Wednesday, January 12, 2011
What we learned from Big East bowl season
By Brian Bennett
1. "Torso league" holds true: That's the term I used for the Big East in midseason, as the conference looked like it was all middle, with no top or bottom. And that bore out in bowl season. The league's BCS representative, Connecticut, lost by 28 points to Oklahoma in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, while West Virginia lost by 16 to NC State in the Champs Sports Bowl. But against all other opponents -- none of whom finished with fewer than five losses -- the Big East went 4-0. The league showed that its teams could compete very well with other middle-of-the-road clubs. But it will be remembered for lacking any greatness in 2010.
2. Three programs on the rise: I dispelled the myth of bowl wins earlier this season. There's no evidence to support the notion that winning a bowl game has a major impact on the following season. Still, the postseason victories by Syracuse, Louisville and South Florida all seemed to signal a step in a positive direction, if nothing else. The Bulls ended the season playing at their best, and I've given them a very early nod as the favorites for 2011. The Orange and the Cardinals both won bowl games after long postseason absences. All three teams appear to be on the rise and could challenge for the Big East title very soon.
3. Connecticut needs more playmakers: UConn was able to hang in the game with Oklahoma for about three quarters, but it was painfully obvious that the Huskies had entered a gunfight with a slingshot. The powerful running game led by Jordan Todman was enough to help the team win a watered-down Big East, but the program can't compete on an elite level until it finds a credible passing game to go along with that ground attack. A potential shift in offensive philosophy could be coming in the wake of Randy Edsall's departure, and that may be just what the Huskies need to get to the next level.
4. Young quarterbacks the key: For the Big East to take a step forward, its young quarterbacks will have to do likewise this offseason. Syracuse's Ryan Nassib and South Florida's B.J. Daniels both turned in very encouraging performances in their bowl games. West Virginia's Geno Smith had his ups and downs against NC State but was clearly his team's top weapon, and he could be asked to do even more in Dana Holgorsen's new spread. Pitt's Tino Sunseri had unspectacular numbers but did enough to get the win against Kentucky; he's also facing a new offensive system under Todd Graham in 2011. All four of those guys were sophomores this season, and Louisville might start a freshman at quarterback. It remains the most important position in college football and the key to team -- and league -- success.
5. Big East has a BCS problem: League supporters will point to the 4-2 bowl record as a sign of strength, but the argument about the Big East's success in BCS games is rapidly losing steam. The conference has now lost three straight BCS games, and the margin of victory has gotten worse in each one. Cincinnati lost by 13 in 2008, followed by a 27-point loss in 2009, and UConn fell by 28. It's still not as bad as the ACC's recent BCS performance, but the Big East ultimately will be judged by how it does on the biggest stage, not in the Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl. At least future member TCU won the Rose Bowl.