So it's 2009, and the Big East is getting about as much love as Rodney Dangerfield.
Fact: The Big East does not have a single team in the top 25 in either the Coaches' or AP polls.
Fact: The Big East has an automatic bid to a BCS bowl in 2009.
Myth: The Big East is not worthy of this situation.
I'll explain why...
The pollsters will tell you the Big East is an empty cupboard with no capability of competing on a national stage. Many fans and analysts alike know that this isn't necessarily the case. After all, everyone in the "Big Least" as of right now is undefeated.
What can schools like USF, Rutgers, and Pitt do to put themselves back in the good graces of pollsters and coaches?
...and win they could.
Looking at the schedules of the "favorites" in the Big East, there is plenty of room for optimism—or, quite possibly, despair).
Rutgers garnered one of the most favorable schedules in all of college football, playing the likes of Cincinnati, Howard, FIU, @Maryland, Texas So., @Army, @UConn, @Syracuse, @Louisville, and West Virginia. The toughest contests for Rutgers look to be USF and Pitt at home. Fortunately for Rutgers, these are two programs unable to crack the "W" column against the Scarlet Knights since 2005.
In addition to a favorable schedule, Rutgers is anchored by some very talented players on both offensive and defensive lines. Mike Teel, along with his two favorite targets—Kenny Britt and Tequan Underwood—may all be gone, but working behind the remaining core, QB Domenic Natale and senior wide out Tim Brown should still manage to be productive in 2009. Expect Rugters to challenge for the top spot.
USF has two very versatile weapons in QB Matt Grothe and DE George Selvie. Or, as you might know them, the poor man's Tim Tebow and Carlos Dunlap. Let's also not forget that USF has been a program building from some very talented underrated young talent. USF's entire starting roster is comprised of upperclassmen, and Nate Allen at safety is a man NOT to be overlooked.
USF may have two marquee games in 2009, but both are very manageable. With warm-ups against the likes of Wofford, W. Kentucky, and Charleston Southern, USF could sneak up on FSU early in the season. Pending a collapse like 2008, they could also defeat a struggling Miami late in the year.
Early spring favorite Pitt will have arguably one of the best coaches in the conference, paired with some of the best talent in the league—but somehow games @Rutgers, @Buffalo (no laughing matter,) @ NCST, and a home against BCS title-game contender Notre Dame (Lou Holtz, you're insane, but God loves you for being a homer for the Catholics...) would suggest that Pitt will do no better than 9-3 this year, especially if games don't swing in their favor as anticipated against Rutgers or USF.
Legitimately, the Big East has a shot to prove itself on a national stage, but it likely won't be at the hands of defending 2008 Big East champs Cincinnati. Anchored by a fantastic QB in Tony Pike and potential All-American Mardy Gilyard at WR, the biggest obstacle facing the Bearcats is themselves.
With only two defensive starters returning, Cincy will be a completely exposed team. Games on the road against Oregon State, Rutgers, USF, and Pitt are navigable for a team ready to play—but Cincinnati may not be ready until mid-season on defense.
All in all, USF and Rutgers have a real shot at making some noise in 2009 and—if they can run the table—may even find themselves in the conversation for the national title (provided they aren't sitting undefeated against the likes of USC, Florida, Georgia Tech, Alabama, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas, Oregon, Oregon State, Boise State, Utah, Penn State, or Ohio State)
On second thought...USF or Rutgers, just enjoy your automatic bid. It sure beats playing for a spot in the Music City Bowl.