TAMPA, FL - DECEMBER 1: Wide receiver Sterling Griffin #17 of the South Florida Bulls grabs a second-quarter touchdown pass over defensive back Broderick Jenkins of the West Virginia Mountaineers December 1, 2011 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
Working our way through the Big East position rankings, we come to the wide receiver position. The Big East has had its share of big time wide receivers the past few years, but, this year a relatively new bunch of receivers will have to step up and make new names for themselves as several of the league's best either left in realignment (West Virginia's receivers) or graduated (Mohamed Sanu, Van Chew, Kashif and Sio Moore). Since they're used in the passing game, we'll also consider tight ends when evaluating the receiving corps.
1. South Florida - In BJ Daniels' last season under center for South Florida, he'll have the conference's best set of receivers to work with. The Bulls return their top six receivers from a year ago. Sterling Griffin (43 rec, 530 yards), Deonte Welch (31 rec, 433 yards), Victor Marc (33 rec, 357 yards) and tight end Evan Landi (29 rec, 297 yards) are all back and are joined by blue-chip Florida transfer Chris Dunkley. Consistency and health at the quarterback spot has hurt the production of this unit, but if Daniels stays healthy and the Bulls move to more of a spread attack that perhaps passes and screens more now that Darrell Scott is gone to the NFL, this receiving corps should prove to be the best in the Big East. The Bulls will also have the opportunity to work in blue-chip recruits D'Vario Montgomery (WR) and Sean Price (TE).
2. Louisville - If the greatest improvement for a player comes between his freshman and sophomore seasons, then Louisville's receiving corps should be one, if not the best, in the Big East in 2012. Playing almost entirely freshmen and redshirt freshmen last season, the Cardinals return there of their top four receivers in sophomores Michaelee Harris, Elir Rogers, and DeVante Parker. Rogers is the speedster that works from the slot while Harris and Parker are bigger receivers that work down the field. Senior Andrell Smith returns after losing his spot in the rotation to the freshmen. Tight end Josh Chichester is gone, but both Nate Nord and Chris White saw extensive playing time last year and appear ready to step into his role in the offense (a role that should be increased in Shawn Watson's version of the west coast offense).
3. Rutgers - Despite the loss of Mohamed Sanu, Rutgers has plenty of talent at wide receiver. If the Scarlet Knights settle on a quarterback and get consistent play from him, the receivers are going to excel. Sophomore Brandon Coleman (a huge target at 6'6, 220) and Mark Harrison are an excellent set of receivers. Quron Pratt (32 rec, 327 yards) also returns. DC Jefferson returns at tight end. The Scarlet Knights could also find playing time for highly touted freshmen Leonte Carroo and Ian Thomas.
4. Pittsburgh - I'm higher on the Pittsburgh receivers than most others (Athlon has them 5th, Phil Steele tied for 4th with two other teams). The Panthers return Cameron Saddler, Mike Shanahan, Devi Street, and tight end Hubie Graham from last year's bizarre foray into Todd Graham's "HIGH OCTANE" (barf) offense. Under new head coach Paul Chryst, Street, Shanahan, Saddler and Graham should be more comfortable. The Panthers will be a pro-style, run-first, play-action offense that should allow all of them to benefit from the run game production that Chryst is known for. Like USF and Rutgers, this unit will be dependent on the play of Tino Sunseri (or Chad Voytik), but I'm convinced Sunseri will perform admirably under Chryst and quarterback coach Brooks Bollinger.
5. Cincinnati - One of the hallmarks of the Brian Kelly and early Butch Jones years in Cincinnati has been a stable of talented receivers. The Bearcats lose DJ Woods and tight end Adrien Robinson, but still return the two leading receivers from last year in Anthony McClung (49 rec, 683 yards) and Kenbrell Thompkins (44 rec, 536 yards). Senior Travis Kelce will step into the tight end role this year while running quarterback Jordan Luallen has moved to receiver to get his athleticism on the field. Like several of the teams here in the bottom half of the rankings, it's entirely possible that the Bearcats receivers will be considered better than this ranking by year's end, but, the Butch Jones slow conversion to an offense that runs the ball more than Brian Kelly ever did, and the move from Zach Collaros to Munchie Legaux at quarterback likely means more running and less reliance on the passing game and big play receivers.
6. Syracuse - Ryan Nassib is toiling away in relative obscurity in Syracuse and while the team failed to reach a bowl game, he's played well in Doug Marrone's pro-style offense, despite not having overwhelming targets to throw to. The Orange lose Van Chew, Dorian Graham, and Nick Provo (who is still WIDE OPEN against West Virginia) and there's some mystery about who the replacements will be. Tailback Antwon Bailey was also a nice receiving target out of the backfield and is also gone. Alec Lemon is back, but questionable with a shoulder issue and Marcus Sales returns after being suspended for the entire season last year. If Lemon and Sales comes back full strength, that's two good targets, but there's little known depth past them and there's no sure replacement for Provo.
7. Connecticut - Despite having quarterback issues nearly all year, UConn actually had some talent at receiver and much of that talent is gone. Now, Michael Smith, who missed last season after being ruled ineligible, is back. Joining him are a pair of talented transfers in Bryce McNeal from Clemson and Shakim Phillips from Boston College. Combined with Ryan Griffin at tight end, there's some talent here. The challenge for the Huskies is to find a consistent quarterback to get these guys the ball.
8. Temple - I know it seems like we've been picking on Temple in these rankings, but it'd be very difficult to argue with Temple anywhere but here when it comes to receivers. The Owls lose their three top pass catchers from last year and the leading returning receiver, Deon Miller, had just 18 receptions. The next leading returning receiver had just two catches. The Owls were so run heavy last year that it's really difficult to know just what they have at receiver now, so there's obviously a chance for the unknowns like Malcolm Eugene and CJ Hammond to be better than we have them ranked now. But, until there's production this year, this is where they rank.