The Rise and Fall of the Big East
by Joshua Fairbanks - 11/03/2006
Many sports fans turned their attention this week to a huge match-up between West Virginia and Louisville. Everyone's expectations were high for this game and the results lived up to the hype. The game could have been much closer, of course, if sure-handed running back Steve Slaton could have held onto the ball. Never-the-less, this game is probably going to go down as the pinnacle game for the Big East this year and quite possibly the biggest game in division history.
Ever since Miami and Virginia Tech took their leave a few years ago, the East has been looked upon with the same glare as weaker divisions like the WAC or even the MAC. To me, it just seems like the BCS is not giving this conference the respect it deserves. After watching this game, everyone can honestly say that this division is the real deal this season. Six out of the eight teams in this league have winning records, and three of them are nationally ranked. Last time I checked, the WAC can't stand up to that.
With the match-up this week of two teams in the top five, everyone should start turning their heads toward the Big East. Instead, the opposite may happen. Now that Louisville has successfully upset West Virginia in a close fought battle, the hopes for the Big East now lie with the Louisville Cardinals. Not only was this game a disaster in the making, but it could not have come at a worse time.
If the two teams had played each other earlier in the season, the loser still could have had a chance to climb back up in the rankings to be a strong contender alongside the winner, making it possible for both teams to reach a big bowl game. With the BCS being as strict as it is, we may very well see West Virginia getting burned next week. Hypothetically, West Viriginia should stay in the top seven or eight, but the BCS may give them a more brutal placement.
I believed that the only true hope for the Big East was West Virginia, and now that they have fallen, the East may have no chance at a championship. In the end, Louisville will most likely finish short of the National Championship Game. Even if they run the table, I still believe that a one-loss team, like Texas, may sneak into second. Boy, that would really shake up the BCS. West Virginia was the poster boy of this division, but after a loss, they may find themselves falling short of a big bowl game.
If a team like USC loses, where do they drop to? Oh that's right, they barely do. USC got beat this year, by Oregon State of all teams, and only dropped from No. 2 to No. 9. To me, that's showing some bias. If you lose to a team like Oregon State and still manage to keep National Title hopes alive, then there's definitely a flaw in this BCS system. Notre Dame is ranked No. 11 this week with their sole loss handed to them by an undefeated Michigan. Now who deserves to be ahead of whom here? A USC team that almost never covers the spread, or a Notre Dame team whose only loss comes from a No. 2 ranked team?
When Rutgers loses -- and I strongly believe that they will -- they will not get the same treatment as a team like USC. Rutgers will hit the cellar because they are not viewed by the BCS as a team that deserves to be highly ranked. I believe that teams like Rutgers and West Virginia may always carry this burden strictly because the BCS does not view Big East victories as highly as SEC victories. Think back a couple years to the Northern Illinois Huskies; they were undefeated and ranked inside the top 10. Everyone talked about their magic year and how they were going to crack the BCS, but we all know how that ended. Northern Illinois lost and dropped from the top 10 all the way out of the top 25. I expect the same treatment for Rutgers or even possibly West Virginia this year if the Scarlet Knights can take them down. Liberty Bowl, here we come!
Teams like West Virginia and Louisville, however, have it a little easier than Rutgers. The Mountaineers and the Cardinals are now viewed as teams that have a legit shot at a National Title, especially after this week's game. Of course, that thought could very well change after this season. Louisville will probably lose their two star players, Brohm and Bush, pushing Louisville back to the drawing board. Honestly, I don't see Louisville's recruitment at a level where they can bounce back like Ohio State will be able to after Troy Smith leaves. Most highly rated high school athletes still flock to divisions like the Big Ten, SEC, and ACC. They all want to win a National tile and don't believe that teams in the Big East can do that.
I expect the Big East will get many of the big conferences' rejects next year. West Virginia, on the other hand, still has a solid chance for next season. QB Pat White and RB Steve Slaton are both coming back next season as juniors. On the other hand, West Virginia may be slapped with the "schedule isn't difficult enough" label they've gotten the past few years. It is very possible that Louisville and Rutgers will not have the seasons that they are having this year. Even Pitt, which has had a solid season this year, will be losing its senior QB Palko, making the team far less dangerous. If this happens, West Virginia will have to step up once again if the Big East wants recognition. However, if West Virginia again falls short of a national championship bid, Slaton and White could very well jump ship early for the NFL. With no one of any status to play against, with the possible exception of Louisville, West Virginia and the Big East will yet again have a problem showing that they are a true contender in the end.
Big competition is what makes a conference great, so don't think that the West Virginia/Louisville game is a bad thing. In the end, I suspect that all of these teams are going to end up exactly where everyone expected them to be. I'd like to see these Big East teams triumph this year and really stick it to all of the non-Big East believers. If Louisville can make it to the National Title game, then they may finally be able to recruit as a big-time team in a big-time conference. Jump on the bandwagon people, the Big East is in dire need of some acclaim. Unfortunately, with many teams losing a lot of their firepower, I predict a huge fall at the start of next season after this year's great rise. The Big East has really hit a new pinnacle this season. Let's just hope West Virginia can recreate some magic alone next year.