Monday, November 23, 2009

Big East Football, Big Time

By Michael P. Tremoglie
Tremoglie's Tea Time Blog

Maybe the doubters will finally go away. They should. Not one Big East football team was ranked among the Top 25 in preseason polls.
Now, as the college football season is concluding two teams are in the Top Ten and one is in the Top Five.

During the season there were as many as four teams ranked in the Top 25. Think about the significance of this. Half of the teams in the Big East conference were ranked among the Top 25 in the nation.

What other college football conference can make such a claim?

The University of Cincinnati is currently the fifth ranked team in the country and has been for the past few weeks. Their offense is high powered and their depth at quarterback defies description.

Last season, Cincy’s first two starting quarterbacks were injured. So what happened?

The third string quarterback, Tony Pike, led them to the Orange Bowl!

This year Pike was injured. So, what happened?

The second stringer, Zach Collaros, steps in and he leads them to a perfect record. Indeed, Collaros has evoked comparisons to Brett Favre, Steve Young and Joe Montana with his athleticism, ball handling skills and laserlike passing accuracy.

Contrast this to Iowa, which was moving in the standings until their starting QB, Rick Stanzi, was injured. Iowa has not been the same team since.

Then there is Pitt. The season began with some wins against lesser squads. This was followed by the loss to North Carolina State – a game in which they were leading for most of the time.

Since then, the Pitt squad has won all of their games and they are now ranked number 9. Their freshman tailback, Dion Lewis, is a semifinalist for the Doak Walker award, which is given to the best running back in college football.

Lewis has been compared to NFL Hall of Famer and former Pitt running back, Tony Dorsett. Even Tony Dorsett likes to watch him. Lewis is on track to break Dorsett’s freshman records set in 1973.

Lewis, Collaros and Pike are not the only exciting players in the Big East though. The conference is full of them.

Rutgers and South Florida, which have also been ranked in the Top 25 this season, feature some excellent players now – and freshman phenoms like QB’s Tom Savage and B.J. Daniels for the future.

Conceivably four or five Big East teams could be playing in post-season bowls.

Here are my predictions for who will be going where in the postseason. These are admittedly premature because things can change as we go into the last couple of weeks of the season which feature rivalry games where upsets abound.

Cincinnati versus Ga. Tech in the Orange Bowl

These are two comparable teams. The Orange Bowl is a Bowl Championship Series ( BCS) which gets to choose from the best available ranked teams.

Ga Tech is from the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), which is a rival conference. A few years ago, the ACC raided the Big East and took three of the best teams - Boston College, Va. Tech and Miami.

The game also has the benefit of being popular in two relatively large television markets – Atlanta and Cincinnati.

Pitt versus Clemson in the Gator Bowl

This will be another Big East-ACC matchup. The Gator Bowl is slated to match an ACC team against either a team from the Big East, Notre Dame or the Big 12. Given that Pitt is the highest ranked team in the Big East after Cincy and given the large payout by the Gator Bowl, $2.5 million, it would seem only logical for Pitt to be invited.

West Virginia versus Va. Tech in the Meinecke Bowl

The third Big East – ACC game of the day. This time mandated because the Meinecke Bowl features a Big East – ACC game contractually. This one will have the wrinkle of two former Big East and neighboring state rivals.

Rutgers versus Temple in the International Bowl

The only bowl game played in Canada (Toronto), the International Bowl is contractually obligated to feature a Big East team against one from the Mid-American Conference (MAC).

While technically this is the Big East versus the MAC, everybody knows Temple were tossed out of the Big East. They found a home in the MAC.

So this should be a fantastic game. It is a rivalry in many different ways.
It is Philadelphia versus New York. Many of the kids that went to high school together now play for either Rutgers or Temple. Temple was a former Big East team.

South Florida versus SMU in the St. Petersburg Bowl

The St. Pete bowl is practically a home game for South Florida University in Tampa. They can draw a crowd. The bowl features Big East – Conference USA. SMU is a big television market so it would make sense to invite them.

Connecticut versus Mississippi in the Papa Johns Bowl

This is another bowl that is obligated to feature a Big East team against one from the Southeastern Conference (SEC).

Connecticut is a good team with a lousy record and has yet to become eligble to play in a bowl game. If they do not then the other bowl lineups will have to change. If they do, expect them to be invited here because it has the cheapest payout, $300,000, of all the bowl games.

These will probably change before the bowl bids are announced in December, however, these should not be far from the actual results.

Whatever the final bowl lineup is the one absolute certain fact is that Big East football is big time.

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