The Bearcats led the country with 26 interceptions last season, thanks in large part to Mike Mickens and DeAngelo Smith, who combined to intercept 14 passes. However, the Mickens and Smith era is coming to end because both are seniors. In addition, Brandon Underwood is a senior and Justin Moore is a junior. So even though the addition of true freshman Dominique Battle from American Heritage-Boca-Delray High School in Florida helps, Cincinnati has more work to do here.
Starters Terrill Byrd and Adam Hoppel are both seniors, and reserve Ricardo Mathews is a junior. The Bearcats did well to sign two prospects last year, but neither was highly-touted. Look for Cincinnati to make a serious play for a big-time run-stuffer this year as a result.
There is some good news here: sophomore Robby Armstrong and redshirt freshman Alex Delisi show promise. In addition, the Bearcats did well to sign two prospects this past year. But with four seniors and a junior taking up five of the top six spots on the depth chart, it's critical Cincinnati continues to target this position when out on the recruiting trail.
Connecticut added three true freshman receivers to the roster last year, but that doesn't mean it won't go after receivers again this year. D.J. Hernandez and Ellis Gaulden are seniors and Brad Kanuch is a junior. Further complicating matters, there are more questions than answers when it comes to the backups, with the possible exception of redshirt freshman Kashif Moore. The bottom line is adding talent and competition here should help the Huskies strengthen a passing attack that finished sixth in the Big East in 2007.
Senior Keith Gray returns as the starter and will be backed up by another senior, Trey Tonsing. With two seniors taking up the top two spots at the position, the Huskies will be leaning toward promising redshirt freshman Moe Petrus to start next year. That said, Connecticut would be wise to bring in a center that can provide quality depth and give the Huskies an insurance policy if Petrus gets hurt or doesn't progress as hoped.
Starting SS Dahna Deleston is a senior, starting FS Robert Vaughn is a junior, and Vaughn's backup, Glen Mourning, is a junior. Matt Edwards from Holliston, Mass., is the only true freshman safety of note on the roster.
Louisville dismissed senior Rod Council following an arrest. Woody Turenne, who returns after seeing action in 11 games last season, is a senior. In addition, reserves Marcus Folmar and Travis Norton are both seniors.
The Cardinals are hoping two JUCO transfers (Justin Mathews from Jones County Community College and Josh Wiley from Pearl Community College) are able to contribute this year. However, they are both juniors and the current starters on the depth chart, Richard Raglin and Bobby Buchanan, are both seniors. In addition, reserve Daniel Covington is a junior.
The departure of the top four linebackers from last season left a substantial void here. Starting ILB Mozell Axson and reserve James Bryant, a transfer from Miami forced to sit out last season, are both seniors, and starting SLB Jon Dempsey is a junior. Louisville did sign Chris Campa from Butler County Community College and Antwon Canady from Hutchinson Community College. However, they are JUCO transfers, so Campa has just two years of eligibility left and Canady has three years of eligibility left. Although the Cardinals signed two true freshmen last year, they will have to address this position again this year.
Starter Rashaad Duncan is a senior and Mick Williams, who is expected to line up opposite him, is a junior. Further complicating matters, three of the reserves here are juniors and Pittsburgh failed to bring in any true freshman defensive tackles of note last year.
There is admittedly some good news here: sophomore Kevin Collier and redshirt freshman Shariff Harris have some upside. In addition, true freshman Chris Burns, out of Willington Area High School in Pennsylvania, was one of the top running back prospects in the nation. So why is running back a need? Sophomore Heisman hopeful LeSean McCoy burst on to the scene last year and he'll look to carry Pitt to a BCS bowl this upcoming fall. Although McCoy is a sophomore, there is a real chance that this will be his last year with the Panthers. McCoy has a year of prep school under his belt, so he will be three years removed from high school at the end of the season and therefore eligible for the NFL draft. Behind McCoy is senior LaRod Stephens-Howling. With all of that in mind, don't be surprised to see the Panthers target running backs again this year.
Coach Dave Wannstedt will tell you he has the best fullback in the country in senior Conredge Collins. The problem is he's a senior. Redshirt freshman Henry Hynoski has the size to develop into a dominant lead blocker and effective short-yardage runner, but there are no guarantees. Chris Bova, No. 3 on the depth chart, is a junior.
The Scarlet Knights added true freshman Marquis Hamm, from New Brunswick High School in New Jersey, but he may line up at tight end. And even if he lines up at end, don't be surprised to see them add one or two more this upcoming year. Senior Jamaal Westerman, who recorded eight sacks last year, is expected to move inside to replace George Foster at the hybrid tackle position. Junior George Johnson returns for his second season as a starter and senior Gary Watts is expected to take over Westerman's old slot. As far as the depth goes, there is sophomore Alex Silvestro and more questions than answers.
The Scarlet Knights are expected to start twin brothers Jason and Devin McCourtney and they have the talent to make up one of the top duos in the conference. The problem is Jason is a senior, Devin is a junior and reserve Billy Anderson is a junior.
With two seniors and a junior taking up the top three spots at the position, Rutgers' decision not to sign a tight end last year is somewhat perplexing. That said, look for the Scarlet Knights to make this position a recruiting priority this year.
For those who have followed his career it may be hard to believe that Matt Grothe is a junior, so his days at South Florida are numbered. Further complicating matters, backup Grant Gregory is a senior. On the plus side, the Bulls added true freshmen B.J. Daniels (Lincoln High School in Florida) and Evan Landi (Coral Spring Charter School in Florida) last year. However, USF would be wise to add depth to improve the competition here this year.
Carlton Williams is a senior and Nate Allen, who is expected to start opposite him, is a junior. Making matters worse, reserve Danny Verpaele is a junior. So even though South Florida did well to land true freshman John Lejiste from Atlantic Community High School in Florida, it needs to continue to target safeties on the recruiting trail.
George Selvie exploded onto the national scene by racking up 14.5 sacks last year, and there's a legitimate chance the junior is playing on Sundays in 2009. In addition, Jarriett Buie, who is expected to line up opposite Selvie, is a senior. The good news is that JUCO transfers Craig Marshall and David Bedford both have three years of eligibility left, but the Bulls still need to address this position.
NT Arthur Jones, who recorded 17.5 tackles for loss in 2007, and Nick Santiago have the potential to give Syracuse a stout interior run defense. However, Jones is a junior and Santiago is a senior. Although sophomore Bud Tribbey has some upside, there are concerns about the depth here. Also, don't forget that Syracuse's run defense was the weakest in the Big East last year.
The Orange possess a talented crop of young outside linebackers and should be set on the outside for some time. The same cannot be said for the middle; starter Jake Flaherty is a senior and backup Mike Stenclik is a junior. In addition, true freshman Shane Kimmel from Council Rock High School North wasn't heavily recruited coming out of high school.
A.J. Brown and Bruce Williams are the projected starters and both are seniors. In addition, reserve Paul Chiara is a senior and true freshman DeAndre Preaster failed to qualify academically. So even though redshirt freshman Kevyn Scott and sophomore Max Suter have some upside, the Orange need to continue to inject youth and talent at safety.
New offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen comes from Wake Forest and loves using two tight end sets. Unfortunately for Mullen, he may not be ready to use those sets this season; the Mountaineers are far too thin in terms of depth and talent at tight end right now. How bad is it? Right now, 217-pound sophomore Will Johnson is listed as the starter.
There is no getting around it. As Pat White has gone so has the Mountaineers' offense. That should be nerve-racking for West Virginia fans because White is a senior. Although there is a buzz surrounding backup Jarrett Brown, he's a junior, so the future is quickly closing in at this position. The only other two quarterbacks on the roster are White's younger brother, true freshman Coley White (Daphne, Alabama), and redshirt freshman Bradley Starks, who is expected to line up at receiver.
The Mountaineers' 3-3-5 defense plays three safeties, so having quality depth and talent here is more important than it would be for a lot of other teams. With three juniors and one senior expected to contribute this year expect West Virginia to target safeties when out on the recruiting trail.
Steve Muench played four years of Division I-AA football before joining Scouts Inc. in 2002. He has evaluated NFL and college players for Scouts Inc., but his current focus is on the NFL draft.
Kevin Weidl also focuses on college players and the NFL Draft for Scouts Inc.