By Dan Hoard
The winner of the Kentucky Derby usually isn’t the subject of a Hollywood film like Secretariat.
But every year, somebody gets the roses.
I suspect that nobody is going to make a movie about this year’s Big East football champion (although if they do, I hope there’s a role for the lovely Diane Lane), but that team will earn a bid to a BCS bowl game.
And that’s one of the things that make it fun to be a Big East fan this year.
As a 1985 Syracuse University grad and the current radio voice at the University of Cincinnati, I’ve been following BIG EAST football since its inception in 1991 and there’s never been a more unpredictable season in the league’s 20-year history.
That’s saying something because Nostradamus and The Amazing Kreskin would have had a tough time predicting the BIG EAST champ in recent seasons.
In the last five years, the preseason favorite in the league’s annual media poll has only won the title once. That was in 2007 when the preseason choice to win the league – West Virginia – actually shared the title with a Connecticut team that was picked to finish next-to-last. In 2008, Cincinnati won the championship after being picked to finish fifth.
In other words, don’t ask a BIG EAST media member to choose your lottery numbers.
Unlike the other BCS conferences, the BIG EAST doesn’t have a traditional powerhouse like Ohio State, Oklahoma, or Florida that almost always finishes at or near the top of its league. Nor does it have teams that “always” finish at the bottom. In fact, in the last four years alone, half of the eight BIG EAST teams have won at least a share of the conference title (Cincinnati, West Virginia, Connecticut, and Louisville). This year, Pitt and Syracuse are threatening to make it five champions in five years (unless they tie and make it six).
Every program in the BIG EAST has strengths that give it a chance to compete for supremacy . . . but also some challenges that make it difficult to be the king, at least on a regular basis:
Strengths: One of only two BCS programs in a talent-rich state (and Ohio State can’t take everybody). Can sell recent back-to-back titles and a great city to recruits.
Challenges: Small stadium presents financial challenges. Frequent coaching turnover in recent years.
Strengths: State-wide fan interest and excellent stadium/facilities. Coaching stability.
Challenges: Limited local recruiting base and has only been playing at the FBS level since 2000.
Strengths: Great stadium/facilities and generous fan support. No competition from major pro sports teams in the state (hold the UK basketball jokes please).
Challenges: Limited in-state talent and surrounded by good programs in neighboring states that make for spirited recruiting battles.
Strengths: Outstanding major city. Great tradition and located in a high school football hotbed. Current NFL stars including Larry Fitzgerald and Darrelle Revis.
Challenges: Hard to compete against the beloved Steelers for fan and media interest.
Strengths: Only BCS program in the state of New Jersey. Closest thing to New York City’s college football team. Increased institutional commitment to athletics.
Challenges: Historical lack of success, though recent Scarlet Knight teams have gone to bowls.
Strengths: Perhaps you’ve heard, but there is some high school talent in the state of Florida. Only great weather city in the conference.
Challenges: Battling Florida, Miami, Florida State for talent and attention. Has only had a football program for 14 years.
History: Illustrious history and only BCS program in the state of New York. NFL stars like Donovan McNabb and Dwight Freeney.
Challenges: Small recruiting base and lousy weather (I’m still cold and I haven’t lived there since 1995). I know, I know, at least the games are played inside at the Carrier Dome.
History: Passionate statewide following, excellent facilities, and the most consistent track record of success of any team in the conference.
Challenges: There are only so many good high school players in the state of West Virginia.
All of those factors make the BIG EAST harder to figure out than why Tom Brady won’t cut his hair.
When the 2010 BIG EAST champ is determined, there will undoubtedly be critics that say that team isn’t worthy of its BCS bowl bid. But since the league has been made up of its current eight teams, it has a 3-2 record in BCS bowl games. For the sake of comparison, the ACC is 1-4 during the same 5-year period.
There’s one month left in the regular season. And down the stretch they come.