BCS: How One Weak Link Hurts all Big Six

Brian NelsonCorrespondent IAugust 24, 2009

LINCOLN, NE - SEPTEMBER 17:  Head coach Dave Wannstedt of the Pittsburgh Panthers reacts to a pass interference call against his defense in favor of the Nebraska Cornhuskers late in the fourth quarter on September 17, 2005 at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, Nebraska. Nebraska won 7-6.  (Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images)

The Big East... you are "the weakest link."

If being excluded from the USA Today/Coaches Poll Top 25 wasn't embarrassing enough for the beleaguered Big East conference, it got even worse on Saturday.

The AP Top 25 released its preseason poll over the weekend with one glaring omission; no Big East.

While the AP poll has no bearing on the BCS, it does at least provide a snapshot of national perception. A perception that can be very difficult to change wihout an elite program.

If these polls are remotely indicative of actual strength, it clearly does not bode well for the Big East, but it also hurts the BCS as a whole in a number of ways. 

Bolstered Case for the Mountain West

For starters, a weakened Big East could mean another year, another undeserving, under-qualified team inheriting a BC$ Bowl. All while more worthy teams stand on the outside. Last season's Texas Tech, TCU and Boise State teams come to mind.

This alone can help provide the Mountain West and their congressional representatives much needed ammo to bolster their case for inclusion. And the timing couldn't be better for the budding conference.

The Mountain West made a huge statement by having three teams placed in the preseason AP Top 20. That's more than the Big 10; and right on par with the Big 12, the ACC and the Pac-10. Only the SEC has more. 

That's good company for a conference with fewer teams than any of those conferences.

While the Mountain West is overwhelmingly top-heavy, the lofty rankings reflect the incredible strides the conference has made since TCU came on board in 2005.

Before then, Mountain West teams could only be found in the "others receiving votes" category of most preseason polls. In other words, where the Big East brass are found today.

This should be a very concerning trend for the Big East. As the Big East struggles to find its identity after losing coaches like Bobby Petrino and Rich Rod, and talents like Pat White and LeSean McCoy, the surge of the non-BCS seems more sustainable. 

Somehow teams like Boise State and the Mountain West triumvirate have managed to retain their most successful coaches. 

Fewer At-Large Berths

If the Big East champion fails to reach the top #17 in the BCS, a non-BCS team would automatically qualify for a BCS bowl just by reaching the top #16.

With four non-BCS teams starting in the Coaches Top 20, the latter is almost certain to happen.

That's the big caveat a struggling Big East throws into the mix. It lowers the bar for non-BCS entrance dramatically. Mountain West teams may no longer have to run the table to get a shot at the table. In fact, they may very well get in with a two loss champion. 

Last year, Utah, TCU and BYU all finished in the BCS Top 16. Despite both TCU and BYU having suffered two regular season losses.

And the Tide thought 12-0 Utah was a bad draw.

It could get even worse if Notre Dame manages to finish in the top #8. A top eight finish would guarantee a berth for the Irish. They certainly have the schedule for it. And former Coach Lou Holtz seems to think they are well on their way.

With only two at-large berths available, and possibly four BCS conferences with multiple BCS-worthy teams, the ensuing brawl for who ultimately gets in could get downright nasty. It could be 2004 all over again.

Showdown in Dodge

Remember 2004? It was the last time the BCS had so few berths. It was the year prior to the addition of the fifth BCS Bowl and the year Utah busted the BCS. The competition for BCS at-large placement was fierce. The latter part of the 2004 season was characterized by politics, posturing, back door deals and blatant cheating.

It was a year where even the SEC felt like a red-headed stepchild. That was the year Mack Brown whined his way into the BCS, while Aaron Rodgers and a more deserving Cal wound up playing in December.

I like Texas, but the Longhorns didn't belong in 2004. Despite what the final box score read, Kansas beat them late in the season that year. I watched the game. The officiating crew went to extreme measures to ensure the Big 12's most profitable outcome.

Kansas Head Coach Mark Mangino knew it. He called the Big 12 on it; and backed up his team for a hard fought game even though it landed him a huge fine.

The drama in 2004 was intense. The debates were endless. True colors were shown. If any of the scenarios above play out, you can expect it to get even worst in 2009.

Imagine the Outrage

Aside from the politics of who would get in, the real damage would come from who get's left out.

Let's say the Pac-10 has a year similar to last season. USC loses their annual road game to a conference foe like Cal, who goes on to have the same conference record, wins the tie-breaker and heads to Pasadena. Could you imagine the outcry in Los Angeles if a one loss, top five USC team was relegated to the Holiday Bowl? Especially if the Trojans were passed up for a two-loss BYU, a four-loss Rutgers, and a Notre Dame team whom USC had just beaten.

Conversely, what would happen if the Big 10 or Pac 10 had a strong enough second team to receive an additional berth? Could you imagine the reaction if only one SEC or Big 12 team made a BCS Bowl?

Looking back at last year, that would mean pollsters might have to decide between a 12-1 Alabama, undefeated in the SEC regular season; or 12-1 Texas, who beat Oklahoma and came within a toe nail of winning out.

Granted, it would make for one hell of a conference championship game, but still, I don't see the folks in the South putting up with it. 

White Knight

The scenarios may be extreme, but they illustrate the range of possibilities that a weak link can create for a system founded on exclusivity and superiority.

The Big East can still right the ship.

Before last year, they were on a roll beating up teams from the Big 12, the ACC and the SEC on the BCS stage. But they have fallen in the same trap that has plagued mid-majors for decades; coaching attrition.

Bobby Petrino fled to the SEC. Rich Rod took his act to Ann Arbor. The Big East hasn't been the same since. This conference is in dire need for a marquee team to step up and emerge as the face of the conference. I don't see that happening this year.

The smart money seems to be on Pitt for 2009. Pitt has received the most votes in each poll, and was selected in a Big East media poll to win the conference title.

Unfortunately, Pitt is not a BCS caliber team. The last time we saw Pitt, they were suffering a humiliating 3-0 loss to Oregon State in the Sun Bowl.

I don't see how that same Pitt team can magically rise to prominence while overcoming the loss of losing superstar RB LeSean McCoy. Not for such a run-heavy team. 


Overall, it looks like another down year at the top of the Big East.

While parity throughout the conference is a major strength, the BCS is about champions. Weak champions make for poor bowls and lower revenue for the BCS. They provide huge inroads for strong non-BCS conferences; and they keep revenue and opportunity away from other BCS powerhouse teams and conferences.

This cannot last.Either the Big East needs to step up or they will force the BCS to either cut bait, expand to include conferences they don't want, or try to add another boring, diluted BCS bowl to the mix.


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