Big Ten runs past Big East in second round

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In terms of firepower, the Big East matches up well against the Big Ten with the league touting four legitimate Heisman contenders in West Virginia's Pat White and Steve Slaton, Louisville's Brian Brohm and Rutgers' Ray Rice. South Florida's Matt Grothe is also one of the better young quarterbacks in college football. The big issue, though, is defense. There are no Dan Connors or James Laurinaitises or J Lemans on the league's best teams. The Big Ten's honorable-mention defenders would probably be first-team all-Big East guys.

The Big Ten also returns an amazing stash of running backs: Wisconsin's P.J. Hill, Michigan's Mike Hart, Ohio State's Chris "Beanie" Wells. Minnesota's Amir Pinnix, Iowa's Albert Young, Northwestern's Tyrell Sutton and Indiana's Marcus Thigpen.

On the whole, the Big East has closed the gap significantly between itself and the rest of the BCS big boys in the past two years, but while the league's top two -- West Virginia and Louisville -- seem capable of matching up with Ohio State and Michigan, the rest of the conference isn't quite on the level of the corresponding teams in the Big Ten.

Rutgers and South Florida both have jumped into the class of top-40 programs, although both would probably be underdogs even on their home fields if they faced Wisconsin. And then you have a decent Pitt squad, but the Panthers too appear to be a notch below their counterparts Iowa, Purdue and Penn State. After Pitt, things really drop off with UConn, Cincinnati and Syracuse all around the level of Northwestern or Indiana.

In fairness to the Big East, it did have the best record in bowl play of all the conferences, going 5-0, while the Big Ten went 2-5 with both of its heavyweights, Ohio State and Michigan, getting thumped. In head-to-head play last season, it was 3-3, with Illinois losing two of those games for the Big Ten (at Rutgers and against Syracuse). The Illini should be much-improved in 2007. Then again, Ohio State probably won't be as good.

The head-to-head scorecard, after dropping the Big Ten's eight and ninth projected teams:

Michigan over WVU: Tons of firepower, but I'll go with the more stable defense figuring it will at least get a couple of stops in the game.

Louisville over Penn State: The Cards' receivers are a handful for anyone.

Ohio State over Rutgers: I don't think RU would get more than 200 yards of offense against OSU, which should be able to grind out a win behind Wells.

Wisconsin over USF: The Badgers will just keep pounding the ball and will wear down the Bulls.

Iowa over Pittsburgh: Both teams have unproven QBs, but the Hawkeyes have more answers on D.

Purdue over Cincinnati: The Boilers' offense is too much for Cincy.

Northwestern over UConn: The Wildcats' ground game should run wild on Connecticut.

Minnesota over Syracuse: It'll probably be a few years before the Gophers are a Top 25 team, but they still haven't fallen far enough to be where the Cuse is at these days.

Bruce Feldman is a senior writer with ESPN The Magazine. His new book, "Meat Market: A Season Inside College Football's No. 1 Recruiting Machine," is on sale now.