We move on to the defensive side of the ball for our Big East player rankings. I have a feeling there is going to be a little bit of a debate in the comments section. This was a tough position to rank for several reasons: this is a big strength throughout the league, and I included ends and tackles.
1. Brandon Lindsey, Pitt. The Panthers generally do a terrific job churning out talent on the defensive line. Lindsey is just the next to step into the forefront. Lindsey led the Big East in tackles for loss last season (17.5) and was second in the league with 10 sacks. There has been talk that he could play the "Panther" position -- a hybrid defensive end/linebacker. Either way, there is no doubt he is a preseason favorite to be defensive player of the year.
2. Kendall Reyes, Connecticut. Reyes passed up an opportunity to leave school to enter the NFL draft, and returns as the top defensive tackle in the league. Reyes was a first-team All-Big East selection last season and should be shoo-in to make the first team again.
3. Bruce Irvin, West Virginia. Irvin had a league-high 14 sacks last season, but was used as a pass-rush specialist. This season, he transitions to an every down player. Irvin has worked hard this summer to get into the proper condition to double his snap count, and is supremely motivated by those who doubt whether he can replicate his success in 2010.
4. Derek Wolfe, Cincinnati. Wolfe was one of the best players on a pretty mediocre defense last season. Last season, he had 48 tackles and four sacks as he started all 12 games. This season, he is on the watch list for the Outland and Nagurski Awards.
5. Chandler Jones, Syracuse. Jones made the All-Big East second team last season and should be one of the anchors for the Orange on defense this season. A bigger emphasis will be placed on being more aggressive and going after the quarterback to try to boost his sack numbers. He had four last season.
6. Jesse Joseph, Connecticut. Joseph also returns after making the All-Big East first team last season with 39 tackles and 8.5 sacks. He should be even better this season, especially since every starter on the defensive line returns.
7. Scott Vallone, Rutgers. The only proven player on the Rutgers defensive line going into the season, Vallone moved to nose tackle this spring and absolutely dominated there. He is the key to improved play on the line this season.
8. Julian Miller, West Virginia. Miller is making the move from defensive end to defensive tackle this season to replace Scooter Berry. This should help free up Irvin, but there may be a bit of a transition period here for Miller. Still, he and Irvin make up a mighty fine tandem, combining for 23 sacks last season.
9. Greg Scruggs, Louisville. Many are predicting Scruggs to emerge with the best season of his career for the Cardinals. He is back at his more natural position after playing tackle last season, and has experienced players beside him as well. His leadership is going to be important.
10. Ryne Giddins, USF. The Bulls lost one of their best defensive players in Terrell McClain, along with both starting defensive ends. Giddins has shown flashes as a speed rusher off the end. He puts it all together this season.