Preseason 2012 top 25 countdown: No. 8

Time to move on in our preseason countdown of the top 25 players in the Big East.

If you need a quick refresher, I am projecting the best of the best in the league for this upcoming season, and I am including freshmen and transfers.

No. 8 Hakeem Smith, S, Louisville

Twitter handle: @RealizeDaDream

Making the case: Smith is the best safety in a league that features many really excellent players at the position. Smith heads into his third season as a starter as not only the most experienced player in the secondary but the entire defense as a whole. That should translate extremely well for the Cardinals, who return all four starters in the defensive backfield. Smith has become one of the best tacklers in the Big East, and is known for being a pretty hard hitter as well.

Last season, he made the Big East first team after notching 84 tackles, with nine pass breakups. In one stretch toward the end of the season, he had at least 10 tackles in three straight games. That performance came on the heels of a breakout freshman season in which he won Big East Newcomer of the Year honors after notching 88 tackles and making the second team. Amazing to consider he was rated a two-star prospect out of high school in Georgia.

The countdown

No. 9 Justin Pugh, OT, Syracuse

No. 10 Lyle McCombs, RB, UConn

No. 11 Ryne Giddins, DE, USF

No. 12 Montel Harris, RB, Temple

No. 13 DeDe Lattimore, LB, USF

No. 14 Sio Moore, LB, UConn

No. 15 Walter Stewart, DE, Cincinnati

No. 16 Duron Harmon, S, Rutgers

No. 17 Mario Benavides, C, Louisville

No. 18 Jarred Holley, S, Pitt

No. 19 Scott Vallone, NT, Rutgers

No. 20 Ryan Griffin, TE, UConn

No. 21 Adrian Bushell, CB, Louisville

No. 22 Alec Lemon, WR, Syracuse

No. 23 Steve Beauharnais, LB, Rutgers

No. 24 Blidi Wreh-Wilson, CB, UConn

No. 25 Ryan Nassib, QB, Syracuse