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2008 Big East Preview: Is George Selvie overrated?

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A quick rundown of some of his preseason accolades:

Playboy Magazine named Selvie as a preseason All-American.

In 2007, he was a unanimous selection to the All-Big East team, and was named as the conference's defensive player of the year.

What really inspired me to write this entry, however, was a recent posting on AOL Fanhouse.

The most disruptive defensive end in the Big East. There may be (possibly) a better defensive end against the run, but Selvie is the most complete DE in the conference against the run and the pass. And to think he started as a minor recruit playing on the offensive line when he arrived at USF.

He led the country in tackles for losses with 31.5 and was second with 14.5 sacks. This despite facing more double-teams as the season wore on and teams realized how dangerous he was. Selvie took home Big East Defensive Player of the Year honors.

Selvie has great speed that allows him to penetrate quickly into the backfield. What is most noticeable is how fundamentally sound he is when he goes for a tackle. He wraps up the ball carrier, rather than just try to hit them.

This text is sure to make any Rutgers fan do a double take. That George Selvie? The same one who was a complete non-factor when #2 USF visited Piscataway last October?

I'll finish my Rutgers season preview next week, because this is an issue that I've been thinking about for a while, and I'd like to get my thoughts down today and strike while the iron is hot.

Now, any player can have a bad game, but let's be clear on how poorly Selvie truly played.

ESPN

And the Scarlet Knights were hard to slow down. Quarterback Mike Teel threw for 179 yards and two touchdowns and wasn't intercepted or sacked. Rutgers held Bulls defensive end George Selvie without a sack for the first time this season.

"All week we were hearing about Selvie," Rutgers defensive tackle Eric Foster said. "That's all we were hearing about, and [offensive tackle] Pedro Sosa shut him down."

E echoed sentiments widely shared in the Rutgers community following the game. But don't just take our word for it.

9:11 - Ray Rice just absolutely dropped someone on a stiff-arm. Make that George Selvie.

Not only did Rutgers run right at Selvie for a good portion of that game, but Mike Teel was not sacked once. Rutgers only allowed ten sacks last season, the second best total in the nation. They only allowed eight in 2006, which was good for first place. They also have been one of the best rushing units. Maybe the offensive line, and in particular left tackle Pedro Sosa, was just that good. After all, they similarly had made a fool out of Kansas State's Ian Campbell in the 2006 Texas Bowl, and Sosa had routinely dominated any top defensive end he had been paired against.

There's certainly a lot to that theory, but it does not have full explanatory power. Consider the fact that only several weeks prior, Rutgers had trouble running the football against Maryland (which runs a 4-3/3-4 hybrid scheme), and Cincinnati (another 4-3) team. Rutgers had made changes to its starting lineup at right guard and fullback vs. Syracuse (the week before the USF game), but those two changes alone cannot account for all of the difference.

George Selvie certainly had some other wonderful games last year, but vs. Rutgers, he was absolutely miserable vs. the run, and did not generate a meaningful pass rush.

Let's dig a little deeper. George Selvie certainly was good in 2007, but was he great? He was credited with 14.5 quarterback sacks last season. Obviously, those numbers don't tell the entire picture. A defensive player can pile up coverage sacks, or they can bring a hellacious pass rush that forces a quarterback to get rid of the ball sooner than he would like. Generally though, sacks do somewhat correlate with a pass rush. Rutgers did not rank sixth in passing defense last year because Deion Sanders Jr. was roaming around in the secondary. It was because our undersized defensive linemen would stunt, twist, and do everything on their power on each play to terrorize opposing quarterbacks.

One telling sign from Selvie's game log is that a lot his sacks came in OOC play. Of his 14.5, 4 came against I-AA Elon. 1.5 came against Auburn; a good team, but their left tackle last year, King Dunlap, was a total stiff that could not pick up opposing pass rushers. Auburn was #51 in sacks allowed last season. 3 came against a rebuilding UNC squad, and 1 each came against FAU and UCF.

No one plays against top competition every game in 2008's college football landscape. Still - almost half of his sacks came against Elon and UNC? Only 4 came in conference play. One explanation is that he did receive more double teams as the year progressed. This was true in other games, but not when Selvie was lined up vs. Pedro Sosa. On the biggest stage - ESPN Thursday Night Football, millions watching, with USF ranked #2 and facing all of the pressure in the world, Selvie was a major reason why USF lost. Nor did he make a difference in the Sun Bowl vs. an Oregon team lacking Dennis Dixon. He can also be credited with some of their victories last season.

Again, my contention here is not that George Selvie is a bad player. Far from it. He is one of the best edge rushers in college football, and may well deserve all-conference status in the Big East. Let's exercise a little caution however before going completely overboard with hyperbole. Consider the sack leaders last year from Big East conference play:

Anthony Hoke (9.0)
Jamaal Westerman (7.5)
Joe Clermond (7.0)
Cody Brown (5.0)
Eric Foster (4.5)
Terrill Byrd (4.0)
Marc Magro (4.0)
George Selvie (4.0)
Julius Williams (4.0)

Again, sacks do not tell the whole story. WVU's Johnny Dingle fell below this threshold, but I thought he played masterfully in 2007, culminating in an excellent game vs. Oklahoma where he repeatedly humiliated star left tackle Phil Loadholdt. Jamaal Westerman had a fair number of sacks last year, but he's probably even more of a one-trick pony than Selvie, repeatedly picking on tackles like Jeff Otah that lacked sufficient agility and lateral quickness to combat his motor and technique.

Is it relevant that Selvie was voted unanimously all-Big East by the other seven coaches (minus Jim Leavitt), and was given the conference's defensive player of the year award? Not necessarily. Of course I am mostly relying on Selvie's performance vs. Rutgers, but Greg Schiano thought so little of him (or so highly of Pedro Sosa), that he did not see fit to double team Selvie. From my vantage point, Ben Moffitt, Mike Jenkins, and Trae Williams had far better games. When voting for all-conference teams, do coaches meticulously review a year's worth of game footage? Do they vote from memory, press and accolades, and a quick glance on the internet at statistical totals? Do they even perform the task at all, or leave the job to an assistant SID, like many do with their coaches poll ballots? Without answering these questions, it's not fair to draw too many conclusions from the conference's post-season awards. After all, they did not bat .1000 with every all-Big East selection.

If an intern wants to print this entry out and show it to Selvie for bulletin board material, that's fine by me. I hope every team in the Big East succeeds (when not playing Rutgers). Only good things can come out of Selvie having a big season and putting USF on the map for good. One thing's clear though: if George Selvie is an elite player, he can't have more games like his miserable night of Oct. 17, 2007. Selvie might want to consider wearing a Rutgers t-shirt in his offseason workouts as motivation, even though it did very little for H.B. Blades.