Finally, it’s here. Welcome to the first day of the 2012 college football season.
And what better way to celebrate … than the Big East conference preview.
Not convinced? OK … here goes.
There’s a runaway favorite … but the team’s starting quarterback is just a sophomore. A longtime rivalry has been pushed aside … at least for now. A team that was told it wasn’t good enough for the conference less than 10 years ago is welcomed back with open arms. And one team has a legitimate chance to win a game in a stadium where it is 0-22-1 all-time.
Yes, the Big East is in turmoil. It’s not what it used to be … nor will it ever be again. But before the landscape-altering changes happen in 2013, this season is one last chance to take in what the Big East is, for whatever it’s worth.
The Cast They’re IN:
Temple: Deemed not worthy of being in the Big East in 2004, the Owls were relegated to life in the MAC, where they weren’t much more successful. But funny how circumstances change, huh? With West Virginia’s departure to the Big 12 (leaving it with just seven football programs) and a slew of other teams not joining the fold until 2013, the Big East politely asked Temple if it would very kindly return to help it get out of a bind. No hard feelings, right?
Paul Chryst, head coach, Pittsburgh: After the sudden departure of Todd Graham (more on that in a bit), Chryst takes over a program that has suffered through mediocrity in recent seasons. Chryst had been the offensive coordinator at Wisconsin. An interesting side note: The MAC commissioner that welcomed Temple after the Big East kicked it out? That’d be Rick Chryst. Yes, he’s Paul’s brother.
Kyle Flood, head coach, Rutgers: After serving as the assistant head coach and offensive line coach since 2005, Flood was promoted to head coach the day before National Signing Day. This will be his first collegiate head coaching experience.
West Virginia: Lured away by the competition and television dollars … and chased away by the instability of the Big East, West Virginia became one of two new members in the Big 12 over the offseason.
Todd Graham, head coach, Pittsburgh: In one of the stranger departures in the offseason, Graham abruptly left Pitt to accept his so-called dream job at Arizona State. He told his players of the move via a text message, an action that was lambasted by local and national media alike.
Greg Schiano, head coach, Rutgers: The call to be an NFL head coach proved to be too much for Schiano, as the man that had been the conference’s longest tenured coach headed to Florida to become the head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. One of the more heartwarming sides from this story: Schiano helped mobilize the free agent signing of Eric LeGrand, his former player at Rutgers who was paralyzed during a brutal hit in 2010. LeGrand signed his symbolic contract, then retired as a Buccaneer.
They’re STILL HERE?
Syracuse and Pitt: Yes, they’re headed to the ACC. But not until 2013. So for one final season, the Orange and the Panthers will play in the Big East.
Louisville: Rumored to be one of the leading candidates to head to the Big 12, the Cardinals ended up staying put in the Big East when an offer from another conference didn’t arrive. At least yet.
Doug Marrone, head coach, Syracuse: OK, so this is a bit tongue-in-cheek. Marrone, who will begin his fourth season on the sidelines in the Carrier Dome, is now the longest-tenured coach in the conference. Seriously.
The Schedule Games NOT HAPPENING this season:
Pittsburgh vs. West Virginia: The Backyard Brawl is no more. The game, which pitted the two rivals starting back in 1895, ended with the Mountaineers’ departure for the Big 12. Although, the game may not be gone for good. WVU athletic director Oliver Luck said earlier in August that he’s hoping the rivalry can again be renewed. Pitt led the overall series, 61-40-3, but WVU won the final three games in the series, including a 21-20 win in the final meeting last year.
Games that ARE HAPPENING this season:
Louisville vs. Kentucky (Sept. 2): The annual Governor’s Cup game was first played from 1912 through 1915 … then two more games in 1922 and 1924. Seventy years later, in 1994, the rivalry was renewed. While Kentucky won all of the games between 1912 and 1924, Louisville evened the score in the modern era, leading 10-8 since 1994. This year, the game will be played in Louisville, and the Cardinals should be a heavy favorite. (Photo source)
Temple at Penn State (Sept. 22): As mentioned in the Big Ten preview, Penn State edged out a 14-10 win over the Owls last year. This year, with all the turmoil in State College, Temple has a golden opportunity to get its first-ever win at Beaver Stadium … and just its fourth win in series history.
Pittsburgh at Notre Dame (Nov. 3): It’s not always a great game once it rolls around on the schedule, but in this case, the Irish are arguably Pitt’s biggest rival on the schedule these days. Although, Notre Dame seems to be everyone’s rival.
The Plot STORYLINES to watch:
1. Will the Big East find its identity?
It’s a conference in flux. This year, West Virginia leaves and Temple is welcomed back. Next season, Pitt and Syracuse will leave. And six new teams will come in: Central Florida, Houston, Memphis, SMU, Boise State and San Diego State. In 2015, Navy will join for football only. But what does all of this shuffling do, other than create the most geographically-challenged named conference in the country? Yes, there are television dollars at stake. But with the new playoff structure set to go into place shortly after the second round of the Big East Shuffle is complete, will any of it really matter?
2. Can Louisville handle the pressure?
Let’s face it: Louisville is the odds-on favorite to run away with the Big East title this year. It’s the only team ranked in the preseason Top 25. South Florida and Pitt are a quite a distance below, ranked 34 and 45 respectively. If the Big East is going to have a respectable showing in its BCS bowl this year, it’ll fall firmly into the hands of Louisville. But Louisville has its challenges. Starting quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is just a sophomore and only threw for 14 touchdowns last season. While the schedule is favorable, how many people have already handed Louisville the conference title? And can the Cardinals live up to those expectations all season long?