Top 25 defensive players in the Big East for 2008

When you read a middle of July post like Top 25 offensive players in the Big East for 2008, you can pretty much bank on something like this flying at you before too much longer.

Let's hit it.

25. ROBERT VAUGHN, FS, CONNECTICUT

As a junior in 2007, Vaughn's seven interceptions were good for second best in the league, and tied him for fourth best in the nation. He picked off passes in four straight games from Sept. 15-Oct. 13, helping the Huskies earn three victories over the stretch. Former starting strong safety Dahna Deleston's move to outside linebacker means there will be added pressure on Vaughn in his senior season.

24. CARLTON WILLIAMS, SS, SOUTH FLORIDA

With 34 career starts under his belt, Williams is the most experienced member of a deep and talented USF secondary. The program's Rookie of the Year Award winner in 2005, he ranked fifth on the team in tackles with 69 a year ago. His size (6-4, 210 lbs.) could lead to him seeing some additional snaps at linebacker if the situation calls for it this season.

23. CODY BROWN, DE, CONNECTICUT

One half of the league's top defensive bookend tandem (senior Julius Williams being the other half), Brown ranked in the Big East's top ten in both sacks (7.5) and tackles for loss (16.5) as a junior in 2007. If the Husky D comes anywhere close to matching its performance of a season ago, then Brown will have again played a major role.

22. EARL HEYMAN, DE, LOUISVILLE

A fourth-year senior who has seen action in 36 games, Heyman's experience and leadership will be relied upon heavily by first-year Cardinal defensive coordinator Ron English, who inherits a unit which finished last season ranked 84th in the country in total defense. A season-ending injury to defensive tackle Adrian Grady early in the season kept Heyman from making any more than one start at defensive end, but he figures to spend the majority of his final year at U of L back at his most natural position.

21. GREG ROMEUS, DE, PITTSBURGH

A freshman All-American in '07, Romeus finished his first season as a Panther with four sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss. His freakish combination of talent and size coupled with the fact that he focused little on football in high school and is still learning the intricacies of the game might provide him with the highest ceiling of any lineman in the conference.

20. JAKE FLAHERTY, LB, SYRACUSE

One of the few bright spots on a team that limped to a 2-10 finish, the Orange middle linebacker ranked ninth in the Big East with 95 total tackles a year ago. In his senior season, Flaherty will be the backbone (and just about every other bone) of an otherwise widely inexperience linebacking corps.


19. QUINTON ANDREWS, SS, WEST VIRGINIA

A former freshman All-American and All-Big East performer, Andrews is the lone returning starter to a West Virginia secondary that lost seven contributors to graduation. Maturity has always been the major issue for the immensely gifted safety. He was suspended for last year's Blue-Gold game because of "off-field issues," and then for the season-opener against Western Michigan after being arrested and charged with obstructing an officer. He was initially linked to a stolen credit card scandal this June that resulted in the dismissal of fellow safety Charles Pugh, but was ultimately cleared of any wrong-doing. He is currently listed second on the Mountaineer depth chart at strong safety.

18.  DARIUS BUTLER, CB, CONNECTICUT

Butler has missed just one start in his first three years in Storrs, and is now the undisputed star of a Husky secondary devoid of current Oakland Raider Tyvon Branch. One of the top pro prospects in the country at his position, Butler will likely fail to put up major numbers as a senior since opposing teams aren't going to feel particularly inclined to launch the ball in his direction.

17. COREY SMITH, LB, CINCINNATI

The leader of a talented trio of Bearcat linebackers, Smith ranked second on the squad a year ago with 80 tackles. In spite of a relative lack of size, he figures to be a preseason All-Big East honoree heading into his final year at UC.

16. AARON BERRY, CB, PITTSBURGH

Holding down a spot previously occupied by first-round draft pick Darrelle Revis is not an ideal situation for a first-year starter, but it was precisely the one Aaron Berry found himself in a season ago. Despite being hampered by injuries for most of the year, Berry responded well to the pressure and established himself as one of the league's most fearsome cover corners. If he displays similar progress in his junior season, then he'll be draped in preseason hype 12 months from now.

15. KEVIN MALAST, LB, RUTGERS

RU's second leading tackler in 2007, Malast is a terrific run-stopper, and one of the best pure tacklers in the league. He'll make the move from the weak side to the middle with Brandon Renkart gone, and figures to serve as the perfect compliment to the speedy Damaso Munoz.

14. NATE ALLEN, FS, SOUTH FLORIDA

The USF defense has become synonymous with speed and athleticism because of players like Allen, who had a breakout season a year ago as a sophomore. A preseason candidate for the 2008 Jim Thorpe Award, he collected 84 tackles and a quartet of picks in his first season as a full-time starter. He was at his best in the team's landmark win at Auburn, notching an interception, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.


13. LAWRENCE WILSON, LB, CONNECTICUT

Wilson earned freshman All-America honors in 2007 after starting all 12 regular season games and ranking second on the team and fourth in the conference with 113 tackles. It was the highest total by a Connecticut freshman since the program made the jump to Division-IA.

12. JAMAAL WESTERMAN, DE, RUTGERS

One of the league's premier pass rushers, Westerman comes into his senior season tied for fifth on Rutgers' list of all-time sack leaders. He got to the quarterback eight times in 2007, and ranked eighth in the league in tackles for loss with 14. He was recently named as a preseason candidate for the 2008 Ted Hendricks Defensive End of the Year Award.

11. DEANGELO SMITH, CB, CINCINNATI

A recipient of ample opportunity thanks in large part to the reputation of fellow UC-corner Mike Mickens, Smith lead the Big East and tied for the national lead in interceptions with eight a year ago. He and Mickens combined for 14 total picks, good for the top tandem total in Division-1A. The senior was recently named to the Jim Thorpe Award watch list.

10. REED WILLIAMS, LB, WEST VIRGINIA

Williams did it all for the Mountaineers in 2007, leading the team in tackles and finishing in the top 30 in the country in a whopping eight different statistical categories. He saved arguably his best performance for last, recording nine tackles, two tackles for loss, one sack and forcing a fumble in WVU's Fiesta Bowl victory over Oklahoma. He was forced to miss spring practice while recovering from surgeries on both shoulders to repair torn labrum cartilage, and said recently that he's at "about 80%." If he can find that extra 20% and maintain it for three months, then he'll have an outside shot at taking home the league's Defensive Player of the Year award.

9. SCOTT LUTRUS, LB, CONNECTICUT

An unheralded class of 2006 recruit, Lutrus was a first team Freshman All-American in 2007 after starting all 12 games at strong side linebacker and collecting four interceptions and 107 total tackles. He has the potential to be even more productive as a sophomore, sliding over to the middle to replace the graduated Danny Lansanah.

8. ARTHUR JONES, NT, SYRACUSE

A second team All-Big East performer as a sophomore in 2007, Jones led the Orange and ranked third in the league in tackles for loss with 17.5. That total was also good for ninth nationally. He was recently named to the 2008 Bronco Nagurski Award watch list.

7. MORTTY IVY, LB, WEST VIRGINIA

In his first year as a full-time starter, Ivy logged 89 tackles, 11 tackles for loss, six sacks, three forced fumbles, one fumble recovery for a touchdown and one interception for the Fiesta Bowl champions. He'll be making the move from the weak side to the strong side in his senior season, but if his performance in spring practice is any indication, it's a change that will suit him just fine.

"Mortty Ivy, wow, I thought he was great," first-year head coach Bill Stewart said. "I was about 10 feet away and I got out of the way. Man, he was hitting them. Mortty Ivy has had the spring of all springs."

6. COURTNEY GREENE, FS, RUTGERS

Greene, a two-time All-Big East performer, would have likely been a first-day draft choice in May had he chosen not to return for his senior season. In 2007, he led the Scarlet Knights in tackles with 101. He also notched a team-high 116 stops as a freshman in 2005. So far this summer, Greene has been named to the preseason watch lists for the Lott Trophy, Nagurski Trophy and the Thorpe Award.

5. TYRONE MCKENZIE, LB, SOUTH FLOIRIDA

McKenzie made quite the first impression during his inaugural season in Tampa, setting the single-season USF record for tackles with 127. The Iowa State transfer, who had seven games with ten tackles or more in 2007, also tied the single-game school record for tackles with 18 against Pittsburgh. He has the chance to be even more productive in his senior season as he's moving over to middle linebacker in order to replace the graduated Ben Moffitt.

4. TERRILL BYRD, T, CINCINNATI

The only active defensive player in the conference to have been named to the All-Big East first team multiple times, Byrd recorded a team-high 17 tackles for loss and eight sacks on his way to being named a second team All-American by the Associated Press in 2007. His of string of 24 consecutive starts began when he was a freshman, but a one game suspension due to an offseason arrest for marijuana possession will bring it crashing to a halt when the Bearcats take the field against Eastern Kentucky on Aug. 28.

3. MIKE MICKENS, CB, CINCINNATI

A 2008 Playboy All-American, Mickens enters his final season in the Big East as the conference's undisputed top cover corner. He's the only player in the country to rank in the top 20 nationally in passes defended in each of the past three seasons, and is currently fourth on UC's career interceptions list with ten. He picked off six passes in 2007, returned two for touchdowns, and was a unanimous first team All-Big East selection.

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2. SCOTT MCKILLOP, LB, PITTSBURGH

McKillop quickly put star predecessor H.B. Blades out of the minds of Panther fans by leading the nation in tackles (151/12.58 per game) in his first season as a starter. The preseason Chuck Bednarik Award nominee's return is one of the biggest reasons for optimism heading into year four of the thus far disappointing Dave Wannstedt era.


1. GEORGE SELVIE, DE, SOUTH FLORIDA

Stating this time a year ago that George Selvie would have a breakout sophomore season wasn't exactly a bold proclamation. Accurately forecasting just how extreme the breakout was going to be would have been.

The 2007 Big East Defensive Player of the Year led the nation and set a conference record with 31.5 tackles for loss, including 14.5 sacks (second highest national total). He was a consensus first team All-American, a finalist for the Bronco Nagurski Award and the Ted Hendricks Award, and the recipient of the Bill Willis Award for the nation's top defensive lineman. There's an extremely good chance that he'll be a very rich man this time next year, so catch him in college while you can.

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