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Going Nowhere
Mark Beech
November 03, 2008
A lost weekend for front-runners Pitt and South Florida left the Big East with no team worthy of its BCS berth
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November 03, 2008

Going Nowhere

A lost weekend for front-runners Pitt and South Florida left the Big East with no team worthy of its BCS berth

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If you got the idea a couple of years ago that the Big East was a burgeoning powerhouse, regularly able to produce top 10 teams and national-title contenders, you may want to reconsider. Following surprising losses by the league's two ranked teams last Saturday--No. 14 South Florida fell at Louisville 24-20, and No. 17 Pittsburgh was thumped by Rutgers at home 54-34--the conference was left without a school in the top 20. While such futility doesn't jeopardize the Big East's automatic BCS berth (status granted before Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College jumped to the ACC), it does confirm the league's reputation as a glorified mid-major conference.

This was supposed to be the week that Pitt (5-2, 2-1) certified itself as the Big East's bell cow. After opening the season with an upset loss to Bowling Green, the Panthers had won five straight games to take control of the conference race. But in 60 minutes of exhilarating football, Rutgers (3-5, 2-2) exposed Pitt as anything but elite. Scarlet Knights QB Mike Teel, who had thrown only three scoring passes all season, carved up the country's 10th-ranked pass defense for 311 yards and five touchdowns in the first half alone. The Pitt defensive backs, overplaying the run until it was too late, bit repeatedly on play-action fakes. "Their receivers just ran right by us," said Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt.

Suddenly, West Virginia (6-2, 2-0), which stunned Auburn 34-17 last Thursday behind Noel Devine's 207 rushing yards, has the inside track to the conference title, never mind its losses to East Carolina and Colorado. But road games await at UConn, Louisville and Pittsburgh, so it's a good bet that whichever team claims the BCS prize is likely to have at least three losses and may not even be ranked. That's quite a fall for a league that two years ago finished with three teams--Louisville, West Virginia and Rutgers--in the nation's top 12.

What happened? Certainly the conference has lost talented players. Heisman Trophy candidates such as Louisville's Brian Brohm and West Virginia's Steve Slaton left for the NFL, and stars of similar caliber have yet to take their place.

More important, though, has been the departure of several top coaches. Former Louisville coach Bobby Petrino, after a brief fling with the NFL, is at Arkansas. Rich Rodriguez was lured away from West Virginia last year by Michigan. Mark Dantonio left Cincinnati two years ago for Michigan State.

That's tough in a conference short on history, with two teams (Connecticut and South Florida) that have made the jump from Division I-AA within the last nine years. "This league is only going to get better as its traditions grow and we play and win games," says Rutgers coach Greg Schiano. "That's how you build something. But that takes time."

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