NCF Nation: Wes Lyons
Questions remain around the Big East, but a few teams found some help this spring at certain positions. Here's a list of where that help came from for a few teams:
Cincinnati: The addition of Marcus Barnett to the defense helped solidify a secondary that lost starting cornerbacks Mike Mickens and DeAngelo Smith and safety Brandon Underwood.
Pittsburgh: Elijah Fields finally played up to his potential, and Dom DeCicco was solid as the Pitt safety position looked strong this spring.
Syracuse: Moving Derrell Smith to the inside and switching Doug Hogue from running back solidified the Orange's linebacker corps.
With spring practice rapidly approaching, players are about to take their battle positions in the Big East.
Several starting jobs will be up for grabs around the league. Some of the highest-profile skirmishes will include the Rutgers quarterback competition, the fights to succeed LeSean McCoy and Scott McKillop at Pitt and the 10 new starting spots on Cincinnati's defense.
Here are five other key position battles to keep an eye on this spring, presented in no particular order:
• Connecticut quarterback: This is a duel that began last season, when both Zach Frazer and Cody Endres split time filling in for the injured Tyler Lorenzen. With Lorenzen graduated, one of them has to claim the job outright. There are a lot of similarities between the two, including size, playing experience and strengths and weaknesses. Both will be operating on somewhat of a clean slate this spring with new offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead. Expect this battle to continue into fall camp.
• Louisville quarterback: The Cardinals signed junior college quarterback Adam Froman, who is on campus and will be ready for spring drills. They didn't sign him so he could ride the bench. But head coach Steve Kragthorpe insists there will be an open competition to succeed Hunter Cantwell, and there's no one on the roster with much of a résumé. Junior Tyler Wolfe has looked impressive at times in practice but needs to pick up the finer points of the position. NC State transfer Justin Burke and sophomore Zack Stoudt will also try to impress this spring.
• Rutgers running back: The Scarlet Knights could have used a revolving door in their backfield last season. At different times, Kordell Young, Jourdan Brooks, Joe Martinek and Mason Robinson all had moments as the featured back. Young led the way with 550 yards in just seven games but has had trouble staying healthy. With Rutgers breaking in a new starting quarterback this season, the running game might have to carry a bigger load this year, and someone needs to put his mark on this position.
• South Florida running back: The Rutgers tailback position was a model of consistency compared to the Bulls' backfield in 2008. Mike Ford, Moise Plancher, Benjamin Williams, Jamar Taylor and Richard Kelly all split time there thanks to injuries, ineffectiveness and a spread-the-ball philosophy by former offensive coordinator Greg Gregory. All but Williams are back this spring to resume their competition, and a new playcaller could change the way South Florida uses its backs. Quarterback Matt Grothe desperately needs someone dependable behind him so he doesn't have to carry so much of the offense on his shoulders.
• West Virginia receiver: The Mountaineers want to feature more of a true downfield passing attack this season, which means they will need to identify some go-to receivers. Several candidates will vie for that role this spring, even with slot receiver Jock Sanders currently suspended. Alric Arnett showed flashes of great promise in 2008 and caught two scores in the Meineke Car Care Bowl; he just needs to be more consistent. Wes Lyons can be a major factor with his 6-foot-8 frame. Bradley Starks is an athletic guy who's made the adjustment from quarterback. And hotshot freshman Logan Heastie is already enrolled and ready for the spring. The competition to become the No. 1 wideout should be fun to watch.
Which battles are you most looking forward to watching this spring?
Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett
Cincinnati is the 2008 Big East champions, thanks to Pittsburgh's 19-15 win over West Virginia at Heinz Field. The Bearcats are going to the BCS, and their game against Syracuse on Saturday is meaningless.
Pittsburgh won the Backyard Brawl for the second straight year (and the score was pretty darn close to this prediction, no?). The Panthers did it by riding LeSean McCoy in the second half. McCoy had a career-high 183 yards on 33 carries, including the game-winning touchdown in the final minute. Pitt should have handed the ball off to McCoy in the red zone in the first half, but at least it learned its lesson.
West Virginia got one more chance after McCoy's score and drove down the field quickly. But after Wes Lyons failed to get out of bounds or a first down on a third-down completion, the Mountaineers had to line up quickly at the Pitt 18 and snap the ball just before the horn sounded. Pat White's pass to Lyons in the end zone was incomplete, and Lyons was called for offensive pass interference.
White had a spectacular 54-yard touchdown run in the second half to give his team the lead. But the senior also threw two costly interceptions.
West Virginia falls to 7-4 and will need to beat South Florida at home next week to keep alive its chances at the Sun Bowl. Pittsburgh improved to 8-3 and could put itself in line for a possible Sun Bowl bid by winning at UConn next week.
Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett
Syracuse: The Orange could get a boost in their backfield if Delone Carter is able to play Saturday at South Florida. Carter has missed three games with a hamstring pull but is expected to be ready this week. He could offer a counterpunch to Curtis Brinkley, who's had four 100-yard rushing days already this season. Wide receiver Dan Sheeran (broken leg) and linebacker Chad Battles (foot) are both out until at least Nov. 1, while linebacker Ryan Gillum (foot) is probably done for the season.
Louisville: With Richard Raglin out with an injured arm and Latarrius Thomas dealing with a lingering knee issue, the Cardinals turned to former walk-on Daniel Covington as a starting safety at Memphis. Covington, a junior who was put on scholarship this summer, recorded 12 tackles in the game and now ranks second on the team with 27 stops. Head coach Steve Kragthorpe also said he wants to find ways to keep true freshman outside linebacker Dexter Heyman on the field when the Cardinals go to their nickel and dime packages.
West Virginia: Alric Arnett looked like the next West Virginia star when the receiver caught four passes for 70 yards and two touchdowns in the season opener against Villanova. In the five games since, however, Arnett has just nine receptions for 77 yards and no scores. Head coach Bill Stewart said Arnett and senior Dorrell Jalloh (eight catches for 76 yards on the season) need to get involved more. On the plus side, 6-foot-8 receiver Wes Lyons has come on lately. He had four catches for 44 yards last week against Rutgers.
South Florida: The Bulls are sacrificing some depth at cornerback by switching junior-college transfer Theo Wilson to receiver. Wilson, who's recovering from a knee injury, played quarterback, running back and receiver at Pearl River Community College last season and had returned punts for South Florida earlier this season. "He's a big threat when he has the ball in his hands, and that's what we're looking for," passing game coordinator/wide receivers coach Mike Canales said. Wilson's switch leaves the Bulls with only four experienced cornerbacks to rotate.
Rutgers: Kordell Young's up-and-down season is back on the uptick. The sophomore running back was pegged as the main replacement for Ray Rice this season and had 94 yards on 26 carries in the opener against Fresno State. But then he started experiencing knee soreness and at one point late last month was feared lost for the season. Young returned to action last weekend at Cincinnati and carried 22 times for 78 yards. He's now listed as the co-starter at tailback, along with redshirt freshman Jourdan Brooks. Rutgers has started three different players at the position in six games.
Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett
Every Wednesday, we'll keep you updated on depth chart changes, injuries and other inside info to get you ready for the weekend.
West Virginia: Head coach Bill Stewart plans to add a few new faces to the lineup Thursday night at Colorado. Middle linebacker Reed Williams will make his season debut, allowing Mortty Ivy to slide over to his more natural outside position. Receiver Wes Lyons, a formidable target at 6-foot-8, has recovered from an August knee scope and should see some significant time. Stewart also expects to rotate young players such as Donnie Barclay and Josh Jenkins on the offensive line.
Louisville: The Cardinals didn't score on offense in their only game so far against an FBS team (a 27-2 loss to Kentucky), and injuries may slow their attack down tonight against Kansas State. Four of the five starting offensive linemen left the Tennessee Tech game with injuries, and though head coach Steve Kragthorpe hasn't given out specifics on their status, it appears that the left side of the line is in doubt. Left tackle George Bussey and left guard Mark Wetterer may not play tonight, potentially leaving quarterback Hunter Cantwell's blind side vulnerable to K-State blitzes if their replacements don't perform well.
South Florida: Could Jamar Taylor be emerging as the main guy in the Bulls' backfield? The sophomore -- who transferred from Alabama after the spring of 2007 -- broke out against Kansas with 72 yards on 11 carries, plus a 13-yard score. "I've never seen Jamar Taylor run like that," coach Jim Leavitt said of the way Taylor busted through tackles and holes. With Mike Ford and Ben Williams still out with ankle injuries, Taylor could assume the bulk of the carries this week at Florida International.
Connecticut: Coach Randy Edsall said during the summer that safety Darius Butler could play some snaps on offense. Through the first two games, that idea seemed forgotten. But Butler saw 11 snaps on offense versus Virginia last week, making two catches for 40 yards and running for a 13-yard score. He's extremely athletic and gives a new dimension to the Huskies' offense, but Edsall wants to be careful not to wear his defensive star down.
Cincinnati: The Bearcats' kicking situation has gotten more confusing. Brandon Yingling replaced the struggling Jake Rogers after the first game but wasn't called on for any field goals at Oklahoma. Yingling still hasn't attempted a college field goal. The walk-on has been suffering from an illness that's kept him out of practice, while Rogers is recovering from having his wisdom teeth pulled. So freshman Danny Milligan is now getting a look at kicker as Cincinnati prepares for Miami (Ohio) this weekend.