Friday Big East mailbag Part I: Honoring Howard, bowl talk

Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett

I just touched down in Pittsburgh, where it seems everybody on my plane is going to the Steelers-Vikings showdown this weekend. I'm far more interested in watching Jonathan Baldwin and Jason Pierre-Paul than I am in Brett Favre and Adrian Peterson. So I guess I'm in the right job.

Lots to tackle today, so we'll break this up into two parts this afternoon. Let's get to your questions:

John from Morgantown, W. Va., writes: I just thought that I'd fill you in on some info about tributes for Jasper Howard. Many of the students here in Morgantown will be wearing white armbands with a blue No. 6 on them in his honor. I can only imagine how the UConn nation feels, but our hearts and prayers go out to them and his family.

Brian Bennett: That sounds like a nice gesture, John. I fully expect the West Virginia fans to distinguish themselves by paying proper respect and showing dignity and empathy on Saturday. I've heard calls for Mountaineers fans to give UConn a standing ovation when the Huskies enter the playing field as well, and I think that's another great idea.

Jim J. from Tampa, Fla., writes: Why do you predict USF will return to the St. Petersburg bowl? Almost all bowl committees (maybe Hawaii excepted) never like to take the same teams twice -- heck, the Pac-10 even has a RULE their bowls can't take the same team back to back. I realize USF's track record, along with the Big East line up, make sense for a lesser bowl. But why not PapaJohns.com? USF hasn't been there the last two seasons, and if USF will be "bad" enough to be selected that low, then Birmingham seems like a more appropriate destination, no?

Brian Bennett: That's a good question, and I had some tough choices to make when predicting the bowls this week. My thinking goes that Pitt will take the Meineke slot, leaving West Virginia needing a bowl. St. Pete doesn't seem like a great place for the Mountaineers because Tropicana Field doesn't have a lot of seats and the opponent is a C-USA team. Would West Virginia fans really want to go play, say, Memphis or Tulsa in a bowl? I think not.

That's why I put the Mountaineers in Birmingham, which has a big stadium and an SEC opponent. So what to do with South Florida, then? The Bulls certainly aren't a good fit at all for Toronto, and given the tough economic climate and the fact that St. Pete is still only in its second year and needs to fill seats, a repeat appearance makes some sense in this case. Of course, it's all just guesswork right now.

Andrew from Sistersville, W. Va., writes: I have a comment about WVU bowl destinations. Anytime WVU does not make the BCS or Gator / Champs bowl, WVU will go to Charlotte regardless of what place we finish. Why? Because, WVU puts fans in seats ($$$) and the Meineke Car Care Bowl knows this and will snatch us up at the first opportunity. Do you really think they would invite a team like USF to put 10-15k fans in the stadium or do you think they would invite WVU to put 20-35k fans in the stands?

Brian Bennett: Yes, that's another case where a repeat bowl appearance makes sense. I still think Pitt is a good fit there as well, especially if the bowl can get a North Carolina team or another ACC team with a big fan base. But West Virginia is always going to be an attractive option. What if Virginia Tech loses another game or two? Think a Mountaineers-Hokies bowl game would draw a few fans?

As for whether Meineke would take a team like South Florida, remember that they invited UConn a couple of years ago. And the Huskies weren't known at the time for having a huge horde of traveling fans, either.

Jeff G. from New Brunswick, N.J., writes: Thanks for all the work you put into the blog -- good stuff. One clarification if I may. Whenever you reference Notre Dame and bowls you never mention the possibility of the Cotton Bowl selecting the Irish. Seems like an 8- or 9-win ND that is not BCS eligible would be desirable to that bowl. As a Big East football fan, it would certainly be nice if they went to Dallas and didn't steal the Gator from a deserving conference school. Here's the link to verify.

Brian Bennett: That's a good point, Jeff. I would imagine a lot of bowls would love to get their hands on Notre Dame, and the Cotton Bowl would be really attractive because of the new Cowboys Stadium. That game could throw lots of money toward South Bend.

I still think the Gator, however, is the best bet since Notre Dame would replace an SEC team in the Cotton, and the SEC is kind of a big deal, if you haven't heard. It depends, of course, on which SEC team the Cotton has a chance to get. If it's a team like Arkansas, that would seem to be just as big of a draw for that region as Notre Dame would be.

Jeff from Tampa writes: Last weekend, we saw Rutgers' future at QB Friday night and West Virginia's future QB play for almost all of Saturday's win. All things considered, who do you think looked more impressive, Tom Savage or Geno Smith?

Brian Bennett: That's an excellent question, Jeff. Unfortunately, it's a little tough to make an apples-to-apples comparison since West Virginia has far more offensive weapons around Smith than Rutgers has around Savage. I've been impressed all season with Savage's poise in the pocket and the command he has of the game, but he clearly needs more polish and better receivers. I thought Smith would be pretty raw this year, especially given his veteran frame, but he looks like an unflappable veteran out there. Both guys seem to be fearless, too.

It's too close for me to call, at this point, so I guess I'm dodging the question a little bit. But won't it be fun to watch these two for the next four years? The Big East is blessed with a lot of really promising true freshmen this year.