Tag:Bruce Irvin
Posted on: January 3, 2012 12:25 pm
Edited on: January 3, 2012 12:57 pm
 

Orange Bowl coaches ready for a close BCS game

Posted by Chip Patterson

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - The four teams in action in the first BCS bowl games combined to score 162 points on the first college football day of 2012. But despite all the offense on display, the outcome of each game has been one score or less and determined by big plays on defense and in special teams.

Whether it was Wisconsin wide receiver Jared Abbrederis dropping the ball just inches from the sideline, or Stanford kicker Jordan Williamson unable to hit a potential game-winning field goal from 35-yards out; the plays that have determined the first BCS bowl games have come in unexpected ways.

"You can't relax, however many plays are in the game, 160, plus your special teams, you've got to play every play like it's the play that's going to determine the outcome of the game," Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney explained on Tuesday.  "That's the mentality you have to have, because when you look back, that's what you see. It's usually four, five, six plays that changed momentum, created opportunity and so forth."

In fact, neither of these teams would be in South Beach this week if it wasn't for a few key plays that led to wins earlier this season. Clemson's hot 8-0 start included huge comeback wins against Maryland, Florida State, and Auburn. West Virginia overcame a fourth-quarter deficit in each of their final four wins in the regular season. If Monday's BCS games were any indication of the way the Orange Bowl will play out, both of these squads should be ready to face the challenge.

"It's a three-sided game, and that's the one thing that we learned about a month and a half ago when we lost to Louisville," said West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen.  "Our team came together, and on all three sides of the ball we figured out that if all three sides of the ball don't play together and pick each other up to try to be fighting for the same goal, then you're probably not going to win very many games.  That's the one thing we did over the course of the last three games was play together."

More highlights from Dabo Swinney and Dana Holgorsen on Tuesday:

- While there are many upsides for the extra preparation time given to BCS bowl participants, Holgorsen did offer one interesting take on a downside. As coaches try to to do the best to prepare for the contest, the West Virginia head coach pointed out it is important not to over prepare.

"Yeah, you've got to be careful with time on your hands," Holgorsen said.  "Coaches have a tendency to outsmart themselves at times, so you've got to figure out what your team does well, which we've had a lot of time here in the last four months to figure out what our team does well, and we've just got to put them in those positions to be successful."

- Dwayne Allen is clearly a focus of this game. He is a key weapon that needs to get going for Clemson, and one of the primary concerns for West Virginia's defense. Dabo Swinney, ever the salesman for his program, gave his glowing explanation of why Allen is the best tight end in the country.

"Well, Dwayne is 6'4", about 255. He runs like a wide out. He blocks like a tackle and has really improved in other parts of his game as far as running with the ball after the catch, his flexibility, and he's got great ball skills, and he's got a high football IQ. So you put those things together, you're going to get a very, very good football player. He's tough and aggressive, likes to play. The moment is never too big for him. And he practices hard, studies and prepares."

- There was plenty of discussion on both sides about the opportunity to showcase and promote their program around South Florida this week. Geno Smith, Stedman Bailey, and Ivan McCartney all hail from nearby Mirmar, and Swinney mentioned a Monday night visit from the family of wide receiver Jacoby Ford, now with the Oakland Raiders. With the recruiting potential in the area - not to mention the competition to land those recruits - the opportunity to play in South Florida as the only bowl game of the night is one that any program would hope to seize.

- Both teams spent Monday night attending the Miami Heat's game against the Atlanta Hawks in American Airlines Arena. The experience of watching LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, and the rest of the defending Eastern Conference Champs in person was a huge deal to the players.

Also? A huge deal to Dabo Swinney. When asked about the most fun part of the week, Clemson's head coach quickly and enthusiastically mentioned Monday night's activity.

"Lebron James, man! Even thought I didn't get to meet him, I love basketball. That was pretty neat to get to go down to the Heat game. What a great arena that is. I really enjoyed that."

For all the latest on Clemson and West Virginia up until kickoff, check out the Orange Bowl Pregame

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Posted on: January 3, 2012 11:40 am
Edited on: January 3, 2012 12:50 pm
 

Orange Bowl Key Matchup



Posted by Chip Patterson


A look at the matchup that could decide the Orange Bowl

Najee Goode, LB, West Virginia vs. Dwayne Allen, TE, Clemson

West Virginia's first team All-Big East linebacker is one of the most important pieces of the defense, and will be counted on step up in his last game as a Mountaineer. The redshirt senior is tied with offensive lineman Don Barclay and defensive end Julian Miller as the most experienced players on the team, with all three appearing in 51 career games for West Virginia. Goode has done everything the Mountaineers needed this season - from starting games at all three linebacker positions to recording seven tackles and forcing the game-saving fumble against USF in the regular season finale.

Now Goode needs to deliver one last memorable performance in order to contain the many weapons in Clemson's offense. Arguably his toughest challenge will be keeping an eye on tight end Dwayne Allen. In head coach Dabo Swinney's own words: Allen runs like a wide out, blocks like a tackle, and has improved his flexibility and football IQ. With dangerous deep threats like Sammy Watkins and DeAndre Hopkins on the outside, the duties of containing Allen will often fall on the linebackers.

Clemson's goal will be to exploit holes in the West Virginia coverage the way Syracuse did with Nick Provo in their 49-23 upset victory earlier this season. The Mountaineers struggled to keep Provo marked, particularly in the red zone, and eventually gave up six catches for 61 yards and three touchdowns. Dwayne Allen is arguably an enhanced version of Provo, and Goode must help the linebackers keep the 6-foot-4 Mackey Award winner from pulling down passes in the end zone if they hope to leave South Beach with their third BCS bowl win since 2005.

For all the latest on Clemson and West Virginia up until kickoff, check out the Orange Bowl Pregame

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Posted on: January 3, 2012 10:49 am
 

Keys to the Game: Orange Bowl

Posted by Chip Patterson

CLEMSON WILL WIN IF: They maintain a balanced offensive attack. Before the ACC Championship Game, CBSSports.com's Travis Sawchik suggested that Clemson had strayed from a run/pass balance late in the regular season. He told me in the moments leading up to kickoff that if they brought that balance back against the Hokies, Clemson would win. The Tigers threw the ball 30 times and ran 45 times, led by Andre Ellington's 125 yard performance, and ran away in the second half of a 38-10 win. So heading into another primetime battle with a potent opponent, I'll piggy back Travis' key. Ellington will play a huge role in keeping West Virginia's defense honest. Defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel's 3-3-5 scheme has given quarterbacks as talented as Sam Bradford trouble in bowl games, and the best way to open up the passing attack is make them fear the run. With Sammy Watkins, DeAndre Hopkins, and Dwayne Allen all healthy there should be opportunities for mismatches with the coverage. But you lessen the chances of getting those matchups if the opposition doesn't respect your ground game.

WEST VIRGINIA WILL WIN IF: The offensive line can protect Geno Smith from the Clemson pass rush. With leading rusher Dustin Garrison sidelined earlier this week with a knee injury, the Mountaineers will rely on the offensive line and backup running back Shawne Alston to keep Clemson's pass rush at bay. In the ACC Championship Game, the Tigers held All-ACC running back David Wilson to a season-low 32 yards on 11 carries. Once the Tigers had neutralized Wilson and forced the Hokies to become one-dimensional, defensive end Andre Branch explained it was time to "pin our ears back" and get after Logan Thomas. Branch, Brandon Thompson, and the rest of the Tigers' pass rush terrorized Thomas throughout the second half. The onus will be on the Mountaineers offensive line to give Smith enough time to check through his progressions and find a receiver in space. With Tavon Austin, Stedman Bailey, and Ivan McCartney on the outside Smith should be able to find an open man against a secondary that has given up at least seven combined touchdowns and at least 200 yards in their last three contests.

X-FACTOR: Dwayne Allen. Arguably West Virginia's worst loss this season came at the hands of Syracuse in a 49-23 blowout loss in the Carrier Dome. The Mountaineers defense was burned by all-conference tight end Nick Provo, who had a team-high six catches for 61 yards and three touchdowns in the game. Jeff Casteel's unit will see a similar threat to Provo in Clemson's all-conference tight end Dwayne Allen. At 6-foot-4, 255 pounds, the Mackey Award winner has used the time off to recover from a nagging toe injury that limited him late in the regular season. Offensive coordinator Chad Morris moves Allen around the formation, and he is one player the Mountaineers cannot lose track of anytime he is an eligible receiver.

For all the latest on Clemson and West Virginia up until kickoff, check out the Orange Bowl Pregame

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Posted on: December 8, 2011 10:18 am
Edited on: December 8, 2011 10:48 am
 

CBSSports.com 2011 All-Big East Team

Posted by Chip Patterson

The season has wrapped, the bowl games are set and it's time to hand out some awards. As part of CBSSports.com's look at the regular season, here is the best of the Big East.

Awards


OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR


Geno Smith, quarterback, West Virginia

It's easy for a quarterback's numbers to get inflated in Dana Holgorsen's fast-paced offensive scheme, but Geno Smith was able to generate just enough in the win column to take the Mountaineers back to a BCS bowl for the first time since 2007. Smith is currently just 22 yards shy of 4,000 passing yards and has thrown a league-high 25 touchdowns to just seven interceptions. Holgorsen has repeatedly praised Smith's work ethic, as he has continued to gain a better grasp of the wide-open system that requires the quarterback to make fast reads and distribute the ball to several different playmakers. With the rushing attack disappearing for large stretches of the season, Smith was able to carry the weight of offensive production and while it wasn't always petty - the Mountaineers were able to earn a share of their seventh (and possibly last) Big East title.

DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR

Khaseem Greene, linebacker, Rutgers

Rutgers' impressive turnaround from 2010's 4-8 campaign was thanks in large part to the Big East's top-ranked defensive unit. The Scarlet Knights held opponents to just 18.8 points and only 311.5 yards of total offense per game, and undoubtedly the star of the unit was junior Khaseem Greene. The former safety moved into a playmaking linebacker position, and his activity on the field increased the level of play for the whole unit. Greene finished the regular season with a league-leading 127 tackles, and if he and fellow junior Steve Beauharnais return to Rutgers for another season Greg Schiano can expect to be leading the conference with his defense once again in 2012.

FRESHMAN OF THE YEAR

Lyle McCombs, running back, Connecticut AND Teddy Bridgwater, quarterback, Louisville

It's the wimpy move for end-of-season awards, but there was too much back and forth to arrive on just one outstanding freshman for the Big East this season. Teddy Bridgewater's improvement across the season ignited enough offense at the right time to earn the Cardinals a share of the Big East title. His ability to evolve from a game-manager to a game-changer elevated Louisville's ceiling and changed the face of the offense. On the other hand, McCombs has been producing at a high level since Day One. Entering the season the biggest concern for the Huskies was how they would replace Big East Player of the Year Jordan Todman in the offensive backfield. The shifty freshman running back answered that question in the season opener with 141 yards rushing and four touchdowns. McCombs went on to log six 100-yard rushing games on his way to 1,151 yards and the Big East rushing crown, narrowly edging out Cincinnati's Isaiah Pead.

COACH OF THE YEAR

Charlie Strong, Louisville

Strong was praised for his ability to take a struggling veteran team and rally them together for their first postseason trip since the 2006 season in 2010. But to turnaround with an inexperienced group and earn a share of the Big East title earns him the nod for Big East Coach of the Year. Early in the season, Strong would speak about having to "teach the game of football" to his young team as the depth chart shuffled on a week-to-week basis. The Cardinals were written off by many after a 2-4 start that included losses to Marshall and FIU, but teaching the game of football paid off as Louisville won 5 of their last 6 games to return to book back-to-back postseason trips for the first time since Bobby Petrino's tenure at the helm.

All-Big East Offense


QUARTERBACK


Geno Smith, West Virginia

My choice for Big East Offensive Player of the Year finds himself on the All-Big East first team. Funny how that works out.

RUNNING BACKS

Lyle McCombs, Connecticut and Isaiah Pead, Cincinnati

McCombs and Pead stood out from day one in a down year for running backs in the Big East. Both backs carried the primary rushing load for their team all season, and both delivered with 1,000-yard performances. Pead's numbers dipped a bit when starting quarterback Zach Collaros went down with a season-ending ankle injury, but he made up for it by contributing catches out of the backfield and fielding punts. The senior put up 246 all-purpose yards in a crucial late-season win over Syracuse that helped the Bearcats earn a share of their third Big East title in the last four years.

WIDE RECEIVERS

Mohamed Sanu, Rutgers and Stedman Bailey, West Virginia

Sanu set a Big East single-season record with 109 receptions this season, and he did it with a revolving door at quarterback. Chas Dodd, Gary Nova; no matter for Sanu. Just toss it up and the 6-foot-2 receiver from South Brunswick, NJ will figure out a way to come down with the ball. Bailey's big plays with his high school teammate Geno Smith helped him finish with a league-leading 1,197 yards and 11 touchdowns.

TIGHT END

Nick Provo, Syracuse

this position, but Provo's proficiency inside the red zone made him the best tight end in the league this season. Getting to the red zone was an issue for Syracuse, but when they did Provo was a matchup problem and excelled with seven touchdowns on the season - the most of any Big East tight ends.

OFFENSIVE LINE

Mike Ryan, Connecticut; Alex Hoffman, Cincinnati; Justin Pugh, Syracuse; Jeremiah Warren, USF; Don Barclay, West Virginia

There were not many offensive lines that were great this season, but these players were certainly the most reliable pieces of good units. West Virginia's offensive line dealt with a faster pace on offense, occasionally guilty of costly holding penalties late into the game, but Barclay was arguably the strength of that group. Pugh is an NFL-caliber talent, while Ryan and Hoffman provided redshirt senior leadership and experience for their league leading rushing attacks.

All-Big East Defense

DEFENSIVE LINE

Aaron Donald, Pittsburgh; Trevardo Williams, Connecticut; Bruce Irvin, West Virginia; Derek Wolfe, Cincinnati

Perhaps the reason offensive lineman struggled in the Big East this season had to do with the wealth of talent along the defensive lines in the conference. Williams and Wolfe caused havoc in the trenches, while Bruce Irvin commanded attention from offensive lines coming off the edge. Sophomore Aaron Donald was a beast for Pittsburgh, and Todd Graham has to be happy knowing his defense will have him next season after losing Brandon Lindsey to graduation.


LINEBACKERS


Khaseem Greene, Rutgers; Dexter Heyman, Louisville, JK Schaffer, Cincinnati

Schaffer played the quarterback role, and took advantage of Wolfe's presence along the line to become the primary playmaker for the Bearcats. Schaffer ranked third in the conference with 105 tackles on the season, but also added 3.5 sacks and three interceptions. Heyman, Schaffer, and Connecticut's Sio Moore (who could have been on this list as well) all recorded three picks this season - the most among linebackers.

SECONDARY

Hakeem Smith, Louisville; Phillip Thomas, Syracuse; Keith Tandy, West Virginia; Logan Ryan, Rutgers

Phillip Thomas was phenomenal for Syracuse before being suspended for a year for violating team rules, likely ending his career with the Orange. Still, his six interceptions and 82 tackles through ten games earn him a spot on this list. Smith and Tandy were both the best defensive backs in conference title units, while sophomore Logan Ryan is just getting started on a promising career for the Scarlet Knights.

SPECIALISTS

PK Dave Teggart, Connecticut; P Pat O'Donnell, Cincinnati; KR/PR Tavon Austin, West Virginia

The Huskies' red zone woes played to Teggart's advantage as the senior built his NFL resume on a league-high 22 made field goals on 28 attempts. Tavon Austin is a home run threat anytime the ball is in his hands, and his play in the special teams not only earned him All-Big East honors but CBSSports.com All-American honors earlier this week.

Think anyone got snubbed from the All-Big East list? Brag, boast or complain at our new Eye On College Football Facebook page.

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Posted on: November 13, 2011 1:53 am
Edited on: November 13, 2011 2:35 am
 

Big East Winners and Losers: Week 11



Posted by Chip Patterson


A handy recap of who really won and who really lost that you won't find in the box score.

WINNER: Dana Holgorsen's "Winners"

The West Virginia head coach was so fed up with his team's effort in recent weeks, he threatened to cut the travel roster - only taking "who wants to win." The Mountaineers did travel a few short of their usual amount, which is about 70. But the ones that did walk into Paul Brown Stadium did so prepared to win, particularly on the defensive side of the ball. The defensive line got pressure on the quarterback consistently for the first time in weeks, led by the efforts of Julian Miller and Bruce Irvin. Offensively Geno Smith found ways to put the ball in the hands of Tavon Austin (9 catches, 126 yards) and Stedman Bailey (6 catches, 104 yards) while avoiding interceptions. The Mountaineers did benefit from Zach Collaros' injury, but a win is a win in the now wide open Big East title race.

LOSER: Zach Collaros, Cincinnati

Cincinnati picking up their first conference loss against West Virginia on Saturday was not just significant because it re-opens the conference title race. The Bearcats offense took a huge hit when senior quarterback Zach Collaros left the game with an apparent ankle injury. The veteran signal caller was hit by West Virginia defensive end Bruce Irvin, coughing up the ball in the end zone for a Mountaineer recover touchdown. But as Collaros was being brought to the ground his leg appeared to bend underneath his body, resulting in the Cincinnati medical staff taking him into the locker room.

Cincinnati's offense eventually got running under athletic backup Munchie Legaux, but there was a slow start and considerable drop off from when Collaros is under center. While Legaux can present that same rushing threat that Collaros presents to a defense, the young sophomore quarterback is not as productive moving the ball through the air. Cincinnati still holds a one-game on the rest of the pack in the Big East standings, but they must win out in order to avoid a tiebreaker scenario with another team. Things get serious next week for the Bearcats, who will face Rutgers next week on the road with at least a share of the Big East title on the line. The official word on Collaros is an ankle injury, and he is expected to undergo further testing before any decisions are made regarding his availability for next week. When he reemerged from the locker room, Collaros was in street clothes on crutches. Needless to say, it was not a welcome sight for Cincinnati fans.

WINNER: Mohamed Sanu

Despite an ever-changing quarterback situation, Rutgers wide receiver Mohamed Sanu has been able to put together a historic 2011 season. He was once again the most dominant offensive threat for the Scarlet Knights in the 27-12 win over Army, pulling in 13 of the team's 17 receptions. The performance brings Sanu's reception count on the season to 94, breaking the Big East single-season record for catches. The record (92) was previously held by former Pittsburgh and current Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald. The consistency of having Sanu has been a crutch for an otherwise inconsistent offense, and a big part of the reason the Scarlet Knights are 7-3 heading into the final weeks of the season.

LOSER: Louisville's rush defense

Coming into the game, Louisville relied on one of the Big East's toughest rushing defenses to keep the Cardinals' in games and give freshman quarterback Teddy Bridgewater a chance. But after the 38-35 win over West Virginia put Charlie Strong's team in a position to make a run at a BCS bowl bid, the Cardinals put up one of their worst defensive efforts since Strong arrived in Louisville. The Cardinals gave up 200 yards on the ground to Pittsburgh, who has been without leading rusher Ray Graham (season-ending knee injury) since Oct. 26. The inability to stop the Panthers on the ground kept Bridgewater and the offense from opportunities to climb back into the game.

WINNER: BJ Daniels 

After a white-hot start and an early season national ranking as high as No. 15, South Florida quickly found themselves in jeopardy of making a bowl game at the end of 2011. The Bulls entered Friday night's contest against Syracuse in the Carrier Dome needing a win to keep their hopes of a second-straight bowl appearance under Skip Holtz alive. Junior quarterback BJ Daniels has received praise from coaches and teammates alike for the strides he's made this season under center. Daniels stepped up when his team needed him most, picking up 254 yards through the air and leading the Bulls in rushing with 117 yards and a touchdown on the ground. The 371 yards of total offense nearly outgained Syracuse as a team (405), and looked effortless as Daniels was not sacked once and did not throw a single interception. It was the performance USF needed from their offensive leader, and now the Bulls have three consecutive home games to try and get that sixth win and return to the postseason.

LOSER: Big East kickers

The most notable kicking struggles in Week 11 occurred in West Virginia's 24-21 victory over Cincinnati in Paul Brown Stadium, but the league as a whole did not boot it well this weekend. Tyler Bitancurt hit just one of three field goals against the Bearcats, but that one ended up deciding the game with Cincinnati's Tony Miliano missing both of his attempts. The blocked 31-yard field goal as time expired will be the one that haunts the freshman kicker, but the kicking woes were a trend across the Big East. The place-kickers in the conference combined to make just 5 of 11 field goals on the weekend, numbers that were padded with the performances of South Florida's Maikon Bonani (3/3) and Syracuse's Ross Krautman (1/1).

WINNER: Fans of tiebreaker scenarios 

Heading into the weekend, Cincinnati was the conference's only unbeaten team, and Louisville held one game over a slew of 2-loss (conference record) contenders in the standings. With Cincinnati losing at home to West Virginia and Louisville doing the same against Pittsburgh, the race has been blown wide open. The Bearcats maintain their slight lead on the pack with only one conference loss, but five other teams all are in position to possibly win a share of the Big East title in the next three weeks.

The Big East title has been shared four of the last eight seasons, but there is only one gold medal: the automatic bid to a BCS bowl. So as the final weeks wind down, every matchup will have potential tie-breaker implications in the final sorting of the league standings. From here on out, every 2-loss team facing Cincinnati has a shot to win at least a share of the title. This starts with Rutgers welcoming the visiting Bearcats next week at High Point Solutions Stadium. With the victory over West Virginia, the Mountaineers have also put themselves in a favorable position as long as they win out and Cincinnati picks up another loss along the way. Louisville, considered a dark horse just a week ago, will need to hit the road to face Connecticut and South Florida on their quest for a return to the BCS bowls.

No team has ever won even a share of the Big East title with more than two conference losses. With Cincinnati losing to West Virginia and five other teams with two losses, the final three weeks of the regular season will be a battle for survival for all six teams in contention. We'll brush up on the Big East tiebreaker rules next week, but anyone who loves this kind of title race chaos will enjoy the conference play down the stretch.

LOSER: USF and Syrcause 

While 75% of the conference buckles down for an intense final stretch of league games, South Florida and Syracuse are the only teams not invited to the party. With matching 1-4 conference records, the Bulls and Orange are eliminated from contention for the Big East title. The good news for these two struggling squads is that bowl eligibility is still in the cards. Syracuse needs to win one of their final two contests to make the postseason for the second straight year, though they might find that difficult with Cincinnati and Pittsburgh on the schedule. South Florida has the benefit of three home games to close the regular season, needing just one more win to become bowl eligible. The Bulls host Miami and Louisville before closing the schedule against West Virginia on a nationally televised Thursday night showdown.

BONUS WINNER: Rutgers' Eric LeGrand and Army running back Malcolm Brown



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Posted on: August 17, 2011 2:30 pm
Edited on: August 17, 2011 2:42 pm
 

CBSSports.com Preseason All-Big East Team

Posted by Chip Patterson

As part of CBSSports.com's season preview, we offer this blogger's selections for the Preseason All-Big East Team.

Offense


QUARTERBACK

Zach Collaros, Sr., Cincinnati - Even with a questionable knee and even more questionable offensive line, Colarros led the Big East in in passing yards (2,902 yards) last season. The talented quarterback who first broke out as a backup to Tony Pike enters the season looking to bounce back from last year's dismal 4-8 record. The senior signal-caller is armed with a stable of skill position players (you will find many of them below on this team) and looking to return the Bearcats to the postseason after missing a bowl for the first time since 2005. He was a unanimous All-Big East first team selection a year ago and still remains atop this list until someone shows him up.

Also watch for: One person with plenty of potential to show him up is West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith. Smith has been a popular choice by some outlets for all-conference teams because of his unique skill set and how well it matches Dana Holgorsen's offensive system. Smith, who threw for 24 touchdowns and just 7 interceptions in 2010, will be the point guard of the Mountaineer attack - making quick decisions to get the ball in the hands of the playmakers. Pittsburgh's Tino Sunseri should also benefit from moving back into the shotgun with Todd Graham, and BJ Daniels is one to watch down at South Florida.

RUNNING BACK

Ray Graham, Jr., Pittsburgh - Under Todd Graham's watch, Tulsa had one of the most prolific offenses in football. The Golden Hurricanes ran 1006 offensive plays in 2010, ranking them seventh nationally. More than half of those (537) were rushing plays, which means you can expect Graham will get his fair share of touches. The high-octane system Pittsburgh plans to run is based on speed rather than a pass-first spread. Graham is just the type of strong and shifty back that fits this offense perfectly.

Isaiah Pead, Sr., Cincinnati - Pead rushed for 1,029 yards and six touchdowns in 2010, and is the conference's top returning rusher. Even though the Bearcats have some questions to answer on the offensive line, there are enough weapons on the field for Pead to get some space to operate. After being a part of back-to-back conference title teams, Pead will want to finish his career by bouncing back from 2010's 4-win season.

Also watch for: Louisville running back Victor Anderson broke out as a freshman in 2008 before being slowed by injuries the past two seasons. If he can repeat the types of performances that won him Big East Rookie of the Year, it would be a huge boost to a Cardinals team with questions on offense. Connecticut running back D.J. Shoemate is another one to watch, as he will try to step out from Jordan Todman's long shadow in Storrs.

WIDE RECEIVER

Tavon Austin, Jr., West Virginia - Austin's move to wide receiver is one that will benefit the talented playmaker in Dana Holgorsen's offensive scheme. He is a weapon that West Virginia plans to use in multiple ways, and will not be lacking in touches or targets in 2011. Spreading the field will give Austin several chances to take advantage of one-on-one coverage, and I imagine he will take advantage.

DJ Woods, Sr., Cincinnati - Woods won't be able to take advantage of lining up opposite 1,000 yard receiver Armon Binns anymore, but if JUCO transfer Kenbrell Thompkins pans out he will certainly get plenty of opportunities to at least match 2010's numbers (57 catches for 898 yards and 8 touchdowns).

Also watch for:Syracuse returns Van Chew, Marcus Sales, and Alec Lemon, but they all need to show more consistency before laying claim to all-conference honors. Rutgers wideout Mohamed Sanu has also gotten a lot of attention, and could be a threat if Chas Dodd is given enough time to throw.

OFFENSIVE LINE

C Moe Petrus, Sr., Connecticut - Petrus helped pave the way for All-Big East running back Jordan Todman a year ago, and now his role is more important than ever. With a new running back and new quarterback, the senior lineman much anchor the unit to give the Huskies a chance at recapturing the momentum that led to a Fiesta Bowl bid in 2010.

OG Justin Pugh, Jr., Syracuse - Pugh started all 13 games for the Orange last season, and is one of four returning starters along the offensive line. A second team All-Big East selection, Pugh is expected to repeat his strong performance protecting Ryan Nassib.

OG Chaz Hine, Sr., South Florida - With only two returning starters on the offensive line, Hine's experience (25 starts) makes him an the most valuable piece of the Bulls offensive line.

OT Don Barclay, Sr., West Virginia - With 27 career starts, the 305-pound left tackle has been a leader along the offensive line in the transition under Dana Holgorsen. Holgorsen has been concerned with the depth along the offensive line, but repeatedly compliments Barclay's bounce back from spring injuries.

OT Lucas Nix, Sr., Pittsburgh - While new head coach Todd Graham continues to hold competition along the Panthers' offensive line, it seems that one of the only positions set in stone is Nix at right tackle.

Also watch for: Connecticut's All-Big East first team tackle Mike Ryan could easily have a spot on this list, as could West Virginia center Joe Madsen.

TIGHT END

Ryan Griffin, Jr., Connecticut - The Huskies did not throw the ball much in 2010, but Griffin was the third leading receiver with 31 receptions for 245 yards and a touchdown. Tight end is not a particularly strong position in this conference with all the odd schemes, but whichever unproven quarterback is under center for Connecticut will likely rely on Griffin to get out of tight spots.

Also watch for:Syracuse tight end Nick Provo has been getting some praise heading into the season, and I'm interested to see how Pittsburgh H-back Hubie Graham gets used in the new Panthers offense..

Defense


DEFENSIVE LINE

DE Bruce Irvin, Sr., West Virginia - Irvin was a monster pass rusher in 2010, finishing second in the nation with 14.0 sacks on the season - in a reserve role. Now the talented end is in the starting lineup and should create havoc for offensive lines, particularly playing opposite Julian Miller.

DE Brandon Lindsey, Sr., Pittsburgh - Lindsey has also proven himself as a dangerous threat getting into offensive backfields. After picking up 10 sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss a season ago, defensive coordinator Keith Patterson says they will use Lindsey in some 3-4 looks as a "Panther linebacker." The flexibility of the down linebacker will allow the senior to get loose and try to use his instincts to make big stops.

DT Chas Alecxhi, Sr., Pittsburgh - Replacing Big East Defensive Player of the Year Jabaal Sheard is no easy task, but his 2010 teammate Alecxhi is ready to try and become the fourth straight Panther to be named to the same honor.

DT Kendall Reyes, Sr., Connecticut - Reyes is the anchor in the middle for one of the better defensive lines in the conference. He was an All-Big East first team selection a year ago, totaling 7.5 tackles for loss charging up the middle.

Also watch for:Reyes' Connecticut teammate Jesse Joseph and West Virginia's Julian Miller could easily pull in these same honors. Cincinnati's Derek Wolfe is one below the radar name to keep an eye on.

LINEBACKERS

Sio Moore, Jr., Connecticut - Moore got his first chance in the starting lineup in 2010 and made the most of it, finishing fifth in the Big East with 110 tackles. He is the only returning starter of the group, but should get plenty of playmaking opportunities behind a solid defensive line.

JK Schaeffer, Sr., Cincinnati - After finishing his second straight season with at least 100 tackles, Schaeffer was named to the All-Big East second team in 2010. Unfortunately the personal success was overlooked by a Bearcats defense that ranked near the bottom of the conference in many categories. Schaeffer has been outspoken in regards to the unit's improvement, and will likely be making a statement for the team on the field.

DeDe Lattimore, Soph., South Florida - Lattimore finished second on the team in tackles as a freshman, earning him some attention on the national level. The Bulls have some holes to fill on the defensive line, but Lattimore and fellow linebacker Sam Barrington have Skip Holtz feeling good about the back seven.

Also watch for: Syracuse linebacker Marquis Spruill has a tall order moving to middle linebacker and replacing Derrell Smith and Doug Hogue. If he is able to lead the new unit to a successful season, he will certainly be deserving of some postseason honors.

DEFENSIVE BACKS

CB Keith Tandy, Sr., West Virginia - In addition to being an All-Big East first team selection in 2010, Tandy led the conference in interceptions and recorded 11 pass break ups. With many starters missing from last year's dominating defense, Tandy will be one of the few "sure things" at the start of the season.

CB Blidi Wreh-Wilson, Jr., Connecticut - In addition to being a great playmaker and the team's third third leading returning tackler, Wreh-Wilson will benefit from playing alongside three other returning starters in the secondary. With few blatant weaknesses, it will be hard to avoid the cornerback and he'll get plenty of chances to have an impact on the field.

S Hakeem Smith, Soph., Louisville - Louisville is faced with the challenge of replacing two talented cornerbacks in the secondary. Luckily, there is a proven underclassman ready to step up in Smith. He was the 2010 Big East Defensive Rookie of the Year and finished 10th in the conference in tackles. He ball-hawking safety will be a key component in maintaining a defense that ranked among the best in the nation a year ago.

S Jarred Holley, Jr., Pittsburgh - Holley finished one pick behind Tandy in the Big East last year, and was named to the All-Big East second team. With the Panthers' front seven applying pressure on the quarterback, it will be Holley's job to make them pay after mental mistakes.

Also watch for: Syracuse safety Phillip Thomas will be a crucial part of the Orange's back seven once he recovers from a broken jaw and South Florida cornerback Quinton Washington is the third leading tackler on the Bulls' defense.

SPECIAL TEAMS

K Ross Krautman, Soph., Syracuse

P Cole Wagner, Soph., Connecticut

KR/PR Lindsey Lamar, Jr., South Florida

Also watch for: Connecticut's Dave Teggart and South Florida's Maikon Bonani both had impressive seasons in 2010 and should be just as consistent this year. But no one in the conference compared to Krautman's 18 for 19 (94.7%, a Big East single-season record) performance, including a 48 yard field goal in a 13-10 win at Rutgers.

As always, let us know what you the think about the selections in the comment section below. Also be sure to click on over to the Conference Preview for more coverage on the Big East
Posted on: July 7, 2011 10:14 am
Edited on: July 7, 2011 10:25 am
 

West Virginia expecting a lot from 'thinner' DL

Posted by Chip Patterson

West Virginia defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel has become a bit of an institution in Morgantown. His 3-3-5 defense has helped the Mountaineers have the top-ranked unit in the Big East three of the last four seasons. But just as the entire team suffered a break in continuity with the awkward promotion of coach Dana Holgorsen, the defense will face its own challenges only returning four starters from the 2010 unit that allowed 13.5 points per game (third best in the nation). But some of the pieces that Casteel does have back were (and will be) pivotal in the pass rush game. Senior Bruce Irvin came one sack short of Daquan Bowers' 15 to lead the nation, and he accomplished all that sharing snaps with fellow senior Julian Miller -- who added 9 sacks of his own. The Mountaineers had to say goodbye to all-conference defensive linemen Chris Neild and Scooter Berry, but Irvin seems confident the unit can repeat its pressure attack from 2010.

"This year, we'll be on the thinner side, but we'll be faster with more speed rushers," Irvin told the Charleston Daily Mail. "Hopefully Shaq [Rowell] got right and he and Jorge [Wright] can clog the holes up and Julian and I can do what we do"

Instead of sharing snaps, Miller has moved to the defensive tackle position and Irvin will be the starter at defensive end. Rowell (308 pounds) and Wright (281 pounds) definitely stack up on the lighter side of traditional nose tackles, so my guess is "got right" includes adding size and strength.

If the defense is best suited pressuring the passer, then it should benefit from an offense that has the potential to put up points quickly. West Virginia's most dangerous opposing offense will be one that can control the game by pounding the ball on the ground. Keeping the ball out of Geno Smith's hands and forcing an inexperienced linebacking to step up and make plays on the line are the best way to keep things close against West Virginia.

Unless Rowell "got right," in which case we could expect a typical conference-leading performance from Casteel's unit.
Posted on: June 14, 2011 5:42 pm
Edited on: June 15, 2011 10:18 am
 

Holgorsen's first act as head coach: go skydiving

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

Like his mentor Mike Leach (still biding his time until next season in Key West), new West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen has long since had a reputation -- one he hasn't done much to dispel -- for living life to its fullest.

And apparently, his early promotion to the Mountaineers' full-time head coaching position isn't going to do anything to change that. How did Holgorsen react to the dismissal of Bill Stewart and his sudden ascension to the top job? By capping a "two-day getaway" with a flying leap out of an airplane,of course:

Holgorsen capped a two-day getaway by meeting the West Virginia State Police and allowing them to set up his first sky diving adventure with the U.S. Army parachute team, the Golden Knights ...

Holgorsen was part of a tandem jump with a Golden Knight who pulled the chord.

"We went up about 10,000 feet and then we just jumped out of an airplane," Holgorsen said, still laughing about the experience an hour later. It was an amazing view. You could see for miles and miles just beautiful countryside.

"Then we came in and we were trying to land on a beach, obviously a small, little beach. It was pretty windy and we came up short and had kind of a crash landing. It resembled something like Bruce Irvin tackling a quarterback."

Breathe easy, Mountaineer fans: Holgorsen was fine, as you might expect from a coach whose eviction from a casino at 3 a.m. on a weeknight set off a chain-of-events which resulted in his promotion.

You can watch Holgorsen's jump and subsequent "crash-landing" here; if he shows as much resilience and fearlessness coaching the Mountaineers as he does in the clip, WVU should be in good hands for a long time to come.



 
 
 
 
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