Two September weekends huge for Big East
We write a lot here about the Big East's national reputation, both in research and in linking to what other people are saying, and it's a good time to look ahead to the conference's 2009 season and how the Big East will be viewed nationally as a BCS conference.
Last year, the Big East went 11-9 against teams from other BCS conferences (and Notre Dame) and was within a game of .500 against every league. They didn't own any league and no league owned them -- a 4-3 record against the ACC, 3-2 against the Big 12, 1-2 vs. Big Ten, 1-1 vs. SEC and 0-1 vs. the Pac-10.
The league didn't have any horrid losses -- of the eight, seven came against bowl teams, the exception being West Virginia's loss to a 5-7 Colorado team. None of the wins were particularly huge -- none against a BCS team with 10 or more wins, with the biggest arguably West Virginia over North Carolina (8-5), Pittsburgh over Iowa (9-4) and USF over Kansas (8-5).
This all brings us to 2009, when the Big East has 16 games scheduled against BCS opponents, with another six games against bowl teams from non-BCS leagues. From a distance, it seems the Big East will overachieve if it simply matches last year's 9-7 regular-season record against BCS teams. If, for instance, you give the win to the team ranked higher in the New York Times' preseason rankings of all 120 I-A teams, the Big East would go 6-10 (the six wins in that model: Cincy over Oregon State and Illinois, West Virginia over Auburn and Colorado, Rutgers over Maryland and UConn over Baylor.)
Syracuse, for instance, will be the underdog against three Big Ten teams -- Minnesota, Penn State and Northwestern, and those are all in the first three weeks of the season.
Anyway, the league can help or hurt itself most in its bowl showing, but until then, there's a huge amount riding on the third and fourth weekend in September -- the 19th and the 26th. On the 19th, there are five games against other BCS teams -- West Virginia goes to Auburn, Cincinnati goes to Oregon State, Louisville goes to Kentucky, Connecticut goes to Baylor and Syracuse hosts Northwestern. With four of the five games on the road, it's a tough weekend for the Big East, which also has Pitt at home against Navy as well.
The next weekend is a Big East-ACC showdown -- USF goes to Florida State, Rutgers goes to Maryland and Pittsburgh goes to N.C. State. Again, the big challenges are on the road for the Big East, which also has two huge non-BCS games that weekend, with Cincinnati hosting Fresno State and Louisville getting an upset shot at Utah. If the Cardinals, as a lower-tier Big East program, could get a win at a Mountain West school, it would be a solid chip in the public battle between the two conferences.
Between Sept. 19-26, the Big East has half of its 16 games against BCS opponents, and seven of the eight are on the road. On Oct. 1, Colorado goes to West Virginia, and then there isn't another BCS nonconference game for six weeks, until Pittsburgh hosts Notre Dame in November. The Big East's showing on those two September weekends should go a long way toward dictating how the conference is viewed nationally for most of the 2009 season ...