The Big East is a conference in transition. No conference has been changed by the recent spate of realignment more than the Big East. While some might say most of the change has not been for the good, it remains to be seen how the new eight-team conference looks in 2012. West Virginia has moved to the Big 12, replaced by Temple from the MAC. Next year, Syracuse and Pitt will flee for the ACC and be replaced by a gaggle of new teams. We will wait until next year to analyze those moves.
Top Five Fantasy Stars
1. Ray Graham, RB, Pittsburgh: Graham should continue to be the first Big East player taken in college football drafts this summer. After the way he busted out in 2011, it is not hard to see why. The 5-foot-9 senior opened the season with two three-touchdown games. He ran for 201 yards in the opener against Buffalo and another 226 yards later in the season against South Florida. However, Graham tore his ACL in an October battle against Connecticut and has been rehabbing ever since. While he should be an excellent fit for new coach Paul Chryst's pro-style offense, Graham has not yet been given the green light to start camp. The Panthers offensive line is also in transition and will need to gel for Graham. The senior could also cede some carries to freshman running back Rushel Shell. Even with all of these warnings, Graham is the top Big East Fantasy prospect.
2. Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville: Bridgewater spent two games watching Will Stein from the bench before taking over the Cardinals last season. He was successful enough to be named Big East Freshman of the Year unanimously as well as a Sporting News Freshman All-American. Now, he just has to do it again. The 6-3 Miami native finished with 2,129 passing yards, 14 touchdowns and 12 interceptions, though he could not lead Louisville to a win over North Carolina State in the Belk Bowl. The Cardinals won five of their last six conference games and return a solid offensive line - Bridgewater could be in for big things this season.
3. Lyle McCombs, RB, Connecticut: If you prefer a running back who isn't returning from a major injury, then look to McCombs. The 5-8 back rushed for 1,151 yards as a freshman in 2011, the fourth highest total for a first-year player in Big East history. The Huskies fed the ball to McCombs a lot, and he only had one game of less than 18 carries. More than half of his seven rushing touchdowns came in the opening win over Fordham, so he may be lifted around the goal line. He makes up for heft by being a deft receiver, snagging 19 receptions for 172 yards and a touchdown last season.
4. Brandon Coleman, WR, Rutgers: Coleman could easily fit into the sleeper category, but one 2011 stat prevents it: 32.5 yards per catch. The 6-6 Coleman thrived as a secondary deep receiver because the team had Mohamed Sanu for most passing situations. Sanu has moved on to the NFL, so all eyes now turn to Coleman. As a freshman, Coleman only had one reception of less than 16 yards and was unstoppable in the final regular season game against Connecticut, totaling six catches for 223 yards, including a 92-yard touchdown strike. Granted, the big yards came when the game was essentially over, but Coleman could be a great late-round pick this season as one of the nation's best big-play threats.
5. Ryan Griffin, TE, Connecticut: Griffin might not knock your socks off, but he is as consistent as tight ends can be. As a junior in 2011, he caught 33 passes and averaged 15.1 yards per catch. Three of his catches were touchdowns. The 6-6 native of New Hampshire is hard to bring down after the catch and was one of quarterback Johnny McEntee's favorite safety valves. It remains to be seen if McEntee will beat out Chandler Whitmer, but it shouldn't be matter much for Griffin's Fantasy potential as he should see plenty of targets.
1. Marcus Sales, WR, Syracuse: Often, the best Fantasy sleepers are players who did not play the previous season for one reason or another. After being arrested for drug-related incidents, Sales was suspended for the 2011 season. The charges were dropped in October, so Sales has returned. The 6-foot receiver had four touchdowns among his 26 receptions for 414 yards in 2010. Now that quarterback Ryan Nassib has another year of experience under his belt, the two could be a dynamic pairing for the Orange. Syracuse has a brutal schedule, but that could lead to more passing and more targets for Sales.
2. Dominique Brown, RB, Louisville: The Cardinal running back position was not set through spring practice, but the bruising Brown seems like the best bet for Fantasy riches. The 6-2, 230-pounder had four touchdowns in the Cardinals' last six regular season games last year. He does not have breakaway speed or super elusiveness, but Brown does have plenty of strength to blast through holes. While he is dependent on the Cardinals offensive line, that line is one of the best in the Big East and should give him wide gaps to run through.
3. Evan Landi, TE, South Florida: The Bulls have a number of tight ends on their roster, but Landi is the one to watch. The 6-3 senior consistently got open for quarterback B.J. Daniels in 2011 and finished with 29 receptions for 297 yards. While Landi only scored one touchdown (in the opener against Notre Dame), he should get more red-zone targets as a senior on a team whose depth chart at receiver is somewhat muddled. Landi had at least three receptions in eight of the Bulls' 12 games and should get to 40 receptions this year.
4. Chris Dunkley, WR, South Florida: A two-year collegian, Dunkley has yet to take the field. He spent a redshirt year at Florida, then transferred to USF, sitting out another year. In the 2010 recruiting class, though, he was a five-star prospect and a top-10 receiver. Dunkley will also be a factor in the return game where he can use his extreme speed. Dunkley has tremendous upside; he just needs to get on the field.
5. Ashton Broyld, RB, Syracuse: Broyld is a deep sleeper who should probably only be targeted in dynasty leagues. The 6-4 freshman was a high school quarterback who will line up in a variety of positions to take advantage of his excellent athleticism. He was slated to join the Orange in 2011, but had to spend a year at prep school to get his academic house in order. Broyld could get carries as a running back and could be split out as a receiver. As long as he gets on the field, he should be able to make things happen.
1. B.J. Daniels, QB, South Florida: As one of the top Fantasy players from the Big East in 2011, Daniels is likely the most controversial bust pick. Daniels played well last season in running for 601 yards and passing for 2,604. However, he was unable to consistently manufacture offense. During a stretch of Big East games in which the Bulls lost five of six, the team only topped 17 points once (a 37-34 loss to Cincinnati). In the five losses, Daniels threw one touchdown pass. He played well in non-conference games with four scoring strikes against Florida A&M, but the 2012 schedule is more difficult with Florida State on the docket. Daniels is a fine backup or third-string Fantasy quarterback, but teams that draft him as a starter might be disappointed.
2. Montel Harris, RB, Temple: As Boston College's all-time leading rusher, Harris could easily be among the Big East's best running backs. From 2008-2010, Harris ran for 3,600 yards and 27 touchdowns to lead the Eagles. However, he has three strikes going against him this season after transferring to Temple. First, his Eagles career ended with a knee injury, and he was later dismissed from the team. Second, the Owls are moving from the MAC to the Big East, which could be a major adjustment. Third, and perhaps most important, the Temple offensive line has four new starters, so Harris will not having gaping holes to run through. He could still be a decent Fantasy producer, but set expectations low.
3. Munchie Legaux, QB, Cincinnati: Beware the quarterback with accuracy issues. Legaux got his feet wet as a freshman in 2011 when starter Zach Collaros was injured. The New Orleans native played in the last four regular season games and completed just 38.2 percent (50-of-131) of his passes. He does have a strong arm and the ability to run (41 rushes for 185 yards), but Legaux must improve his 5:4 touchdown:interception ratio. Lagaux will get help from receivers Anthony McClung and Kenbrell Thompkins, but he should be one of the last Big East quarterbacks drafted.
4. Sterling Griffin, WR, South Florida: The Bulls have a number of receiving options in 2012, but Griffin – other than the aforementioned Landi – is the only returning starter. The possession receiver had 43 receptions for 530 yards before missing four regular season games with a broken ankle. Griffin did return for the regular season finale against West Virginia and had three receptions for 37 and his third scoring grab of the year. While Griffin may be a functional receiver in Big East leagues, his three eight-reception games from 2011 seem unlikely. If Dunkley and super leaper Andre Davis emerge, someone's stock will have to drop.
5. Savon Huggins, RB, Rutgers: Big things were expected from Huggins prior to his freshman season last year. He came to New Jersey as the top recruit out of Mississippi, but the 6-1 sophomore never really found his place in the offense and finished with 146 yards on 56 carries. He scored five touchdowns, including a pair of scores in the opener against North Carolina Central, but Huggins will be hard pressed to pass Jawan Jamison on the depth chart. He also missed the last four games of the season with a knee injury that did not require surgery. If Jamison gets hurt, Huggins would be a nice pickup.
Team-by-Team Fantasy Stars
(Overall position ranking in parentheses)
Cincinnati: RB George Winn (56)
Louisville: QB Teddy Bridgewater (48)
Syracuse: WR Alec Lemon (39)
Temple: RB Matt Brown (58)