As part of “College Football Live’s” 100 Days Till Kickoff countdown, here’s a look at the top 10 players in the Big East. For those wondering, the Big East blog will still have its annual preseason Top 25 player countdown a little later in the summer.
Without further adieu:
1. Ray Graham, RB, Pitt. Taking a calculated risk here, considering we have no idea how Graham is going to look a year after tearing his ACL. Coach Paul Chryst says Graham will be ready for fall camp. If Graham is able to return to form, he should be the best player in the league.
2. Khaseem Greene, LB, Rutgers. Greene goes into the season as the preseason favorite to win Big East Defensive Player of the Year honors for the second straight season, after sharing honors with Derek Wolfe in 2011. Though he broke his ankle in the bowl game, he will be ready for fall camp. Side note: Isn't it a neat that he and Graham are brothers?
3. Aaron Donald, DT, Pitt. Donald emerged last season, finishing second in the league with 11 sacks. He has shifted inside to tackle this year, but he is the most productive and experienced player returning to the Pitt defensive line and should continue his upward trajectory.
4. Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville. Bridgewater had a sensational freshman season, winning league Newcomer of the Year honors. Hopes are high for him to build off his impressive campaign in his second year as a starter. Louisville will do more to take advantage of his athleticism, with plans to install some hurry up offense.
5. Logan Ryan, CB, Rutgers. Ryan led the league with 16 passes defended -- 13 breakups and three interceptions last season. Defensive back is one of the strongest positions across the league, and Ryan leads the way as the Big East's best cornerback.
6. Hakeem Smith, S, Louisville. Smith has gotten better in each of his seasons with the Cardinals, so this season should feature more of the same. In 2011, he had 84 tackles, tied for second in the league, with nine pass breakups. He also tied for second in the league with three forced fumbles and made the Big East first team.
7. Ryne Giddins, DE, USF. Giddins emerged in the second half of last season (yes, I know many of you still remember him for his personal foul against West Virginia), and is in line to have a breakout year for the Bulls, who should have one of the stronger defensive lines in the Big East.
8. B.J. Daniels, QB, USF. Daniels should be the best quarterback in the Big East, considering he is going into his fourth year as a starter. Is this the year he finally lives up to expectations and delivers a long-awaited -- and first -- league title?
9. Walter Stewart, DE, Cincinnati. Coach Butch Jones says he has not been around a player as focused as Stewart in a long time. That is saying something, considering the defensive stars the Bearcats had last season. Stewart is poised to give Cincinnati a huge presence at rush end.
10. Lyle McCombs, RB, UConn. McCombs ran for more than 1,000 yards as a freshman last season and returns for 2011 with much more confidence -- and the Huskies hope a better offensive line. He goes into the season as the unquestioned featured back.