Big East Football: 6 Reasons to Take the Big East Seriously This Season
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West Virginia has left the Big East. Syracuse and Pittsburgh are next in line.
The Big East is in disarray, shambles, scrambling to put together a competitive conference, right?
The Big East is just fine. Anybody who says otherwise clearly didn't watch Syracuse face USC or Pittsburgh stun Virginia Tech. The rest of college football better take note that the conference is far from dead. In fact, it's alive and kicking and out to prove that it isn't a pushover.
How is that?
Here are six reasons why you better take the Big East seriously this season...or else.
1. Competitive Record Against Top 25 Teams
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Starting off 1-1 isn't exactly noteworthy stuff.
What is noteworthy is the way the Big East is 1-1 against top-ranked teams thus far.
Syracuse lost to then-No. 2 USC, but it certainly wasn't blown out, losing only 42-29. The Orange held the Trojans scoreless in the first quarter and made a brief comeback—with a score of 21-16 in the third—before USC sealed the victory.
Senior Ryan Nassib was effective, tossing two scores, running for another and throwing for 322 yards against what was supposed to be a superior defense. Syracuse never gave up, giving the Trojans a tough battle one week before they were upset by Stanford.
Then, there was Pittsburgh.
The Panthers went into the Virginia Tech game last week with the nation expecting an 0-3 start to head coach Paul Chryst's season. They were supposed to be dominated in a "welcome to the ACC" preview.
Surprisingly, Pitt came out with two quick scores behind the sudden explosions of senior running back Ray Graham and senior quarterback Tino Sunseri, who accounted for all five of the team's touchdowns.
Where was this offense before? Who knows, but it was a big win for the team and a big win for the conference.
They aren't rolling over like cream puffs.
2. Rutgers and Louisville
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Meet the class of the conference.
Rutgers, despite losing head coach Greg Schiano to the NFL's Buccaneers, has gotten off to a fast start. While its first two matchups—a 24-12 win over Tulane and a 26-0 victory over Howard—aren't exactly big wins, they were convincing victories against opponents that they had no business losing to.
Their biggest win thus far has been against conference rival South Florida, proving that the first two wins weren't just a team beating cupcake teams. Granted, USF isn't the Gators, but a conference win is a conference win.
Another Big East team worth noticing is Louisville, who sits at No. 18 and 20 in the USA Today and AP polls, respectively. The Cardinals opened the season with a tough battle against Kentucky of the SEC and won convincingly with a score of 32-14. Last week, they took care of North Carolina—albeit in a much closer fashion, at 39-34.
While they're not facing Top 25 competition every week, these are still good victories that set the tone for who the front-runners are in the conference.
3. Addition by Subtraction
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Rightly so, a lot has been said about the soon-to-be departures of Syracuse and Pittsburgh from the conference. No conference is going through more upheaval for the next few years than the Big East.
Either the rest of the conference hasn't noticed or it is determined to prove it isn't as good—or bad—as the defectors.
Louisville is deservedly getting national attention, but Rutgers and Cincy are making noise as well.
As for Pittsburgh and Syracuse? They're a combined 2-4 this season, behind newcomer Temple.
The Big East doesn't look like it's about to get weaker. It looks stronger.
(And don't forget Boise coming to town next season.)
4. It's Hard to Score on These Guys
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What's that saying..."defense wins championships"?
Well, the Big East may not be sending anybody to the BCS championship anytime soon, but it certainly has the defense down.
The conference has a combined average of holding opponents to 19.3 points per game in the first three weeks. Take out the noticeable outliers (Pittsburgh with 82 points allowed and Syracuse with 101 points allowed) and that number drops to 15.1 points per game.
Here's how the top defenses rank compared to the rest of the nation:
Rutgers is fifth at 8.3 points-per-game allowed. Cincinnati is one spot behind with 8.5 allowed. Connecticut allows 10.3 a game, landing them the 11th spot. Louisville rounds out the top four in the Big East at 37th overall, allowing 18.3 points a game.
When these teams get into the heart of the conference schedule, it's going to be a dogfight. Any team unfortunate enough to face a Big East foe in a bowl game will have to get creative when scoring points.
5. Road Warriors
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While the combined home record of all eight teams isn't that impressive (11-6), the road record speaks a little more powerfully.
Rutgers, Connecticut, USF and Pittsburgh have all played away from the confines of home. Outside of the Panthers' miserable loss to Cincy in Week 2, they have been undefeated at 4-1.
Rutgers' victories came against Tulane and USF; the Huskies took down Maryland; and the Bulls escaped against Nevada two weeks ago.
In college football, it's always tough to win on the road, even against some weaker competition, so things are off to a good start.
6. Running Games
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If there's one thing the Big East does well on offense, it's pounding the rock.
Pittsburgh was able to beat the Hokies and Syracuse was able to keep it close with USC because of their ground games. Effective running games slow down the game and keep the score close, which works in favor of any underdog.
The conference relies on controlling the clock to set the pace of the game. When it's able to do that, its opponents are forced to adjust. Case in point, Temple's loss to Maryland was largely due to the team's inability to establish the run—along with early turnovers—early in the game, which would have dictated the tempo to the Terrapins.
Six of the eight schools average over 150 yards per game on the ground, and the Bearcats are leading the charge (pun intended) with 259 yards per game, 15th in the nation.
Only Connecticut, with just 111.7 yards on the ground per game, ranks outside the top 100 in the country.
As the weather gets colder and bowl season begins, defenses begin getting banged up every week, allowing the run games to become even more effective.