Football Outside of the Big Ten - The Big East

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From time to time, it's important to look outside the Big Ten and remind ourselves that there is football being played by other teams in other conferences.  The Rivalry, Esq. continues its look at those other conferences with the league that better be watching its back, the Big East.

The Big East survived the ACC raids and found itself thriving in the new college football landscape.  In the 2005 season, West Virginia stunned SEC Champ Georgia in the Sugar Bowl (played in Atlanta, no less).  In 2006, West Virginia, Rutgers and Louisville played some of the most compelling football games of the season.  If not for the biggest kick in Rutgers history, Louisville, not Florida, would have played for the national title against Ohio State.  In 2007, South Florida was ranked as high as number two in the country, and West Virginia needed only to beat a weak Pitt team in their finale to play Ohio State for the MNC.  Pat White got hurt, and the Panthers sprung the upset.  The Mountaineers still crushed the Big 12 Champion Oklahoma Sooners in the Fiesta Bowl.

But last year, the league seemed to take a step back.  It's not that the league was bad.  It just didn't have an elite team.  In fact, the case could be made (and was made) that team-for-team, the Mountain West had surpassed the Big East.  It certainly had at the top.  So the question remains, is there a team that can dominate the league and be discussed for a national title, or is it another year of a solid conference without an elite team?

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Greatest QB in Big East History?  I'll say yes.

The Rivalry, Esq. has already looked at these conferences:

Sun Belt    MAC    Independents    WAC    

Conference USA   Mountain West

1)      2008 Recap

a. Who Won the League?

The Cincinnati Bearcats came out of nowhere to finish with a 10-2 (6-1) record and their first Big East crown.  They all but locked up the title with a 28-21 win over Pitt at Nippert Stadium.

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b. Games of Note

The Big East champion Bearcats showed the distance between Big East Champ and Big XII Champ during their 52-26 loss at Oklahoma.  West Virginia lost a game at Colorado that they should have won, but turned around and beat Auburn (which pretty much ended the Tommy Tubberville Era on the Plains).  Pitt and Syracuse both scored dramatic victories over Notre Dame in South Bend.  

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One of the wins took longer than the other.

c. Games Against the Big Ten

Shonn Greene won the RB-battle against LeSean McCoy, but Pitt won a close victory over the Hawkeyes.  Syracuse looked bad in both of their games.

Date Big East Team Score Big Ten Team Score Location
August 30, 2008 Syracuse 10 Northwestern 30 Evanston, IL
September 13, 2008 Syracuse 13 Penn State 55 Syracuse, NY
September 20, 2008 Pitt 21 Iowa 20 Pittsburgh, PA

d. Bowl Games

The Bearcats didn't seem too over-matched by Virginia Tech, but they also didn't seem to be of the same caliber in their 20-7 Orange Bowl loss.  In the five other Big East bowl games, the Big East had four winners: UConn pummeled Buffalo 38-20 in the International Bowl, Rutgers won the Papa Johns's Bowl 29-23 over NC State, South Florida crushed Memphis 41-14 in the St. Petersburg Bowl, and West Virginia defeated North Carolina 31-30 in the Meineke Car Care Bowl.  The West Virginia win would be Pat White's fourth bowl win as a starting quarterback.

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Donald Brown was really good and got far too little attention.

Meanwhile, Pitt faced Oregon State in a Sun Bowl that left Verne Lundquist crying for the SEC game of the week.  3-0, the Beavers won on a second quarter field goal.  Dave Wannstedt tried a 58 yard field goal rather than go for it with two minutes left and the Panthers facing a 4th and 8 at the OSU 41 yard line.  That pretty much sums up Dave Wannstedt (says this life-long Bears fan).

 

2) 2009 Preview

a.  Games of Note

Pay attention to West Virginia and South Florida.  They'll say a lot about the Big East.  The Mountaineers play two games against mid level teams from the SEC and Big XII.  They can win both.  Will they?  The Bulls travel to Florida State and host Miami.  Winning either of those would be huge.

Date Big East Team Opponent Location
September 12, 2009 UConn North Carolina East Hartford, CT
September 19, 2009 West Virginia Auburn Auburn, AL
September 19, 2009 Cincinnati Oregon State Corvallis, OR
September 26, 2009 South Florida Florida State Tallahassee, FL
September 26, 2009 Louisville Utah Salt Lake City, UT
October 1, 2009 West Virginia Colorado Morgantown, WV
November 14, 2009 Pittsburgh Notre Dame Pittsburgh, PA
November 28, 2009 South Florida Miami Tampa, FL

b.  Games Against the Big Ten

Syracuse coach Doug Marone gets welcomed into the Big Ten before he ever sees the Big East.  

Date Big East Team Big Ten Team Location
September 5, 2009 Syracuse Minnesota Syracuse, NY
September 12, 2009 Syracuse Penn State State College, PA
September 19, 2009 Syracuse Northwestern Syracuse, NY
November 28, 2009 Cincinnati Illinois Cincinnati, OH

c.  Bowl Affiliations

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The Big East alignment stays the same as last year.  My guess is that the Big East team will be the last one selected by a BCS bowl, which would land them in the Sugar Bowl.  A Big East bowl team will go to the Gator Bowl...unless Notre Dame finished with 7-9 wins.  In that case, they won't be good enough to go BCS, but they'll be eligible to be picked over the second place Big East team.  The Papa John's Bowl now selects an SEC team (if available) instead of a Conference USA team to face a Big East squad.

 

3) 2009 Projections

a.  Who Will Win the League?

No one knows.  Seriously, this is the most uncertain league in the nation.  Pittsburgh seems to have the most talent coming back, but they also have Dave Wannstedt as coach.  West Virginia has the biggest shoes to fill; will someone step up at quarterback?  South Florida has been unable to take the next step.  Cincinnati has lost a ton from their champs from last year.  Rutgers no longer has Mike Teel at QB.  Louisville is intriguing, but I'm not gutsy enough to push them all the way to champs.  Connecticut and Syracuse are not up to the level of the other teams.  So who do you pick?  How do you pick?  

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I'm going with the best offensive and defensive lines, but I've got to be honest.  This is a pick against the field more than a vote for the Scarlet Knights.  I would bet that the league champ, whether it be Rutgers or someone else, has at least three losses and will be the subject of at least five "The Big East doesn't deserve a BCS Bid" articles.  

b.  Any Wins Against the Big Ten?

Syracuse is now playing a game short of half of a Big Ten schedule.  I don't see them winning any of these.  If they snag one, it will likely say a lot more about their opponent than the Orange.  Or, Greg Robinson was just that bad.

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Michigan, this is your new defensive coordinator.

I like the Illini, but Illinois better be careful.  It's always tough to go out of conference after the Big Ten season has concluded, and a young Bearcat squad should have a good idea as to what they're doing by November.

c.  Who Goes Bowling?

I'm putting Rutgers in the Big Easy.  I think that Notre Dame is a BCS team, which means that Pitt goes to the Gator Bowl.  West Virginia goes to Birmingham to play an SEC team in the Papa John's Bowl; Louisville (who takes a couple of big steps forward this year) heads to Charlotte to face an ACC squad in the Car Care Bowl.  South Florida returns to the St. Pete's Bowl (and complains about it), while the Bearcats head north to the International Bowl.  

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Somebody who hopes these predictions are accurate.

d.  Any MNC Hopes?

It's not that it can't happen; it's just that I don't see the team capable of doing it in 2009.  Louisville was an offsides penalty away from the 2006 BCS Championship game.  West Virginia was a Pat White injury away from the 2007 game.  So it can happen, but I don't see the Big East team that can do it this year.

e.  The Rivalry Notes

This is a question posed to one of the site's founders that relates the conference at hand with the Big Ten. Graham Filler is up again...

Would Penn State be in a better or worse place if in 1993 they joined the Big East instead of the Big Ten?

Worse. 3 words: continuity, longevity, cash. Penn State could have been the Big East's 9th team and ensured the in-conference continuance of "rivalries" that weren't really rivalries  (West Virgina? Penn State leads 48-9-2 all time.  Temple? Hasn't beaten PSU since WWI.  Pitt? Nice game, but not close in the 1980's). Instead, the Nittany Lions chose a conference with schools that are generally happy to be where they are and a cash cow TV deal. In comparison, the Big East offered more upheaval, crowded/tiny football markets, and less opportunity to create a national brand.

One ironic thing...If PSU had joined the Big East and Miami (FL) and VT had made their eventual departure, PSU would be complaining that their weak conference schedule is causing them problems in the national spotlight. This is, of course, similar to what happened last year...in the Big 10. So some things are unavoidable.

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