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Top Big East assistants in 2012

You ask, and you shall receive. Somebody on the Big East chat last week wanted our picks for the top assistants at each Big East school for 2012. Here are our choices.

Cincinnati -- Steve Stripling, defensive line. Given the players Stripling had to replace this season, this one is an easy decision. The Bearcats lost the heart of their defensive interior in Co-Big East Defensive Player of the Year Derek Wolfe and John Hughes -- both NFL draft selections. Then they lost their best defensive player in Walter Stewart after five games. And yet, Cincinnati was able to finish second in the Big East with 31 sacks, rally 74 tackles for loss, Dan Giordano won first-team Big East honors at defensive end and Stewart made his way onto the second team. Pretty impressive for a group that had holes to fill headed into the season. He is in charge as interim coach for the Belk Bowl, before he moves on to join Butch Jones in Tennessee.

Connecticut -- Jon Wholley, linebackers. UConn has the best group of starting linebackers in the Big East, and the all-conference team proved exactly that. Yawin Smallwood and Sio Moore finished as first-team selections, and you could have made the case for Jory Johnson to receive some consideration on the second team. Smallwood and Moore, though, were the true stars on the field, as they were just about everywhere. Smallwood finished third in the league with 120 tackles; Johnson had 95; Moore finished second in the league with eight sacks, right behind teammate Trevardo Williams; Moore had 15.5 tackles for loss; Smallwood had 15 to finish second and third in the league, respectively. A truly strong group.

Louisville -- Shawn Watson, offensive coordinator/quarterbacks. Watson made sure there was no sophomore slump with his signal caller, and now he has the program primed for new heights behind who should be one of the leading Heisman Trophy candidates heading into next season. The Cardinals are going for their 11th win when they play Florida in the Sugar Bowl in two weeks, and they can thank Teddy Bridgewater for that. From Big East freshman of the year to offensive player of the year, Bridgewater dazzled, completing nearly 69 percent of his passes for 3,452 yards with 25 touchdowns and seven picks. And numbers can't explain his BCS-bowl clinching performance in the finale at Rutgers, leading Louisville out of an 11-point second-half hole while playing with a bad right ankle and a fractured left wrist.

Pitt -- Brooks Bollinger, quarterbacks. The first-year college coach stands out here for his work with fifth-year Panthers quarterback Tino Sunseri, who came into the season much-maligned and didn't do much in the first two weeks to convince anyone things would change. Since then? Pitt is 6-4, with Sunseri's only other pick coming in a Week 3 rout of Virginia Tech. He has gone 270 passes without another interception, the nation's longest active streak, and he has 19 touchdowns and just two picks on the season. The Panthers are tied for the nation lead in fewest turnovers, with just eight, and Sunseri looks much more comfortable back running a pro-style attack.

Rutgers -- Robb Smith, defensive coordinator. Smith is the coordinator for the nation's No. 4 scoring defense, but we can't forget his previous role as special teams coordinator. The Scarlet Knights blocked eight kicks this year, returning two for touchdowns, and their ability to take away points and create better scoring opportunities was all the more important considering they had an offense that ranked sixth or worse in most major categories in the Big East. Still, Rutgers managed a 9-3 campaign and a share of its first-ever Big East title.

USF -- Vernon Hargreaves, special teams coordinator. This was admittedly the hardest choice to make because USF fell short in just about every single area of the team this season. No consideration was given to a coach on offense, and there was a brief thought about linebackers. But it didn't seem right to give the nod to Chris Cosh, who had a dismal first (and only) year as defensive coordinator. So the choice became Hargreaves in his role as special teams coordinator. Though his other group -- the defensive ends -- underachieved, USF got kicker Maikon Bonani on the Big East first team, and punter Justin Brockhaus-Kann on the second team.

Syracuse -- Nathaniel Hackett, offensive coordinator/quarterback/tight ends. Like Watson and Bollinger, Hackett gets plenty of credit here for the work he did with the man under center. Ryan Nassib broke out during his fifth and final campaign with the Orange, helping deliver a share of the Big East title in Syracuse's final season in the conference. They won five of their final six games, and for the season Nassib completed nearly 63 percent of his passes for 3,619 yards with 24 touchdowns and nine interceptions. He also earned first-team All-America honors from Pro Football Weekly, which measures pro potential when making its selections.

Temple -- Tyree Foreman, running backs coach. If there is one thing the Owls can do, it's run the football. They did it well in their first year in the Big East, averaging over 200 yards a game to lead the league. Temple obviously got a huge boost with the addition of Montel Harris, but Foreman was tasked with getting him ready as quickly as possible. He did that, as Harris was a first-team selection and led the league in rushing, and shouldered much of the load when Matt Brown got hurt.