I know most of the news today focused on Barry Alvarez's news conference in Madison, but some Pitt players made the news this morning for their on-field honors. The Big East announced its first and second all-conference teams today, and six Pitt players made the list.
Running back Ray Graham and defensive tackle Aaron Donald made first-team All-Big East. Wide receiver Devin Street, wide receiver Mike Shanahan, center Ryan Turnley and safety Jason Hendricks made the second team.
Graham and Donald seemed like no-brainers to me. Graham (who also made the first-team in 2011) ranked fourth in the conference with 1,042 yards, his first career 1,000-yard season. He showed he was all the way back from the ACL injury that ended his 2011 season and has certainly looked like the Ray Graham of old with some of his jukes and cuts the last couple of weeks. The next step, after next month's BBVA Compass Bowl, will be preparing for the NFL Combine and Draft in April. I wouldn't be surprised to see Graham boost his draft stock through the Combine and workouts once his Pitt career comes to an end.
Donald has been a disruptive force in the middle of Pitt's line all year. He leads the Big East with 18.5 tackles for loss on the season and ranks third with 5.5 sacks. Perhaps most importantly, he has been his best in Pitt's biggest games of the season. Against Notre Dame and Rutgers, he turned in his best games of the season, and continued that last week at South Florida when he led Pitt's defense to a dominant performance over the hapless Bulls. Donald could leave Pitt after this season for the NFL Draft, but has not given a definitive statement either way. Before the Panthers' home finale against Rutgers, he said he was just focusing on the team's final two games and, now, a bowl game, before worrying about the draft.
Shanahan and Street both rank towards the top of the Big East in receptions and receiving yards per game. Hendricks leads the Big East with five interceptions (including two in Pitt's big win against Virginia Tech early in the season). Turnley has started 25 consecutive games for Pitt along the offensive line, and has been the key to a unit that had some depth concerns entering the season.
The two players who didn't make the list that I would have thought would be considered are quarterback Tino Sunseri and cornerback Lafayette Pitts. Sunseri probably would have been a solid second-team selection behind Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. Sunseri ranks second in the conference in passing efficiency, and has a downright absurd 19-to-2 TD/INT ratio this season. Pitts, meanwhile, will almost certainly find himself on this list before his Pitt career ends, but was good enough this season to at least warrant consideration.