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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 DefenseDEFENSIVE 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.
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.
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.
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.
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