If commissioner Mike Aresco had asked Hollywood writers to come up with a screenplay for the perfect Big East season, they may have been hard-pressed to dream up what has unfolded at the midway point of 2012.
Three Big East teams are undefeated and ranked -- No. 15 Rutgers, No. 16 Louisville and No. 21 Cincinnati -- making this league one of the best success stories of the college football season. Just look at the numbers:
The Big East has more undefeated teams than the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac-12.
The Big East has more ranked teams than the ACC and Big Ten.
The Big East has gone 4-3 against the ACC in head-to-head matchups, and has moved ahead of its rival league in the ESPN Stats & Information conference power rankings.
To put a cherry on top of the terrific start: All three teams are remaining league members, giving the Big East an early opportunity to flip the script and get the nation talking about who it has in place as opposed to who has departed. While it is true that their strength of schedule is not the best, and none of the three teams has played to its full capabilities just yet, having three undefeated teams at the midway point is better than anybody predicted before the season started.
The Big East has been desperate for an upper echelon to form, the way it has in virtually every other "big-time conference." Seeing that unfold this year has to be particularly gratifying. But at the same time, expectations have been ratcheted up and the standard is now higher. We will see if Rutgers, Louisville and Cincinnati can avoid the upsets that usually dog this league and remain at the top of the Big East in the second half.
Offensive MVP: Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville. Right now, this is a two-man race between Bridgewater and Rutgers running back Jawan Jamison, who has been outstanding in his own way. But Bridgewater gets the edge in this one because in the end, I think he is more important to his team's success. Bridgewater has been terrific this year, throwing for 1,438 yards, 9 touchdowns and 3 interceptions, while completing 71.8 percent of his passes. He has two 300-yard passing games this season and has been a true leader for his team. Jamison has five 100-yard rushing games and has been incredibly consistent for the Scarlet Knights. He deserves mention as well.
Defensive MVP: Yawin Smallwood, UConn. This one also is a two-man race between Smallwood and Rutgers linebacker Khaseem Greene. (Fellow blogger Matt Fortuna gives the nod to Greene.) I am giving the edge to Smallwood because I think he has been just a tad better than Greene so far this season. He leads the league with 75 total tackles, and 11 tackles for loss -- including four sacks. I believe he plays on a better linebacking unit, so it speaks volumes that he has still been able to emerge as its best player. Greene had an unbelievable last game against Syracuse and definitely will be in contention as the year goes on. He has forced more turnovers and has more hurries as well.
Biggest surprise: Temple. The Owls were universally dismissed before the season began, and losing to Maryland and Penn State did not help matters at all -- especially because both of those games seemed so winnable. But Temple refocused during its bye week leading into Big East play and coach Steve Addazio went the unconventional route -- scrimmaging his starters during the week off. Addazio says that helped prepare his players for the rigors of conference play and what do you know, Temple is 2-0 in the Big East for the first time in school history. All of a sudden, bowl eligibility is a real possibility for a team that just rejoined the league.
Biggest disappointment: USF. The Bulls were picked No. 2 in the Big East preseason poll, but they have failed to turn around much from a 5-7 showing a year ago. USF now sits 2-4, and 0-2 in Big East play, and questions surround the future of coach Skip Holtz. USF has now lost 10 of its past 11 Big East games, and Holtz is 4-12 overall in Big East play. As I have said on the blog before, it is unacceptable for a program that thinks of itself among the prominent teams in the Big East to lose to Ball State and Temple.
Best game: Cincinnati 27, Virginia Tech 24. This was one of the best wins for the Big East during nonconference play, and it went down to the wire. There is no question one of the highlights of the college football season was seeing Damon Julian streeeetch out and make the game-winning 39-yard touchdown reception with 13 seconds to play. That play capped a seesaw fourth quarter that saw the lead change four times.
Best coach: Kyle Flood, Rutgers. If I had to give a midseason coach of the year award out, it would go to Flood -- the only first-time head coach who is undefeated right now. There were many skeptics unsure about whether Flood would be able to keep a solid returning team playing at the same high level it did a year ago. Those skeptics look foolish right about now. The offense may not be thrilling, but the defense has been pretty stellar. Flood is smart enough not to mess with a good thing.