Has anyone bothered to look at the Big East Conference lately? Now I know that with school, work and other extracurricular activities, many of you students-slash-college football fans might not have had a chance to glance at the former home of our beloved Owls, but I recently I took the liberty to check up on our old friend.
If it weren’t for the familiar bannered logo of the conference, however, I would have thought it was a totally different entity. Over the past two years, with a snip here and slice there, charter members Miami (Fla.), Virginia Tech, Boston College and Temple have all hit the cutting room floor-though the Owls fell harder than others.
We now see a conference that includes South Florida, Cincinnati, Connecticut and Louisville. Louisville, which has enjoyed much success recently, is currently the only nationally-ranked team in the Big East. The Cardinals went 11-1 last season in Conference USA and capped their season with an impressive victory over Boise State in the Liberty Bowl.
Out of the eight teams left in the made-over conference, three boast a winning percentage higher than .500. Luckily, it’s still early in the season.
One of these three teams is the Connecticut Huskies. A team still wet behind the ears when it comes to Division I-A competition, Connecticut had a very good inaugural Big East season, posting an 8-4 record. They have blazed out of the gates this year to a 2-0 start with shutout victories at home against Buffalo, 38-0, and Liberty, 59-0.
Yet aside from next week’s game against No. 16 Georgia Tech and a regular season finale against new conference foe Louisville, the Huskies’ schedule resembles a roll of Cottonelle. In fact, the entire Big East Conference seems to be suffering from extra-fluffy scheduling.
Teams like East Carolina, Buffalo and Central Florida, with a combined record of 6-29 in 2004, make reoccurring appearances on many of the Big East members’ schedules. (Buffalo’s non-conference schedule is nearly a Big East Conference schedule). Likewise, Division I-AA teams like Liberty, Youngstown State and Wofford, have faced Big East opponents looking for the biggest upsets in their programs’ histories.
The Owls, on the other hand, have a schedule that would make any top-ranked team shudder. Four games against nationally-ranked opponents, including No. 18 Miami and No. 25 Virginia, along with games against the two best teams in the affiliated Mid-American Conference, Toledo and Bowling Green, lay ahead of them.
The true glory days of the 1980s, when the Big East was the second-best conference in the country, are no more. Its rich history still allows member teams an automatic bid to one of the Bowl Championship Series’ coveted bowl games. Last years’ beneficiary, the Pittsburgh Panthers, gladly accepted a bid to the Fiesta Bowl, after surviving a four-team pileup atop the conference. The Panthers were eventually dominated by Utah, 35-7, and left many experts to ponder the automatic bid system.
In removing Temple, the Big East ousted its worst team, as is its right. But one wonders what good that did when those schools turn around and construct marshmallow non-conference schedules composed of teams even more futile than the program they just dismissed.
Jeremy Drummond can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org