Cook: Big East football still has long way to go

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The crystal ball appears to be especially clear this morning. The timing couldn't be better with No. 3 West Virginia playing at No. 5 Louisville tonight. Let's take a look at what we see ...

Man, they're going to love this at West Virginia.

The Mountaineers are going to beat Louisville, maybe by more than a touchdown. Their incredible speed -- re: quarterback Pat White and running back Steve Slaton -- will be the difference. Memo to Morgantown travel agents: The rush starts tomorrow for trips to the Phoenix area for the Jan. 8 national championship game ...

Wait a minute.

Oh, no.

They're going to hate this at West Virginia.

The Mountaineers aren't going to play the Ohio State-Michigan winner for the national title even if they finish the regular season as the only other unbeaten team. They shouldn't get that chance. They wouldn't deserve it. The Ohio State-Michigan loser should go to the championship game ahead of West Virginia. So should a one-loss Florida team or a one-loss Southern California team or a one-loss Auburn team or a one-loss Texas team or a one-loss Tennessee team.

Don't blame West Virginia. It will have done everything it could to make its case for a shot at the national championship.

Blame the Big East Conference. It's still a weak football league.

It's crystal clear.

Don't mind the Big East coaches and administrators, who, surprisingly, haven't hurt themselves with all the back-slapping they've been doing because West Virginia, Louisville and No. 15 Rutgers are unbeaten. Forget, too, the nonsensical argument that the Big East is somehow better off because it no longer has Miami and its on- and off-field problems. The league would take Miami back in a heartbeat, warts and all. Once Miami names a new coach after the season, it will become a Top 5 program again within two years. That's why the Big East fought so hard to keep Miami.

No, not much has changed for the Big East.

It's a terrific basketball league.

What?

You don't think the Big East still is well below the nation's other top football conferences?

Ask yourself these questions:

What other major conference plays its game of the year on a Thursday night? Can you imagine Ohio State and Michigan playing on a Thursday night?

What other major conference has to play three Sunday night games, four Thursday night games and -- saddest of all -- five Friday night games to get on national television? West Virginia -- the Big East's marquee team -- has to play three Thursday night games and a Friday night game. Can you see Florida doing that? USC? Notre Dame?

Sure, the unbeaten records of West Virginia, Louisville and Rutgers are nice, but what teams have they beaten? West Virginia's only decent victory so far came against Maryland at home. Louisville beat Miami at home and won at Kansas State. Rutgers' best win came at Pitt.

Let's assume West Virginia wins tonight and goes on to beat Cincinnati, Pitt, South Florida and Rutgers to finish 12-0. Could you really say any of its wins are truly special? When Louisville and Rutgers almost certainly would have at least two losses in any of the top conferences?

Now, look at the potential one-loss teams and the argument each could make to get to the national championship game.

Ohio State, even if it loses to Michigan, still would have won at Texas and at Iowa.

Michigan, if it loses to Ohio State, would have beaten Notre Dame and Penn State on the road, and Wisconsin and Iowa at home.

Florida, which has lost to Auburn, would have wins against Tennessee, Louisiana State, Georgia and its opponent in the SEC championship game, probably Auburn.

USC, which lost to Oregon State, would have beaten Arkansas, Nebraska, Oregon, California and Notre Dame. (It would get the vote here as most deserving).

Auburn, which lost to Arkansas, could point to wins against LSU, Florida, Georgia and its opponent in the SEC title game, probably Florida.

Texas, which lost to Ohio State, would have wins against Oklahoma, Nebraska, Texas A&M and its opponent in the Big 12 championship game, probably Nebraska or Missouri.

Tennessee, which lost to Florida by one point, would have beaten California, Georgia, LSU, Arkansas and its opponent in the SEC title game, probably Auburn.

The bottom line?

West Virginia fans shouldn't just be rooting for their beloved Mountaineers tonight and the rest of the season. They should root hard for all of those one-loss teams to somehow lose another game.

Either that or take out insurance protection for that January trip to Phoenix.


Ron Cook can be reached at rcook@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1525.


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