We all know that the Big East has traditionally been the weakest of the so-called BCS conferences. Its constituent programs have never really measured up to the powerhouses of the SEC, Big 12, or Big Ten.
But in recent seasons, the teams at the top of the league have made significant progress in closing that talent gap; Cincinnati, West Virginia, Pittsburgh, UConn, and even South Florida have had some big wins on some big stages, slowly changing the public’s perception of the conference.
Last year may have been the high point for the league. It had an undefeated team go to the Sugar Bowl, it had 4 teams with 9 or more wins, and only 2 teams finished with losing records. Add those result to WVU’s previous accomplishments and suddenly the Big East seemed more legitimate in comparison to other automatic qualifiers.
In fact, with the ACC struggling of late, the Big East was slowly creeping toward even footing with its nearest BCS neighbor.
Then 2010 happened. Exactly what happened is a mystery, but anyone can see that whatever it is, it isn’t good.
–Last year’s 12-0 Big East rep currently sits at 1-2, about to fall to 1-3 unless a miracle comes along. Cincinnati scarcely resembles the offensive juggernaut of a year ago.
–The Pitt Panthers began with a tough yet respectable loss at Utah, but week 4 delivered a merciless thrashing at the hands of the former Big East Miami Hurricanes.
–UConn, a team that in the pre-season was expected to boast one of the best offensive lines and ground games in the biz, has been brutalized by Michigan and Temple. No disrespect to Al Golden and his admittedly talented Owls team, but the Big East isn’t supposed to be trumped by the MAC. That’s a huge step backwards for what looked to be a burgeoning conference.
Even the teams that appear to be doing well have failed to earn many style points. Rutgers topped the Sun Belt’s FIU by only 5. Syracuse has started 2-1 but was crushed by the only major program they’ve faced, a 41-20 loss to Washington. West Virginia barely escaped Huntington with a win, and had the refs been paying a bit more attention, Marshall would have held on for the upset victory. Even with the Mountaineers’ rally, it was Conference USA that was better represented for the full 60 minutes.
Overall the Big East is 12-10 heading into the fourth weekend of the season, but things aren’t actually that rosy. Against FBS opponents, the league is a combined 4-10. A .286 winning percentage.
And the 4 wins? 3 were against opponents from the Sun Belt, MAC, and C-USA. The fourth was WVU’s win over ACC-whipping boy Maryland. And assuming games go chalk this weekend, count on 3 more losses.
Rutgers faces UNC, and even shorthanded the Tarheels have a significant advantage. Cincinnati faces Oklahoma; that matchup needs no elaboration. West Virginia has to travel to LSU, and while I’m not impressed by Les Miles’ team, I do think pulling out a road win in Death Valley is unlikley.
Even if UConn can handle Buffalo (MAC) and USF can take down WKU (Sun Belt), the Big East will still only be 6-13 against FBS foes through the first 4 weeks. And the conference still won’t have a victory against any BCS conference teams.
It’s one thing for the Big East to be the weakest AQ conference. But this league is inexplicably living up to its “Big Least” nickname. Plenty of talented players returned from last year, and though Brian Kelly did depart for South Bend, there’s roughly the same level of coaching talent. So what on earth is wrong with these teams?
It’s tempting to glibly say that the league stinks, and move on. But true fans know that that attitude isn’t truly warranted.
Even so, if it doesn’t get its issues resolved quickly, the Big East is going to sink even further. Unless things turn around quickly, moving from unpleasant surprise to true embarrassment is a certainty.