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Big East battered, not flattened

So just how bad was Week 1 for the Big East?

Answer: Brutal, but not fatal.

The league entered 2010 with high hopes. Pitt and West Virginia were ranked, while Cincinnati and UConn were on the fringes of the Top 25. Before Labor Day approached, three of them were already 0-1. The Big East, in fact, went 1-4 against FBS competition, with Syracuse's win at Akron the lone point in the league's favor.

That's a terrible way to begin the year for a conference that is seemingly always working to get itself noticed. But let's take a closer look at those losses.

In all four defeats (Pitt at Utah, UConn at Michigan, Cincinnati at Fresno State, Louisville vs. Kentucky), Big East teams were considered the underdogs by the guys who make point spreads. Pitt and Cincinnati had to travel all the way or nearly all the way across the country to play two of the best non-BCS programs of the past decade. Connecticut played before the largest crowd in the history of college football in a game Rich Rodriguez and the Wolverines were desperate to win. Louisville, by any reasonable accounting, has the least amount of experienced talent in the Big East, and had to take on an SEC team that has been to four straight bowl games.

So none of these losses resembled anything like Kansas losing to North Dakota State or Ole Miss falling to Jacksonville State. We all want teams to play tough schedules, but a few Big East teams might have done themselves a disservice by scheduling such tough openers, especially on the road.

Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt lobbied to change the Utah game from Week 2 to the opener to help with travel and give his players a whole offseason to focus on the Utes. But on Monday, he sounded like he questioned his own decision after the preseason Big East favorites clearly needed some seasoning before the 27-24 overtime loss.

"When you look around the country and see all the games that were played this weekend, I don't know if any nationally ranked teams went and played a quality opponent, another ranked team, on the road," Wannstedt said. "A lot of them played at neutral sites. We jumped into a hornet's nest. I'll be the first one to admit it."

Week 1 did bring a few high-profile matchups. But LSU and North Carolina played in Atlanta. TCU and Oregon State squared off in Cowboys Stadium. Virginia Tech and Boise State are playing Monday night in Washington D.C. Illinois and Missouri held their annual rivalry game in St. Louis.

Very few BCS programs were willing to take on a true road game against a tough opponent in the first game; those rare examples included Purdue at Notre Dame, UCLA at Kansas State, Washington at BYU and Washington State at Oklahoma State. And guess what? All of those road teams lost. (Northwestern winning at Vanderbilt was an exception, but since when has anybody been scared of playing at Vandy?).

There is plenty of time for the Big East to bounce back. Remember that Pittsburgh cracked the Top 10 in November last year despite owning a much worse road loss than at Utah. The Panthers dropped a September game at NC State, which would finish 5-7. It's always better to lose early than to lose late.

With all that said, the way some Big East teams played in Week 1 remains troubling. Pitt was uncharacteristically sloppy, losing despite outgaining the Utes and winning the turnover battle. UConn, a trendy sleeper pick, lost by 20, and its defense had no answer for Denard Robinson. Cincinnati looked completely lost and physically overwhelmed for the final 33 minutes at Fresno State, and scored only 14 points.

Pitt still has to play Miami and Notre Dame in its next four games, while Cincinnati must travel to NC State and face Oklahoma in its next three outings. It's possible that the two teams that battled for the league crown last December could have losing records in early October. It might be up to West Virginia or an upstart like South Florida or Rutgers to pick up the baton and run with it this year for the league.

The race is far from over. The Big East can still produce a solid finish, even after stumbling out of the blocks.