Posted on: October 18, 2011 12:00 pm
Edited on: October 18, 2011 3:19 pm
Posted by Chip Patterson
Offensive Player of the Year: Geno Smith, West Virginia. In Dana Holgorsen's high-powered offense, the quarterback's communication with the head coach and on-field decision making is pertinent to the system's success. Smith has been a victim of a few slow starts, but has finished every game with an impressive offensive output. Smith is averaging 359.8 yards per game through the air, and completing 64.0 percent of his passes. His ability to find receivers in space has been crucial for the Mountaineers, who only recently found their running game. With 16 touchdowns and 3 interceptions there have been few mistakes for the talented junior, who's next challenge will be leading this team to a conference title. Also considered: Mohammed Sanu, Rutgers; Ray Graham, Pittsburgh; Tavon Austin, West Virginia.
Defensive Player of the Year: Steve Beauharnais, Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights have jumped out to a fast start despite only recently finding certain answers at the quarterback and running back position. A huge part of that has been stout play on the defensive side of the ball, led by linebacker Steve Beauhamais. Rutgers' leads the Big East in scoring and total defense, with Beauhamais contributing 32 tackles and ranking 4th in the conference in tackles for loss. Beauhamais also has added 3.5 sacks and a pair of interceptions to cap off a well-rounded defensive stat line for the leader of one the league's best defensive units. Also considered: JK Schaffer, Cincinnati; Sio Moore, Connecticut; Terence Garvin, West Virginia.
Coach of the Year: Dana Holgorsen, West Virginia. After Bill Stewart's unplanned early exit, Dana Holgorsen deserves credit for stepping in and quickly taking ownership of the program. Much of the staff is still in place, including defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel, but there has been no apparent dissension within the program since Holgorsen's promotion. The most conflict Morgantown has seen was the head coach's shot at the fan base after a home game played before a well-below-capacity crowd. Also considered: Greg Schiano, Rutgers; Butch Jones, Cincinnati.
Surprise: Rutgers. With a 5-1 start and two conference victories under their belt, head coach Greg Schiano has all but erased the horrid memories of the 2010 season. While they've shuffled the quarterback and running back positions, arriving on Gary Nova and Jawan Jamison as the apparent starters, the defense ranks 12th nationally only allowing 16.0 points per game. It hasn't always been pretty, but the Scarlet Knights are finding ways to win. Also considered: Cincinnati
Disappointment: Pittsburgh. After promises of "high-octane football," head coach Todd Graham has very little to show from his no-octane Pittsburgh Panthers. There is very little consistency on either side of the ball, with the offense riding running back Ray Graham to stellar performances at times (South Florida) and failing to find the end zone in other contests (Utah). With the talent returning from last season's squad, the Panthers were projected to challenge their backyard rivals for the Big East title. After losing four of their last five, a return to the postseason is even in doubt. Also considered: Louisville.
Game of the Year So Far: Wake Forest at Syracuse. The Orange overcame a 20-7 halftime deficit to knock off Wake Forest 36-29 in overtime on the first night of the college football season. Quarterback Ryan Nassib picked apart a Wake Forest back seven for 15 fourth-quarter points to kick off a "win by any means"-type season for the Orange. Also considered: Maryland at West Virgina.
Game of the Year (To Come): West Virginia at Cincinnati. Three teams poised to race for the Big East title down the stretch seem to be these two teams along with Rutgers. The only way to ensure a championship is to go undefeated in conference play and this is the best chance for someone to knock off the Mountaineers. The Bearcats have an offense that can keep up with West Virginia in a shootout, and their defense is one of the best in the nation at forcing turnovers. Look for Paul Brown Stadium to be lubed up and rocking when West Virginia comes to town on Nov. 12.
CHAMPION: West Virgina. It will take at least one upset or a furious charge from Cincinnati or Rutgers to keep the Mountaineers from claiming the Big East title and returning to a BCS bowl.
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Tags: Big East, Big East, BJ Daniels, Butch Jones, Chas Dodd, Chip Patterson, Chip Patterson, Cincinnati, Connecticut, Dana Holgorsen, Gary Nova, Geno Smith, Greg Schiano, Jawan Jamison, JK Schaffer, Midseason Conference Report, Midseason Report, Midseason Reports, Mohammed Sanu, Nippert Stadium, Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, Rutgers, Ryan Nassib, Sio Moore, Skip Holtz, South Florida, Steve Beauharnais, Syracuse, Tavon Austin, Terence Garvin, Tino Sunseri, Todd Graham
Posted on: September 2, 2011 6:13 pm
Edited on: September 2, 2011 6:16 pm
Posted by Chip Patterson
Cincinnati's defense was horrendous last year. The Bearcats gave up 369.4 yards and 28.0 points per game, finishing near the bottom of the conference in most defensive rankings. It was particularly frustrating considering the offense, led by All-Big East quarterback Zach Collaros was putting up 27.1 points per game and leading the conference. The defensive woes combined with a -15 turnover margin - faulting both sides of the ball - resulted in a 4-8 record for Butch Jones' first year at the helm and the first bowl-less postseason since 2005.
Improving both the defense and turnovers have been at the top of Cincinnati's list since the beginning of spring practice. With all 11 starters returning, the unit has reportedly used their experience to make great strides in the offseason and fall camp. After all the talk, it is now time for the unit to show results. Their first chance will be on Saturday against Austin Peay.
"We need to go out and get a shutout," senior linebacker JK Schaffer told reporters. "That's what we 're going for and that's our goal. I really don't want to settle for anything less. We have a lot of things to prove. The whole defense understands that."
Schaffer was an all-conference second team selection in 2010, and was named to the CBSSports.com Preseason All-Big East Team earlier this month. The senior middle linebacker is not only one of the few heralded individuals on the unit, but he is also expected to make his teammates better as they try to fix many of last season's mistakes. The players have spoken during the offseason about "a different attitude" and "buying in" to Butch Jones with one year in the can.
But the time for recycled football phrases is over as the Bearcats prepare for a new season. With Collaros, running back Isaiah Pead (1,063 yards, 6 TDs), and wide receiver DJ Woods (57 catches, 898 yards, 8 TDs) all returning, Cincinnati's offense should be able to put up comparable numbers to 2010. An improved defense should put Cincinnati in a position to make the postseason once again and possibly be a long-shot conference title contender. With a trip to Knoxville awaiting them in Week 2, Saturday would be a great time to make a statement.
A shutout, as Schaffer is suggesting, would be quite the statement. The Bearcats kick off against Austin Peay at 7 p.m. in Nippert Stadium.