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CBSSports.com 2012 Preseason All-Big East Team

By Chip Patterson | College Football/Basketball Writer
Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater was a CBSSports.com Freshman All-American in 2011 (US Presswire)


With the season quickly approaching CBSSports.com's Eye On College Football Blog unveils its All-Conference Teams. Today we take a look at the Big East.

OFFENSE


Quarterback

Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville - Bridgewater's maturation during the 2011 season was arguably the most important piece of Louisville's turnaround from 2-4 to Co-Big East Champions. In addition being named a CBSSports.com Freshman All-American, Bridgewater's finished No. 2 in the Big East in completion percentage (64.5%) and set a new Louisville freshman passing record with 2,129 yards. Bridgewater will be an early favorite for Player of the Year, and should make another step forward with the offense returning seven starters from 2011.

Also considered: Talented senior BJ Daniels has one more opportunity to leave his mark at USF after three up-and-down years that have included some nagging injuries. Syracuse quarterback Ryan Nassib was second in the conference only to Geno Smith in passing yards (2,685) and touchdowns (22) - but will need to turn those numbers into wins after a disappointing 5-7 finish.

Running Backs

Ray Graham, Pittsburgh - Before suffering a season-ending knee injury against Connecticut, Graham was having one of the best rushing seasons of any player in the nation. His 119.8 yards per game and 5.8 yards per carry were the best in the conference, and he should see plenty of opportunities to repeat his dominance in Paul Chryst's new pro-style system.

Lyle McCombs, Connecticut - McCombs burst onto the scene early for the Huskies, with a pair of 100+ yard performances against Fordham and Vanderbilt in the first two games of the season. The freshman quickly proved to be the most suitable replacement for Jordan Todman in the backfield, and and earned FWAA Freshman All-American and All-Big East second team honors after finishing with 1,151 yards and seven touchdowns on the season.

Also considered: Speedy Temple running back Matt Brown was a dynamic compliment to Bernard Pierce in 2011 (914 yards, 5.9 yards per carry), but will be asked to carry a much heavier load this fall. The same opportunity will be presented to USF senior Demetris Murray - who ran for 503 yards and eight touchdowns while splitting time and carries with Darrell Scott. Rutgers sophomores Jawan Jamison and Savon Huggins will battle for the starting role this fall, and either has the potential to make a big step forward in year two.

Wide Receivers

Devin Street, Pittsburgh - While the Panthers struggled to adapt to Todd Graham's "high-octane" offense for much of the 2011 season, Street did separate himself from a talented group of receivers as Tino Sunseri's most reliable target. His 53 receptions and 754 yards easily led the team and earned him a second team all-conference nod at seasons' end.

Sterling Griffin, USF - Griffin has missed a majority of the last two seasons with ankle injuries, but if he can stay healthy it could be a big year for the junior wide receiver. He was on pace to to become USF's first 1000-yard receiver in 2011 before suffering a broken ankle against Cincinnati in October. Griffin returned in the season finale against West Virginia, catching three balls for 37 yards and a touchdown - but it was not enough as the Bulls' season ended with a 5-7 record after the loss.

Alec Lemon, Syracuse - Lemon set a school record for receptions (68) in 2011, and was the Big East's fourth most productive receiver with 834 yards on the season. The 6-foot-2, 202 pound senior has proven to be Ryan Nassib's most reliable target, and the return of deep-threat Marcus Sales should only improve Lemon's ability to get open in underneath and intermediate routes.

Also considered: Cincinnati wide receiver Anthony McClung had his best game of the season against Connecticut (8 receptions, 142 yards, two touchdowns) with Munchie Legaux under center for the injured Zach Collaros, and will likely continue to be his preferred target. Rutgers wide receiver Brandon Coleman has big shoes to fill with Mohamed Sanu off to the NFL, and Louisville sophomore Eli Rogers (also Bridgewater's high school teammate) could also make big step forward in 2012.

Tight End

Ryan Griffin, Connecticut - Griffin is not only the Huskies' leading returning receiver (499 yards, three touchdowns), but also one of only two three-year starters on offense. With Connecticut's quarterback situation still to be determined, Griffin will likely be the safe and frequent target for whoever wins the competition. Luckily, that is a role he has proven to play well.

Also considered: Pittsburgh tight end Hubie Graham should see his role increase in the Panthers' new pro-style offense, while USF senior Evan Landi could also be one to watch for significant improvement in 2012. But until either has a bigger impact on the field, Griffin should hold down the honor as the Big East's best tight end.

Center

Mario Benavides , Louisville - Not only was Teddy Bridgewater's in-season development a big part of Louisville's turnaround during 2011, but so was getting Benavides back into the lineup after missing the start of the season with a knee injury. The senior represented nearly all of the career starts on an inexperienced line last season, but now leads much of that same group back for a chance to repeat at league champions.

Guards

Chris Jacobson, Pittsburgh - Jacobson was granted a sixth year of eligibility after suffering a season ending knee injury against Iowa in September. His return is a huge boost for a revamped offensive line going through a scheme change. The downhill attack should fit the personnel better, and Jacobson - if healthy - can capitalize on one final year in the program.

Adam Masters, Connecticut - The 6-foot-4, 298 pound right guard is Connecticut's only other three-year starter along with Ryan Griffin. He carries a heavier load without two of his all-conference teammates from 2011 (center Moe Petrus and tackle Mike Ryan), but will play a key role in clearing the way for McCombs and the rushing attack.

Tackles

Mark Popek, USF - At 6-foot-7, 296 pounds, Popek is a dominating presence at left tackle for the Bulls. The senior started all 12 games in 2011, when the Bulls ranked second in the Big East with 431.7 yards per game. Popek was named to the Outland Trophy Watch List earlier this month and is expected to have one of his best seasons since arriving in Tampa.

Justin Pugh, Syracuse - Pugh enters his junior season after back-to-back all-conference performances in 2010 and 2011, with the chance to become one of the most decorated offensive linemen in school history. The 6-foot-6, 292 pound tackle earned the starting job as a redshirt freshman and has not missed a game since.

Also considered: Rutgers tackle Kaleb Johnson and Louisville guard Jake Smith are both coming off impressive freshman years and will anchor the next crop of elite Big East offensive linemen to come. Maryland transfer R.J. Dill will join Johnson on a reworked line and could provide a much needed boost. Syracuse center Macky MacPherson and guard Zack Chibane join Pugh on an experienced Orange line.

DEFENSE


Defensive End

Trevardo Williams, Connecticut - Williams broke out last season, finishing in the top five nationally with 12.5 sacks. The senior end will no longer have the benefit of playing alongside Kendall Reyes, but with a healthy Jesse Joseph on the other side he should get enough one-on-one treatment to have a similar impact in 2012.

Ryne Giddins, USF - Giddins joined Williams as a All-Big East Second Team selection in 2011 after recording 44 tackles and finishing second on the team in sacks (5.5). Giddins was set back by ankle surgery as a freshman, but the former four star prospect from Seffner, Fla. is starting to look like the dominant pass rushing force many expected coming out of high school.

Defensive Tackle

Scott Vallone, Rutgers - The Scarlet Knights' nose tackle leads all returning Big East players with 38 career starts, and hopes to finish his career by leading the Scarlet Knights to their first-ever BCS bowl game. Vallone missed spring practice due to offseason shoulder-surgery, but the fifth year senior is expected to be ready for the fall and continue his impressive streak.

Aaron Donald, Pittsburgh - Donald finished second only to Williams in the Big East with 11 sacks last season, and the expectations are even higher for the junior in 2012. Donald is one of only two returning starters in the Panthers' front seven, and the unit is switching from a three-man to a four-man front. With a lack of depth at defensive end, Donald will be counted on as a primary pass rusher once again.

Also considered: For the most part, that group has separated itself from the rest. Dan Giordano and converted linebacker Walter Stewart will each take on a much bigger role in Cincinnati's front seven after the departure of Derek Wolfe and JK Schaffer. Connecticut defensive end Jesse Joseph looks to regain his 2010 form after a knee injury set him back last season. Conference newcomer Levi Brown could make an impact as well, returning from a Temple unit that ranked No. 3 nationally in scoring defense.

Linebackers

Khaseem Greene, Rutgers - Greene was named the Co-Big East Defensive Player of the Year after leading the conference with 141 tackles in 2011 (No. 11 nationally), and the senior headlines a linebacking corps that brings back all 3 starters for 2012. Greene's move from safety to linebacker set him up to be the instinctive playmaker the Scarlet Knights needed on the weak side. There is no reason - other than potential injury - to think Greene can't continue his dominance this fall.

Sio Moore, Connecticut - Like Greene, one of Moore's greatest strengths is his versatility. In addition to finishing the season No. 2 in the conference for tackles for loss (16), Moore also tied for the team lead in interceptions. Every starter and their backup return from the Huskies' 2011 linebacker group, and Moore will likely be given free reign by defensive coordinator Don Brown to play instinctively. Judging by last year's performance, that's a very good thing for Huskies' fans.

DeDe Lattimore, USF - Lattimore is one of three returning starters at linebacker that combined for 253 tackles - including 24 tackles for loss and 10.5 sacks - for the Bulls in 2011. While the entire unit is a force to be reckoned with, Lattimore stands out with his ability to pressure quarterbacks. His seven sacks last season ranked sixth in the conference, and second among linebackers.

Also considered: The Big East is stocked at the linebacker position, and there are just as many deserving players that could be on this list by season's end. South Florida strong side linebacker Sam Barrington and Rutgers senior Steve Beauharnais each make dominating tandems with their all-conference teammates. Louisville junior Preston Brown could be ready for a big season after moving to middle linebacker, and Syracuse junior Marquis Spruill - if healthy (foot surgery) - is another one to watch in 2012.

Cornerbacks

Logan Ryan, Rutgers - Ryan was a nightmare for Big East quarterbacks in 2011, leading the conference with 16 passes defended (three interceptions, 13 break ups) and earning All-Big East Second Team honors. Along with fellow corner Brandon Young and safety Duron Harmon, the Scarlet Knights' secondary has a chance to be one of the best units in the conference this fall.

Adrian Bushell, Louisville - The former Florida transfer made an immediate impact on the Cardinals' defense last year, notching 50 tackles and quickly becoming special teams demon. Bushell had a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown and blocked two kicks - one which was returned for a touchdown. His second season with defensive coordinator Vance Bedford should result in even better play in pass coverage, which will benefit the entire Cardinals unit.

Also considered: Connecticut senior Blidi Wreh-Wilson will look to overcome the knee injury that nagged him throughout 2011, but he still recorded seven pass break ups and two interceptions in just eight games of action. USF senior Kayvon Webster had a strong 2011, but will carry more responsibility in the secondary without Quenton Washington and Jerrell Young.

Safeties

Hakeem Smith, Louisville - Smith is arguably the star of Louisville's secondary, which can challenge Rutgers as one of the best in the Big East. The 2010 Big East Defensive Rookie of the Year earned First Team honors in 2011 after recording 84 tackles and ten passes defended and showing a significant improvement as a coverage corner.

Jarred Holley, Pittsburgh - The two-time All-Big East safety has raised his tackle count each season, recording a career-high 67 stops in 2011. Holley has shown the ability to make up for his size (5-foot-10, 190 pounds) with sheer playmaking ability, and he will be needed as a reliable last line of defense while the Panthers' shift schemes in the front seven.

Also considered: Cincinnati's sixth-year senior Drew Frey is fresh off an All-Big East First Team nod, and leads an experienced Bearcats' secondary that should improve after finishing seventh in the league in pass defense - giving up 261.1 yards per game. Rutgers senior Duron Harmon also earned all-conference honors a year ago, while Temple safety Justin Gildea will have the opportunity to prove himself against a set of competition.

Placekicker
Ross Krautman, Syracuse

Punter
Pat O'Donnell, Cincinnati

Specialist
Matt Brown, Temple

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