The best Big East rivalry may never be played again, now that expansion has changed the face of college football.
Pitt and West Virginia had made a living hating each other, a bitter rivalry that really transcended the Big East and became one of the most heated in the entire country. Think of rivalry games, and think of the Backyard Brawl.
No future meetings between the two schools have been scheduled, with West Virginia beginning play in the Big 12 in 2012 and Pitt on its way out to the ACC. So what does that leave the Big East in terms of true league rivalries?
The longest running one remaining is Pitt-Syracuse. The two schools first met in 1916 and have played 67 times, including every year since 1955. But alas, those two schools are on their way out of the Big East.
So turn your attention to Cincinnati-Louisville. These two schools first played in 1922 and have met 52 times, with the rivalry starting back up in 1996 after a three-year hiatus. Cincinnati leads the series 30-21-1 and has won the last four.
But that could very well change in 2012.
While there may not be much national cache to the rivalry game between the two programs, all the ingredients are there for the intensity to ratchet up another notch between the two.
The game already has a nifty trophy. The "Keg of Nails" has been handed out to the winner of this game since 1929, when fraternity chapters on both campuses decided the victorious players were tough as nails. The trophy is a replica of a keg that was used to ship nails and features the logos of both schools and the scores of every game. This rivalry is not merely contained to the Big East, either. The two were also Missouri Valley and Conference USA rivals.
They are virtually neighbors. In the newly far-flung Big East, that counts for something. The two schools are a mere 106 miles away from each other.
The two programs are on the rise, with coaches on the rise. Both Louisville coach Charlie Strong and Cincinnati coach Butch Jones head into their third seasons as Big East champions, and it seems pretty clear that neither one is going to stop at one, either. Louisville is expected to contend for the Big East championship this season; Cincinnati may have lost a bunch of starters but there is plenty of talent on the roster. Both coaches have become "hot" names in coaching circles because of their successes, and both have pledged their commitment to their respective programs. You can definitely see this game having pivotal implications in the race for the conference championship in the years to come.
While it is true that both schools have other rivals (Louisville has Kentucky; Cincinnati has Miami (Ohio) and Pitt), nobody says rivalries have to be exclusive. Michigan has Michigan State and Ohio State; Florida has Tennessee, Florida State and Georgia; Florida State has Florida and Miami; Oklahoma has Texas and Oklahoma State; Texas has Oklahoma and Texas A&M.
In the cases of all those rivalries, the greater the stakes, the greater the intensity, the greater the scrutiny. Florida State-Miami has lost a bit of its luster, compared to the 1980s and 1990s. If Cincinnati and Louisville are competing for Big East and national championships every year, the game will grow in national stature.
Here are a few other potential rivalry games in the new Big East:
USF vs. UCF: The War on I-4 has been played four times, with USF winning all meetings. Bulls fans will say this is not a rivalry because they have dominated the series, last played in 2008. There is no question the hatred is there, one of the key components to any good rivalry. USF fans look down at UCF as being a whiny little brother; UCF fans think USF fans are entitled for no apparent reason. Let the rivalry resume!
Temple vs. Rutgers: Having the schools in close proximity to one another certainly helps, along with the natural rivalry between New Jersey and Philadelphia. Rutgers fans will tell you a rivalry can't exist until Temple is on the same playing level. But Temple fans will tell you the Owls are already there, with three straight winning seasons. Watch out for some major recruiting clashes between the two as well.
Navy vs. SMU: There already is a trophy for the winner in this game. It is named after Frank Gansz, who played at Navy and later served on the coaching staffs at SMU and Navy. The trophy was established in 2009, and Navy has won it three times. The two are set to become conference rivals in 2015.