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Offensive Strengths and Weakness for 2012 Big East

CINCINNATI BEARCATS

Strengths: Cincinnati is taking on significant losses offensively from a team that finished strong last season at 10-3. The best strength coming back is their receiving corps led by WR Anthony McClung (6’0/163lbs) who led the team with 49 catches for 683 yards & 6TD along with WR Kenbrell Thompkins who chipped 44 of his own catches for 536 yards & 2TD. Jordan Luallen brings quite a bit of size to the equation at 6’3/215lbs. He’s more of a work in progress as he played QB last year for the Bearcats and is transitioning to receiver. TE Travis Kelce has incredible size at 6’6/260lbs and should be a decent threat down the field. Cincinnati also has considerable size in the 2-deep as well. Sophomore Kyjuan Lewis is 6’3/200lbs. Senior Damon Julian is 6’2/215lbs while sophomore Alex Chisum is 6’3/186lbs. Cincinnati has had some tremendous receiving talent in the past few years with Mardy Gilyard & Dominick Goodman. McClung was a 2nd-Team All Big East receiver last year and will look to improve upon that. Thompkins also has a chance to be an all conference performer. With two top wideouts along with tremendous size & speed up and down the roster, Cincinnati is definitely strongest at receiver.

Weaknesses: The Bearcats have a lot to replace starting with star RB Isaiah Pead who rushed for 1,259 yards (5.3ypc) & 12TD while also contributing 319 receiving yards & 3TD. Pead also served as the team’s punt returner. What’s most remarkable about Pead is that he not only was a unanimous 1st-Team All Big East selection, but was also the Big East’s offensive player of the year and a 2nd-Round draft pick of the St. Louis Rams! The Rams envision Pead being the heir apparent to Steven Jackson which is giving Pead exceptionally high praise! At 5’11/210lbs, Pead has the ability to be an every down back in the NFL given his ability & pass catching skills. That isn’t easily replaced and the job is likely going to Jameel Poteat. Poteat was a true frosh last season and a highly recruited one, but didn’t get much run time because of Pead. JUCO transfer Aaron Harris should also carry the rock a bit, but replacing the best RB in the conference is a tall order and the running game has to be considered a weakness. Cincinnati loses another major contributor in QB Zach Collaros. Collaros wasn’t a fantastic QB by the metrics, but he was a 2-year starter who saw significant action for 3 straight years and leaves UC as the team’s 3rd leading passer in program history! I’m going to view losing Collaros as a weakness but remember that he completed 61% of his passes for only 1,940 yards with 15TD to 10INT. Collaros’s decision making wasn’t the best and the Bearcats certainly ran the ball much more than they passed it. Replacing Collaros is junior Munchie Legaux who saw limited action last year completing 47.4% of his passes for 749 yards & 5TD to 4INT. Legaux is a big QB at 6’5 but a little light at under 200lbs! He was originally recruited as a WR so who really knows what HC Butch Jones has here. True frosh QB Bennie Coney has good size at 6’3/215lbs and was in for the spring so I wouldn’t be surprised to see him get some time under center this season. Either way, Collaros actually leaves Cincinnati as the program’s all time leader in completion percentage. I think there will be some fall off in overall QB production. The other weakness for Cincinnati is their O-line. The O-line was a solid unit last season allowing just 22 sacks and paving the way for UC to average 4.6ypc, but it loses 1st-Team All Big East LG Randy Martinez, 2nd-Team All Big East LT Alex Hoffman and C Evan Davis! Losing 2 conference players and the QB of the line isn’t an easy plug and fill problem. Returning starting guards Austen Bujnoch has a chance to be all-conference, but the rest of the line looks pretty thin. As a unit the projected starting O-line averages 6’6.5″/288lbs and has 28 starts between them. They are a little light on talent, weight, and experience which equals out to being a weakness.

Game Plan: This is a really interesting team because it’s not often you see teams heavy at receiver and light every where else. Obviously receivers need a QB to get them the ball so the plan would initially call for defenses to take away the pass and force the Bearcats to run the football as best as they can. However, I think you want to play to the weakness of UC’s offense and that means allowing the QB the option of throwing the football because it’s likely to be Legaux who completed 47% of his passes last season or a true freshman in Coney. Although I regard UC’s running attack as somewhat of a weakness because of the loss of Isaiah Pead, I think sophomore Jameel Poteat has some serious talent and JUCO Aaron Harris will step in and contribute as well. Cincinnati is somewhat deep at RB, but extremely inexperienced. I think defenses need to stack the box on UC and get a ton of pressure on the QB on the edge. This will give the QB the look of one-on-one coverage making him think it’s advantageous to throw the football, but this works well because right now Cincinnati doesn’t have anyone on the roster who can complete passes or make good enough decision to avoid the interception. With UC’s receiving talent it would seem obvious to take them out of the game, but with the rushing talent and the lack thereof taking snaps, forcing UC to throw the football is precisely what opposing defenses should do.

CONNECTICUT HUSKIES

Strengths: Connecticut has one of those offenses where you really have to talk about individual player strengths instead of unit strengths. RB Lyle McCombs had a great freshman season last year rushing for 1,151 yards (4.2ypc) & 7TD! McCombs was a 2nd-Team All Big East player and a 2nd-Team Freshman All-American! Very high praise for a RB out of a school that doesn’t get much football hype. McCombs also caught 19 passes. You might be wondering why the kid is playing in Storrs instead of Gainesville and the easy answer is that he’s listed at 5’8/166lbs. He simply doesn’t have the size to be an every down back. He did average about 23 carries per game last season, but unless he puts on 40lbs, the odds are stacked against him remaining healthy for very long. McCombs is a great weapon and a 1st-Team Big East player waiting to happen is he can stay healthy. Where Connecticut gets tricky is the rest of their players. The receivers don’t look so hot, but a closer look shows 3 projected starters with incredible upside. Senior Mike Smith (6’0/201lbs) was academically ineligible last season but started every game for UConn in 2010. Junior Bryce McNeal (6’1/180lbs) was one of the best high school WR in his class and was originally a Clemson recruit. He transferred in and will be able to play this season. Sophomore Shakim Phillips (6’1/200lbs) was another player as highly touted in his class as was McNeal. Phillips originally signed with Boston College but transferred to UConn. TE Ryan Griffin (6’6/250lbs) was a 2nd-Team All Big East player last year and is UConn’s leading returning receiver. He’s a 1st Team Player this year like McCombs and is the other strength UConn has besides McCombs. The receiving corps has the potential to be a legitimate BEAST for the Huskies, but the three projected starters didn’t have a single reception in 2011! The same can be said about the QB situation. Senior Johnny McEntee was the starter last season but completed just 51% of his passes for 2,110 yards & 12TD to 8INT. HC Paul Pasqualoni has brought in JC transfer Chandler Whitmer to take over along with true frosh Casey Cochran to back him up relegating McEntee to 3rd string status. From a talent perspective, UConn is moving in the right direction, but as with the receivers, the 1st and 2nd string QBs have yet to throw a pass at the FBS level!

Weaknesses: I’ve discussed the QB & WR situation above, but both have to be considered weaknesses at this point simply because UConn has absolutely nothing coming back from those positions outside of TE Griffin. The other significant weakness UConn has is their O-line. On paper the big uglies up front might not look so horrible but remember this is a unit that gave up 41 sacks last season and paved the way for their rushing attack to average 3.1ypc! That’s with a dynamic runner like McCombs averaging 4.2ypc! The O-Line does bring back 3 starters and 4 of the projected starters are upperclassmen, but until some production is actually seen out of this group, how can it be considered anything but a weakness? Senior guard Adam Masters has the potential to be an all-conference player, but he’s going to need some of his other guys to step up and don’t forget this unit is losing 1st Team Big East C Moe Petrus and 2nd Team Big East LT Mike Ryan! You maybe can argue that the unit could get better because how in the world could it possibly get any worse, but the line is a significant weakness and should be thought as such until proven otherwise.

Game Plan: The best option here is for the defense to put extreme pressure on the offensive line and stack the box in order to take away the run game. Connecticut is actually somewhat interesting in that their skill position players are a lot better than what I’m probably giving them credit for. The problem I see is that the skill position players don’t have tremendous experience so I’m calling them a liability, but the potential for them to play exceptionally well is there. The problem that is glaring is the QB position. While the receivers don’t have any experience, they are all highly touted. The QB position isn’t awful when it comes to talent but Chandler Whitmer & Casey Cochran don’t exactly have the same kind of talent as a Gunner Kiel. Banging away at the O-Line and forcing the QB into uncomfortable positions is certainly the way to go, but if the O-Line can hold it together and the QB can hit some of those receivers in their one-on-one coverages then that is going to open up the running game for McCombs. What’s somewhat interesting about UConn is that the offense actually has some pretty nice potential. The play and consistency of the QB will determine how much of this potential is fulfilled.

LOUISVILLE CARDINALS

Strengths: QB Teddy Bridgewater did some damage last season as a true freshman. The 6’3/207lbs QB completed a staggering 64.5% of his passes for 2,129 yards & 14TD to 12INT. The accuracy is a great number although Bridgewater’s decision making is a bit suspect because of the TD:INT ratio. That’s nit picking in my opinion. The guy was a true freshman that led the team to a 7-5 regular season finish! That says a lot about him. Bridgewater earned 1st-Team Freshman All-American honors and is probably the best QB in the Big East already. It’s too soon to start thinking about legacy, but if Bridgewater starts the 13 games Louisville is likely to play for the next 3 seasons then he’s looking at 49 career starts! If his completion percentage stays in the 65%-70% range then you are looking at a guy who might be the #1 overall pick in the 2015 NFL Drat! Bridgewater is supposed to be some kind of duel threat QB as well, but he didn’t flash much of that last season. Either way, Louisville’s biggest strength is their QB and he’s a good one. A very good one! Louisville should also be strong at receiver. They bring back their top-2 receivers from last year in Michaelee Harris (6’2/192lbs) & Eli Rogers (5’10/185lbs). Those two combined to catch 78 balls for 909 yards & 3TD. Also coming back is DeVante Parker (6’3/204lbs) who chipped in 18 catches for 291 yards & 6TD with a remarkable 16.2 yards per catch! All three of those receivers were freshman last season so the report with Bridgewater has only gotten stronger and this could be a devastating passing attack in 2012. TE Nate Nord (6’5/250lbs) is the projected starter. Nord hasn’t done much in the passing game, but the size and talent is there. Aaron Epps is also an option. The rFR is 6’7/274lbs and could prove to be a matchup nightmare given how big he is. That’s Rob Gronkowski size! Senior Andrell Smith (6’3/220lbs) also comes back. Smith was fairly dynamic last season catching 11 balls for 207 yards & a TD but only played in 6 games. The talent & size at receiver is excellent and knowing that Bridgewater now has a year under his belt at the collegiate level makes this group even more dangerous. The O-Line didn’t have a great year last season giving up 41 sacks and paving the way for the Cardinals to rush for only 3.4ypc. However, the sack problem falls on Bridgewater a bit just because he was a true freshman and Louisville’s running game wasn’t exactly the best last season. I think the big guys up front will have a great year and they are one of Louisville’s biggest strengths. This year the O-Line has 4 returning starters back anchored by senior center Mario Benavides who should be a 1st-Team All Big East lineman this season! Guards Jake Smith & John Miller were freshman last season, but now are returning starters and should have a shot at all-conference. Same goes for senior Alex Kupper at LT. The only non-returning starters is projected RT Ryan Mack who is a rFR. That doesn’t sound great, but at least this is Mack’s second year in the program instead of being a true frosh. Combined the O-Line has 71 career starts and averages 6’3.5″/306lbs. The experience is great although the size is a little light. Still, the O-Line should be in for a much better season.

Weaknesses: If I had to nail down a weakness for Louisville it would be their running game. They lose last year’s leading rusher in Victor Anderson who rushed for 539 yards & 3TD. That doesn’t seem like a lot, and it isn’t, when you consider the projected starter Dominique Brown rushed for 533 yards & 4TD. Basically Louisville doesn’t lose a starting RB after all, but the the problem is that Anderson averaged 4.7ypc while Brown averaged 3.8ypc! It’s hard to get a feel for why Louisville’s run game wasn’t so hot. The O-Line was inexperienced to be sure especially at guard who play a huge part in the run game, but the unit averaged 3.4ypc after averaging 4.8ypc in 2010! That’s what happens when Bilal Powell is your RB! Brown is a big guy at 6’2/230lbs who originally came out of high school as a QB. Maybe it’s going to take him a bit of time to figure out the RB situation. Backing him up is Jeremy Wright (5’11/205lbs) who provides a bit of lightning to Brown’s thunder. Last season Wright rushed for 334 yards (4.6ypc) & 1TD. As it is constructed, you would think the rushing attack would be a little weak, but it’s possible the unit really comes together. The O-Line will be better, Bridgewater is in his 2nd year and maybe he’ll even start to run the ball more effectively. A weakness at this point with some upside.

Game Plan: Clearly you would like to force Louisville to run the football. Bridgewater is the key here and getting the ball out of his hands makes the most sense. I think defenses would be inclined to run a lot of nickle and dime packages against the Cardinals because the talent at receiver is great and so is the size. Bridgewater was extremely accurate as a passer his freshman season although his decision making could use improvement. If that does improve then it’s going to be incredibly difficult to stop Louisville through the air. Throwing a lot of coverage packages against them will somewhat force Louisville to run which would be playing into their weakness. The only problem here is that the O-Line looks to be much improved. If that’s the case then Louisville should be able to run which will open up the passing game. That basically eliminates weakness from Louisville’s offense which won’t be good news for the Big East. The running game will be key and if it opens up then Louisville is going to score a lot of points.

PITTSBURGH PANTHERS

Strengths: Pittsburgh should be one of the most dominant offensive teams in the Big East. Senior RB Ray Graham returns after rushing for 958 yards (5.8ypc!) & 9TD in only 8 games last season. Graham was also a threat in the passing game making 30 grabs for 200 yards! That’s 1,158 total yards through 8 games which is about 1,700 over a full 12-game season if Graham could have stayed healthy. The 5’9/195lbs back is a beast to contend with when he’s in the backfield. Despite playing two-thirds of the season, he was still named to the 1st-Team All Big East team and will surely be there this season if he manages to stay healthy. The problem however is that Graham went down with a torn ACL last year which caused him to miss Pittsburgh’s final 5 games. He’s back and looking good in practice so far, but until he starts playing in real games at real speed, we won’t be sure how to judge him effectively. He’s the best RB in the Big East if healthy. HC Paul Chyrst did bring in true frosh Rushel Shell who can make an argument of being the best RB in the Class of 2012! Graham should have help and RB is an easy place for true freshman to make a significant impact.  Another strength is QB Tino Sunseri. Sunseri sort of took a step back in 2011 compared to his stats in 2010, but he still managed to complete 64% of his passes for 2,616 yards & 10TD compared to 11INT. In 2010 Sunseri threw 16TD to 9INT so his TD:INT ratio got worse. Last season against Rutgers, Sunseri was 14 of 28 with 3 picks in a 34-10 blowout loss. His stats pretty much mirror his 2010 season if you do away with that game. Sunseri is a strength because he’s a kid with 2 years as the starting QB, he’s a senior and he’s got great accuracy. His decision making needs to improve, but he’s got loads of experience which he should capitalize on this year. He’s not as good as Bridgewater or USF’s BJ Daniels, but is good enough to win games. Pittsburgh’s biggest strength coming back is their receiving corps. The Panthers return their top-5 receivers from last year including 6’4/190lbs Devin Street (53 receptions, 754 yards & 2TD), 6’5/225lbs Mike Shanahan (39 catches, 493 yards & 4TD), and 5’7/170lbs Cameron Sadler (19 catches for 207 yards & 1TD in just 7 games b/c of injury). TE Hubie Graham (6’4/230lbs) also returns after notching 28 catches for 325 yards & 3TD! Shanahan, Sadler & Graham are all seniors while Street is a junior and was 2nd-Team All Big East last season! If you were going to draw up an ideal receiving unit you couldn’t do much better than Pittsburgh. Their edge receivers are 6’4 & 6’5. The lost receiver is 5’7. Graham is a weapon out of the backfield. Graham could stand to be 6’5 or 6’6 but 6’4 isn’t horrible. This unit has incredible potential with Street, Shanahan & Graham all competing for all-conference honors! I’m going to say the O-Line is a strength. They have 4 returning starters, 4 upperclassmen and 42 career starts. The line averages 6’5/310lbs with G Chris Jacobson, C Ryan Turnley & T Matt Rotheram all competing for all-conference honors. I’m going to list them as a strength for those reasons. However, I’m also going to list them as a weakness as you will see.

Weaknesses: The reason I believe the O-line to also be a weakness is their horrific stats last season. The unit allowed a MIND NUMBING 64 sacks last season after allowing just 15 in 2009 and 23 in 2010! If you are wondering why Sunseri has had problems with interceptions, it might be because he’s getting the crap kicked out of him at every turn! The line also took a turn for the worse in their run blocking. Last season Pitt rushed for 3.5ypc after rushing for 4.9ypc in 2009 and 4.6ypc in 2010! Obviously Pittsburgh had solid O-Line numbers in 2009 & 2010 and the pieces are in place to get them back to that point in 2012, but until we actually see some on field production, the O-Line is a weakness as well as a strength. That might be the only weakness however when it comes to the players. You have to be a bit concerned about Graham’s knee, but for now we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt. It must be noted that Pittsburgh is having to learn the new schemes and philosophies of new HC Paul Chryst. Any offense is going to have some adjustment periods, but Chryst had previously been the OC at Wisconsin which is going to work out well at Pittsburgh. Chyrst has had some success with O-Lines, running backs and QBs during this time in Madison. If the Pittsburgh players buy in and adjust quickly, the Panthers could be in for a fantastic year offensively.

Game Plan: There really isn’t a weakness here to exploit. Pittsburgh’s problems over the past few seasons, in my opinion, have had to do with coaching. Wannstedt wasn’t a good coach and Walt Harris before him wasn’t exactly fantastic. It remains to be seen what Chryst can do with the Panthers but Pittsburgh is a pretty storied program in college football and is somewhat of a sleeping giant. Being in the Big East hasn’t helped them that much especially once Virginia Tech, Boston College & Miami-FL left, but the Panthers will be making their home in the ACC next year which certainly will help things along. This program will actually be one of the more interesting programs moving forward. As for this season, I think you have to stack the box to stop the run because Graham is too dynamic of a runner to leave alone. Sure he’s coming off of injury, but I’d rather make Sunseri and the receivers beat me instead of Graham at this point. The problem is that if Sunseri can stay upright, he’s shown the accuracy to really hurt a team with his arm. The receivers should also be very good which means defenses are going to have to respect the pass meaning Graham gets more room to run. At best, defenses are going to have to hope that Graham isn’t a 100% for the entire season so they can pay more attention to the pass while Pittsburgh keeps giving the ball to a player running at 75%. If Graham is 100%, I don’t see a weakness here & Paul Chryst will have a field day running an offense that is loaded with weapons.

RUTGERS SCARLET KNIGHTS

Strengths: Rutgers has an interesting set of strengths. The Scarlet Knights rushing attack should be considered a strength although they didn’t produce great numbers averaging 2.8ypc last season. Rutgers returns their top-3 rushers from a season ago. Jawan Jamison (5’8/200lbs) & Savon Huggins (6’0/200lbs) are the two RBs for 2012 with Huggins being the projected starter. Huggins has a massive amount of talent and was just a true freshman last season, rushing for 146 yards & 5TD. Jamison rushed for 897 yards & 9TD so Rutgers should be covered with their ground game. Both runners will compete for all conference honors. The receiving corps takes a hit with the loss of Mohamed Sanu who caught 115 balls for 1,206 yards & 7TD earning 1st-Team All Big East honors. On the other hand, Rutgers returns Brandon Coleman (6’6/220lbs) who caught 17 balls for 552 yards (32.5ypc!!!!) including 6TD and also Mark Harrison (6’3/230lbs) who added 14 catches for 274 yards (19.6ypc!!!) and 2TD. Also projected as a starter is senior Timothy Wright who is 6’4/221lbs! TE DC Jefferson is 6’6/260lbs and caught 12 balls last season. As you can see, the Rutgers receivers are huge with Harrison & Coleman looking to be incredibly talented with their YPC averages last season. Coleman was just a freshman last season! Coleman, Harrison & Jefferson could be all conference receivers! Rutgers O-Line should also be a strength. They return LT Kaleb Johnson (3rd Team Freshman All American) and LG Andre Civil and got pretty lucky with RT RJ Dill transferring out of Maryland with 33 career starts under his belt! The two non-returning starters are C Dallas Hendrikson & RG Antwwan Lowery. Both are upperclassmen! Rutgers does lose 1st Team Al Big East RG Art Forst and 2nd Team All Big East LG Desmond Wynn, but I think this year’s unit will be better even with the two losses. Johnson, Civil, Dill & Hendrikson all have a chance to be all conference linemen meaning Rutgers should have one of the best O-Lines in the Big East.

Weaknesses: The one weakness Rutgers may have is at QB. Former HC Greg Schiano shuffled both Chas Dodd  and Gary Nova last season without much success for either. Dodd completed just 56.7% of his passes for 1,574 yards and 10TD to 7INT. Nova fared a bit worse completing only 51.1% of his passes for 1,553 yards & 11TD to 9INT. Nova at 6’2/210lbs is the more talented QB, but it’s a bit unclear who new HC Kyle Flood is going to go with under center. The old adage of having two quarterbacks is like having zero quarterbacks so Rutgers is in a little bit of a bind. Either way, neither QB showed much accuracy or good decision making last season and whoever takes snaps will have to get better at both qualities. I do think that whoever takes the snaps will get better, but it’s probably important for Flood to name a QB and stick with him rather than going QBBC again. The Scarlet Knights have a chance to improve on their 9-4 record from last season and improved QB play will be a part of that.

Game Plan: Defensively the biggest weakness for Rutgers is their QB play, primarily the accuracy and the interception problems. Nova & Dodd are the weak links here and if I’m a DC I’m going to try and make them throw the ball as much as I possibly can. This could be problematic because Rutgers seem to have some extremely talented receivers in Mark Harrison & Brandon Coleman. Getting the ball in their hands is bad news for defenses, but the trick will be hitting them with accuracy. This is a double edged sword though. Rutgers receivers are so big that putting them in 1-on-1 situations is brutally difficult! If Dodd/Nova can figure out a way to improve accuracy then teams are going to be hard pressed to stop the Scarlet Knights attack. I think the running game will be solid and if the passing attack opens up then there isn’t a huge weakness.

SOUTH FLORIDA BULLS

Strengths: QB BJ Daniels is probably the most electrifying player in the Big East. He’s not big at 6’0/215lbs but he can wing the football and he can run like the wind. I consider Daniels a strength because he’s a legitimate dual threat QB. Last season Daniels ran for 601 yards (4.6ypc) & 6TD while completed 59% of his passes for 2,585 yards & 13TD to only 7INT. He’s going to be battling Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater for 1st-Team All Big East honors all season and who knows who will wind up with the trophy. I love Daniels as a player and think if the Big East had an MVP award he would win it this season, but there is certainly room for improvement. His completion percentage needs to get a lot better. This is a senior QB with 33 starts under his belt. He needs to complete more than 60% of his passes. His TDs thrown also needs to get up in the 20s. He’s simply too good not to do this & I think we’ll see Daniels post his best year since starting in Tampa. He’s also got legacy considerations to think about as he has an outside shot at leaving USF as one of the program’s top-3 performers both as a passer and a rusher. Daniels is a huge strength, but USF”s receiving corps is stronger! The Bulls return their top-6 receivers! Those receivers combined for 176 catches, 2,095 yards & 9TD! This doesn’t include Lindsay Lamar who also returns and was tied for the team lead in TD receptions last season! It also doesn’t include Chris Dunkley (6’0/177lbs) who is an immensely talented WR that didn’t play last season because he sat out after transferring in from Florida.  That’s 8-deep at wideout! WR Sterling Griffen, WR Chris Dunkley, WR Deonte Welch & TE Evan Landi all have a shot at being All Big East this season! Daniels has had completion problems in the past but he shouldn’t this season with a WR unit as deep and as talented as any I can remember at South Florida. The Bulls should also be strong along the offensive line. They have 3 returning starters and 4 projected starters that are upperclassmen. The one underclassman starter is RT Quinterrus Eatmon who was a starter last season as s freshman and earned 3rd-Team Freshman All-American honors! LT Mark Popek was a 3rd Team All Big East performer last season so South Florida is looking great on the edges. The only returning starter on the interior is RG Danous Estenor but LG Damien Edwards is a senior and C Chandlor Mathews is a JUCO transfer that was in for spring ball. This unit was absolutely stellar last season allowing just 16 sacks and paving the way for USF to rush for 4.6ypc! Some of the sack totals are because of Daniels’s elusiveness as a dual threat QB, but overall the line was a legitimate positive. They do lose a 1st-Team Big East player in LG Jeremiah Warren and also C Chaz Hine who was a 3-year starter, but I think the line should be just as good if not better in 2012 than it was in 2011, which means it is most likely the best O-Line in the conference!

Weaknesses: If you had to identify a weakness for South Florida’s offense you’d go with the running game. They lose last year’s leading rusher in Darrell Scott who ran for 814 yards (5.3ypc) & 5TD. Scott declared early for the NFL draft although he wasn’t drafted. Left to replace him is senior Demetris Murray (6’0/224lbs) & JC transfer Michael Pierre (5’11/211lbs). Murray ran for 503 yards (4.2ypcs) & 8TD last season making 5 starts along the way. His yards per carry average wasn’t as good as Scott’s but Murray was effective running the football. Both backs are big who can carry the rock and avoid injuries. They are likely to be used in tandem in order for the unit to stay fresh, but there isn’t a ton of experience here so I’m going to list it as a weakness. Remember though that Daniels is a part of the running game and he’s great so the rushing attack is going to be a force. While I’m listing USF’s rushing attack as a weakness, it’s a relative term. The passing game, Daniels and a dominant O-Line should more than enough turn this team into a very solid running team even if it is the unit that appears to be the weakest among the four.

Game Plan: It might sound crazy, but if I’m a defensive coordinator I’m putting the ball in BJ Daniels hands and forcing him to beat with his arm. If there is a weakness to this offense, it’s Daniels’ inability to throw the ball accurately. The O-Line is too tough to beat off the edge or clog up the middle. Forget it because you don’t want Daniels getting outside of the pocket. The object would be to contain him and force him to go through his reads and make the right decision on who to throw the football to. If you can do that then you have a pretty good chance at forcing South Florida into an off day offensively. This is a team that averaged 29.3ppg last season and the offense looks quite a bit better. That number could easily climb into the 33-35 range especially if Daniels is having his way on offense. If the QB has managed to take a step and can hit receivers when he wants, then you are in trouble defensively because there there is no significant weakness on offense to exploit. The Bulls have been nibbling on the edges of being a top-25 program since 2006. This year might be the time they finally win the Big East and get to a BCS Bowl. An 11-1 season is definitely in the cards.

SYRACUSE ORANGE

Strengths: QB will be Syracuse’s biggest strength this season. QB Ryan Nassib is coming off a junior season in which he completed 62.4% of his passes for 2,685 yards & 22TD to only 9INT. Nassib has an outside shot at becoming Syracuse’s all time leading passer if he can pass for 3,000 yards. Considering he’s the best player on the offense, HC Doug Marrone might be wise to let the senior QB air it out during his last go around wearing the #12 jersey. The great thing about Nassib is that he’s steadily improved during this time at Syracuse both with his accuracy & his decision making. At 6’2/230lbs, Nassib could get a few looks from NFL scouts if he has a fantastic year as one of those guys who don’t’ quite measure out fantastic with tools, but who is a great leader in the huddle. Outside of Nassib, Syracuse has a couple of other players who should be pretty dominant. WR Alec Lemon (6’2/202lbs) led the team in receiving last season with 68 catches for 834 yards & 6TD. A 2nd-Team All Big East player last season, Lemon is likely to move up to 1st-Team numbers in 2012 especially because he’s the biggest weapon Syracuse has at the skill positions. Another dominant player should be LT Justin Pugh. The 6’6/300lbs junior was a 1st-Team All Big East player last season and is likely to be that again this year. Pugh even has an outside shot at becoming an All-American LT which typically means a boat load of money as a 1st Round NFL Draft pick. If Pugh sticks around for his senior season and bulks up to 6’6/315lbs or 6’6/320lbs, he could wind up being the first LT off the board in the 2014 NFL Draft! He could be a first rounder at the end of this season, but two more years at Syracuse could see him really catapult up draft boards. Overall the O-Line looks OK. There are 3 returning starters with 4 projected starters being upperclassmen. Pugh is a beast but C Macky MacPherson & LG Zack Chibane are both returning starters and have chances to be All-Big East performers. Junior tackle Andrew Phillip and rFR Kristofer Curtis are the other two projected stats and both should be pretty good. JC transfer Lou Alexander is huge at 6’4/331lbs and could take Curtis’s stop at RG before the season begins. Either way this is a line on the come and should be much better than last year’s version.

Weaknesses: As far as overall weaknesses are concerned, outside of Nassib at QB, every other unit is a weakness. The Orange lose their leading rusher from a year ago in Antwon Bailey who ran for 1,051 yards & 6TD. Replacing him is the bowling ball like Adonis Ameen-Moore who at 5’11/250lbs is a Jerome Bettis look alike without the Bettis running skills. Ameen-Moore only played in 4 games last season before being injured, but he averaged just 3.3ypc and injuries are going to potentially plague him given his size. Behind him is junior Prince-Tyson Gulley and junior Jerome Smith. Both combined for just 129 yards last season. Losing a 1,000 yard rusher and replacing him with injury plagued players without much experience can’t be considered a strength. Syracuse could potentially have quite a bit of trouble running the football! The receiving corps as a whole should be considered a weakness too. While Lemon does return and should be effective (especially with Nassib as QB!), Syracuse loses their #2 through #5 leading receivers! Marcus Sale (6’0/183lbs) wasn’t with the team last year while Jarrod West was just a freshman in 2011. Both of these guys are the other two projected starts along with Lemon. Syracuse has some interesting depth at receiver in Adrian Flemming (6’3/196lbs), Kyle Foster (6’3/207lbs) and Jeremiah Kobena (6’0/180lbs). The problem is that the unit is simply lean on experience. Nassib is pretty good so the receivers should be OK as far as the ball getting to them, but they are going to be the ones who have to catch & make plays after doing so. There are only 36 starts among all receivers on the team with Lemon owning 28 of them!

Game Plan: Syracuse is somewhat interesting in how weak they are at the skill positions! Nassib is the guy you want to stop as a defensive coordinator and since he’s not much of a runner, the best strategy is take away the passing game and focus on Syracuse running the football. As a defensive coordinator I might be a little worried about Ameen-Moore being used as a battering ram seeing how he tips the scales at 250+lbs, but he hasn’t shown much of an ability for staying healthy so I’d roll the dice on him taking himself out of the game and putting in more physically friendly RBs! I think opposing defenses are going to have to get pressure on Nassib which won’t be easy, but getting good edge rush with a lot of pass coverage should force Syracuse into running the football, and if that doesn’t open up then Syracuse is in a pickle. Oddly enough it might not be all bad having weak RB & WR units as long as you have a quality QB and a nice O-Line. This is precisely what the Orange have and it’ll be interesting to see how HC Doug Marrone utilizes the pieces. As a defense though I’m forcing the run until Syracuse shows they can beat me with it.

TEMPLE OWLS

Strengths: The running attack. Under Steve Addazio last season the Owls ran the ball 75% of the time! Now losing Bernard Pierce who was a 3-time 1st Team All MAC runner would seem to hurt! Pierce ran for 1,481 yards (5.4ypc) & 27 TD last season! That loss is going to sting, but Matt Brown returns and wasn’t bad himself rushing for 916 yards & 6TD (5.9ypc) while being a 2nd-Team All MAC player in 2010 and a 3rd-Team All MAC player in 2011! Returning QB Chris Coyer also ran for 562 yards (8.1ypc!!!) & 3TD. What gets Temple here just a bit is the health worries surrounding Brown as he is listed at 5’5/165lbs! He did play in all 13 games last season but had about half the carries that Peirce, who is 6’0/220lbs, had. The concern is whether or not Brown can stay healthy for an entire season. Sophomore Jalen Fitzpatrick (5’11/180lbs) and sophomore Kenneth Harper (6’0/225lbs) should see plenty of time spelling Brown to keep him healthy. True frosh Jamie Gilmore (5’8/185lbs) is the most highly touted recruit the Owls have in the class of 2012 so he should see some time as well. Losing an all conference player that was drafted in the 3rd round of the NFL Draft is never easy to replace, but the system is sound and Brown has the talent to keep the running game moving. Despite the loss of Pierce, I still call it a strength. I do want to mention Montel Harris. Harris missed last season with an injury while at Boston College. He was dismissed this spring and transferred to Temple. If he’s a big part of the team then Harris becomes the #1 RB with Brown being a complimentary back like he was with Pierce. At 5’10/210lbs, Harris has the make of an every down back which will fit nicely with the Owls. If that happens then the entire depth chart is adjusted Gilmore might as well redshirt & there wouldn’t much run time for Fitzpatrick or Harper if Addazio relies on the 3-headed monster of Harris/Brown/Coyer. It’s interesting. The other strength Temple has is their QB situation. Temple mixed in 3 QBs last year in Chester Stewart, Chris Coyer & Mike Gerardi. Stewart & Gerardi are gone, but Coyer earned the job anyway completing 60% of his passes for 463 yards & 6TD without throwing an interception! Coyer was also the most dynamic runner. At 6’3/230lbs, he’s a load to get down and should be given the keys to the offense. What makes things a bit interesting is the presence of former Penn St. QB Kevin Newsome who transferred in. Newsome is an extremely talented player and it’ll be hard for Addazio to keep him off the field. Seeing how he’s in the 2nd year of the system, I think Coyer is the guy and will put up improved numbers from experience alone.

Weaknesses: Temple’s weakness is obviously the passing game. It’s tricky to label it a weakness because the Owls simply don’t throw the football. It’s not the same system that Georgia Tech or even Navy runs, but having a strong passing attack isn’t a viable option here and it’s more of a show me tool to ensure the defense doesn’t go crazy and simply not recover the receivers. What is a bit like Georgia Tech is the size of the wideouts. Deon Miller is 6’5/10lbs. Malcolm Eugene is 6’4/205lbs. CJ Hammond is the smallest projected starting receiver at 6’2/193lbs! TE Cody Booth is a big boy at 6’5/250lbs. These guys main attribute is blocking. The other weakness this season could be offensive line. The Owls have only 1 returning starter back and the projected starting 5 have a combined 31 starts between them. Temple runs a zone blocking scheme so there is definitely a method to the madness, but outside of tackle Martin Wallace, there is a lot of work to be done here. I think an overall weakness should be mentioned that Temple is joining a BCS conference so the competition will be a bit tougher for Temple this season. The Big East isn’t the SEC but it’s not horrible and the Owls face non-conference games against Maryland and Penn State. There almost has to be an adjustment period.

Game Plan: The game plan defensive against Temple would be the same as it would be against a team like Navy or Georgia Tech. The schemes are somewhat different but at the end of the day you have to play smart disciplined football because Temple is going to try and run the ball down your throat. The defense will have to make sure to cover the wideouts enough so Temple doesn’t throw over top, but the key here is stopping the run game. The Owls aren’t going to become a prolific passing team overnight, but I think Coyer, Harris & Brown can be incredible weapons and I think defensively you’d better be able to seal off the edge or things are going to get out of hand fast. Rushing up the field isn’t going to work fir the 3-4OLBs or the 4-3DEs. That creates too much space. The opportunity exist in taking advantage of a very inexperienced offensive line. Pull that off and Temple will have a really hard time moving the football.

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August 18, 2012 - Posted by | Big East, Cincinnati, Connecticut, Louisville, Pittsburgh, Rutgers, South Florida, Syracuse, Temple

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