West Virginia and Big East look for respect

ATLANTA – West Virginia safety Jahmile Addae feels all the eyes on his team.

Although Mountaineers coach Rich Rodriguez and Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese are telling Addae and his teammates not to worry about it, the junior knows the significance of Monday's Sugar Bowl. When No. 11 West Virginia (10-1) takes on No. 8 Georgia (10-2) at 8:30 p.m. in the Georgia Dome, it will be playing for more than itself. The Mountaineers will have the weight of an entire beleaguered league on their shoulders.

"We're toting that flag for right now," Addae said. "We just want to come in and do what we have to do as a team, and hopefully come away with a win."

The Big East is in the second year of a four-year fight to keep its automatic bid to the Bowl Championship Series. It may be an uphill battle, but Rodriguez doesn't want his players thinking about that during the Sugar Bowl, he said.

"The league has gotten bashed a little bit," he said. "We're the smallest league, so it's an easier target, but we shouldn't feel that every game we're playing is the mantel for the Big East. We've got a lot of proving to do, but so do a lot of teams in the BCS. I just worry about us."

Other people, though, are worried about the conference, which lost Miami and Virginia Tech after the 2003 season and Boston College after the 2004 season. All three of those teams defected to the ACC, leaving the Big East to scramble to find eight members who look good on the basketball court but not so great on the football field.

The Mountaineers, despite having lost just one game this year, are a seven-point underdog against the Bulldogs. Louisville, which finished second in the league is an eight-point underdog against Virginia Tech in Monday's Gator Bowl. South Florida is a four-point underdog against North Carolina State, and Rutgers already has lost its bowl game against Arizona State.

"We're not going to be judged on a single game, we're going to be judged over a four-year period, but obviously how West Virginia does against Georgia will have some impact on how we are judged," Tranghese said. "If I said I was not concerned about it, I'd be misleading you. We're all going to be evaluated, but a lot of the focus is aimed at us."

The BCS will review its members after the 2007 season and could pull any league's bid, but only the Big Eastis considered to be in imminent danger. The league barely kept its berth after the most recent review period, and only a tireless effort by Tranghese made that happen many believe.

The most recent four-year review period began with 2004, an awful season for the league in which its champion, Pittsburgh, was whipped 35-7 by Utah in the Fiesta Bowl. This year, it's West Virginia playing in the Big East's most high-profile game.

"I think there's this public perception that we're under tremendous scrutiny, so I guess that's true, but I have to tell you, I would never have that conversation with West Virginia," Tranghese said. "I would never impose that extra burden on them."

It's too late for that, said linebacker Boo McLee.

"I think we do because we've got to gain the respect of the nation and make them understand that we have great teams in this conference and can play with any teams in the country," he said.

The Big East

2005 Standings
West Virginia 10-1 7-0
Louisville 9-2 5-2
Rutgers 7-5 4-3
South Florida 6-5 4-3
Pittsburgh 5-6 4-3
Connecticut 5-6 2-5
Cincinnati 4-7 2-5
Syracuse 1-10 0-7

The BCS Conferences
Atlantic Coast
Big 12
Big East
Big Ten

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