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Big East mailbag: Top 30 list reaction

As promised, it's time to get to your reactions to my postseason Big East Top 30 players list. There were a few main objections echoed by many people. These questions reflect the majority of the e-mails I received regarding the list. Remember that reasonable minds can disagree, to steal a line from another ESPN guy, and that a list like this is always going to be subjective and open to debate.

Greg from Cincinnati writes: Brian, I normally really enjoy your material. However, I have to ask if I missed Pitt winning the Big East this year. How does the No. 2 team end up with five of the top 10, while the champions from Cincinnati get two?

Bob from New Brunswick, N.J., writes: Your top 30 has seven Pitt players, but only three Cincinnati players. Even among those who just missed, you mention five Panthers and only two Bearcats. Yet Cincy was better over the course of the season. Is this perhaps a reflection on a difference in coaching, or is there another explanation?

Brian Bennett: Yes, this was the most frequently e-mailed comment/complaint. Where were all the Cincinnati players? Look, there's no denying that the Bearcats had the best team, as evidenced by their 12-0 record. But this is a top 30 list of individual players. Cincinnati was extremely well-coached and executed its system to near perfection offensively, and if this were, say, a Top 50 list, its players would be all over the list.

I just didn't think that Cincinnati necessarily had the best individual talent. I've explained that Zach Collaros just didn't play enough games for me to put him on the postseason list. Five Bearcats players made the All-Big East first team; the only two I didn't include were Aaron Webster and Chris Jurek. Webster was an extremely close call, but with the way the defense played down the stretch, he missed the cut for me. Jurek was a terrific college player, but I'm not sure how much future potential he has.

Perhaps I'll look stupid in a few years when a boatload of players from the '09 Bearcats are starring in the NFL. But to me it seemed like Brian Kelly had a few superstars and a whole bunch of really, really good players who did everything right.

Of course, there's one guy from that team whom many people thought I misfired on ...

Jesuit Educated from North Bend, Ohio, writes: To exclude Armon Binns from your 2009 Big East Top 30 players by suggesting Cincinnati's offense inflates receivers' statistics is bemusing at best and stupid at worst. By your logic, albeit flawed, Dion Lewis's statistics are inflated given he had 68 percent of Pitt's rushing attempts. Mr. Binns's receptions accounted for less than 20 percent of Cincinnati's total receptions of 311. He also scored every 5.5 times he touched the ball compared to Mr. Lewis's 19-to-1 ratio.While I am not at all suggesting Mr. Binns should be the Big East's top player, I am suggesting your credibility as as a football reporter/pundit/talent judge is suspicious when Mr. Binns is excluded from your Top 30 while the two wide receivers from Rutgers and the wide receiver from Connecticut are included.

Brian Bennett: Well, first of all I don't really buy your comparative stats since by nature a receiver touches the ball far fewer times than a running back. Did Binns have the numbers to make this list? Yeah. He had 888 receiving yards and, most impressively, 11 touchdown grabs. So why did he just miss?

Three things went into my reasoning. First, it's clear that Binns was the No. 2 receiver on that team behind Mardy Gilyard and got a lot of open looks because of that. Secondly, though he had a great season, he wasn't dominant. He had only three games in which he had more than 100 yards receiving. And finally, though you may disagree, Cincinnati's offense does inflate statistics -- the Bearcats passed the ball 57 percent of the time in 2009, which was a far higher percentage than any other team in the Big East.

For an example of how Kelly's offense can inflate receiver numbers I present this example: Marcus Barnett. He had a freshman year that was arguably better than Binns, catching a school record 13 touchdown passes and 862 yards overall. Yet, he has barely been heard from in the two years since as he fell out of favor with Kelly.

I don't mean this to sound critical of Binns, because he's a terrific talent who's got a world of potential. I will agree that perhaps he should have been in the Top 30 somewhere, and I can assure you he'll be there in the preseason list. But I don't see him as the slam-dunk postseason pick like many of you do.


Robert G. from Louisville writes: After analyzing your Top 30 Big East players list I can only draw one conclusion: Fire Dave Wannstedt. There is no excuse for having that many top players in your conference and continue to fall short of conference championships and BCS bowl participation.

Brian Bennett: Well, I assume you're being facetious here, Robert. After all, Wannstedt's Panthers have won 19 games in the last two years combined, so it's not like they're wildly underachieving. But there is a kernel of truth in there. It's hard to argue that Pitt has had as many, if not the most, talented players in the Big East of late, thanks to great recruiting efforts. It's time for the program to capitalize on that ability and win a Big East title. And with Nos. 1, 4, 5, 14 and 28 from my list returning to Pitt, 2010 looks like as good a time as any.


Jeff K. from Cincinnati writes: Arthur Jones rated below Greg Romeus and Mick Williams from Pitt? I understand Pitt was solid defensively for the most part all year (other than NC State and the meltdown against my beloved Cats) but Arthur Jones will WOW those at the combine, much more so than either of the Pitt DT/DE's. Wait and see!

Brian Bennett: This goes back to the whole production vs. potential criteria. As I said at the beginning, I judged production to be more important. Thus, while Mick Williams may or may not have a ton of pro potential, he was arguably the most productive defensive player in the Big East in 2010. Jones had injury issues and didn't put up his usual numbers, though he did receive a lot of attention from offensive lines. And while I agree that Jones should impress at the combine, if he's healthy, I wouldn't be so quick to dismiss Romeus. A 6-foot-6, 270-pounder who can run like he can doesn't come along every day.


Casto from Arlington, Va., writes: I am confused as to why you would rank Dion Lewis above Noel Devine? Devine averaged more yards per carry, more yards per catch and most importantly, Devine won the Backyard Brawl for WVU with his 88-yard TD against Pitt. On average, if Devine would have gotten the 325 carries that Lewis did, he would have had 1,976 yards!

Brian Bennett: In some ways, Casto, you could have put my top three in just about any order and make a strong case for it. But let's look at Devine vs. Lewis for a moment, because it is an interesting debate.

First, we'll throw out the Backyard Brawl from your argument, because Lewis actually outgained Devine in that game (158 yards to 134, with most of Devine's yardage coming on that one spectacular run). Yes, Devine averaged more yards per carry (6.1 to 5.5) and had 84 fewer rushing attempts. Some of that was because he injured his ankle late in the year.

But I think we also have to give credit to Lewis for being a workhorse back. Devine has never been a 25- to 30-carry guy in his career, whether that's because of his stature or simply because of West Virginia's philosophy. Lewis is about the same size but proved he could carry a heavy load on his shoulders. And the fact that he was just a freshman makes it all the more impressive and earns him more points in the potential category.

Are the two far apart? No. In fact, watching them both pursue the Big East rushing title in 2010 is going to be one of the highlights of the season.