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Wednesday, February 25, 2009
Five things to love about the Big East


Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett

You'll see a lot of love/hate relationships here on ESPN.com's college football page today. So it's time to throw in my two cents. The Big East is a unique league, with many things to like and some things that are harder to embrace. Here are five things I love about the conference:

A real league race: Forget those phony-baloney conference championship games. The Big East and the Pac-10 are the only BCS leagues that play a true round-robin conference schedule, which is the best way to determine a champion. And since USC seems to lock up the Pac-10 by late October every year, the Big East has the best and most exciting conference race of the BCS leagues. It helps that conference officials wisely try to schedule what they think will be the most important games for the end of the season, leaving lots of suspense and intrigue throughout the fall. I'll take that anytime over some convoluted tiebreaker system that results in a lackluster conference title-game rematch on a neutral field.

Underdog spirit: The Big East is a weird amalgamation of teams. Syracuse and South Florida have about as much in common as a turtle and an elephant. But what binds the league together is an us-against-the-world mentality. Ever since 2005, when the Big East had to reformulate after the ACC raid, league members have withstood countless attacks on their worthiness to BCS access. What's resulted is that everyone in the conference roots for their league mates in nonconference games in a band-of-brothers way. That's fun to watch.

West Virginia fans' passion: Sure, a lot of Big East fan bases are passionate about their teams. But few match the level of intensity by the Mountaineers' backers. West Virginia is a small state with no pro teams, no other BCS conference programs and a fierce amount of pride. So just about everyone within the borders roots for the Old Gold and Blue and gets goosebumps when they play "Take Me Home, Country Roads" at Milan Puskar Stadium. Plenty of schools around the nation have loyal fans. Hardly any mean more to their state than the Mountaineers.

History being made: Big East teams weren't born yesterday, but sometimes it feels that way. South Florida and Connecticut were nothing before this decade, Cincinnati has really only been good for about the last five years and Louisville became relevant 20 years ago. So every week during the season, it seems like school records and milestones are being forged. That keeps things interesting, and it's an unusual experience to watch as a program literally writes its legacy in front of your eyes.

The media day clambake: This last one is for selfish reasons. Every year, the Big East throws an incredible bash on the night before its media day in scenic Newport, R.I. Attendees are treated to a lavish clambake complete with all-you-can-eat lobster. And it's not just ink-stained wretches gobbling up free food. All the coaches come to the party and bring a handful of their players, and they sit and mingle with everyone else under a big tent. To me, that shows the intimacy of this eight-team league. I can't imagine Nick Saban or Bob Stoops wearing lobster bibs and rubbing elbows with the common folk like that.