For all the unpredictability that has seemed to define the Big East over the past two seasons, it is safe to say the conference race turned on a broken ankle.
Now we sit here for the second straight year without knowing who is going to represent the Big East in the BCS until the final week.
It is only honest to sit here and say the Big East might be getting less flak nationally had Cincinnati quarterback Zach Collaros not gone down with a broken ankle against West Virginia two weeks ago. The Bearcats were riding an undefeated league record and controlled their destiny to get to a BCS game.
While it is true Cincinnati was losing at the time Collaros got injured, also remember the Bearcats were still in control of their destiny after losing that game. Without him, Cincinnati imploded against Rutgers and the Big East is now faced with the potential for a three-way tie while having to defend its status as an automatic qualifier once again.
So what is the best possible outcome for the Big East when it comes to getting to a BCS game? It seems as if folks already have made up their minds about West Virginia, Cincinnati and Louisville, believing the Big East will send an unworthy opponent onto the national stage.
It is important to remember that none of these teams should be blamed for getting automatic entry into the BCS. It is the conference commissioners collectively who came up with this system. If you want to be angry at someone, be angry at them.
While the Big East and West Virginia are duking it out in the courtroom over their futures, it would help the Big East most from a perception perspective if West Virginia represented the league in the BCS.
The Mountaineers are the only ranked Big East team in the BCS right now. They were the preseason favorites to win the league, and they have an offense that is fun to watch. Should Virginia Tech win the ACC, there is some cache to a matchup in the Orange Bowl, as the two would be able to resume their now dormant Black Diamond Trophy game. The two were once big-time rivals, but their series ended once Virginia Tech moved on to the ACC.
Should Cincinnati go, the league would be able to say it is sending a 9-3 team to a BCS game -- better than UConn last season -- and would be able to have Collaros make his triumphant return to the field. The Bearcats have a wonderful turnaround story to tell, and have been on the big stage before, though they would need to play better than they did in previous appearances in the Orange and Sugar Bowls. They lost to Virginia Tech 20-7 in the 2009 Orange Bowl.
As for Louisville, you have got to love the job Charlie Strong has done in turning a 2-4 team into a 7-5 Big East champion. The Cardinals ended the season 5-1, and have so much young talent you could pencil them in now as the favorites to win the league in 2012. But for now, not even Strong knows whether he has a BCS-caliber team on his hands. When asked about it Monday during his news conference, he said he might not have the most experienced team, but his players would be ready to accept the challenge.
Unfortunately, going back-to-back years with one 8-4 representative and one 7-5 representative will only make Big East critics cry even louder that the AQ status should be taken away. That certainly will not help the cause once tweaks to the BCS are hammered out. There already is growing talk to eliminate AQ status for everyone. The Big East could be used as an example.
However this all plays out, the Big East has already begun to try to put a positive spin on a parity-riddled conference once again.