Big East mailbag

Who's got International Bowl fever? I recommend washing your hands frequently to avoid transmitting it.

Lots and lots (and I mean lots) of questions in the ol' mailbag this week about the officiating in the Pitt-Cincinnati game. To sum up most of the comments: it stunk. I am loathe to talk about officiating too much, though I did raise some serious questions about the replay officials' decisions a few weeks back. I did think there were some questionable calls in the Pitt game, notably that facemask/not-a-facemask penalty late.

But in the end, did it make much of a difference? Pitt still scored on the drive when the facemask penalty was picked up. The Panthers were up 31-10 and 38-24 and had every chance to win that game.

Unfortunately, when one team is in the running for a possible BCS title game berth that would help the league, there are always going to be questions from fans/conspiracy theorists about whether that league is, um, lending a helping hand. That's a byproduct of a lack of a playoff system.

Anyway, let's get to some non-officiating-related mail:

Alex from Pittsburgh writes: Do you think with the excitement of this year's mock "championship" game at Heinz Field, that the Big East might be interested in searching for some extra teams for the conference? All the current teams that we got from Conference USA a couple of years ago have done well adjusting to the Big East (Louisville was good when they first came). I just think a few extra teams could shake the conference up a little and make things a lot more exciting.

Brian Bennett: I'm not sure you could have made the Big East race much more exciting than it was this season. If anything, that would seem to suggest the eight-team format is working pretty well. The Big East is open to expansion, but as I've written repeatedly, it doesn't see any teams that are great fits right now.

Ken from Philadelphia writes: While I hope that Randy Edsall doesn't leave UConn for Notre Dame or anywhere, do you think that ND wouldn't be interested in him because he doesn't believe in recruiting rankings? His recruits are always rated near the bottom of the Big East but he always seems to get the most out of them. Your thoughts?

Brian Bennett: That's probably the biggest knock against Edsall in any consideration for the Irish job. He hasn't proved that he can recruit big-time athletes. He does fantastic work in identifying overlooked players and developing them, but some of that is out of necessity since UConn doesn't have a natural recruiting base. But I don't think it's that hard to adjust. Notre Dame still opens a lot of doors, and you can hire some great recruiters on your staff. Charlie Weis had no experience/reputation as a recruiter and managed to compile highly-ranked classes.

Daniel J. from Colorado Springs writes: So, it almost happened. One second away and UC would be in the national championship -- who would've thought it at the beginning of the year? But honestly, I just have a gut feeling that Florida will be "easier" to beat then Alabama, and by easier of course I mean trying to stop a train with your bare hands (no superpowers either). I also think UC vs Florida will be one of the more interesting matchups of all the bowls ... senior quarterbacks Tim Tebow vs. Tony Pike, who more then likely would be a Heisman finalist had he stayed healthy. But what's your take on this game? Does the nation give UC a chance against Tebow?

Brian Bennett: There's nothing easy about playing Florida. But I do think it may be a better matchup for Cincinnati than Alabama. That Crimson Tide's power running game and physical defense would have been tough for the Bearcats to stop. It's hard to really predict the Sugar Bowl at this point, because we're not entirely sure who will be coaching Cincinnati. How focused and invested will the Gators be after the disappointing loss in the SEC title game? I definitely think Cincinnati has a chance, but the Bearcats have to be considered substantial underdogs right now.

B.R. from Barboursville, W.Va., writes: Just read where the Gator Bowl sold out in TWO hours! Is that a record ( at least for the Gator)? Wow -- Bobby Bowden retiring and playing his last game in Florida plus West Virginia crowds = HUGE dividend for the Gator Bowl folks, huh?

Brian Bennett: And yet more evidence that bowl games could care less about which teams "deserve" spots. All the Gator Bowl had to do to get this matchup was tick off the entire ACC.

Chris from Chandler, Ariz., writes: As a Cincinnati fan I am obviously concerned that our coach is thinking about (and probably is) leaving. I am just wondering kind of impact making it to a second BCS game is going to have on Kelly's decision. Also, do the millions of dollars UC gets for making the Sugar Bowl get put back into the football program to help to improvements that are supposed to be coming?

Brian Bennett: At the very least, Brian Kelly knows he can make the BCS and get into the national title discussion at Cincinnati. Of course, that might only embolden him to dream of what he could do with Notre Dame's resources. As for the money, it's really a myth that Big East schools make big profits off BCS games. Revenue from all the bowl games is split evenly among the conference teams, and the Big East helps schools cover travel expenses. Cincinnati isn't going to end up with any more significant windfall than if it were playing in a lesser game.

Jason M. from Rostraver, Penn., writes: How does the pecking order work for the Big East's worst three bowl games? In other words, who picks first after the Meineke Car Care Bowl? Those three bowls are so different that you can never really say that one bowl is better than the other. ... As a Pitt fan, I was hoping we'd end up in the Papajohns.com Bowl. Even though the bowl has such a stupid name and its played in a decrepit stadium in a city not worth visiting, it offers the chance to play an SEC opponent, which is an opportunity Big East teams rarely get.

Brian Bennett: Technically, the St. Petersburg Bowl is No. 6 in the pecking order, while the International and Papajohns.com bowls are about equal. In practice, the league works closely with all three bowls to determine the best matchups. There's no real order for selection. As for Pitt, I can tell you that the Panthers would have preferred to play in the Papajohns.com Bowl for the reasons you mentioned, including the later date (Jan. 2, as opposed to the Dec. 26 Meineke game). But the game in Charlotte has the second pick after the Gator Bowl, so Pitt couldn't say no to that.