Here is what I will be watching when the Big East bowls kick off later this month:
1. How does Pitt respond? For the second straight season, the Panthers go into the BBVA Compass Bowl with an interim head coach. This year, defensive coordinator Keith Patterson will lead the way after Todd Graham abruptly resigned to take the head coaching job at Arizona State. To say the players are angry about what happened is probably an understatement. A few took to Twitter and unleashed their frustration, using words like "diva" "liar" and "Little Man Graham" to describe their former coach. But they also vowed to put Pitt football first, and playing well in the bowl game will be their final way to show Graham all he left behind. Pitt beat Kentucky 27-10 last year after Dave Wannstedt was fired.
2. Final Big East game for West Virginia? The Mountaineers made it back to a BCS game for the first time since the 2007 season, but this could be our last glimpse of them as members of the Big East. West Virginia has been involved in a legal battle with the league to exit for the Big 12 in time for the 2012 season. The school is intent on leaving; the Big East is intent on having West Virginia wait 27 months before departing. If this is its final game, it would be a fitting ending. West Virginia has been the best program in the Big East, winning a record seven championships. West Virginia just won the 700th game in school history — the 14th program to do so — and has been a model of consistency in a league that is known for its parity. The Mountaineers have been a constant since the inception of the league, and losing them will most certainly hurt.
3. Zach Collaros return? After Collaros broke his ankle against West Virginia in November, the hope was to get him back in time for a bowl game. There are a few weeks left to get him ready, and his status remains uncertain. Coach Butch Jones says Collaros is ahead of schedule in rehab, so there is a chance he will play against Vanderbilt in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl on Dec. 31. His return would cap a terrific career for Collaros and allow Cincinnati to send one of its best players off the right way.
4. Louisville springboard. Early indications are that Louisville will go into the season ranked in the preseason Top 25, with so many young players returning for next season. How the Cardinals play in the Belk Bowl against NC State will go a long way toward leaving an impression on everybody, as a springboard for 2012. Louisville ended the season as the hottest team in the Big East, finishing out 5-1. A win over a team from the ACC would be big, considering the Cardinals went 1-3 in nonconference games against FBS opponents.
5. Rutgers rebound. The last time we saw Rutgers, the Scarlet Knights lost badly to UConn with a Big East championship on the line. By the time they play Iowa State in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl, a month will have passed. How do they rebound from such a poor performance? Will there be a hangover because their goal of winning a first championship is over. Or will they want to prove they are not the last team we saw on the field?