Big East not off to good start

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Big East Conference football loyalists love to point to the league's 11-6 record in bowl games the past three seasons and say, "See! We can play with anybody!" as if Rutgers' win against Ball State in the 2007 International Bowl or South Florida's win against Memphis in the '08 St. Petersburg Bowl or -- let's be honest -- Pitt's win against North Carolina in the '09 Meineke Car Care Bowl really meant all that much.

You might guess I'm in the other camp, the one that looks at the Big East and sees a terrific basketball league. I have another record to point out this morning: 0-3. That's how the Big East did on the opening weekend of the college football season against opponents from the six primary Bowl Championship Series conferences.

And the Big East has the nerve to complain about a lack of respect nationally?

Please.

Overall, the Big East went 4-4 on the first weekend. Thank goodness for West Virginia, South Florida, Syracuse and Rutgers. But here's the worst part: Three of the projected top four teams in the Big East were beaten. West Virginia was the exception, beating cupcake Coastal Carolina in Morgantown Saturday. Conference favorite Pitt lost at Utah in overtime Thursday night. Two-time defending league champion Cincinnati was beaten soundly at Fresno State Saturday night. Connecticut was hammered at Michigan Saturday afternoon.

Pitt didn't deserve to win despite climbing out of a 24-13 hole in the fourth quarter to force overtime. Make no mistake, it earned its 27-24 loss. Utah had a 405-266 edge in total yards. Pitt committed 12 penalties for 75 yards. Its interior offensive line showed it has major issues. Heisman Trophy candidate Dion Lewis ran for just 75 yards on 25 carries. Pitt lost a fumble, then threw a killer interception in overtime. It settled for field goals on drives that reached the Utah 8, 4 and 13. Shame on coach Dave Wannstedt for playing not to lose instead of playing to win at the end of regulation when he didn't allow quarterback Tino Sunseri to take a shot in the end zone with 6-foot-5 wide receiver Jon Baldwin.

Cincinnati was awful at Fresno State, blowing a 14-0 lead in a 28-14 loss. During one 22-minute stretch, its allegedly high-powered offense was held to minus-6 yards. Quarterback Zach Collaros was sacked eight times. Talk about an offensive line with issues.

Connecticut was worse at Michigan. It couldn't stop quarterback Denard Robinson, who ran for 197 yards and passed for 186. It looks as if troubled coach Rich Rodriguez finally has his Patrick White at Michigan and might just save his job.

Clearly, the best that the Big East has to offer wasn't very good.

One weekend doesn't make a season, of course. The top Big East teams still have opportunities to actually do something to get national respect rather than just talking about it. But, at this point, do you really like Pitt's chances of beating Miami at home and Notre Dame on the road? Cincinnati winning at home against Oklahoma? West Virginia getting a win at LSU?

I don't.

Did I mention the Big East is the best basketball conference in the country?

There is a bit of good news here, though. In one very significant sense, those games against teams from better, more powerful conferences don't really matter. The winner of the Big East still is going to get a ticket to the BCS party if it deserves one or not.

I picked Pitt to win the conference before the loss at Utah and I'm sticking with it. I'm also more convinced than ever that Pitt's season will be remembered as a major failure if it doesn't win the Big East and get that BCS trip.

If you can't win the Big East this season, you're really not a very good football team.


Ron Cook: rcook@post-gazette.com Ron Cook can be heard on the "Vinnie and Cook" show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan.


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