Tuesday, January 12, 2010
What we learned from the Big East bowl season
By Brian Bennett
1. Cincinnati wasn't a national championship-caliber team: At least not without Brian Kelly as head coach. The Bearcats went 12-0, finished No. 3 in the final BCS standings and certainly had a claim to be playing for the title. But they looked overmatched athletically and schematically by Florida in a 51-24 Allstate Sugar Bowl loss. We'll never know what difference having Kelly remain as coach would have made, but the Bearcats did not answer the bell in the postseason.
2. Regular-season momentum doesn't necessarily carry over: Pitt lost its final two regular-season games in heartbreaking fashion, but rebounded to beat North Carolina in a road environment in a close game. West Virginia was on a high at the end of the year, beating Pitt and Rutgers to secure the Gator Bowl bid. But the Mountaineers lost to a 6-6 Florida State team riding its own wave of emotion. South Florida lost its last two regular-season games, had the Jim Leavitt controversy swirling but still won the International Bowl going away. Just goes to show that the postseason is unpredictable.
3. The league needs stronger competition at the bottom: Credit the Big East for winning the games it should win. But playing also-rans from the MAC and Conference USA doesn't excite anybody. For the second straight year, a Big East team blew out the C-USA opponent in the St. Petersburg Bowl, while the conference improved to 4-0 against the MAC in the International Bowl. The Big East needs more prestigious opponents in its lower-tier bowls; having the new Yankee Bowl replace the International Bowl next year with a Big 12 affiliation -- albeit a bottom-of-the-barrel Big 12 team -- is a step in the right direction.
4. UConn is on an uptick: Nobody had a better bowl season in the Big East than Connecticut, which dominated Steve Spurrier's South Carolina team in a 20-7 Papajohns.com Bowl triumph. That made it three straight wins to end the year for a team that was in every single game it played this year. With the majority of the two-deep returning next season, the Huskies have to be considered among the favorites to win the league in 2010 and should garner serious Top 25 consideration.
5. The future is bright for the Big East: Just take a look at my all-bowl team, which includes five freshmen and four sophomores. And that's not counting freshmen quarterbacks B.J. Daniels and Geno Smith, who played for South Florida and West Virginia in their bowl games, or several other promising youngsters around the league. The Big East will return a lot of young talent that gained valuable experience in 2009 and in the postseason. The fight for 2010 bowl spots should be highly competitive and fun to follow.