There seems to be a clear cut top-eight players in the Big East this season. It is not as though Tavon Austin or J.K. Schaffer are not good players–in fact, I expect both to have monster years–but each player above them could compete for All-America honors this year.
Obviously when narrowing down the Conference’s best players to only ten, some good athletes are going to be left off the list. Still, I believe there is very little wiggle room for these five–all of which seem destined for the National Football League.
The Big East top five:
5.) Kendall Reyes, Connecticut DL: There are no eye-popping stats or highlight reel plays to feature when talking about Reyes. He only totaled 39 tackles and 2.5 sacks last season. Rather, the intrigue in the Huskies star lineman is in his ability to control the entire defense. He was utilized as both a defensive tackle and guard last season and can shut down an opposing team’s rushing game by himself. The senior earned All-Big East first-team honors last season and finished the year with two interceptions and 5.5 tackles-for-loss over his final four Conference games. In all, Reyes has started 29 games for the school and recorded 18 tackles-for-loss over that span. UConn returns ten of 11 starters on defense but none are as important as Reyes. He will be in the discussion for Big East Defensive Player of the Year at the conclusion of this season and is expected to go in the first two-rounds of next year’s NFL Draft.
4.) Brandon Lindsay, Pittsburgh DL/LB: At this time last season experts were talking about standout Greg Romeus as the anchor of an intimidating Panthers defensive line. When Romeus succumbed to injuries though, it was Lindsay who took the Conference by storm. Only one Big East player recorded more sacks last year than the Aliquippa native. Lindsay also posted 17.5 tackles-for-loss and crested the 50-tackle plateau during his breakout campaign. This season may not be as easy for the Pitt star however. Fellow defensive line menace Jabaal Sheard is now with the Cleveland Browns and Lindsay will be transitioned into a new hybrid end/linebacker role. The Pitt senior is primarily recognized as an elite pass rusher who is adept at stopping the run. As a linebacker, he will drop into coverage more but also will be able to form a late rush. The combination could increase his already impressive sack numbers. Many are predicting Lindsay to be the first Big East player off the board in next year’s NFL Draft.
3.) Geno Smith, West Virginia QB: Many are pegging Smith as the Big East’s best player this season. The high praise is not a stretch, as Rivals.com notes:
“Of the 48 quarterbacks who attempted at least 350 passes last season, only Boise State’s Kellen Moore, Southern Miss’ Austin Davis and Smith threw fewer than eight interceptions (Smith threw seven).”
It should be noted that Smith is in a very good situation though, hence my ranking him third best in the Conference. With new Head Coach Dana Holgorsen, Smith has the potential to be among the nation’s top passers. The chains have been loosed from WVU’s old run-oriented, shotgun offense. Now, the Mountaineers stud quarterback will be able to truly show off his tremendous arm. Smith tossed 24 touchdowns last season and finished second in the Conference with 2,763 passing yards–all in a conservatively run Bill Stewart offense. With Holgorsen at the helm, the junior will have every opportunity to become the star of the Big East Conference.
2.) Bruce Irvin, West Virginia DL: The Mountaineer lineman made a huge splash coming out of junior college, leading the Conference with 14 sacks. Even more impressive is that he totaled the number as a specialist playing primarily on third-down. Now, Irvin will get the chance to be an every-down player. One problem with the increased time is that he will have to play against the run. West Virginia also lost two starting linemen, which will allow offenses to focus on the JUCO transfer even more. Still, Irvin may be the best lineman in the Big East. If he recorded 14 sacks as a once-every-four-downs specialist, think what he can do with triple the playing time. His 6’3″ frame is daunting but not quite as intimidating as his athleticism. Irvin has the chance to become one of the elite players in college football this season.
1.) Zach Collaros, Cincinnati QB: Some may disagree with Collaros as the Big East’s best player, but he was the catalyst for an offense that led the Conference in total offense, scoring, and passing. No Big East quarterback threw for more yards or touchdowns. He also ranked second in completions and passer rating all while being sacked the second most times out of any quarterback in the Conference. If he was playing behind Connecticut’s line, Collaros would have received plenty of national recognition. The dual-threat quarterback padded his stats by adding over 200 rushing yards and four rushing touchdowns. One reason why Collaros could win Big East Player of the Year this season is because of wide receiver D.J. Woods. The battery was one of the best in the Conference last year and will aim to dominate the Big East this season. If Collaros can keep his turnover numbers down–he also led the Conference in interceptions last season–then he will live up his his number one ranking. I fully expect a decrease as the junior is now entering his second full season as a starter.
As I mentioned earlier, it is impossible to narrow any Conference’s players down to the best ten. So, in no particular order, here are my thoughts on the Big East’s next ten best players:
- Isaiah Pead, Cincinnati RB
- Mohamed Sanu, Rutgers WR
- Blidi Wreh-Wilson, UConn CB
- DJ Woods, Cincinnati WR
- Sio Moore, UConn LB
- Hakeem Smith, Louisville S
- Julian Miller, West Virginia DL
- Jared Holley, Pittsburgh S
- Moe Petres, UConn C
- DeDe Latimore, South Florida LB