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Friday Big East mailbag

Question of the day: If Johnny McEntee stood in the 30th row of Reliant Stadium and threw footballs at the basketball goals, would he have hit more than Butler did against UConn?

But it's not my job to ask questions on Friday. Mailbag time.

Aaron from Elizabeth, N.J., writes: I read your comments frequently and I know sometimes teams do not perform up to expectations; but individual efforts should not be ignored just because a team is not as good. The fact that Joe Lefeged was not a pick for top 25 players in the conference and not considered for Defensive POY because Rutgers was bad does not make sense. I need to know why you feel this way.

Brian Bennett: Two things, Aaron. One, Lefeged started out great last year, but he had a second-half swoon as did many of the other Scarlet Knights defenders. One league coach whose team played Rutgers in the latter half of the year told me his game plan was based around picking on Lefeged -- and it worked. The emotional toll of the Eric LeGrand affected a lot of players, especially the veterans on defense. Secondly, when talking about defensive awards, you have to look to players on teams that are successful. There's a reason the Heisman Trophy now almost always goes to a team in the national title hunt. When I set preseason odds for these types of things, I take team success into account. And I think that's the way it should be (if you really want to get me riled up, ask me about Andre Dawson's MVP award the year the Cubs finished last).


Steve in DC writes: In your thoughts on WVU column, you ended a blurb on true freshman Paul Millard with "How this kid went unrecruited is baffling." I've been wondering the same. He threw for 4400+ yards in 5-A Texas ball with 47 TDs and 6 picks. There is no way someone like that just slipped through the cracks, is there? There has to be an explanation. Does he smell bad or something?

Brian Bennett: I did not get close enough to smell Millard on my trip, which probably would have been very awkward had I done so. Millard told the Charleston Daily Mail that he didn't wow people on the summer camp circuit, and that his best attributes are mental and not physical. ESPN.com's recruiting profile of Millard called him lanky and said, in part, "Millard is not a strong-armed rifleman capable of driving the ball into tight spots and pushing the ball vertically, but rather a rhythm and timing passer with very nice touch. Throws a catchable ball and does a very good job leading receivers. He exclusively works from the shotgun and does not always settle his feet, plant and drive the ball with authority. Almost looks off balance from snap-to-snap even when he is not pressured or rushed."

Given his production and the level of football in which he played, it's bizarre that he lacked significant opportunities. Millard looked pretty good to me in practice. I have a feeling he's going to make some people feel silly they missed out on him before it's all over.


Ed C. from Pittsburgh writes: What is the status on Pitt LB Dan Mason?

Brian Bennett: Mason isn't practicing this spring, and from what I've been told he still has a long way to go. Mason suffered a gruesome knee injury against Miami last year. Hopefully he'll make it all the way back.


Ryan from Tampa writes: Consider coaching changes, returning stars, and gelling systems, many people are hoping for the conference to be more competitive in 2011. My question to you is not if but when will we all be let down only to discover nothing has changed? 2nd week of the season? 1st week? Next week?

Brian Bennett: I would say by Week 4. By then, we will have seen the following games: West Virginia vs. Maryland LSU, Pitt vs Iowa and Notre Dame, Cincinnati vs. NC State and Tennessee, USF vs. Notre Dame, Syracuse vs. USC, UConn vs. Iowa State, Louisville vs. Kentucky and Rutgers vs. North Carolina. Some of those, obviously, are difficult games. But if the Big East falls on its face in the majority of those high-profile matchups -- especially the ones on league turf -- then we might be in for another long year.


Mike from Tampa writes: Is USF's performance in the April 2 spring game discouraging for the Bulls' high hopes this year? Or is it just something that they'll be able to work out over the summer?

Brian Bennett: I would never place too much emphasis on a spring game. The defense and the offense know each other's plays, after all. The Bulls could come out a look a lot better this Saturday in their final spring scrimmage. The one thing that concerns, though, is the poor passing-game performance last week. That's an area that really had to get better this offseason for USF to get to the next level, and it's not encouraging to see B.J. Daniels and his receivers struggle to connect in that setting.


Charlie from Morgantown writes: If you get a chance on your visit to Morgantown ask Coach Casteel where he thinks we are best on defense and what position and situation we need to work on in the spring? We have not been hearing too much about the defense in Morgantown because of the new offense, but I am curious how we look with the loss of Sands, Scooter, Neild, Hogan, and Thomas.

Brian Bennett: I got to sit down with Jeff Casteel and talk about the defense at length. He's one of the best in the business, and West Virginia is lucky to have him. He told me that other schools did indeed make him offers this offseason, but he's still in Morgantown.

Anyway, one thing he said that struck me is that the entire defense was hit by departures. It's true if you think about it. The defensive line lost Chris Neild and Scooter Berry, whom Casteel said had an underrated senior year. The linebacking corps lost three of its top four players, including J.T. Thomas and Anthony Leonard. And the back end lost Brandon Hogan, Sidney Glover and Robert Sands. So no position is immune. I think Casteel still really likes his defensive front, especially if Jorge Wright and Josh Taylor -- and perhaps incoming recruit Shaq Rowell -- can do enough to make up for Neild's absence. Having Julian Miller and Bruce Irvin at the other two spots isn't too shabby.