- Brian Bennett, College Football
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The Big East went 4-2 in bowls this season, the best among BCS AQ conferences and second only to the Mountain West's record.
Hooray. Fire the confetti cannon. Shoot off the fireworks.
The league should do everything it can to celebrate the record -- and to distract people from looking too closely at it. I'm sure that 4-2 mark will be prominently placed in promotional materials, and West Virginia coach Bill Stewart will have it atop his talking points sheet at Big East media day this summer in Newport, R.I.
After an abysmal nonconference season in which the league went just 4-13 against the five other major conferences, the Mountain West and the WAC, the 4-2 postseason showing certainly represents improvement. But overall, I have to quote a wise man (myself) who wrote this sentence last year at this time: "[O]nce again, the view from the bottom was a whole lot prettier than the view at the top."
This was the third straight postseason in which the Big East went 4-2. And for the third straight year, those two losses came by double digits in the BCS game and in a listless performance in the No. 2 bowl. Cincinnati lost BCS games by a combined 40 points in January 2009 and January 2010; Connecticut fell to Oklahoma by 28 on New Year's Day 2011. In the league's top non-BCS bowl, Pittsburgh snoozed through a 3-0 loss to Oregon State in the 2008 Sun Bowl; West Virginia has fallen flat to average ACC teams the past two years in the Big East's No. 2 bowl, including this year's 23-7 loss to NC State.
The pattern is unmistakable -- and troubling. Respect is earned at the top, when your best takes on and beats the best from other leagues. The Big East hasn't done that now since the 2007 season.
Meanwhile, the teams that the Big East did beat are all a bunch of also-rans. The list of victims:
Kentucky, which finished 6-7 and won only two conference games in an incredibly down SEC East;
Clemson, which finished 6-7 and tied for fourth in the ACC's Atlantic Division;
Kansas State, which went 7-6 and won three Big 12 games with one of the nation's worst defenses;
Southern Miss, an 8-5 Conference USA team.
Combined record: 27-25. Not exactly murderers' row. However, the Big East can only beat who it plays, and this was the lineup in front of it this year. At least the league took care of business and suffered no embarrassing losses. Half of the conference's eight teams can claim a bowl victory and feel good about themselves for a whole offseason.
But for the Big East to gain more goodwill as a whole, it needs to start performing better at the top.