EDSBS Live! is going to focus on the Big East today, and with good reason: any and all Big East attention we might pay to the Big East has been clouded by our Owen Schmitt worship and the fact that trying to figure out what's happening in the Big East is very, very difficult at the moment. So we're going to air the thought process, talk to a few people, and settle the whole thing over cocktails tonight in ninety sloppy internet radio moments.
Owen Schmitt: clouding our thoughts on the Big East with his awesomeness.
But our ramshackle thinking of the moment on the conference goes:
The Big East is full of smallish, very well-run programs, and two biggish, very well-run programs. Consider the picture four years ago for the Big East: a conference with its two prime milkers taken to different pastures (wooo SEC agricultural metaphors!)
looked like a major conference downsizing itself into Conference USA-hood. Go check the number of articles on any blog or site back then proclaiming the death of the conference as a whole--they litter the back pages of the internet like so many Y2K panic articles/"Kings of Leon are the next shizznat" pieces.
The Big East is doomed! Bigfoot is gay! All the hot rumors of 2003.
What they failed to take into account were Mike Tranghese's negotiating chops and the leveling effect the removal of the two apes of the conference would have. They drafted cannily from the lower rungs of the college football ladder, bringing USF and Cincy into the fold, and watched and learned the same lesson all wrestling fans learn in their first match: watching the midgets wrestle is a lot more fun than watching the big guys waddle around the ring.
And when the midgets drop suplexes on megaconferences in bowl games...well, now that's real entertainment. West Virginia's stunning victory over Georgia in the Sugar Bowl was the curve-setter. It was script sirloin for some budding screenwriter, complete with an improbable fake punt to seal the game after a surging Georgia comeback in the second half.
(Apologies, Bulldogs. But it has to be shown here.)
The Big East's mid-sized to smallish programs are in tight competition, albeit with some top-heavy programs leading the way. Natural softshoe segue to...
We're not sure what's going to happen with Louisville. Coaching changes always give us grand mal seizures of anxiety as a prognosticator, and nothing's quieting our nerves here. Anyone with a modicum of gray matter has to accept that Steve Kragthorpe, good as he might be, is a step removed from Bobby Petrino in terms of quality. All we really know about him is that he's "serious about discipline," and that he breathed life into Tulsa. He's likely not as good a coach as Rich Rodriguez, though, and that blows us into the general direction of West Virginia, where the only significant coaching change comes on the offensive line with the loss of coach Rick Trickett.
Kragthorpe, however good he may be, will likely be a dropoff from 10-2 constant Petrino. By default that leaves West Virginia, the other mini-goliath in the conference.
Which leaves USF as the thinking man's, couture pick for the Big East's new overlord runner-up to the Mountaineers, who return cheetah-human hybrids Pat White and Steve Slaton to the backfield. Again, little changes for USF: frosh Matt Grothe and his amazing, Depeche Mode-themed highlight tape return to a spread offense on offense, and Jim Leavitt's defense will keep them in every game they play, including their early season matchup against Auburn. (Tuberville teams' slow starts should have Auburn fans hyperventilating over this game.)
They also wha-hoooped West Virginia in Morgantown and seem to play the Rodriguess! option game with discipline, something few other college teams seem to do. Then again, they also struggle in games they should blow through, as evidenced by the 21-20 FIU game last year where they nearly lost to Ned and Company. So take them as the continually rising but not quite there pick for the Big East: solid fundamentals, good prospects, but still lacking the overall program depth and consistency.
Which leaves you with Rutgers, basically, as the other option for a pick in the Big East. Steele's all over Rutgers as being a huge letdown team this year since they came out on the lucky side of some damning offensive statistics (being hugely outgained but still winning, etc.) There's merit to this--Rutgers got very, very lucky in many of their games last year, adding to the fairy-tale glow surrounding their '06 season. (Fairy tale minus the witches shoving children in ovens, etc. ) They were trounced by an iffy Cincinnati team 30-11, never got a grasp on the passing game, and generally looked like a team riding the high side of probability for most of the season.
And yet they sit there with eight home games this season, including a home bout against West Virginia and their pair of serious out-of-conference games against Maryland and Navy also coming to them at home. They could just as easily have the same season they had last year, which of course still means dropping two in conference and getting a prime bowl slot against a perfect bowl team for suckers like Kansas State, who they trounced last year in the Texas Bowl 37-10.
Putting hand over eyes, throwing dart... We suppose that means that we go into this thing standing next to our burning couch, firing a musket, and vowing to power vomit whiskey and venison sausage for old WVU this fall for the Big East title. And if Pitt makes any noise whatsoever, we'll grow a Wannstache in apology/tribute.