Athlon Awards: Ranking the Big East's Best Units

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Geno Smith is in for a big season with Dana Holgorsen calling the plays.

<p> The Athlon Awards for 2011 continue with a look at the best units in the Big East.</p>

Kickoff for the 2011 season is just a few weeks away. To help pass the time before the opening weekend, Athlon will be taking a look at the best units by conference. 

A "1" signifies the best unit in conference, while a "12" indicates the worst.

Athlon's 2011 Big East Unit Rankings

Best Quarterbacks – West Virginia
New coordinator Dana Holgorsen has been the architect of some of the nation’s best offenses over the last three seasons, and his arrival should help Geno Smith emerge as the most productive quarterback in the Big East. Smith threw for 2,763 yards and 24 TDs last season. Picking up the new offense shouldn’t be difficult, as Holgorsen has immediately produced at every stop. A foot injury has bothered Smith in each of the last two offseasons, but assuming he can stay healthy, the junior should be first-team All-Big East.

(Note: Although depth was considered, much of the emphasis for the rankings at this position was based upon the starter.)

2. Cincinnati
3. South Florida
4. Pittsburgh
5. Syracuse
6. Rutgers
7. Louisville
8. Connecticut

Best Running Backs – Cincinnati
The Big East is short on proven stars at running back, and Isaiah Pead is the conference’s only returning 1,000-yard rusher from last season. Pead was limited early last season due to injury, but he rushed for 169 yards against Oklahoma. Pead posted only one game over 100 yards in the final three games, but it was a career-high 213 yards with four rushing touchdowns against Rutgers. Backing up Pead will be George Winn and true freshmen Jameel Poteat and Akise Teague.

(Note: Although depth was considered, much of the emphasis for the rankings at this position was based upon the starter.)

2. Pittsburgh
3. Louisville
4. Syracuse
5. South Florida
6. Rutgers
7. West Virginia
8. Connecticut

Best Wide Receivers – Rutgers
With Mohamed Sanu, Mark Harrison and tight end D.C. Jefferson back in the fold, the Scarlet Knights feature a formidable trio of weapons. Now the coaching staff just needs someone to get the ball to them. Sanu’s numbers dropped last year due to injury, but his return to full health will be a boost to the offense. Harrison closed out the season with five touchdowns over the final three games. This unit will also get a boost with the return of Tim Wright from injury and Brandon Coleman from a redshirt season. Sophomore Quron Pratt is also a name to watch.

2. West Virginia
3. Cincinnati
4. Syracuse
5. Pittsburgh
6. South Florida
7. Louisville
8. Connecticut

Best Offensive Line – Connecticut
The Huskies may have question marks everywhere else on offense, but the line is in great shape for 2011. Zach Hurd will be missed at guard, but three starters are back. Center Moe Petrus has 39 consecutive starts, while tackle Mike Ryan was a first-team All-Big East selection last year. Adam Masters is back after starting 11 games last season between left and right tackle.

2. West Virginia
3. Syracuse
4. Pittsburgh
5. South Florida
6. Cincinnati
7. Louisville
8. Rutgers

Best Defensive Line – West Virginia
The Mountaineers have some significant departures up front but return enough pieces to keep this unit as the best in the conference for 2011. End Bruce Irvin led the Big East with 14 sacks, and he will be counted on for an every-down role in 2011. Julian Miller was often overlooked last year, but he should emerge as one of the conference’s top linemen in 2011. The biggest question mark rests with the interior of the line, where Chris Neild must be replaced. Jorge Wright and Josh Taylor have the inside track to man the middle.

2. Connecticut
3. Pittsburgh
4. Cincinnati
5. South Florida
6. Syracuse
7. Louisville
8. Rutgers

Best Linebackers – South Florida
Sabbath Joseph and Jacquian Williams depart, but the Bulls remain in good shape. DeDe Lattimore returns after a solid freshman year in which he recorded 69 tackles, including 6.5 for a loss. Sam Barrington is expected to move from the inside to the outside this year, after registering 65 stops and forcing two fumbles last year. Joining Lattimore and Barrington in the starting lineup will be junior Michael Lanaris, while promising redshirt freshman Reshard Cliett and senior Curtis Weatherspoon provide depth.

2. Pittsburgh
3. Rutgers
4. Cincinnati
5. Connecticut
6. West Virginia
7. Louisville
8. Syracuse

Best Defensive Backs – West Virginia
Despite the departures of Brandon Hogan, Robert Sands and Sidney Glover, West Virginia should boast the top pass defense in the Big East. Cornerback Keith Tandy earned first-team All-Big East honors last year and should be the conference’s top defensive back in 2011. Safety Terence Garvin led the Mountaineers in tackles last season and will be active around the line of scrimmage once again. With holes at cornerback and safety, Eain Smith, Pat Miller, Brodrick Jenkins and Brantwon Bowser need to step up in 2011, although each has experience.

2. Connecticut
3. South Florida
4. Pittsburgh
5. Syracuse
6. Rutgers
7. Louisville
8. Cincinnati

After ranking all of the individual units in the conference, here's a look at what the combined totals look like - 

  QB RB WR/TE OL DL LB DB Totals
West Virginia 1 7 2 2 1 6 1 20
Pittsburgh 4 2 5 4 3 2 4 24
Cincinnati 2 1 3 6 4 4 8 28
South Florida 3 5 6 5 5 1 3 28
Connecticut 8 8 8 1 2 5 2 34
Syracuse 5 4 4 3 6 8 5 35
Rutgers 6 6 1 8 8 3 6 38
Louisville 7 3 7 7 7 7 7 45

More Big East Content

2011 Big East Breakout Players
Ranking the Top 25 Big East Players for 2011

Will Louisville be a Surprise Contender?

Athlon's 2011 All-Big East Team

Athlon's 2011 Big East Predictions

CFB Conferences: 

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