With one week left in the regular season, my choices for Big East players and coach of the year have become clear. Here is my pitch for the award winners. The Big East will make its announcement next week.
Offensive Player of the Year: Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia. Smith has shattered single-season school records for completions (291), attempts (448) and yards (3,741). He needs 283 yards to tie the Big East single-season passing record of 4,024 yards, set by Louisville’s Brian Brohm in 2007. The offense may not be a work of perfection right now, but there is no denying he has been solid running the new offense under Dana Holgorsen. Not only does he lead the Big East in passing, he ranks No. 8 in the nation in that category. He has thrown at least one completion that has gone over 40 yards in nine of 11 games this season, and has been hands down the best offensive player in the league. Runner-up: Mohamed Sanu, WR, Rutgers.
Defensive Player of the Year: Khaseem Greene, LB, Rutgers. Greene turned in the most solid performance of all defenders this season, making a huge impact in just about every game he played. When he started the year, Greene was a big unknown because he switched to linebacker from safety. But his exceptional speed allowed him to succeed in the middle of the revamped Rutgers defense. Greene leads the Big East with 127 tackles, to rank No. 9 in the nation. He had double-digit tackles in seven games this season, including a career-high 17 in a win over USF. Greene closed the season with double-digit tackles in three of his final four games. He also contributed two forced fumbles and three sacks as well. Runner-up: JK Schaffer, LB, Cincinnati.
Freshman of the Year: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville. One of the big questions surrounding Bridgewater was whether he would be able to live up to the hype he had coming in as a four-star recruit out of Miami. After watching him lead the Cardinals to a come-from-behind win over Kentucky, most everyone could see he would develop into something special. Bridgewater took over the starting role after that game and has been solid all season. He broke the school record for passing yards by a freshman with 1,855 yards, and finished the year with 12 touchdowns to nine interceptions. Runner-up: Lyle McCombs, RB, UConn.
Coach of the Year: Charlie Strong, Louisville, OR Butch Jones, Cincinnati. This is a close one for me between Strong and Jones. Both have engineered remarkable turnaround seasons for their teams. Cincinnati went 4-8 last season and is one the verge of winning a share of the Big East title. Louisville started the season 2-4 and finished up on a 5-1 run that got the Cardinals at least a share of the Big East title. I have to wait for my final vote on this one until the games play out Saturday. Both are deserving of the award.