only three down linemen. There were simply not many impact freshmen defensive linemen in the league this year. The same goes for cornerback (which is why I went with three safeties) and tight end. Those were the three weakest positions for freshmen in the league. Receiver, running back and linebacker were the strongest.

Halftime: Cincinnati 10, Syracuse 6

November, 26, 2011
11/26/11
1:58
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Munchie Legaux threw his first career touchdown pass, and that was good enough to give the Bearcats a 10-6 lead over Syracuse at halftime.

Neither Syracuse nor Cincinnati has looked particularly sharp. The Bearcats, who have to win out to clinch at least a share of the Big East title, have been plagued by mistakes once again. Tony Miliano missed a field goal; backup quarterback Jordan Luallen, tripped over himself en route to a sure touchdown; and a running into the kicker penalty allowed Syracuse a second chance at a field goal.

Several false start penalties have been particularly costly. On the drive in which Luallen tripped, Cincinnati had a first-and-goal at the 1 but the Bearcats were eventually backed up to the 11. Cincinnati was more content putting the ball in the hands of Luallen and Legaux early, but finally started feeding the ball to Isaiah Pead.

He had a big role in getting the Bearcats into position for their first touchdown since the West Virginia game. Legaux threw a 2-yard scoring pass to Travis Kelce to put Cincinnati up 10-6.

Syracuse has made mistakes, too, off the bye week. Ryan Nassib has missed open receivers again, and Syracuse is just 1-of-6 on third down. The Orange need one more win to become bowl-eligible.

Zach Collaros out for regular season

November, 13, 2011
11/13/11
4:31
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The news Cincinnati feared was confirmed Sunday afternoon: starting quarterback Zach Collaros is out for the final three games of the regular season with a broken right ankle.

Collaros got hurt in the second quarter of a 24-21 loss to West Virginia, when his leg bent back awkwardly on a sack. Backup Munchie Legaux came into the game and nearly rallied the Bearcats to the win, before Tony Miliano's game-tying 31-yard field goal was blocked with no time left.

This is obviously a big blow for an offense that has come to depend on Collaros not only for his running and passing, but for his incredible leadership. Collaros is a player who wills his team to win, whom his teammates have come to respect, trust and rally around.

If Cincinnati (7-2, 3-1) is to make it to its third BCS game in four seasons, it now will have to do it behind Legaux, who will make his first collegiate start Saturday at Rutgers.

Big East helmet stickers: Week 10

November, 6, 2011
11/06/11
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How about a few helmet stickers for a job well done.

Adrian Bushell, CB, Louisville. Bushell had the critical blocked field goal in a 38-35 win over West Virginia. Andrew Johnson was able to pick up the block and return it 82 yards for a score to turn the tide for the Cardinals. It was the team's first blocked field goal for a touchdown since 2008.

Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville. Bridgewater went 21-for-27 for a career-high 246 yards and a touchdown in a 38-35 win over West Virginia. Bridgewater completed his first 10 passes and had just one incompletion in the first half.

Jeremy Deering, KR, Rutgers. Deering returned a kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown to begin Rutgers' comeback in a 20-17 win over USF in overtime. The score came after Rutgers went down 17-3 and gave the Scarlet Knights much needed momentum. The return tied for the third-longest in school history.

Lyle McCombs, RB, UConn. McCombs ran for a career-high 152 yards on 24 carries and added a touchdown in a 28-21 win over Syracuse.

Tony Miliano, K, Cincinnati. Miliano tied a school record with his four field goals in a 26-23 win over Pitt. Miliano made kicks from 27, 40, 32 and 41 yards without one miss, and was an integral reason why the Bearcats stayed undefeated in league play.

Halftime: Cincinnati 10, USF 10

October, 22, 2011
10/22/11
1:56
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TAMPA, Fla. -- Cincinnati and USF are tied at 10 at halftime in what can only be described as a mistake-filled first half by both teams.

Consider:
  • USF ended the half with a bit of a clock-management blunder that wasted a chance for a third-and-goal. On second-and-goal at the 2, the Bulls snapped the ball with 28 seconds left in the half. B.J. Daniels ran for no gain. But it took a while for him to be extricated from the pile. Then the Bulls appeared to be confused and waited until 3 seconds remained on the clock to call timeout. Maikon Bonani hit the 20-yard field goal, but fans booed the team on the way to the locker room.
  • The Bulls had two opportunities from inside the Cincinnati 5 in the first half, but came away with just a field goal. On the other chance, they botched the snap on the field-goal attempt.
  • Daniels had yet another fumble, this one early in the game. He has four turnovers in two games.
  • Cincinnati quarterback Zach Collaros has thrown two pretty bad interceptions. The first was in the end zone; the second led to the game-tying field goal, when he inexplicably decided to flip the ball to a sea of green shirts after being chased way, way outside the pocket.
  • The Bearcats had a missed field goal of their own on the opening drive of the game, when Tony Miliano went wide left from 33 yards.

So you see the game has not been played well on either side. Collaros is not having the greatest game, and USF is really doing a nice job of slowing down Isaiah Pead, who only has 34 yards rushing with a long of 9. Both defensive fronts are doing an excellent job getting pressure -- that is a big reason why Collaros has struggled. Neither team is running the ball well, either. Cincinnati has held the No. 1 rushing team in the league to 42 total yards on the ground.

USF receiver Deonte Welch has more than 100 yards in the first half, and the Bulls have been able to move the ball at times. They just keep getting in their own way.

Big East practice report

August, 12, 2011
8/12/11
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Taking a look at practice around the league ...

Cincinnati: Coach Butch Jones continued to put an emphasis on his kicking competition Thursday. At the end of practice, he had transfer Shane Popham kick for the defense and Tony Miliano kick for the offense. The losing side had to run an extra gasser. Popham was 4-of-5 from between 35 and 38 yards to win relief for the defense. "We will continue to do that," Jones said. "We have to continue to raise their blood pressure. It’s going to be critical, and kicking is pressure situations. So we will continue to manufacture as much pressure situations as we can."

Connecticut: The Huskies hold media day today, with plenty of live coverage on the school's website.

Louisville: The Cardinals held their first two-a-day practice Thursday. In the first practice, they worked on goal-line situations. The defense stuffed the offense on the first go-around. But on the second, the offense scored four straight times. One included a touchdown pass from Teddy Bridgewater to Josh Chichester.

Pitt: Coach Todd Graham is pleased with freshmen Juan Price and Todd Thomas at linebacker. He also was happy with kicker Kevin Harper, who made all of his field goals during practice, including a 55-yarder. Tight end Brock DeCicco was not at practice and is considering a transfer. DeCicco is worried he isn't a good fit in the new spread offense.

Rutgers: The Scarlet Knights will hold their first scrimmage Saturday but won't be at full strength, especially at running back. Jawan Jamison (hamstring) won't participate, and coach Greg Schiano didn't know if Jeremy Deering (head) would be available. Defensive end Manny Abreu (head) also will be held out. Rutgers only has three healthy tailbacks on the roster right now.

Syracuse: Injuries have hit the Orange particularly hard.

USF: Quarterback B.J. Daniels returned to practice but was held out of team drills during the second half of the day. Still, it was a relief to have him back and he showed no signs of favoring his leg. Also Thursday, Lou Holtz was at practice, decked out in Bulls gear, to cheer on and support his son, coach Skip Holtz. Lou Holtz addressed the team afterward and had this evaluation: “They’re a much-improved football team from what I’ve seen,” he said. “More experienced, more confidence, better fundamentally, and they’re very quick and they work hard.”

West Virginia: Defensive tackle Julian Miller turned his ankle and was in a red, non-contact jersey and walking boot. Coach Dana Holgorsen said Miller was "day-to-day." Same for Darwin Cook, who has a strained muscle. Holgorsen also anticipates playing 12 true freshmen this year.
Taking a look around the league for a few early practice reports Tuesday:

Cincinnati: The kickers have gotten a lot of early work during Cincinnati practices so far. Senior transfer Shane Popham from Wake Forest, redshirt freshman Tony Miliano and true freshman A.J. Fleak are competing to replace Jacob Rogers. A starter might not be named until the week of the Austin Peay game.

Louisville: The Cardinals practiced in full pads for the first time Tuesday, and quarterback Teddy Bridgewater resumed throwing Tuesday after leaving practice early Saturday with a sore shoulder.

Pitt: Coach Todd Graham singled out various players who have impressed him so far, including Juan Price, the true freshman who came in after getting his release from Ohio State. He also talked about the status of linebacker Dan Mason, still recovering from a devastating knee injury.

“For Dan Mason it is just a day-to-day deal," Graham said. "Dan has faith and belief that he can make it back but we’ll have to see. He’s still a while from where he can compete right now.”

Syracuse: Safety Phillip Thomas broke his jaw and will be out of non-contact drills for a few days.

USF: Quarterback B.J. Daniels tweaked his hamstring and will be limited the next few days.
We wrap up our look at team position rankings with special teams. There are plenty of strong kickers and returners in the league. I did not separate them, though, because those would be more like individual rankings. Those are coming soon.

[+] EnlargeNick Williams
Jim O'Connor/US PresswireNick Williams led the NCAA in kickoff return average last season.
1. Connecticut. The Huskies have one of the best kickers in the league in Dave Teggart and one of the best kickoff returners in the league in Nick Williams putting them in the top spot here. Williams led the NCAA in kickoff return average last season with 35.3 yards per kick. Teggart was the Big East first-team selection, making 25 of 31 field goals. They should be better this year, even with the loss of Robbie Frey.

2. USF. The Bulls also have an excellent kicker-returner duo in Maikon Bonani and Lindsey Lamar. Bonani made 17 of 21 kicks last year, while Lamar was the first-team All-Big East selection, returning two kickoffs for touchdowns and averaging 26 yards per return. Add in punt returner Terrence Mitchell and this is one of the best units in the league.

3. Louisville. The Cardinals have one of the best in the league in Chris Philpott, who punts and kicks. Josh Bleser is solid in splitting the punting duties with Philpott. Victor Anderson and Jeremy Wright are back as kickoff returners -- both averaged 30-plus yards per return last season. Wright's kick return helped the Cardinals win the Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl last year. Doug Beaumont is gone as punt returner, but he is the only loss. This unit has a chance to be No. 1 at year's end.

4. Syracuse. The Orange have one of the best kickers in the league in Ross Krautman, who missed just one of his 19 field goal attempts last season. They do lose their top punt returner in Mike Holmes, along with punter Rob Long so there are questions at some of the most important spots on special teams. But Krautman, and the return of Dorian Graham and Prince-Tyson Gulley returning kicks puts this unit just ahead of the Bearcats.

5. Cincinnati. This is a mixed bag for the Bearcats. They have the best punter in the league in Pat O'Donnell, who also happens to be a physical freak in the weight room. They should be decent in the return game with the return of D.J. Woods, who will compete with Anthony McClung, Shaq Washington and Kenbrell Thompkins to return kicks and punts. Darrin Williams is in the mix for kickoff returner, too. But kicker is a huge question mark. Jacob Rogers was solid last season. Now there is uncertainty in the competition between Tony Miliano and Danny Milligan. Coach Butch Jones says he won't name a starter until game week.

6. Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights also have question marks here. Kicker San San Te returns, but he needs to be better from longer distances (2-of-7 from 40-plus yards). Punter Teddy Dellaganna is gone and so is kickoff returner Joe Lefeged. True freshman Anthony DiPaula enrolled early and takes over at punter. Mason Robinson is back at punt returner, and Jeremy Deering and Mark Harrison make a good combo returning kicks.

7. West Virginia. The Mountaineers need more consistency from kicker Tyler Bitancurt, who missed his final four kicks of last season. He made just 10 of 17 attempts and looked shaky in the spring. West Virginia has a new holder and a new punter in Corey Smith, and hopes for improvement in the return game.

8. Pittsburgh. The Panthers have to replace both kicking specialists, including Big East first-team punter Dan Hutchins. At punter, you have walk-ons Matt Yoklic and Drake Greer, neither of whom has punted in a collegiate game. Kevin Harper takes over as kicker and had a good spring game. The Panthers also replace their long-snapper, so there will be a period of adjustment for this unit when the season starts. Cameron Saddler is a bright spot at returner.

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