Around the Big East in 1,444 words

Cincinnati

New ESPN Big East football blogger Brian Bennett made the trek up I-71 to take in a Bearcat practice on Tuesday, and came home with a fairly extensive report.

The most noteworthy item in the rundown, to me, was the fact that DeAngelo Smith has been moved from corner to safety. Smith tied for the national lead in interceptions a year ago with eight, and he and Mike Mickens were expected to be among the top cover corner duos in the country this year.

Smith's replacement is senior Brandon Underwood, a highly touted prospect coming out of high school who struggled with injuries and academics for three seasons at Ohio State. Underwood's older brother, EJ, is a current member of the Buffalo Bills who also left Ohio State because of off-field issues, and ended his college career at Pikeville College. Both spent time in Louisville as youths before moving to Hamilton, Ohio and becoming All-State defensive backs.

The graduation of Haruki Nakamura coupled with senior Cedric Tolbert's lingering knee injury makes this move understandable and perhaps necessary, despite Smith's immense success at another position. If Underwood can stay eligible and finally live up to his prep hype, then UC should once again have one of the top secondaries in the country.

Rutgers

The vast majority of preseason chatter in Piscataway continues to center around who the Scarlet Knights' starting running back will be.

The consensus at the moment appears to be that Mason Robinson and Kordell Young have distanced themselves from well-regarded freshman Jourdan Brooks. Neither performed especially well during a scrimmage last week, but a second scrimmage held Wednesday should provide the coaching staff with a bit more insight. Regardless of what takes place over the next week and-a-half, expect both to see substantial touches in RU's Sept. 1 opener against Fresno State.

The other big story at Rutgers camp is starting left guard Kevin Haslam suffering an injury to his right ankle on Monday. An injury to the the same joint forced him to miss the spring game in April. RU has just one starter returning to the same position on its offensive line, and was already paper thin at guard before Haslam went down.

South Florida

Because of NCAA Clearinghouse issues, seven South Florida freshmen were held out of practice on Tuesday. Two were cleared and returned to action Wednesday morning, but tight end Andreas Shields, linebackers Quavon Taylor and LaDre Watkins and cornerbacks George Baker and John Lejiste were again forced to look on from the sidelines.

Still no official word on the duo that's going to replace Mike Jenkins and Trae Williams at corner, although career backups Tyller Roberts and Jerome Murphy remain the safe play.

Pittsburgh

Dave Wannstedt announced Wednesday what the rest of the college football world had already accepted as fact; Bill Stull will be Pitt's starting quarterback in 2008.

Stull earned the starter's job in 2007, but played just two quarters in the season-opener against Eastern Michigan before suffering a season-ending thumb injury. He recovered and spent the spring and fall camps outplaying sophomores Kevan Smith and Pat Bostick, both of whom struggled mightily in Stull's absence a season ago.

Given Bostick's high school accolades and hype, Stull could have been a Wally Pipp, the legendary baseball starter who sat out a game and never got back on the field with his club again because of New York Yankees great Lou Gehrig. But Stull worked hard to make sure that did not happen.

"A lot of guys have injuries, and they approach the redshirt differently," Wannstedt said. "For some guys, it's a year off. For some guys, it's a year to sulk; for some guys, they take advantage of it.

"I think that's what Billy did. He's a little bit stronger. His arm is stronger. He was in every meeting last year, so it gave him another year to learn the offense and see defenses and try to make himself better."

Wannstedt also announced yesterday that starting outside linebacker Shane Murray will be out indefinitely because of a knee injury he suffered on Tuesday. It's unknown whether or not he'll be ready for the Panthers' Aug. 30 opener against Bowling Green. If not, then freshman Tristan Roberts or senior Austin Ransom will get the nod.

Connecticut

The UConn football staff released an updated depth chart yesterday, and the only real surprise was that incumbent starting wide receiver - and former starting quarterback - D.J. Hernandez has been unseated by redshirt freshman Kashif Moore.

Hernandez was the Huskies' second-leading receiver in 2007, hauling in 30 passes for 404 yards and a pair of scores. I felt a bit bad for D.J., the consummate team player who was the first to suggest his own position switch, until I read the following quote.

"I'm not an X [wide receiver]," said Hernandez. "I'm a starting W. I'm a slot receiver. It's like Larry Taylor last year. He was a W."

My man, if you're anything like Larry Taylor last year then we might as well go ahead and get this feud going right now. And just to let you know ahead of time, it's a feud that will end with you in tears on Sept. 26...and me wearing some sort of top hat.

The promotion of Moore would appear to signify Randy Edsall's belief that UConn can ill-afford to be one dimensional on offense for another season. While Hernandez is a terrific route-runner who possesses a great set of hands, Moore has 4.4 speed and is a guy who can really stretch the field and open things up a bit for the dynamic running tandem of Donald Brown (currently listed as the starter) and Andre Dixon.

The Hartford Courant has a pretty extensive breakdown of the other movers and shakers on the Husky depth chart.

West Virginia

Bill Stewart is really playing up this whole "I'm just a good ole' boy from Nowheresville, Wes' Viginia" angle.

The following quotes from Stewart all came from the same story.

--"I've got a lot of naysayers out there. I love it, I absolutely love it," he said. "We're in the greatest country in the world, where your opinion is not only welcomed, it's almost wanted. Get online, make a statement, hit the Internet and it's gospel. They forgot that this old country boy lives in the same America. And I have a chance to do something about that. We do as a staff, as a team, and we're going to work as hard as we can."

--He added that he wouldn't even want to be a teenager today, with the "Internet, crazy music and fast crowds."

--"I learned growing up on the banks of the beautiful Ohio (River) that it was about effort," Stewart said. "I learned from the Ohio Valley you better respect all and fear none."

--"We have the best darn leaders in football in Morgantown today," he said. "Before (the Fiesta Bowl), 125 young men bought into a plan. Eight days and seven nights with your Mountaineers. One young man busted curfew. He was sent home the following morning. If it was my son, I'd have sent him home the following morning. That's just how it is."

--"Let me tell you, old No. 35 (Owen Schmitt), No. 5 (Pat White), No. 53 (Marc Magro), No. 7 (Noel Devine), No. 96 (Keilen Dykes), No. 83 (Tito Gonzales) - I can go on and on and on. They became the dog soldiers that night in Glendale, Ariz."

So we've got a humble first-year head coach saying all the right things to a fan base still hurting after a nasty breakup with a former head coach who achieved tremendous success, but whose morality has been continuously called into question.

If the Mountaineers lose to Marshall on a busted coverage with less than half-a-minute to play, I'm going to start asking questions.

Syracuse

The question all summer in central New York has been will Syracuse's starting tailback be Delone Carter, Curtis Brinkley or Averin Collier. The answer: Doug Hogue?

Hogue apparently was the first back to run with the first team offense during practice this week, although he, Brinkley and Carter have all been seeing roughly the same number of touches. Hogue, a sophomore, rushed for 251 yards and a touchdown last season, second best on the team in both categories behind Brinkley's 371 yards and two scores. Yikes.

I think it's safe to say that the combination of this heated battle and the return of Andrew Robinson at quarterback has 'Cuse fans beaming with optimism.

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It could be worse, people. It could be much, much worse.

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