One of the fun things about covering college sports is watching players take great leaps forward during their careers. Several Big East players did so this year, and I'm taking a look today at some of the most improved players in 2010. This list is limited to guys who saw significant time in 2009, so I'm not counting redshirt freshman or players who were previously benchwarmers before this year.
Here are my choices for most improved, in no particular order:
Bilal Powell, RB, Louisville: Head coach Charlie Strong called him the face of the program, and he became the poster boy for Louisville's resurgence. Powell ran for 392 yards and four scores as a junior. As a senior in 2010, he had 1,405 yards and 11 scores as one of the nation's top tailbacks.
Jacquian Williams, LB, South Florida: A junior college transfer, Williams really flipped a switch midway through his senior season and became one of the team's most valuable players. He led the team in tackles (71) and tackles for loss (11.0) and showed excellent leadership at his linebacker position.
Keith Tandy, CB, West Virginia: Ridiculed after being burned on some long plays in 2009, Tandy came back strong in 2010. He finished with a Big East-best six interceptions, and his knack for being at the right place at the right time led teammates to call him "Tip-Drill Tandy." He also developed into a much more reliable cover corner.
Anthony Leonard, LB, West Virginia: Mountaineers fans were worried when starting linebacker Pat Lazear was sidelined with a knee injury to start the year. But Leonard quickly calmed those concerns. He finished third on the team with 70 tackles after recording just 23 stops in 2009, and he was a rock in the starting lineup all year long.
Van Chew, WR, Syracuse: A once rail-thin wideout, Chew displayed his playmaking ability as a junior. He had only six catches for 66 yards in 2009 but increased that production to 41 catches for 611 yards and five touchdowns in 2010. If not for some injuries late in the season, he could have had an even better year.
Kendall Reyes and Jessee Joseph, DL, Connecticut: While both Reyes and Joseph were solid players in 2009, I thought both took their game to a new level in 2010 and provided a big reason for the Huskies' surge down the stretch. The pair combined for 22 tackles for loss and 11 sacks, doubling their output in those categories from the previous season.
Ray Graham, RB, Pittsburgh: Graham's improved numbers came down to opportunity as much as anything, as he always had talent but was mostly stuck behind Dion Lewis as a freshman. Still, he went from 349 rushing yards and four touchdowns in 2009 to 922 rushing yards and eight scores in 2010. He still needs to work on securing the ball better in big spots, but he should put up huge numbers as the featured back in Todd Graham's new system in 2011.
Mark Harrison, WR, Rutgers: Big things were expected of Harrison, and the sophomore delivered in 2010. After an injury plagued freshman year saw him catch only five balls, he turned into a big-play threat down the stretch this season, finishing with 44 receptions for 829 yards and nine touchdowns. He's got the talent to be the best receiver in the Big East.