Big East Media Day: Tranghese -- Success for Pitt, Syracuse is huge for league
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NEWPORT, R.I. -- The Big East proved last year it was capable of becoming a major player in big-time college football, at least in the short term. The conference had three teams finish in the top 12 of the BCS rankings, went 5-0 in bowl games and was an all-time best 37-8 (.822 winning percentage) in non-conference games, including a 14-7 mark -- a nation's best .667 -- against the other five charter BCS conferences.
Those are impressive numbers, and given that the conference's top three teams return many of their top players, including four Heisman trophy candidates, as well as a lot of starters and key reserves, the sky seems to be the limit this season.
Big East commissioner Michael Tranghese, who just a few years ago was trying to convince anyone who would listen that the conference would rise again from the ashes left behind when Virginia Tech, Miami and Boston College left for the Atlantic Coast Conference, basked in some of the glory yesterday at Big East media day.
Tranghese also offered a cautionary side note for those who think the Big East is out trouble.
He said the success of the past two seasons has only been short term and for the conference to reach its potential and become a viable major football conference in the long term it needs its two "brand name" traditional powers, Syracuse and Pitt, to compete for Big East titles every year.
"Those are two programs with incredible tradition, with a lot of history -- the kind of tradition you can recruit off of and build a program around," Tranghese said.
"I think both have a chance to be good soon and I think Dave [Wannstedt] and Greg [Robinson] are doing a good job of building them back to where they need to be."
Tranghese's thoughts aren't any different from what he was saying three years ago when the conference had to rebuild. At that point, he said the Big East would need to lean on its traditional programs like Pitt and Syracuse until some of its newer programs were able to step forward.Stew Milne, Associated Press
Louisville quarterback Brian Brohm, left, and West Virginia quarterback Pat White, separated by a curtain, sit for TV reporters at the Big East football media day yesterday in Newport, R.I.
Click photo for larger image.
Big East forecast
1. West Virginia (20)
2. Louisville (3)
3. Rutgers (1)
4. South Florida
That's what makes the success of the conference over the past two years even more surprising. It has thrived while its two most tradition-laden football programs have floundered.
Pitt has been mediocre, going 11-12 during that span while Syracuse has been a dreadful 5-18, and despite the commissioner's optimism, neither is picked to finish in the top half of the conference this year..
Tranghese said while Pitt and Syracuse have struggled, the conference has gotten a boost from other teams and pointed to West Virginia's win against Georgia in the Sugar Bowl in 2005-06 as being the catalyst to the conference's return to respectability.
"What West Virginia did in [the Sugar Bowl] got us on our way and what Louisville has done has been remarkable," he said.
"But I think the rise of Rutgers has been really, really big for us. I mean, last year the New York City market was actually interested in college football, which was an amazing thing. I think people were just excited about our story because they root for the underdog.
"We're still an underdog in football, but we are slowly changing that perception. I think once Pitt and Syracuse get rolling along with the rest of them our conference will reach an even higher level."
Wannstedt was asked about the commissioner's remarks and agreed wholeheartedly.
He said it is his responsibility to put Pitt back on the national map and that's the only reason he was interested in taking the Panthers' job.
"Pitt and Syracuse have national names and a lot of tradition that people know about," Wannstedt said.
"We both have brand names, with a lot of history of winning championships and winning national awards. We've produced Heisman trophy winners and we haven't carried our share of the load yet.
"I embrace that challenge, I see it is an opportunity. I embrace our history and I know what we need to become and I know we will become that. I want us to get back to what we were, not for the conference's sake, but for our sake."
Wannstedt and Robinson are entering their third seasons, so both teams are going to be expected to show improvement.
Neither coach is considered to be on the hot seat yet, but given what is at stake for both programs -- and for the conference -- it is clear that their seats will begin to get warm if they fail to make a bowl game for the third consecutive season.
Robinson, like Wannstedt, has NFL roots and inherited a team that had been Big East co-champs (with Pitt, West Virginia and Boston College) the year before, yet has only one Big East victory in 14 tries. He said tradition is one of the main reasons he took the job at Syracuse.
"Syracuse is a national program and always has been." he said.
"The tradition that has been established, that is something that we want to and will continue to strive to achieve. It is not something we are going to run away from, in fact, the opposite is true.
"We believe we should be one of the top teams in the Big East every year and that's our goal, to get back to that level."
First Published July 17, 2007 11:18 pm