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Big East season ends with a whimper

11/26/2012

Those were the days, my friends.

The heady days of October.

When the Big East was the early talk of the first BCS standings. Three ranked teams -- more than the ACC and Big Ten combined -- showed tangible proof the perception of this league was all wrong. The Big East came to play football. A statement had to be made.

A little over a month later, and, well, those days are now but a distant memory. Rather than finishing the season with a flourish, the Big East is finishing with a whimper.

No teams are ranked in the latest BCS Top 25.

The two best teams in the league -- Louisville and Rutgers -- are going into their de facto championship game with losses. Bad losses. What was supposed to be a defining moment for the Big East has turned into a dud, no matter the spin.

"I don’t concern myself with the luster of the game," Rutgers coach Kyle Flood said Monday. "When you get to the end of the season and you have two teams that are playing each other and the winner of the game has an opportunity to go to a BCS game, what you have is the closest thing to a conference championship game you can have. I can’t speak to any outside perception, but on our campus they’re excited about the game and in the Hale Center we’re really excited about the game Thursday night."

While it is true the winner will end up in the BCS game, the way the Big East has fallen the last two weeks could very well be a preview of what is to come.

There are a whopping five teams from non-automatic qualifying conferences ranked ahead of the Big East in the latest BCS standings: two each from the MAC and WAC.

Kent State, at No. 17, has a shot to make it to a BCS game -- thanks to the lackluster Big East. With a win Friday over Northern Illinois in the MAC title game, the Golden Flashes would more than likely finish in the top 16, triggering an automatic bid because they would be ranked higher than the Big East champion.

Remember, the Big East only has an automatic berth this season and next. In the future playoff system, the highest ranked team among the Big East, Mountain West, Conference USA, Sun Belt and MAC would get into one of the elite-level bowl games automatically. So if the same scenario plays out in 2014, the Big East would be on the outside looking in.

Not even incoming member Boise State would save the Big East -- the Broncos are ranked below Kent State this week.

Now look at the latest conference power rankings from ESPN Stats & Information. The Big East -- once ranked ahead of the ACC and barely behind the Big Ten -- is No. 8 this week, behind the WAC and MAC.

The hard truth is, nobody in the Big East can really talk trash about the MAC, given the head-to-head results this year. Kent State beat Rutgers; Toledo beat Cincinnati; Ball State beat USF and Western Michigan beat UConn. In fact, Kent State and Toledo ended up handing their Big East opponents their first losses on the season in consecutive weeks toward the end of October, beginning the slow unraveling that has brought us to today.

So what to make of the season now? A year that started with a bold statement has ended with a thud. Most everybody agreed for the Big East to make 2012 different from all the rest, there had to be a clear separation between top and bottom. Now, the very real possibility exists that instead of having one conference champion, the Big East could have four.

There is no question Thursday night is still a big day for the Big East. A BCS berth is on the line. The winner will more than likely finish ranked in the final BCS Top 25.

But it could have been so much bigger, and so much more captivating had Rutgers and Louisville not fallen flat Saturday.