Is the Big East for real or not?
Is it even an either/or proposition, or somewhere in between?
The Big East has been riding high ever since West Virginia upset Georgia in the Sugar Bowl following the 2005 season. The conference was 5-0 in bowl games last season, and finished with three teams ranked in the top 12.
Coming into the 2007 season, three Big East teams were ranked in the AP's preseason top 16.
Again, though—is this for real? Does the emergence of new teams within the league signal a fall of the conference heavies...or an internal restructuring that will play out at the national level.
Let's take a look at this weekend's upcoming games and see where the Big East really stands...in Week Three and beyond.
* We'll begin with a gimme: Norfolk State at Rutgers.
Rutgers won't lose this one—everyone is on the lookout for FCS/I-AA teams by this point. With Ray Rice, a solid defense, and Coach Greg Schiano in the fold, Rutgers is probably the team to beat in the Big East.
* Cincinnati at Miami (OH) doesn't seem to be a huge advantage for Cincy, but they're looking plenty good enough to handle one of the better MAC teams.
13 takeaways in two games, seven courtesy of Oregon State, makes the Bearcats a formidable up-and-comer. They're poised to pull one of their conference mates down and move up to take their place.
* Temple at Connecticut should result in a Huskies win—but with UConn's stadium turf disintegrating, anything's possible.
Nonconference cupcakes and a good early record don't make UConn a real threat to the conference's elite programs.
* Illinois at Syracuse should result in a Big Ten win, if the Orange's first two games are any indication.
It looks as if even a repeat of last year's 4-8 season is out of the question for a hapless Syracuse squad, but it's a long season. We'll see.
* Toss-Up Game No. 1: Pittsburgh at Michigan State.
This probably isn't much of a toss-up—the Spartans have looked pretty darn good, and the Panthers are riddled with injuries. Pitt is a still middling team, as ex-Cincy coach Mark Dantonio will show on Saturday.
* Toss-up Game No. 2: Louisville v. Kentucky
Look for a real shakeup here. The #9 Cardinals will get exposed by the Wildcats (as they were partially exposed by Middle Tennessee State last week), opening the way for other contenders. With a new coach, a very suspect defense, and the impending loss of numerous key seniors, Louisville is definitely going to be trending downward.
* The Upset: #4 West Virginia at Maryland on Thursday night.
With a ball-control offense, the Terps can keep the Mountaineers' stars on the sidelines. The WVU pass defense is a weakness. I'd still consider West Virginia to be a major player in the conference, but a loss to Maryland opens the way for Rutgers, South Florida, and Cincinnati to move up.
* Bringing us to South Florida, which is idle this week. The Bulls' win over Auburn last Saturday (on the heels of big wins against Louisville and West Virginia teams the past two seasons) proves that USF is a program on the rise.
Rutgers wins the Big East this season, but South Florida gets the title in 2008.