The Big East Against the World
by Bill Glose, 9/9/02
The Big Least. The Big Easy. The Cream Puff Society. Get used to those names, and many more.
This past weekend, the Big East faced off with the other BCS players and came up lacking. Seven teams played OOC games, six against BCS foes, and only two came up victorious: Miamiís smackdown of Florida, and BCís narrow victory over Stanford. Unfortunately, the shine of those wins was overshadowed by the dark cloud of Big East losses. Oregon State blew out Temple and Pittsburgh fell to Texas A&M.
The Temple loss was expected and Pittsburgh kept it close, so neither of those caused much damage. But then Wisconsin humiliated WVU, Syracuse fell to UNC at home in the "I Canít Believe Itís Not A Basketball Game," and Rutgers was destroyed by Buffalo, 34-11. Destroyed by Buffalo are three words I didnít think would ever be written in connection with any 1-A team, but alas, Rutgers has finally found one area where they can exceed expectations.
Throughout the week, the message board heated up with discussions surrounding the Pittsburgh/Texas A&M game. Should Hokie fans pull for the Big East team to win? Or would it be better to root for Texas A&M, setting up a more interesting game with the Aggies next weekend? While it would be nice for the Hokies to play three top-20 teams in a row, thereís no doubt that the more favorable outcome was for Pitt to rule the day.
Donít forget that conference membership was the vehicle Tech rode to football prominence, and it will continue to be so. BCS tie-ins are what differentiate the major players in todayís football landscape. It certainly isnít a conferenceís overall record. Otherwise, the Big East should be looking over their shoulder. Sagarinís recent conference ratings put the Big East at #7 in the country, behind the Mountain West Conference. Thatís bad, really bad.
The Big East needs an image makeover, and the only way to do that is for the conference to win head-to-head matches against their BCS brethren. Sure, it would be nice for the bottom feeders to improve their records against beatable teams, but if Rutgers would have triumphed over Buffalo this past weekend, that wouldnít have swayed public opinion one bit. Each BCS conference has their doormats, and that doesnít diminish their overall luster. The SEC has Kentucky and Vanderbilt, the Big Ten has Northwestern and Minnesota, and the Big Twelve has Baylor and Kansas. Those six teams finished the 2001 season with a pathetic 18-48 record, but none of their conferences received a black eye for those marks. Why? Because their top-level programs offset those deficiencies.
Right now, the Big East has two elite programs. They need one more. Virginia Tech and Miami have shouldered the load, but even with the current defending national champion in the conference, the Big East needed a tie-in with Notre Dame to secure a decent number two bowl. Thatís pathetic. The only way the conference will be able to gain national respect and leverage with the bowl committees is for another Big East team to step up into top-15 status.
With three power teams, the conference can then create a better bowl scenario. The Gator Bowl would be secure without the potential of a golden domer appearance. Another possibility would be for the Big East to keep Notre Dame in its bowl alliance in exchange for games. Currently, ND plays several Big East teams each year, but it only does so when the Big East team visits South Bend twice for every time the domers travel. By including Notre Dame in the bowl package, the Big East can demand the Irish play each conference team on a 1-for-1 basis over a six-year period. If they say no, then give them the boot. But the Big East can take only that position from a position of strength, which is definitely not the case now.
At times, West Virginia and Syracuse have shown potential, but they still have problems to work out (How those two teams went from being so good to so bad in such a short period of time is best left for another discussion). Instead, the best hope for a third power appears to be Boston College and Pittsburgh. And, ironically, both BC and Pitt can help to redeem the conference during their games against Notre Dame later in the year.
Tom OíBrien has steadily rebuilt the Eagles after an ugly betting scandal, making them a potential contender. This season, they received the third highest amount of Big East media votes and were picked by many to place second in the conference. Theyíre currently 2-0, sitting just outside of the top 25, and hoping to pull off the upset on September 21 when they travel down to Miami.
Under Walt Harris, Pittsburgh has changed its scheme from a run-oriented slugger into a pass-happy offense. Though they struggled against Texas A&Mís numerous blitz packages, making the Aggie defense look like a veritable sack machine, their offense still showed why it should be feared. Their quarterback, Rod Rutherford, shook off a shaky start to lead the offense through a solid second half (Rutherford looks dangerous when heís mad, so I hope he doesnít get booed as much at Lane Stadium as he did at home). The Pittsburgh defense looked good all day, and their punter absolutely destroyed the ball with his foot, giving A&M a long field to work with all day. He smashed a 79-yarder on one kick and followed up with a 61-yarder on his next, finishing with a 46.4-yard average for the day. In a word, wow.
And wow is something the Big East could use a lot more these days.
Bill Glose is a former paratrooper, a Virginia Tech graduate, and a die-hard Hokie fan. When he's not watching a game or writing an article for TSL, he spends his time editing the literary journal, Virginia Adversaria. Over 150 of his articles have appeared in numerous markets and his fiction has been accepted for publication in four countries.