NCF Nation: Walter Stewart

UCF KNIGHTS

Spring start: March 13

Spring game: April 13

What to watch:
  1. Bortles' progress: Blake Bortles threw for 3,059 yards with 25 touchdowns and seven interceptions last season, and he figures to be one of the better signal-callers in a Big East that has few consistent returning standouts outside of Teddy Bridgewater.
  2. Replacing Ishmael and McDuffie: UCF loses arguably its two best players in Kemal Ishmael -- who was the Conference USA defensive player of the year and team MVP, notching 124 total tackles and three interceptions -- and Quincy McDuffie, who was the C-USA special-teams player of the year and offensive team MVP.
  3. Beginning the transition: You voted UCF as the newcomer most likely to succeed in the Big East in 2013, and the Knights do seem to be the most ready of the C-USA newcomers. They won 10 games last season, play arguably the toughest nonconference schedule annually of the newcomers, and will have the most natural rival in USF.
CINCINNATI BEARCATS

Spring start: March 1

Spring game: April 6 (open practice), spring ends April 13

What to watch:
  1. The Tommy Tuberville era kicks off: Tuberville's stint at Cincinnati got off to an unceremonious start publicly, but Cincinnati got a proven coach who has had plenty of offensive success. The school has usually been a step up the ladder for coaches -- the past three of whom left after three successful seasons each -- but the Bearcats have gone in another direction this time.
  2. The ground game: Cincinnati faced the same question last year upon losing Big East offensive player of the year Isaiah Pead. George Winn ended up outproducing Pead. Who will replace Winn this year? Ralph David Abernathy IV is the most proven returner, but he does not fit the mold of an every-down back. Regardless, with all five offensive line starters back, the transition figures to be relatively smooth, if not as productive.
  3. Defensive line production: Cincinnati got used to playing without Walter Stewart, but it also loses Dan Giordano, who had five sacks in 2012. Although its 31 sacks as a team were good for second in the Big East, the production was down from the previous season.
CONNECTICUT HUSKIES

Spring start: March 11

Spring game: April 20

What to watch:
  1. Offense under T.J. Weist: The numbers were ugly -- 110th nationally in total offense, 118th in scoring -- resulting in George DeLeone being stripped of his duties. (He's still the offensive line coach.) Weist comes over from Cincinnati, where he coached receivers the past three years.
  2. Defense under Hank Hughes: Conversely, UConn must now replace defensive coordinator Don Brown, who lifted the Huskies to 10th nationally in total defense last season. Hughes enters his 13th season on staff but is tasked with replacing a number of standouts at each position -- Trevardo Williams, Sio Moore and Blidi Wreh-Wilson, to name a few.
  3. Whitmer's growth: Chandler Whitmer returns after passing for 2,664 yards with nine touchdowns and 16 picks in 2012. He had little help up front, and there is more depth at the position this year with Scott McCummings and incoming recruits Richard Lagow and Tim Boyle, both three-star prospects.
HOUSTON COUGARS

Spring start: March 4

Spring game: April 12

What to watch:
  1. Quarterback competition: David Piland is the returning starter, having thrown for 2,929 yards with 16 touchdowns and 12 interceptions in 2012, but he will be challenged by juco transfer Billy Cosh and three-star recruit John O'Korn.
  2. Defense under David Gibbs: The Cougars' defense really has nowhere to go but up after a 2012 season that saw it finish 115th nationally, 107th in scoring, 92nd in rushing and 115th in passing -- numbers that resulted in the ouster of Jamie Bryant. Gibbs most recently worked with the NFL's Houston Texans.
  3. Building depth: The Cougars bring back 43 players from 2012, 14 of whom were starters. Throw in a 26-man recruiting class -- five of whom are currently enrolled -- and Houston can begin to build depth needed to sustain its level of play in a new, better conference.
LOUISVILLE CARDINALS

Spring start: March 20

Spring game: April 13

What to watch:
  1. Backfield options: Senorise Perry, last year's starter, will not be in full-contact practice after tearing his ACL late last season. His backup, Jeremy Wright, is not enrolled in classes. Dominique Brown, Corvin Lamb and Brandon Radcliff are the next three guys on the depth chart, although Brown is the only one to have proved much thus far.
  2. Teddy Heisman continuing arc: Bridgewater went from conference-known to nationally known in 2012, and his strong finish against Rutgers and Florida will only amplify the hype heading into this season. If Bridgewater's improvement resembles anything like that of this past season, those Heisman whispers will become much louder.
  3. Clint Hurtt's shadow: Simply put, this is an issue that isn't going away anytime soon. AD Tom Jurich stands behind the defensive line coach, whom the NCAA says provided false or misleading information during its investigation of Miami, and the situation figures to linger until this never-ending Hurricanes case is complete.

Big East mailblog

November, 2, 2012
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Before I begin, thank you to all you wonderful readers out there for keeping me on my toes. In my Monday column on Louisville, I had a typo calling Cincinnati and Louisville in-state rivals. I meant to write cross-state. Geography was never my strong point, but that was just a boneheaded mistake.

Now let us open up the mailbag.

John in Louisville writes: Honestly, I like Butch Jones, the man has guts and heart. On to my question: with U of L 8-0, what do you think the chances are now that they go undefeated? How negative to the national perception of the Big East would it be if they went into the Rutgers game (with both undefeated in league play) and lost?

Andrea Adelson: Considering I have Louisville playing in the Orange Bowl, I like the Cardinals' chances. But I do not think there are any guarantees, particularly with the way Louisville has played. Louisville is not a dominant team right now that can shut its opponents down, so I would like to see that develop in the final stretch before I make iron-clad guarantees about this team running the table. I think Louisville still remains vulnerable. As for the national perception, if Rutgers goes into that game with a loss, I think there is a good chance the Scarlet Knights will be ranked. I think it would be much worse for the Big East if Louisville loses to Temple or UConn, to be honest. Folks out there know Rutgers is a good team and has the home-field advantage as well.

Aaron in Cincinnati writes: All right Andrea, I have to say, my Bearcats showed a lot of heart in Friday's game, and I honestly had ZERO faith that we would score that game tying TD. But it really shouldn't have gotten to overtime. Everyone wants to talk about Munchie's three interceptions, but seem to forget about the (Travis) Kelce drop on third down when it was 24-24 with 2:30 left and the Bearcats had some decent momentum. All we had to do after that was pretty much run the clock down and get in decent field goal range (the 46-yard attempt never had a chance with that wind). Not that I don't think Munchie shouldn't bear a lot of the blame, but that drop was the turning point in my mind.

Adelson: Aaron, there is no question that was a huge play in the game. But I don't think you can pin one drop on the fortunes of the team, as painful as the play appears to have been. We can only guess as to what would have happened had he made that catch. The secondary should have never allowed Louisville to score the go-ahead touchdown. Legaux should have never thrown the ball into the end zone in overtime, either.

Jim in Freeport, Pa., writes: How does Notre Dame now being a winner affect Big East bowls, in general?

Adelson: No impact, Jim. The Big East has a guaranteed spot in a BCS game. As for the other bowls, Notre Dame already took a Big East bowl spot last year.

Jim Brown in Atlanta writes: What is the extent of Walter Stewart's injury or medical condition? Is it life threatening?

Adelson: It is not life threatening, Jim. He has a back injury and continuing with football could put him at risk for further damage to his spine.

Rusty in Raleigh writes: I've watched South Florida play against Florida State and Louisville this year and they seem to have as much or more talent than them, but they seem to always lose. Why can't the Bulls win?

Adelson: It is one of those great mysteries in life. The bottom line is this team just does not have a killer instinct in the fourth quarter. USF has lost all manner of heartbreakers going back two years now. They have big leads and blow them. They come back from deficits to take a late lead, only to blow them. USF pulled out a close one at Nevada early in the year, and many thought the luck was finally turning. But there has only been misery since that victory. Until the Bulls can put teams away, it feels as if they are in an endless cycle of heartache.

Lawrence Bisig in Louisville writes: If Louisville runs the table, but loses to Rutgers in the final week, and Rutgers wins the automatic bid, assuming a few more top 10 teams will go down. Could a one-loss Louisville team earn an at large bid?

Adelson: I am going to say the chances would be remote. In order to earn an at-large bid, you have to finish in the Top 14 of the final BCS standings, and then be attractive enough to be taken as a second team from your conference. Also remember there may not be many slots available. Notre Dame gets an automatic berth if it finishes in the Top 8 of the final BCS standings; and Boise State would get an automatic berth if it finishes in the Top 12. Right now, Notre Dame is No. 3 and Boise State is No. 19. Just keep an eye on them.

Tricks and treats in the Big East

October, 31, 2012
10/31/12
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Happy Halloween one and all! I know you all are just waiting on pins and needles to know what I am dressing up as this year. My children picked my costume for me.

Drum roll ...

I will be a lady bug. Because nothing says lady like college football blogging! Hope you have fun tonight. To get you in the spirit, here are some tricks and treats from the Big East so far this year.

Scary movie: Youngstown State 31, Pitt 17. I know Pitt fans want to forget this game ever happened, so skip to the next category if you do not want to relive the pain from this game. It was not the best start to the Paul Chryst era. Youngstown State beat an FBS team for the first time in school history, while Pitt lost to an FCS team for the first time in program history. The loss also broke the Big East's 57-game winning streak over FCS programs.

Trick or treat: Louisville at Rutgers, Nov. 29. Just the way the Big East scheduling gods planned this one -- it is looking more and more like this game is going to determine the Big East representative in the BCS. Rutgers did lose to Kent State last week, but the Scarlet Knights and No. 10 Cardinals remain the only teams undefeated in Big East play. If they can get to their Thursday night meeting in New Jersey unbeaten, the winner goes to the BCS.

Boo (boo): Cincinnati defensive end Walter Stewart. This is a really tough loss for Cincinnati and the Big East. Stewart got hurt early on against Fordham and ended up playing the rest of the game. But when he went for further testing, doctors advised him to give up his career because he could risk further injury to his back. Stewart was the best edge pass-rusher in the Big East and ends the season with five sacks. That still ranks him No. 3 even though he missed the last two games. Without him, the Bearcats are 0-2.

Jason Voorhees: MAC. That is right. The MAC is the league that WOULD NOT DIE. It was Friday the 13th for four different Big East teams in the first nine weeks of the season. Ball State struck first, beating USF. Then Western Michigan beat UConn for the second straight season. But USF and UConn are quite beatable this year. Surely the ranked, undefeated Big East teams would handle their MAC competition. Uhhhhhh. Toledo beat No. 21 Cincinnati; Kent State beat No. 15 Rutgers.

Cursed: USF. When are the Bulls going to win a close game you ask? Great question. Four of their six losses came in the closing minutes. Their last two came by a combined three points. Go back to last year, and USF lost four games in the closing minutes as well -- three on a field goal. That means eight of their 13 losses in the past two seasons have come down to the wire, and the Bulls have not been able to find a way to win.

Graveyard: UConn. The Huskies do not have as many heartbreaking losses as the Bulls, but they are close. Last year they had a problem closing out games in the fourth quarter. This year, three of their five losses have been by six points or less -- including an overtime defeat to Temple. Coach Paul Pasqualoni is 8-13 in a little less than two seasons there, and has never won consecutive games with the Huskies.

Thriller: Louisville 34, Cincinnati 31, OT. The best Big East game of the season to date featured a wild fourth quarter in which Louisville took the lead with 1:56 remaining only to see the Bearcats send the game into overtime with 1:03 remaining. Munchie Legaux threw an interception into the end zone on Cincinnati's possession in overtime. Louisville got the ball back and lined up for the game-winning field goal. Cincinnati coach Butch Jones called timeout just as the snap was botched. He shrugged his shoulders. Louisville got one more chance, and John Wallace hit the 30-yard field goal to win the game and keep Louisville's unbeaten season alive.
Faith wasn't wavering in the Syracuse locker room -- or the offensive huddle -- when the Orange fell behind by 20 on the road early Saturday night. Their fifth-year quarterback made sure of that.

"I think I've said it throughout the season," coach Doug Marrone began, speaking of Ryan Nassib, "he really worked hard on the leadership skills. I think it's benefited not only himself, but obviously our team, and I just can't be more proud of him than I am."

[+] EnlargeSyracuse's Ryan Nassib
Rich Schultz /Getty ImagesRyan Nassib and the Syracuse offense have scored 77 points over the past two games.
"He's doing a very good job these past couple weeks, and we need him to keep playing the way he's playing," Marrone added. "And if he does it gives us a chance, and I can't be more proud of him. But he really worked on that leadership quite a bit this offseason."

Syracuse rolls into Cincinnati this weekend having scored 77 points over its past two games, giving itself the chance to do something that seemed unthinkable two short weeks ago, when the Bearcats were undefeated.

With two straight losses and no more Walter Stewart up front, Cincinnati is trying to find more ways to get to the quarterback -- no easy task against Nassib.

"They don't give up sacks," Cincinnati coach Butch Jones said of Syracuse. "They've only given up 12 sacks all year, one out of 25 pass attempts, so it's extremely difficult to get to him. He's got an extremely quick release, he's accurate, he knows where he's going with the football, he sets his feet and he goes. And he's managing his offense exceptionally well. He has weapons around him.

"It's going to be a great challenge for us. The thing we have to do is no secret -- we have to swarm to the football. We have to get 11 hats to the ball and we have to do a better job of tackling."

Cincinnati gave up five passing plays of 30 yards or more and three passing plays of at least 50 yards in Friday night's overtime loss at Louisville, with Teddy Bridgewater throwing for a career-best 416 yards.

In his 328-yard performance Saturday at South Florida, Nassib completed five throws of at least 20 yards, including three straight completions of 20 or more on the game-winning drive.

"When you give up as many passing yards as we did in the back end, I think everyone in the naked eye wants to look at our corners and safeties," Jones said. "And I think first of all, it's fundamentals, it's technique, it's our break and drive, it's our transition. But I think the by-product of playing great team defense, great pass defense, starts up front.

"Teddy Bridgewater, make no mistake about it, is a great, great quarterback. And any time you allow him the ability to stand in the pocket and throw the football, you're going to be challenged in the back end. He threw the ball 41 times and we impacted the quarterback five times, and that can't happen."
You can hurt for Cincinnati defensive end Walter Stewart today. But do not feel bad for Walter Stewart today.

If anybody can handle the devastating news he has received, it is the player coach Butch Jones calls the heart and soul of his team, the most mature player on his team, the unquestioned leader on his team.

[+] EnlargeWalter Stewart
Rob Leifheit/US PresswireSenior defensive lineman Walter Stewart played in six games this season for the Bearcats.
Stewart most likely will never play another down of football again, and that is a great shame. He would have been a high NFL draft pick, and an outstanding contributor to the team lucky enough to select him, making an impact the way Derek Wolfe has his rookie season. Yes, Stewart lives his life for football. He used football as a way to find himself. His arrival at Cincinnati was a blessing itself, after a rocky childhood nearly left him with nothing.

Nobody pegged him for a college football player, but the truth is, Stewart is too big a man to be labeled that way. He is more than a football player. He is a survivor, a mentor and a leader. Football does not have to be taken from him forever, though he may not play another down.

"He has as strong a foundation of any individual his age I've ever been a part of," Jones said Tuesday during his weekly news conference. "He's taken it exceptionally well. He's realistic. He's deciding what he wants to do with his life if football playing is not there. I'm trying to convince him to give coaching a try. I think that's his passion, and I think he can be an asset to this profession. When he speaks, the kids listen. I fully anticipate him doing that if playing football is out of the realm. You'll see him on the sidelines with us."

You understand why Jones wants Stewart to go into coaching. But this is all new to Stewart, who has just started to come to grips with his new reality, and the crushing diagnosis.

Jones said, "This is a young man and a family that's gone through a gamut of emotions. You go through a week of testing and they say football may be taken from you the rest of your life. All his life, all he's known is playing football. He's worked exceptionally hard. It's been traumatic for everyone but the resiliency, the poise he's shown, the inner drive to still push and be there for his teammates. If you ask him what the biggest regret is right now or the biggest thing he's struggling is in very Walter Stewart fashion. He feels he's not there enough for his teammates. He is, but that's just him."

Stewart will not throw himself a pity party. He has his life, and a college education and a great future ahead of him. Where one dream has been taken from him, another is sure to follow. Jones calls Stewart a "powerful force." If Stewart so chooses, he will have the power to shape the lives of young men.

That may end up being more valuable than what he has lost.
Cincinnati will be without starting defensive end Walter Stewart against Toledo, bad news for a Bearcats team that will have its hands full against a versatile Rockets offense.

But there could be worse news ahead.

There is no timetable for Stewart's return. Bill Koch of The Cincinnati Enqurier reports that Stewart could be out longer than one week, meaning he could miss the Bearcats' critical game against Louisville next Friday.

Stewart is third in the Big East with five sacks and the unquestioned leader on the Cincinnati defense. But more than that, he is the unquestioned leader of this team, hoping to make yet another run at the Big East title. If he is out for an extended period of time, the No. 21 Bearcats will have a tougher time getting there.

Brandon Mills would be the obvious choice to enter the starting lineup.

Big East mailblog

October, 12, 2012
10/12/12
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Looks like I've got lots of mail. Let's start with some feedback on Cincinnati.

Ron in Harrison, Ohio, writes: Andrea, excellent article on Cincinnati this week about the lack of national respect. The continued lack of attention is frustrating. No reasonable fan believes this is a Top 5 program, but it has been most decidedly a Top 20 program the last five years. Yes, there are advantages for being under the radar, however those are greatly overshadowed by the lack of recognition, especially in recruiting. In 2009, if you objectively look at UC's resume and Texas' resume, they were pretty much the same. The biggest reason Texas was in the NC game was because they were ranked preseason, while UC was not (even though they were coming off a BCS appearance and returning their entire offense). I don't necessarily believe UC was a better team that year, but rather just pointing out that these rankings do have an influence on these types of decisions. When the playoff system starts, this importance may even be heightened since only four teams are picked. What if there are five or six 1-loss teams for only four slots? It is naive to think that name recognition won't play a role there. Anyhow, thanks for a great article.

Jordan in Galveston, Texas, writes: AA--I love my Bearcats more than anyone, but why is no one saying what I'm sure all the writers at ESPN know: the reason that UC gets no love, especially preseason, is that we have zero, yes zero, marquee non-Big East wins. Since joining the Big East, UC has the following records against perennial football powers: 0-1 vs. Ohio State; 0-2 vs. Oklahoma; 0-1 vs. Florida; 0-1 vs. Tennessee; 1-2 vs. Virginia Tech; 0-1 vs. Penn State. My 'Cats are 3-0 vs. Oregon State and Illinois but they aren't really marquee wins. So just say what we're all thinking. Win a BCS bowl against a big team and everything changes. Simple as that.

Andrea Adelson: Thank you all for the terrific feedback. There were many other notes in the mailbag on that column, but these two best represented your sentiment. Jordan brings up good points -- winning a BCS game would help a lot. BUT, let us just take a look at a team like Virginia Tech. Tell me a marquee nonconference win that program has had in the last five years. Nebraska? This is a team that has fallen flat on its face in BCS games, but is a preseason Top 25 mainstay. I truly believe you have to put in more than five years to get people to accept you as a legitimate contender. That is why the Hokies are now a part of the Top 25 "establishment." As for Ron, I also believe name recognition will impact future playoff selections and am a firm supporter of having no rankings until October, the way the BCS does it. Preseason rankings do have an impact on how some of these teams end up.




Eric in Dublin, Ohio, writes: Please explain to me how (George) DeLeone at UConn is not on the hot seat. Year 2 or not, he was brought in as an offensive guy, and after the first year couldn't move the ball. He takes over for an offensive line that was great in the past but was weak that first year promising to fix it and it looks even worse since. If Coach Pasqualoni wants to keep his job for more then three years, he better expect more out of his offensive guru. If not, let me be the first to overreact and ask that Coach (Don) Brown take over.

Andrea Adelson: I agree with you -- there should be serious questions asked of DeLeone and his job performance. This is a team that returned a 1,000-yard running back and a quarterback with junior college starting experience, who was pretty heavily recruited out of high school as well. But UConn looks worse than last year. Scoring is down nearly 5 points a game; total offense is nearly the same (313 last year; 310 this year); and rushing offense is down 16 yards per game. In fact, UConn is averaging 102.2 yards rushing per game -- en route to its worst mark as an full-time FBS team. The worst? Set last year, at 118.5. So that means under DeLeone, UConn would have its two worst rushing seasons since 2002. That is a problem.




Manan in East Brunswick, N.J., writes: Who's on bigger upset alert: Louisville at Pitt or Rutgers at home against Syracuse? Both underdogs are good teams when they actually show up.

Adelson: I think Louisville. The Panthers have dominated the series of late and are capable of controlling the clock if their run game is working. Louisville can get leaps better on defense as well.




Rich in WH, Conn., writes: Hello. Appreciate the coverage. I have a question....Is it wrong that as a UConn fan I root against UConn when they play Cincy and Louisville, just for the sake of the conference? Big picture, strong Big East will make for stronger programs, including UConn? If UConn beats either or both, it would tarnish the entire league and do little for UConn's season. I mean, it seems to be a lost season and at this point. Signed, Seriously Conflicted.

Adelson: A lost season why? UConn is only 0-1 in conference. Wins over Louisville and Cincinnati would go a long way toward winning the Big East, right? I don't see how any fan roots against his own team for the good of the Big East. Buck up, Rich, and just root for the Huskies to run the table!




Andrew in Houston writes: Hello Andrea, I don't normally write columnists but I think your Big East bias is just far too blatant to not be addressed by someone who understands reality. I just read your article about how Geno Smith might not have the same success against the Big East as he's having against the Big 12. First of all, you were right about one thing. He probably wouldn't be a Heisman candidate because people wouldn't take his level of competition seriously. The Big East is a mid-major disguised as a major conference. Look at Rutgers, who I know as a Big East lackey you are so proud of...beat Arkansas 35-26 in a game that was a struggle and Arkansas put up huge numbers in the passing game. In the games before and after Rutgers, Arkansas was outscored 108-10. Are you seriously talking about Big East defenses? Look, everyone knows the Big 12 isn't a conference built on defense but the talent level IN EVERY FACET OF THE GAME is better in the Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC is better than in the Big East. I don't quite understand how you have a serious job as a sports reporter. It seems like ESPN will just hire anyone these days and let them talk complete unfounded rubbish and pretend it's journalism. Maybe you should actually watch some football before you write another column.

Adelson: Andrew, how is this for unfounded rubbish? West Virginia scored more than 45 points ... zero times in seven Big East games last year, averaging 31 points per league contest. In two Big 12 games, the Mountaineers have gone over 45 both times to average 59 points per league game. Four different Big East players had multiple sacks on Smith last year, including current Cincinnati defensive end Walter Stewart, who leads all players last year AND this year with 2.5 sacks on Smith.

Oh, and one more thing. The Big East had five defensive players drafted before any defensive player from the Big 12 was taken this past April. Two of those players were first-round picks. Yeah. The NFL knows nothing about football, just like me!
Virginia Tech already has seen its share of Cincinnati, and there is a consensus opinion on the coaching staff: the Hokies are going to have their hands full.

In preparing for Saturday's game, Virginia Tech studied the Bearcats' victory over Pitt a few weeks ago, and their win over NC State on a Thursday night last season. Cincinnati won both those games by dominating up front, particularly on the defensive line. In the NC State game last season, the Wolfpack had minus-26 yards rushing.

Though several names have changed up front for Cincinnati, the Bearcats have picked up right where they left off last year, and had six sacks against Pitt in their win a few weeks ago. In two games this year, Cincinnati has eight total sacks and 17 tackles for loss -- both ranking in the top 10 in the nation.

[+] EnlargeCincinnati's Adam Dempsey and John Williams
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesIn two games this year, Cincinnati has eight total sacks and 17 tackles for loss -- both ranking in the top 10 in the nation.
"Thank God we’re not playing them in Cincinnati on a Thursday night," said Shane Beamer, Virginia Tech associate head coach/running backs coach. "The thing that jumps out about them is just how hard they play. My gosh they play hard. They’re good. They’ve got nine seniors on defense. … I saw my dad said they’re going to be the most athletic defense we’ve played this year and I’d agree. They’re a veteran group that plays hard and does well in the system they play in."

It is a system that preaches aggressiveness, first and foremost. Cincinnati ranked No. 1 in the nation last season in tackles for loss and No. 2 in sacks. The Bearcats had co-Defensive Player of the Year Derek Wolfe wreaking havoc from the middle, along with senior John Hughes as well. Both ended up getting drafted.

Without them, some wondered if Cincinnati would be as effective. The Bearcats returned excellent senior ends in Dan Giordano, Brandon Mills and Walter Stewart, but they were unproven and undersized at tackle.

"Going into the season, obviously we had a lot of doubters," said Giordano, third on the team with 12 tackles. "You could tell everyone was worried about the defensive line, but we've had a couple guys step up in the defensive tackle role, me Walter and Brandon Mills being fifth-year seniors, we knew what to expect. It was all on us. The way coach (Steve) Stripling, coaches us, we had a motto this year: 'Undisputed.' We wanted to shut up any questions about us as a defensive front. It doesn’t matter who’s in there: everyone is going to do their job and be accountable."

Going into the season, coach Butch Jones worried about depth on his front. A big reason his defense had as much success as it did last season was the ability to rotate eight to 10 players along the line. Jones was going to be asking some of his younger players to step up in order to keep a rotation going. So far, they have been able to rotate eight to nine players in games.

But the Bearcats have only played twice this season, where Virginia Tech has been tested already in four games. The Hokies are still seeking consistency on offense, particularly at running back, where there is no workhorse that has distinguished himself. Last week against Bowling Green, Tony Gregory, J.C. Coleman, Michael Holmes and Martin Scales all getting opportunities.

"On Saturday they all gave you something," Beamer said. "I thought Tony Gregory really played with speed, and was at a different level. Holmes had a couple plays where he showed ability, and Coleman the same thing. Scales, his toughness and downhill running. They all bring something, it’s trying to figure out. It’s hard to get all of them a lot of work. That’s what we’ve got to figure out right now."

Q&A: Cincinnati's Walter Stewart

September, 14, 2012
9/14/12
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Walter Stewart made his presence felt in Cincinnati's opener last week against Pitt. The defensive end notched nine tackles, two sacks, 3.5 tackles for loss and a forced fumble. Here, Stewart talks about building off that performance, along with his goals for his senior season.

Was that about as good of an individual effort as you could have hoped for in Game No. 1?

Walter Stewart: Yeah I think it was a good start, but I wouldn't have been able to make it happen if everybody else wasn't doing their jobs, so definitely a good start to the season.

Pitt's only touchdown came in garbage time. Is that a point of pride for you guys?

WS: Aw hell yeah, man. Bottom line, the standard never changes, no matter who's on the field, no matter who's on the jersey. And you see young guys give up a big play or give up a touchdown at the end of the game that definitely attacks the pride a little bit, but it's just something to learn from and get it corrected.

Did it help having film on them after one week or did it hurt not playing the week before?

[+] EnlargeWalter Stewart
AP Photo/Al BehrmanTwo sacks against Pittt got Cincinnati's Walter Stewart a fifth of the way to his goal of 10.
WS: It kind of helped because Coach [Butch] Jones was able to let us know a whole bunch of percentages and statistics on what happened in Week 1, and the mistakes that people made. And it also gave us more time to prepare and also gave us the advantage of not having anything on tape for Pitt to study. So it definitely helped being able to sit out one week and see everybody, then get an opportunity later.

Coach Jones has said you're one of the best leaders he's ever been around. What kind of challenge is that for you, and what does that mean to hear that from your head coach?

WS: It just comes with being a senior and being a leader in general. You've just got to show up every day and just live right, put the game first and put your teammates first, be real selfless and just do it for them. And I guess it can be a challenge if you don't want to accept that role, but I fully accept it and just do what I've got to do to help the team win.

Why do you think he said that about you?

WS: Just from the work that I've put in. I've been here a long time and I've played a lot of football here. And just putting in all the work over the years and earning it. A lot of people don't really earn their leadership roles. I guess I earned it. I do what I say. I walk it and I talk it.

Do you have a specific sack goal in mind for this season?

WS: Yeah, my goal is 10. If I get 10 I feel like that'll be enough to help us get to where we need to get to. So if I can get at least 10 I feel like I did a good job this season.

Just 10?

WS: Yeah, I mean, that's it (laughs). I'm always hoping for more but I've got to get to 10 before I get to any other number. So if I get to 10, anything else I'm all game for it.

How closely do you look at other defensive ends in the Big East and throughout the nation? Do you measure yourself against some of the better guys? How do you think you stack up?

WS: There's a lot of good dudes out there, a lot of good pass-rushers, a lot of good outside linebackers and defensive ends out there. But I try to just go out there and produce on the field. I don't really worry about what everybody else is doing. I feel like I'm a good player, too. Every week is a chance to go out there and show who's a better player or who can make the most plays. So I just try to lean toward that and not try to number myself amongst everybody else.

What do you look to build off this week against Delaware State? Where can you improve?

WS: We want to play a clean game offensively and defensively. Even though we won and kind of won big, we want to get back to running to the ball every snap, finishing plays, finishing drives and overall finishing. Because like you said earlier, they had a touchdown toward the end of the game. And small stuff like that, it won't hurt you in a game like that, but it'll hurt you later on. So we just want to make sure that we finish and that we play with good effort this weekend.

Big East predictions: Week 3

September, 13, 2012
9/13/12
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Another 5-2 week has me at 10-4 for the season. Not bad, but not perfect, either.

On to the picks!

Thursday night

Rutgers at USF, 7:30 p.m., ESPN. I have gone back and forth on this game all week. I tend to pick the teams that have the better defense, but that logic failed me last week with UConn. USF has some sort of strange Thursday night voodoo going on, but I am trying not to let that factor into my decision. Here is what we know so far: Rutgers has an awesome defense and so-so offense; USF put up some big numbers but also gave up some big numbers last week. So what is going to give? Nevada has a better offense than Rutgers, so I don't foresee the Bulls giving up 500 yards. I think Andre Davis will be able to make some plays on an excellent Rutgers secondary ... so I am going with USF to break the jinx (she says as she ducks for cover from angry Bulls fans). USF 24, Rutgers 20.

Saturday

No. 13 Virginia Tech at Pitt, noon, ESPNU. A sneak peek at a future ACC Coastal Division matchup is here. Before the season started, I had thought this would be a good game. Now? Not so much. Pitt has done little to get me to believe it can beat a team ranked No. 13 in the nation. Virginia Tech has had some slow starts on offense, but I don't see how a Pitt defense that has gotten no push up front will be able to contain the highly versatile Logan Thomas. Pitt had better keep an eye on Virginia Tech linebacker Jack Tyler, a tackling machine. Virginia Tech 35, Pitt 17.

UConn at Maryland, 12:30 p.m., Big East Network. The long-anticipated Edsall Bowl is finally here. Both sides have downplayed the emotions going into this game, but you have to think UConn players left in the dust by Edsall will have a little something extra in their tanks. I picked UConn to beat NC State last week because of its defense and lost on that pick. I am sticking with the UConn defense again in this one, because I think the Huskies will completely confound and frustrate true freshman quarterback Perry Hills. How is UConn going to score, you ask? Chandler Whitmer will find a way. UConn 17, Maryland 13.

North Carolina at No. 19 Louisville, 3:30 p.m., ABC/ESPN2. This is a huge game for the Cardinals because they have a chance to show that their 2-0 start and No. 19 ranking are completely legitimate against a pretty good team from the ACC. North Carolina won this matchup last year, but the Tar Heels now feature a spread hurry-up that can cause some major problems for a defense. But the way Wake Forest quarterback Tanner Price dominated the UNC defense leads me to believe that Teddy Bridgewater will be able to do the same. Louisville 33, North Carolina 28.

Stony Brook at Syracuse, 4 p.m., Big East Network. Syracuse has had some offensive fireworks in its first two games and no wins to show for it. That all changes this week against FCS school Stony Brook. The Orange have won their past 28 games against current members of the FCS. In fact, the team’s last loss to a current FCS school happened Oct. 4, 1958, at Holy Cross, 14-13. Syracuse 45, Stony Brook 10.

Delaware State at Cincinnati, 7 p.m, ESPN3. Cincinnati debuted last week with a win over Pitt, now gets FCS Delaware State, then has another bye and then a game against Virginia Tech. Not the greatest scheduling, but nothing Cincinnati could do about that given its limited options. I predict Walter Stewart will get three sacks. Cincinnati 40, Delaware State 7.

Big East helmet stickers: Week 2

September, 9, 2012
9/09/12
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How about a few helmet stickers for a job well done?

Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville. I know Cardinals fans are not tired of seeing Bridgewater getting accolades. He continued his hot start to the season in a 35-7 victory over Missouri State, going 30-for-39 for 344 yards with two touchdowns and zero interceptions. It was the first career 300-yard passing day for Bridgewater, who has been as close to perfect as you can get to start the year.

B.J. Daniels, USF. I am going to double up the helmet stickers for a few teams because of some impressive performances. Daniels was a bit shaky to start out against Nevada, but he closed the game with some of the best football he has ever played. It was Daniels who keyed an incredible comeback, leading USF from an 11-point deficit with under three minutes remaining to the 32-31 win. Daniels threw a 52-yard touchdown pass to Chris Dunkley to start the comeback and a 56-yarder to Andre Davis for the game winner. Daniels had 363 yards passing, and just as nice -- zero turnovers.

Andre Davis, USF. What a monster game for Davis, who had one of the best days of any receiver in college football in Week 2. Davis showed some flashes last season when he played as a true freshmen, and he had an outstanding spring. I thought he had a chance for a breakout season this year, as I put him on my ESPN.com preseason All-Big East team. Sure enough, Davis had his coming-out party against Nevada. He caught 12 passes for a USF single-game record 191 yards and had the game-winning 56-yard touchdown catch with 38 seconds left and a defender draped all over him. It was his second touchdown catch of the game, and it came at the perfect time.

Munchie Legaux, Cincinnati. The Bearcats get two helmet stickers this week too. Legaux accounted for a career-high 322 yards of total offense against Pitt -- running six times for a career-high 117 yards and completing 14 of 28 passes for 205 yards and two touchdowns with zero interceptions. Legaux is the first Cincinnati quarterback in the modern era to pass for 200 yards and run for 100 yards.

Walter Stewart, Cincinnati. Stewart was a force from Cincinnati's defensive line in an impressive 34-10 win over Pitt. Coach Butch Jones has told us about his high expectations for Stewart, and we saw exactly why Thursday night. Stewart had nine total tackles and a career-high four tackles for loss to go with two sacks and a forced fumble, as he harassed the Pitt offensive line all night.

Others of note:

Jamal Merrell, Rutgers. Had career-highs in tackles (14) and tackles for loss (3.5) in a 26-0 win over Howard.

UConn defense. Had six sacks, 10.5 tackles for loss and held NC State to 12 first downs, 54 yards rushing and 258 yards of total offense in a 10-7 loss.
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.

100 Days Countdown: Big East

May, 22, 2012
5/22/12
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As part of the “College Football Live” 100 Days 'Til Kickoff countdown, here’s a look at the top 10 players in the Big East. For those wondering, the Big East blog will still have its annual preseason Top 25 player countdown a little later in the summer.

Without further ado:

[+] EnlargePitt's Ray Graham
AP Photo/Keith SrakocicRay Graham could be the Big East's best player if healthy.
1. Ray Graham, RB, Pitt. Taking a calculated risk here, considering we have no idea how Graham is going to look a year after tearing his ACL. Coach Paul Chryst says Graham will be ready for fall camp. If Graham is able to return to form, he should be the best player in the league.

2. Khaseem Greene, LB, Rutgers. Greene goes into the season as the preseason favorite to win Big East Defensive Player of the Year honors for the second straight season after sharing honors with Derek Wolfe in 2011. Though he broke his ankle in the bowl game, he will be ready for fall camp. Side note: Isn't it a neat that he and Graham are brothers?

3. Aaron Donald, DT, Pitt. Donald emerged last season, finishing second in the league with 11 sacks. He has shifted inside to tackle this year, but he is the most productive and experienced player returning to the Pitt defensive line and should continue his upward trajectory.

4. Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville. Bridgewater had a sensational freshman season, winning league newcomer of the year honors. Hopes are high for him to build off his impressive campaign in his second year as a starter. Louisville will do more to take advantage of his athleticism, with plans to install some hurry-up offense.

5. Logan Ryan, CB, Rutgers. Ryan led the league with 16 passes defended -- 13 breakups and three interceptions last season. Defensive back is one of the strongest positions across the league, and Ryan leads the way as the Big East's best cornerback.

6. Hakeem Smith, S, Louisville. Smith has gotten better in each of his seasons with the Cardinals, so this season should feature more of the same. In 2011, he had 84 tackles, tied for second in the league, with nine pass breakups. He also tied for second in the league with three forced fumbles and made the Big East first team.

7. Ryne Giddins, DE, USF. Giddins emerged in the second half of last season (yes, I know many of you still remember him for his personal foul against West Virginia) and is in line to have a breakout year for the Bulls, who should have one of the stronger defensive lines in the Big East.

8. B.J. Daniels, QB, USF. Daniels should be the best quarterback in the Big East, considering he is going into his fourth year as a starter. Is this the year he finally lives up to expectations and delivers a long-awaited -- and first -- league title?

9. Walter Stewart, DE, Cincinnati. Coach Butch Jones says he has not been around a player as focused as Stewart in a long time. That is saying something, considering the defensive stars the Bearcats had last season. Stewart is poised to give Cincinnati a huge presence at rush end.

10. Lyle McCombs, RB, UConn. McCombs ran for more than 1,000 yards as a freshman last season and returns for 2011 with much more confidence -- and the Huskies hope a better offensive line. He goes into the season as the unquestioned featured back.
Let's put one final bow on the spring with a look at five top breakout players.

JaQuez Jenkins, safety, USF. With starting strong safety Jon Lejiste out for the spring because of injury, Jenkins made his presence immediately felt in the defensive backfield and had one of the best springs of anybody on the Bulls roster. Jenkins was everywhere, making big plays and hard hits. His emergence gives USF a nice problem to have once Lejiste returns in the fall.

Scott Radcliff, receiver, Louisville. The most talked-about receiver after the Cardinals' spring game the former walk-on, who played with the first team and led all receivers with nine catches for 119 yards. He is listed ahead of Eli Rogers at the H-receiver spot on the post-spring depth chart.

Walter Stewart, defensive end, Cincinnati. Yes, Stewart is a returning starter. But he has never had a spring like the one he just completed, in which he was able to maintain what he started as his position. Stewart had been switched to several positions earlier in his career, but now he has a home at end and is ready to be a force this season.

Ray Vinopal, safety, Pitt. Safety could actually turn out to be a position of strength across the Big East with some of the talent that has emerged this spring. Vinopal sat out a year after transferring in from Michigan, and despite the coaching change, had an outstanding spring. He made big plays, forced turnovers and now makes safety a bright spot for the Panthers with Jarred Holley, Andrew Taglianetti and Jason Hendricks all returning.

Ryan Wirth, defensive tackle, UConn. The Huskies lost an NFL player in Kendall Reyes, along with their other starting tackle, so this is a huge question going into the season. But Wirth showed he can make an impact inside, especially after his spring performance, with 4.5 sacks and a safety.
With the season coming into view, let's take a look at what we learned in the Big East this spring.

1. Running backs have to prove themselves. Isaiah Pead is gone. Antwon Bailey is gone. Ray Graham is coming off a serious knee injury. There are some major question marks at virtually every Big East school at this position headed into the fall. Chief among them -- how does Graham do a year removed from ACL surgery? How do Cincinnati, Syracuse and Louisville spread the ball to their various running backs? How does Temple replace the production of Bernard Pierce? Does Savon Huggins improve on his injury-shortened freshman season at Rutgers? How is Lindsey Lamar used in the backfield at USF? Can Lyle McCombs repeat as a 1,000-yard rusher for UConn?

2. Next sack leader? The Big East generally has some of the top leaders in sacks in the country. Last year, it was Trevardo Williams and Aaron Donald who emerged to finish in the Top 10. The year before, it was first-year Big East player Bruce Irvin. So who is the next Big East player to lead the charge? USF defensive end Ryne Giddins, Cincinnati defensive end Walter Stewart and UConn tackle Ryan Wirth all had terrific springs so keep those names in mind as the season begins.

3. Earth to offense. We had an inkling that the Big East defenses would be way ahead of the offenses this spring, and that all came to fruition once the spring games were played. Defenses essentially dominated at nearly every school. Syracuse did not score a point on offense; UConn had two total offensive touchdowns; USF quarterback B.J. Daniels went 9-of-26 for 88 yards in the Bulls' spring game; Chris Coyer and his receivers struggled in the Temple spring game; and the Pitt passing game was just so-so in its final scrimmage. While it is true defenses are usually ahead of the offenses in the early going of practices, it is obvious most every offensive unit needs to get much better this offseason.

4. Bridgewater: Rising star. It was apparent that Louisville had a special player in Teddy Bridgewater last season. But worries about a potential "sophomore slump" have been temporarily put to rest after the spring he had. Bridgewater was stellar in the spring game, going 19-of-21 for 257 yards and three touchdowns. Afterward, offensive coordinator Shawn Watson said that Bridgewater completed about 70 percent of his passes in the spring. "I know he's been lights out," Watson said. "He's really played very well. I challenged him with the things he needed to get better with and use all the tools he has available to him. As a young player, he didn't quite get it. Now he's getting it. You're seeing a lot more completions now. He's worked hard. He's doing a lot of good things with his eyes and playing well."

5. Athletes (almost) everywhere. One trend to watch is the conversion of quarterbacks to running backs/receivers. Cincinnati moved Jordan Luallen to receiver, and he is expected to see time as a Wildcat quarterback as well. Ashton Broyld has been moved to running back, though he also played receiver in the spring game. Louisville converted quarterback Dominique Brown to running back last fall, and he is in contention to win the starting job. Temple running back Jalen Fitzpatrick was recruited as a quarterback out of high school. Those four players have the potential to be huge assets to their team. There were a few other notable position switches as well -- Lindsey Lamar is now at running back at USF; and Jeremy Deering is now a receiver at Rutgers.

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