Big East Preview 2006 - Top 5s
Posted Aug 9, 2006 2006 Big East Preview Top 5s

 Big East Preview | All-Big East team & top 30 players  | Unit Rankings | Top 5s 
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 1) The five games that will shape the Big East race (in order)
Oct. 7, Connecticut at South Florida
It's the Big East opener for UConn, and it could be a knockout punch in the conference race for the loser.  After playing Rutgers the week before, a 2-0 start for USF could mean a big Big East start with Cincinnati, Pitt and Syracuse coming next.
Nov. 2, West Virginia at Louisville
This might not just be for the Big East title, it might be for a spot in the BCS Championship Game.
Nov. 16, West Virginia at Pitt
Pitt could use the win over the Mountaineers in the Backyard Brawl to put the Dave Wannstedt era on the map and set up a possible showdown for the Big East title against Louisville.
Nov. 25, Louisville at Pitt
Will this be the game to get Pitt a BCS spot or will it be the chance for Louisville to lock down a title? West Virginia might have something to say about that.
Nov. 25, South Florida at West Virginia
After playing at Louisville the week before, South Florida has to pay the piper for an easy schedule over the first two months with a brutal finish.

2) Five non-conference games that Big East teams had better take very, very seriously
1. West Virginia at East Carolina, Sept. 23
Most of the world assumes West Virginia only has to worry about Louisville and Maryland on the schedule. The trip to face Skip Holtz's improved club with its emerging offense will be harder than it might appear on paper.
2. Pitt at UCF, Oct. 13
How focused will the Panthers be? This is a sandwich game between Big East games against Syracuse and Rutgers.
3. South Florida at UCF, Sept. 16
In the ongoing battle to be one of the top new Florida programs, South Florida needs another dominant performance like it came up with in the 31-14 win over the Golden Knights last year.
4. Toledo at Pitt, Oct. 30
Pitt's last performance against a MAC team was a nationally televised overtime clunker to Ohio.
5. South Florida at North Carolina, Oct. 14
Sandwich game. The Tar Heels have to face the brutal USF defense in between battles with Virginia Tech and Clemson.

3) Five best Big East pro prospects
1. Louisville QB Brian Brohm, Jr. - 207-301, 68.8%, 2,883 yds, 19 TD, 5 INT, 4 rushing TDs
Would Brohm have been a first round draft pick if he could’ve come out this year? Probably. The 6-4, 224-pound junior is coming off an torn ACL that cost him the last two games of the season, but that didn't stop him from being the Big East Offensive Player of the Year. He has the arm, the smarts, and the touch to be a next-level star. Now he has to prove he can be the type of quarterback who can carry his team to a conference title. He's not a runner, but he can move a little bit with good touch when on the move. The key to his game is accuracy. When he gets into a groove, it's over. Just ask Oregon State who got tagged for an 18 of 22, 368-yard, five touchdown game.
2. Louisville RB Michael Bush, Sr. - 205 carries, 1,143 yds, 5.6 ypc, 23 TD, 21 catches, 253 yds, 1 TD
Back for what seems like his 13th year in a Cardinal uniform, Bush passed up the chance to be a mid-round NFL draft pick to be on the short list of the nation's top college running backs. He's a freak of nature with good speed and phenomenal power in a 6-3, 250-pound frame. A scoring machine with 38 career touchdowns including 24 last season, he can even play a little quarterback on a halfback option using his skills honed as one of the nation's best high school passers. He also has good hands as a receiver out of the backfield. Staying healthy will be his key thanks to a pounding style that opens him up for some huge shots.
3. Pitt LB H.B. Blades, Sr. - 121 tackles, 1 interception, 1 sack, 3.5 TFL, 6 broken up passes
One of the nation's best linebackers, the two-time All-Big East performer led the Big East with 121 tackles and was excellent in pass coverage moving over from the strongside to the middle. The son of former Miami Hurricane star Bennie Blades has 286 career tackles with the range to always be around the ball and the size to provide a big pop when he gets there. 
4. Rutgers TE Clark Harris, Sr. - 38 catches, 584 yds, 15.4 ypc, 4 TD
 The two-time All-Big East performer is back as one of the nation's better receiving tight ends and a should up his already considerable draft stock even more. He's 6-6 and 255 pounds with great route-running ability and soft hands catching 109 passes over the last three seasons. He has developed into a dependable blocker.
5. West Virginia Kevin "Boo" McLee, Sr. - 78 tackles, 2 sacks, 7 TFL, 1 interception, 5 broken up passes, 2 fumble recoveries
McLee needed to come through on the outside last year, and he did in a big way finishing second on the team in tackles on the way to All-Big East honors. He's a huge weakside linebacker at 255 pounds who's surprisingly good against the pass. When turned loose, he a can be a great pass rusher with good closing speed. Now he should be a fringe All-America candidate. 
4) Five biggest Big East shoes to fill 
1. Louisville DE Zach Anderson for Elvis Dumervil
The former JUCO transfer was a solid reserve last season and now needs to fill the void left by Dumervil, an All-American. Anderson, a former quarterback, is 268 pounds, has tackle strength, and is very, very fast for a lineman. In other words, if you're looking for a breakout player in the Big East this year, Anderson could be it.
2. South Florida RB Ricky Ponton for Andre Hall
A star high school linebacker as well as a running back, the 5-10, 205-pound sophomore brings good power along with a surprising speed burst. He's not Hall and won't run for over 1,300 yards and score 13 touchdowns, but he should be productive in rotation and has enough experience to be a feature back early on.
3. Pitt WR Derek Kinder for Greg Lee
Kinder's the number one man now that Lee is gone meaning he'll have to be more of a deep threat. He has the size to be physical and the speed to make big plays, so consistency will be the key needing to get the ball in his hands at least five times a game.
4. Louisville OT Marcel Benson for Travis Leffew
Benson will battle with Breno Giacomini for the tough task of replacing four-year starter Travis Leffew at left tackle. At 318 pounds, Benson, a JUCO transfer, is a bigger option than the 290 pound Giacomini. After spending last year learning the system, he should be ready to hit the ground running this year.
5. Rutgers DE Jamal Westerman for Ryan Neill
It'll be up to the 252-pound sophomore to quickly grow into one of the team's new star pass rushers ... and he should be able to do it. It might take a little while to be Neill, but he's quick with a good drive into the backfield. It'll be a shock if he doesn't end up with close to double-digit sacks.

5) Five Big East breakout players
1. Syracuse WR Lavar Lobdell, RFr.
 Lodbell was the program's big recruit last season and was thrown into the mix right away as a true freshman before getting knocked out for the year with a shoulder injury. He's 6-3 and 201 pounds with next-level skills. If the Orange passing game is going to make a quick turnaround, Lobdell will be a main reason.
2. Connecticut OT Mike Hicks. RFr.
The massive 6-7, 336-pound Hicks will get the first shot at replacing Grant Preston on the right side. He's ridiculously strong and has the big frame to become a mauling pass blocker. The question is whether or not he has the feet to be a consistent pass protector, but he's good on the move with impressive speed for his size.
3. Rutgers WR Tiquan Underwood, Soph. - 4 catches, 47 yds, 11.8 ypc
A speedy deep threat with tremendous athleticism, the 6-2, 175-pound sophomore should soon be the team's most dangerous receiver. He's not physical, but he's a blur in open space. Expect him to push Willie Foster for a starting spot.
4. Connecticut DE DE Cody Brown, Soph. - 20 tackles, 1 sack, 5 TFL, 2 broken up passes
Brown has all the makings of a big-time pass rusher. He's a quick defender who looked strong as a true freshman getting a starting nod and getting his feet wet in the rotation on the line. He's a linebacker-sized 235 pounds, but he's strong enough to handle himself against the run. 
5. Louisville DE Deantwan Whitehead, Fr.
One of the best and highest-rated defensive prospects to ever come to Louisville, the 6-6, 245-pound freshman might be too good to keep off the field. He's a fantastic pass rusher with tremendous speed.