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August 11, 2009

Big East preseason unit rankings

MORE: Big East preview: Parity doesn't equal respect

OFFENSIVE BACKFIELD

1. Cincinnati: While QB Tony Pike is the headliner, the Bearcats hope sophomore Isaiah Pead will be the explosive back they've been missing.

2. West Virginia: Can the Jarrett Brown/Noel Devine combo be as effective at Pat White/Steve Slaton?

3. USF: QB Matt Grothe and RB Mike Ford both need to show more consistency. Ford likely will share time at running back with, among others, Moise Plancher and Jamar Taylor.

4. Pittsburgh: QBs Bill Stull and Pat Bostick have starting experience, which puts Pitt ahead of other Big East teams in that department.

5. Rutgers: Domenic Natale and Jabu Lovelace will vie to replace QB Mike Teel. Running back remains a group effort.

6. Louisville: Victor Anderson is one of the Big East's best running backs. The same can't be said of any of Louisville's quarterbacks.

7. Connecticut: Zach Frazer and Cody Endres, who are vying to be the new starting quarterback, combined to throw nine picks in 167 attempts last season. Jordan Todman and Andre Dixon will try to replace TB Donald Brown.

8. Syracuse: Former Duke point guard Greg Paulus could play quarterback. Delone Carter is an injury-prone running back.

RECEIVERS

1. Cincinnati: WR Mardy Gilyard headlines a deep group.

2. Pittsburgh: WR Jonathan Baldwin and TE Nate Byham are among the best in the conference at their positions. WR Oderick Turner is a former second-team freshman All-America.

3. West Virginia: Jock Sanders, Alric Arnett and 6-8 Wes Lyons should have more big-play opportunities with the strong-armed Brown at quarterback.

4. USF: Jessie Hester, Carlton Mitchell, A.J. Love and Dontavia Bogan are capable options, but it would be a major help for Grothe if one developed into an all-conference receiver.

5. Louisville: The Cardinals could end up with the deepest receiver corps in the league in Doug Beaumont, Josh Chichester, Scott Long and Trent Guy.

6. Rutgers: Tim Brown must develop into a No. 1 receiver. And Mohamed Sanu must be an impact freshman.

7. Syracuse: Mike Williams (60 catches, 837 yards, 10 touchdowns in 2007) returns after missing last season for academic reasons. He gives the offense big-play potential.

8. Connecticut: Blame the quarterbacks for the passing-game struggles if you want, but the Huskies' receivers haven't been world-beaters, either.

OFFENSIVE LINE

1. Rutgers: All five starters are back, including potential All-America T Anthony Davis.

2. Cincinnati: Jeff Linkenbach is a potential pro at tackle. G Jason Kelce and C Chris Jurek are seasoned vets.

3. Pittsburgh: The Panthers return four starting linemen. Highly touted sophomores Lucas Nix and Chris Jacobson are seeking bigger roles at tackle and guard, respectively.

4. Connecticut: The Huskies lose T Will Beatty and G Moe Petrus is moving to center, but the line should be the strength of the offense.

5. West Virginia: Four starters are gone, but the Mountaineers are optimistic about Ts Selvish Capers and Don Barclay and G Josh Jenkins.

6. USF: The line remains one of the Bulls' biggest questions even though interior linemen Zach Hermann and Jacob Sims return.

7. Louisville: The Cardinals are counting on redshirt freshman Mario Benavides to take over for first-round pick Eric Wood at center. The first-string line will be solid, but the unit lacks depth.

8. Syracuse: The line has been a problem for several seasons. New coach Doug Marrone - a former Syracuse lineman - needs to focus his efforts on this position.

DEFENSIVE LINE

1. Pittsburgh: Es Greg Romeus and Jabaal Sheard and T Mick Williams combined for 34.5 tackles for loss and 17.5 sacks last season. All three are potential All-Big East guys.

2. USF: E George Selvie is the biggest defensive difference-maker in the Big East. The Bulls need T Terrell McClain and E Aaron Harris to relieve some of the pressure on Selvie.

3. West Virginia: Scooter Berry and Chris Neild make up the best pair of tackles in the Big East.

4. Rutgers: Alex Silvestro moves to end to team with George Johnson (eight sacks). Charlie Noonan and Blair Bines must prove they're capable of taking over the vacant tackle spots.

5. Connecticut: Ts Twyon Martin and Kendall Reyes got valuable experience as freshmen. Senior E Lindsey Witten has 10.5 sacks in three seasons.

6. Cincinnati: Replacing T Terrill Byrd and E Connor Barwin will be difficult, but E Derek Wolfe and E/OLB Curtis Young have bright futures.

7. Syracuse: Spring injuries to E Jared Kimmel and star T Arthur Jones (13 tackles for loss last season) make this group a question mark.

8. Louisville: Three line starters are gone from a team that had the fewest sacks in the Big East.

LINEBACKERS

1. Connecticut: Returning starters Scott Lutrus, Lawrence Wilson and Greg Lloyd (whose dad of the same name was a star for the Pittsburgh Steelers) combined for 236 tackles last season

2. West Virginia: A healthy Reed Williams will team with the underrated J.T. Thomas to form a strong duo at linebacker. But WVU will miss Mortty Ivy.

3. Pittsburgh: Sophomore Greg Williams and seniors Adam Gunn and Shane Murray should prove to be a capable trio.

4. Rutgers: Ryan D'Imperio is one of the Big East's top defenders. He'll be joined by rising star Antonio Lowery and returning starter Damaso Munoz.

5. USF: With 66 tackles last season, Kion Wilson leads a pedestrian group of linebackers. He is the only proven college player among the group.

6. Louisville: Returning starters Jon Dempsey and Antwon Canady and converted safety Brandon Heath make this the strength of the defense.

7. Cincinnati: Longtime backup Andre Revels could become the leader of the defense. Former QB Demetrius Jones could make an impact at outside linebacker.

8. Syracuse: Former tailback Doug Hogue looks as if he will flourish at linebacker, and the Orange should be able to count on Derrell Smith.

SECONDARY

1. Pittsburgh: Led by CB Aaron Berry, three starters return in the secondary. The Panthers intercepted 16 passes last season.

2. Connecticut: CB/WR/KR Darius Butler will be missed, but FS Robert Vaughn and CB Jasper Howard are experienced playmakers.

3. West Virginia: CB Brandon Hogan and safeties Robert Sands and Sidney Glover can hold their own in the secondary, but the Mountaineers struggled last season on third-down defense.

4. USF: An athletic secondary could flourish under aggressive coordinator Joe Tresey or it could get burned. FS Nate Allen is a standout.

5. Rutgers: CB Devin McCourty, SS Joe Lefeged and FS Zaire Kitchen have experience, but Rutgers needs some freshmen to provide depth.

6. Cincinnati: FS Aaron Webster is the only returning defensive starter. The secondary must replace stalwarts Mike Mickens and DeAngelo Smith.

7. Louisville: Johnny Patrick is one of the league's best cover corners, but he needs help.

8. Syracuse: FS Mike Holmes and SS Max Suter can be playmakers, but the secondary lacks depth.

SPECIAL TEAMS

1. Cincinnati: Gilyard is one of the nation's best kick returners and Jake Rogers is one of the Big East's best kickers. The tough task is replacing All-America P Kevin Huber.

2. Connecticut: K Dave Teggart and P Desi Cullen are solid, if unspectacular. PR Jasper Howard averaged 10.9 yards per return and scored a touchdown.

3. Pittsburgh: The Panthers must replace their kicker and their punter, but they were one of the best teams in the league in kickoff and punt coverage. They also blocked a nation-leading 10 kicks and punts.

4. Rutgers: K San San Te and P Teddy Dellaganna are proven commodities. The Scarlet Knights need to find new return men.

5. USF: Losing K Maikon Bonani for the season will hurt; he has a fractured vertebra in his neck. P Delbert Alvarado has been shaky at kicker in his career. The Bulls' return teams should be good.

6. West Virginia: K/P Pat McAfee is gone, and the Mountaineers were awful on kickoff coverage last season.

7. Louisville: The return units will be fine, as will P Cory Goettsche, but the kicking game and coverage units struggled last season.

8. Syracuse: Rob Long's punting (37.4 yards net) was one of the few areas where Syracuse didn't rank seventh or eighth in the Big East.

COACHING STAFFS

1. Cincinnati: Other programs will seek Brian Kelly's services as long as he's winning Big East titles at Cincinnati.

2. Connecticut: Four first-day NFL draft picks from last year's team proves Randy Edsall can develop talent. New coordinator Joe Moorhead hopes to give the offense a jolt.

3. Rutgers: Greg Schiano's success is no fluke. Rutgers has won three consecutive bowl games and has the second-best record in the Big East since 2005.

4. Pittsburgh: Dave Wannstedt's recruiting classes are starting to develop. Frank Cignetti is an upgrade at offensive coordinator over Matt Cavanaugh.

5. West Virginia: West Virginia slipped to 9-4 under Bill Stewart last season. Is that a fluke or a trend? Defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel is one of the nation's most underrated assistants.

6. USF: Losing Wally Burnham is a major loss, but new defensive coordinator Joe Tresey knows the Big East. New offensive coordinator Mike Canales will try to improve consistency.

7. Syracuse: Marrone is a first-time head coach, but offensive coordinator Rob Spence and defensive coordinator Scott Shafer are plenty familiar with the ups and downs of the college game.

8. Louisville: Hot-seat coach Steve Kragthorpe will call his own plays this season. The defense was handed over to former Utah State coach Brent Guy.

David Fox is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dfox@rivals.com.



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