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In the aftermath of UConn's 40--21 rout of Vanderbilt in East Hartford last Saturday, Huskies cornerback Blidi Wreh-Wilson flashed an ear-to-ear smile that may as well have extended across the Big East, from Storrs to Tampa.
"Every team in our league made people wonder, 'Is this a strong conference?'" said Wreh-Wilson, whose fourth-quarter interception for a 44-yard touchdown turned a sluggish field-position battle into a romp. "We just helped [the conference] out a little bit."
It's a measure of the Big East's staggering underachievement that UConn's victory over a 7½-point road underdog—one that has enjoyed only one winning season since 1982, and that hadn't won a game in the SEC in nearly two years until it beat Ole Miss two weeks ago—was the conference's signature moment of the still young season. Entering last weekend the Big East had put its dubious stamp on the national conversation by going 1--10 against BCS-conference opponents. Since No. 22 West Virginia lost to 15th-ranked LSU on Sept. 25, the Big East has been without a team in the Top 25 for the first time since Oct. 25, 1995.
But a change may be coming. After a report surfaced in last week's New York Post linking TCU to Big East expansion talks, neither the school nor the conference went out of its way to deny the possibility. Their mutual attraction is actually understandable, at least on paper—assuming that piece of paper isn't a map. The BCS has created an environment in which teams and leagues are both equally desperate to gain or maintain automatic-qualifier status.
The Big East has survived, albeit shakily, since the 2004 defections of Miami, Boston College and Virginia Tech to the ACC, but it still needs to bolster its football profile, especially with BCS qualification reviews scheduled to begin in 2012. In that light, there are few better teams for the league to pursue than No. 5 TCU, which was also rumored to be in discussions with both the Pac-10 and the Big 12 during the conference-jumping chaos of last summer. The Horned Frogs, in turn, would gain instant credibility by leaving the Mountain West and finally get a shot to play for a national title. How powerful is the allure of AQ status? "If the Big East was looking at Hawaii, [the school would] have to consider it just for the payday," says an official from a non-BCS conference.
If the Big East, which is contractually guaranteed a BCS bowl berth through the 2013 season, fails to rebound from this year's slow start, it faces the prospect of sending the first unranked team to a BCS bowl game. Huskies coach Randy Edsall, for one, isn't concerned. "I have complete confidence in all the coaches and all the players," he says. "We're deserving of a BCS automatic bid, that's for sure."
Maybe Edsall is right. Maybe this is just a down year—since the league formed in 1991, after all, a conference team has always finished the season ranked in the Top 25. But things will be a lot less certain if the Big East endures another season like this one.
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