Wednesday, December 5, 2012
2012 Big East regular-season wrap
By Andrea Adelson and Matt Fortuna
It would be nice to write one of these season-ending wraps without any mention of the word realignment.
Alas, for the second straight season, the Big East has been raided. And for the second straight season, the Big East representative in the BCS is on the way out the door.
Louisville had one of the best seasons in school history, and yet, the Big East cannot truly celebrate the accomplishments of the Cardinals. Commissioner Mike Aresco decided not to attend the de-facto league championship game between Louisville and Rutgers last week, as both teams have announced their intentions to leave -- the Cardinals to the ACC and the Scarlet Knights to the Big Ten.
That leaves the Big East headed into the future with a collection of former Conference USA and Mountain West schools. Temple is the only school remaining from the original group that began Big East football play in 1991.
But the future is not now, at least not for another few months. What we saw in 2012 was a roller-coaster season that featured three ranked Big East teams in the first BCS standings, then none at all, then the thud of conference realignment, then one of the grittiest college performances we have all seen in quite some time.
In the end, the Big East was not much better, and not much worse than it has been in seasons past. In typical Big East fashion, four teams ended up sharing a slice of the league title -- Louisville, Rutgers, Cincinnati and Syracuse. Yes, Syracuse, a team that begin the year 2-4 and was on the verge of implosion.
But it is the Cardinals who got the BCS berth thanks to their 20-17 win over Rutgers on Thursday night in New Jersey. Teddy Bridgewater did what he has done all season, this time with a broken wrist and sprained ankle. His performance in that game got folks around the country talking. And his body of work this season -- 3,452 yards, 25 touchdowns to seven interceptions -- should get him into the preseason Heisman conversation next season, perhaps Louisville's last year in the conference.
Teddy Bridgewater passed for 3,452 yards with 25 touchdowns and just 7 interceptions.
Bridgewater ranks in the top 15 in the nation in total passing yards and passing efficiency. There are only six players in the country with 25 or more touchdown passes who have thrown fewer interceptions than Bridgewater. His development this season was one of the biggest story lines to watch in the conference.
Had Louisville stuck around the league, there would be much more to celebrate. Realignment has put a damper on the entire Big East season, once again.
Offensive MVP: Bridgewater left no doubt with his final performance of the regular season, at Rutgers. He lifted Louisville to the BCS while hobbling, and he remained on the fringe of the Heisman talk throughout much of the season. The reigning Big East freshman of the year will likely be among the frontrunners for the trophy entering the 2013 season, and a strong Sugar Bowl performance against Florida could go a long way in gaining national attention.
Defensive MVP:Khaseem Greene won the Big East defensive player of the year award last season, and he is the frontrunner again this season. The senior overcame an ankle injury suffered in last season's New Era Pinstripe Bowl and notched 125 total tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks, 2 picks, 8 hurries, 6 forced fumbles and 2 fumble recoveries.
Newcomer of the year: It's rare that you see a fifth-year senior in this category, but that's the situation Temple's Montel Harris found himself in after being dismissed from Boston College in the offseason for a violation of team rules. He overcame early-season injuries to lead the Big East in rushing yards per game, averaging 105.4.
Biggest surprise: Syracuse started its final Big East season 2-4 overall. Remarkably, it bounced back to win five of its final six games -- including delivering then-No. 9 Louisville its first loss of the season -- en route to clinching a share of the Big East title. The Orange cut down the turnovers, established their ground game and played much tighter defense, and coach Doug Marrone deserves plenty of credit after a late-season collapse a year earlier that had kept this team from bowling.
Biggest disappointment: South Florida entered 2012 as the Big East's preseason No. 2 team, looking to bounce back from a season that ended with seven losses in its final eight games. Instead the Bulls went through a program-worst 3-9 season defined by injuries and underwhelming play all-around. The defense recorded just two interceptions the whole season, and coach Skip Holtz was fired after his third season in Tampa, Fla.
Best game: Louisville's 34-31 overtime home win over Cincinnati on Oct. 26 takes the cake here. The game featured a 10-point Bearcats lead, a pair of touchdowns in the final two minutes of regulation, an untimely icing the kicker timeout from Butch Jones (and a shrug for the ages) and 416 passing yards from Bridgewater.