MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Chris Neild lines up in the center of West Virginia's defense, but he is anything but the center of attention for one of the country's best groups.
Maybe no one in the Big East, or beyond, is as critical to a defense's success, but equally anonymous.
"People don't see him a lot because he's got 600, 700 pounds of double-teams wrapped around him the majority of the game," WVU defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel said. "He's really athletic and he has the ability to make a lot of plays when people double-team him. If you single him, he makes plays. Either way, you have to account for him."
In Casteel's 3-3-5 odd stack defense, the front is responsible for facilitating the players behind them. Neild, in particular, is charged with taking on two and sometimes three defenders so linebackers and safeties can zip through gaps and make tackles or pressure the passer.
The top five tacklers on the defense are the three safeties and two linebackers. Neild's 28 tackles rank 10th and ahead of every starter but cornerback Brandon Hogan, who quarterbacks tend to avoid.
In short, everything is as intended for the Mountaineers, who are No. 3 nationally in scoring defense, No. 7 against the run, No. 7 against the pass and No. 4 in total yards allowed.
"He might not be the Big East's tackle leader, but what he does in the scheme they play, where he's head-up on the nose, you can't move him out of the middle," said South Florida Coach Skip Holtz.
"If you want to, you have to double-team him and that's a very difficult job because he's so big and strong and he can stay in the middle and do what he does in their scheme. He gives their linebackers a chance to run sideline to sideline. And if you can't get up on him, he's going to get penetration through your offensive line."
The 6-foot-2, 305-pound Neild is having his best season entering Saturday's noon game against Louisville (5-5, 2-3 Big East) at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium.
"Probably two years ago we knew Chris Neild was a good football player, but a lot of the people who watched him play probably didn't realize that like they do now," Casteel said.
Neild might not reach his 47 tackles from the 2008 season, but he's already matched his career total with three sacks and his four tackles for loss are just one-half a tackle off his career high.
Then again, those are not the numbers by which Neild is to be measured. The success of the defense and the statistics of those around him are better indicators of Neild's work.
"I hear about it all the time and it comes with the territory," Neild said. "That's the position I play and I'm used to being double-teamed and triple-teamed or whatever it is.
"Being the nose guard, that's what I've got to do. That's my job, to create openings for my linebackers and free people up for one-on-one tackles. At the end of the day, if I can do that, our defense will be OK."