Cincinnati's title hopes the story for Big East second half

October, 21, 2009
10/21/09
9:30
AM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett

The debate has already begun.

Thanks to Cincinnati's perfect first half, the Bearcats are ranked No. 5 and in position to challenge for a spot in the BCS title game. Pundits have already started openly wondering whether a Big East team deserves a spot in the championship game over one-loss teams from the SEC or Big 12.

Prepare yourself. As long as Cincinnati keeps winning, this is the topic that will dominate the conversation in the second half of the Big East season.

Count Pittsburgh coach Dave Wannstedt among those who think there's no way a one-loss team from another league should get in the title game ahead of an an unbeaten Big East squd.

"I think that's ridiculous," Wannstedt said. "If Cincinnati goes undefeated, they'll be playing for the national championship, and deservedly so."

Cincinnati coach Brian Kelly understands the debate to a certain point but thinks it's too early to have it.

"It's almost silly," he said. "Let the teams play. We're six games into this thing, and we're already picking a national champion. Let's just play it out.

"We're so ingrained to think about the traditional powers and, quite frankly, we're not one of them. If our name was West Virginia, Syracuse or Pittsburgh, we probably wouldn't be having this discussion."

There's no guarantee, of course, that Cincinnati stays undefeated. The Bearcats will face challenges from West Virginia at home Nov. 13 and at Pitt on Dec. 5.

Because the Big East backloads its schedules, most of the high-profile league matchups will come in the second half. It should make for an exciting finish.

The Big East has proven itself out of conference already, but it would be good for the league if Cincinnati did make the BCS title game. The conference has not had a team in the championship picture since it reconfigured in 2005. Louisville, Rutgers and West Virginia came close in 2006, and the Mountaineers had a spot in the title game waiting for them in 2007 before they stubbed their toes against Pitt in the season finale at home.

"When it's all said and done, you'd like for the Big East to have three or four teams ranked and you'd like to see somebody playing for the national championship," Wannstedt said. "I think that just strengthens the reputation of our conference."

The conference's reputation will be debated as long as Cincinnati keeps winning.

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