Originally posted on Football Nation  |  Last updated 8/13/12
We’re heading into the backstretch of summer, and the start of the college football season is just a few short weeks away.

Here’s a look at the preseason top 10 players of the Big East Conference:

S Hakeem Smith, Louisville
Last season, Louisville Cardinals safety Hakeem Smith showed a world of versatility on the football field, as he could line up in both safety positions or as an outside linebacker on any down.

Smith’s best physical attribute is his closing speed on opposing receivers coming across the middle.

He loves to separate the ball away from them with a vicious hit. The Cardinals' defensive coaching staff praises Smith’s work ethic, as his production gets better with each season.

QB B.J. Daniels, South Florida
Plenty of pressure is on the shoulders of South Florida Bulls quarterback B.J. Daniels, as this upcoming season is set up perfectly for a run at a Big East conference title. He’s heading into his senior year and everyone is expecting a breakout season from Daniels.

We all know that he’s an excellent playmaker, who can use his arm (2,604 passing yards) or legs (601 rushing yards) to secure a first down. But, head coach Skip Holtz has surrounded Daniels with excellent offensive weapons that will allow him to be just a quarterback on the field this season.

CB Logan Ryan, Rutgers
Quietly, Rutgers Scarlet Knights cornerback Logan Ryan has emerged as one of the top corners in the country, as there’s no doubt that he’s the best shutdown cover person in the Big East. Ryan cuts the field in half, and forces opposing quarterbacks to throw to the opposite side of the field for their completions.

Also, he has the knack of making the big play, whether it’s an interception, pass deflection or making an open field tackle that turns a game around.

QB Terry Bridgewater, Louisville
The freshman year of Louisville Cardinals quarterback Terry Bridgewater could have been called “a tale of two seasons.” He struggled at first, but gathered himself together and finished the year with a bang thus giving hope to all Cardinal fans for the future.

This season, head coach Charlie Strong will take full advantage of Bridgewater’s athleticism by installing a no-huddle offense. By season’s end, he could gain some momentum and become an outside candidate for the Heisman Trophy.

RB Ray Graham, Pittsburgh
Going into his senior season, Pittsburgh Panthers running back Ray Graham has a difficult task of trying to come back from MCL knee surgery. But, all signs point towards him being 100 percent for the upcoming year.

He has terrific sense coming out of the backfield, as Graham patiently waits for his offensive line to open a hole on the line of scrimmage, and then wisely chooses it for a big gain. His small stature (5’9”) allows him to sneak through the defense often untouched. Look for Pitt football to feature Graham exclusively in a run-oriented offense.

QB Ryan Nassib, Syracuse
This year’s Syracuse Orange football team would have a soft spot in late comedian Rodney Dangerfield’s heart, as both get no respect from the general public. The prognosticators have declared that Syracuse has too much inexperience on both sides of the football to have any chance of a winning season this year.

Their lone bright spot could be quarterback Ryan Nassib, who’s the best pure pocket passer in the Big East. His leadership skills will be tested this year with a young offensive unit that should improve gradually over time.

RB Montel Harris, Temple
This might be more of a sentimental choice rather than a logical one, as running back Montel Harris missed the majority of last season due to a knee injury. His troubles continue off-field with a dismissal from the Boston College football team after repeatedly violating team policies.

Despite all the baggage, Harris should be an immediate contributor to the Temple Owls' rushing attack, as he is currently college football’s leading active rusher at 3,735 yards.

DT Aaron Donald, Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh Panthers defensive tackle Aaron Donald is a very versatile player, who can play outside as an end or in the middle of a defensive line. Last season, he led the Big East in sacks with 11, and this year will provide leadership at the tackle position. Donald is in line to have a breakout season and is poised to give Pitt a huge presence in the center of their defense.

RB Lyle McCombs, Connecticut
No question that running back Lyle McCombs is the lead back in the Connecticut Huskies' offense, as he ran for more than 1,000 yards last season as a true freshman. The hope for this year is a more explosive offensive rushing attack aided by an experienced offensive line. McCombs running style will make defenders miss him, as he often makes something out of nothing.

WR Brandon Coleman, Rutgers
Clearly, wide receiver Brandon Coleman is Rutgers’ top choice in their passing game, but there are still questions on whether he will make an impact on the team.

Last season, Coleman contributed very little to the offense in his freshman year, but his tall frame (6’6”) makes him an ideal target downfield. Coleman’s long strides and breakaway speed will help to create separation from defenders in the open field.

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