Big East football still seeking national respect
"I think we've got to beat that public perception with our play on the field in the next couple of years, winning the nonconference games, winning the bowl games. I think that will happen. I think the respect we had a few years ago when Miami was winning national championships, it might take us a while to get there, but I think we can get that type of respect back."
Which Big East football coach offered up this quote here in historic Newport, Rhode Island? Turns out, it came from West Virginia coach Rich Rodriguez, way back in 2005, the first time I was here in this coastal getaway right before USF's first year in the league. The theme in Newport that year was the Big East working to answer its national critics and show it was nationally relevant despite losing Miami, Boston College and Virginia Tech to the ACC.
Six years later, the league's coaching lineup has almost completely cycled through, with Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano the only one still in place and his team picked to finish near the bottom of the league after a step back in 2010. The Big East took a hit last fall, going without a ranked team for much of the season, so the league is still fighting for the same national respect that Rodriguez and Bobby Petrino and others sought in 2005.
Newport always reminds me how very young USF is -- not just as a football program, but as an institution. The town dates back to 1639 (well before any Big East school, of course) and even the league's annual clambake social (which I missed last night, unfortunately) is held at the Eisenhower House, which served as the summer home for Dwight Eisenhower in 1958, two years after USF was founded and nearly 40 years before the Bulls' football game.
For all that, the Big East is well within USF's reach this fall -- depending on who you read this morning, the Bulls will be picked third or second in the league's preseason media poll, close enough that it wouldn't take much for the conference championship to be on the line when West Virginia comes to Raymond James Stadium on Dec. 1 for a Thursday night game on ESPN. USF has four of its first five conference games on the road, and if the Bulls can go 4-1 or better in that swing, they'll have two home games left with a decent chance at a BCS bowl berth.
We'll have a lot from Newport today, with things starting up at 9 a.m. -- lots of video and notes and stories that will be played out over the four months between now and that West Virginia game. For USF, it's a season that could be much like Newport -- historic -- or just the same old story again. ...