SI.com college football writer Stewart Mandel shares his commentary, analysis and random tidbits on the latest developments around the country.
7/17/2007 01:40:00 PM
Live from Newport
Louisville QB Brian Brohm makes the rounds on Media Day.
NEWPORT, R.I. -- The first official games are still nearly seven weeks away, but for those of us who cover this sport for a living, the 2007 season might as well have commenced Monday night -- in the most unlikely college football setting imaginable.
On the eve of the Big East's preseason Media Day, coaches, players and media members mingled on the lawn of the historic Eisenhower House here in this posh New England vacation spot. Rare are the opportunities anymore for the writers to interact socially (and completely off the record) with some of the sport's participants. But on this night, scribes from across the country sat under a tent enjoying a lobster dinner with the likes of Brian Brohm, Ray Rice and Rich Rodriguez.
As the sun set along the coastline, I turned to a writer friend and said, "Under ordinary circumstances, this has to be one of the top 10 places you'd least likely expect to run into Dave Wannstedt."
Tuesday morning, Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese stood in front of a packed ballroom at the Hotel Viking and noted, "Three years ago, there weren't nearly as many people sitting here." Indeed, while I've made numerous trips to other conferences' preseason events in recent years, I was among several national writers here attending his first Big East function since its Miami/Virginia Tech days.
Over several hours, however, we would have the opportunity to interview at least four players -- Brohm, Rice, Pat White and Steve Slaton -- who appear on every preseason Heisman list in the country. Not to mention two rising coaching stars -- Rodriguez and Rutgers' Greg Schiano -- who were courted by the likes of Alabama and Miami.
How could I not come here?
(Even though getting here did involve a $95 cab ride from Providence, a half hour away, because apparently downtown rental-car offices close at the stroke of 6).
Signs of the Big East's rapid transformation from afterthought to national storyline were everywhere here, from the five 2006-07 bowl trophies prominently displayed on the front table (league officials like to remind you every half hour or so about last year's 5-0 bowl record) to the presence of high-level ESPN programming execs as well as Sugar Bowl CEO Paul Hoolahan -- whose committee just happens to host this year's national title game.
"I've watched more Big East football over the last two years than any other conference," said new Louisville coach Steve Kragthorpe, formerly of Tulsa. "I like watching those Thursday night and Friday night games."
Outside this shiny, happy bubble, it's no secret much of the country remains skeptical of the conference's strength. Though last November's West Virginia-Louisville and Louisville-Rutgers showdowns -- both pitting two undefeated teams -- drew huge ratings for ESPN, they were also followed by endless message-board and talk-radio rants about whether such teams deserved to play for the national title. Such talk will likely continue again this year what with the league's premier teams playing laughable non-conference schedules.
Scheduling was a frequent topic among coaches and athletic directors here, all of whom have been trying frantically to upgrade their future schedules but are meeting significant resistance. Louisville AD Tom Jurich called it the hardest part of his job. Over the next few years, the Mountaineers will play home-and-homes with Auburn, Colorado and Florida State, and the Cardinals are looking to schedule similar matchups.
It's just too bad they couldn't have happened this year. Who knows when the Big East will have this much star power -- both in the backfield and on the sidelines -- again.
Check back for more stories from Big East Media Days in the coming days.
When discussing rising stars amongst Big East coaches, you would be remiss to not discuss South Florida's Jim Leavitt, who has declined offers from Alabama (twice) and Kansas State, and was high on the U's wish list. Each time, Leavitt has turned down the offers to remain at USF and keep building the program
I dont think people in the national media and national thought realize just how soon this is after losing 4 of your members (Miami, VT, BC and Temple). Given the national rise of the teams, the teams the media wants WVU, UL, USF and Rutgers to play don't want to come to these schools. They expect a one-and-done. This isn't the Mountain West and it should not be expected for the conference to bow down. They are as good as any team in the nation.
I think the Big East was foolish for kicking Temple out of the conference. If Rutgers can turn it around, Temple could have as well. They just needed support from the administration. You don't think people in Philly like football, do you?
The star power that WVU currently has didn't start out that way. Steve Slaton and Pat White were not highly coveted recruits. Steve Slaton was let go from Maryland's roster before he got there and Pat White was recruited by the Anaheim Angels. This star power will surely replicate itself in the near future. The Big East is definitely a major football power.
Wow..."I told you so" just doesn't seem to do the whole thing justice, does it? Now that we are here, I can safely say that VT, BC, and Miami are NOT MISSED. As a proud Mountaineer, it does my heart good to see the Miami program go down, BC stay mediocre, and VT still choke it up in the end. THE BEast is back!! Now...would some of you "high-end" programs stop avoiding us and start scheduling some games so we can truly show that we've not only arrived, but never left? Keep up the great work Mandel!!!
**Such talk will likely continue again this year what with the league's premier teams playing laughable non-conference schedules.**
I find this comment laughable because your site recently listed their top 25 toughest schedules. You should revisit this article.
All schedules have potential to be good or bad before the season starts. There are no good schedules or bad schedules until the year starts to unfold. Does a no win ND carry more weight than an undefeated Southern Miss?
Bottom line, until the season starts and teams start playing you can only theorize how good or bad schedules are.
Slanton and White and the most exciting tandem in college football - and they were last year as well. But until they and other BE teams show more defensive grit, it's tough to call the conference ELITE.
Anyone ridiculous enough to make the comment "big easy" doesn't deserve a ressponse. Nor does someone who would say that when the topic returns to Division I football let him know... Ask the 5 LOSERS of bowl games to the BEast last year if they think they were playing someone from other than division I. Ask Georgia and Georgia Tech what they think of the BEast. Its the same thing every year and its getting old. Bash the Beast to make your conference look better. I'm glad that VT and Miami and BC have bolted for the ACC (All Criminal Conference.... Right Vick brothers??) So all you "girly-men" who want to bash us but not PLAY us.... either put up or SHUT up....nuff said.
Ohhhh... and the "defensive comment".... Michigan and Ohio State put up over 70 points and its an "offensive showdown"... West Virginia and Louisville put up over 70 and its "where's the defense??"... pure unadulterated HOGWASH.
The Big east top 3 of WVU, Lousiville and Rutgers could of beat the top three of the SEC Florida, Arkansas and LSU. Wait til Sept. SEC fans when a decent, but not quite there South Florida team goes to AUBURN and blows there doors off. Only decent out of conference game anyone in the SEC hand lastyear was Arkansas getting beat down by USC. Mcfadden or not, you would of lost otherwise and CAL does not count as a decent team for TN. SEC fans you need to go over yourself and realize your not all that special. Oh btw the Georgia powerhouse team that got thumped by WVU in the sugar bowl 2 years ago aren't freshmen anymore. Most them guys are Juniors and still the same team, but better now. USC/WVU National Championship, not another team even close.