Cincinnati (4-0), coming off a 28-20 win against Fresno State, is ranked 10th in the Associated Press writers' poll and 11th in the USA Today coaches' poll. South Florida, also 4-0 after a 17-7 win against Florida State in Tallahassee, Fla., is on the cusp among those receiving votes in the AP (29th) and USA Today (27th).
Rutgers (3-1), which was hammered by Cincinnati in the opening game this season, is the only other nearly-ranked team with one measly point in the coaches' poll. Pittsburgh had a chance to be ranked if it would have improved to 4-0, but faded in the fourth quarter at North Carolina State.
"I think every team is just focused on its next opponent, and the polls and perception can be what it is,'' Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said. "All that stuff will take care of itself in another month or so.''
That said, the perception of the Big East couldn't have been too good going into this season, as no Conference teams were ranked in the preseason polls. There also has been some talk about revoking the BCS bid that goes to the champion even though the Big East went a respectable 4-2 in the postseason.
Connecticut beat MAC champ Buffalo, 38-20, in the International Bowl. Rutgers stopped North Carolina State, 29-23, in the PapaJohns.com Bowl. West Virginia outlasted North Carolina, 31-30, in the Meineke Car Care Bowl; and USF pounded Memphis, 41-14, in the St. Petersburg Bowl.
The only losses were by Pitt, 3-0, in the Sun Bowl and Big East champion Cincinnati, 20-7, in the BCS bowl for the Conference, the Orange Bowl. The Big East is 21-7 against non-conference foes this season after Pitt's loss at North Carolina State this past Saturday.
"We haven't had a lot of Big East teams play each other yet, other than the first game of the year, when UC (Cincinnati) and Rutgers played,'' Louisville coach Steve Kragthorpe said. "But I think as the season progresses, and the Big East teams play against each other, we'll get a better feel for it and people will see the quality of it.
"There have been some good non-conference opponents that we have played. ... (But) it's tough for me to say, because I haven't watched a lot of other teams. We scout the team we're playing. We go out on the practice field for about three hours and then go back in our cages. But I think the perception is very high.
"And that is evidenced by the fact that the Big East has performed so well in bowl games,'' Kragthorpe added. "There's a lot of teams that start outside the top 25 and then end up being in it. There also are teams who start in the top 10 and then end up not being in the top 25 at all at the end of the year. ... The parity level is not like it has been before (in college football).''
Both Wannstedt and Kragthorpe believed that the top-rated teams in the Big East in the preseason obviously still have a shot to win the Conference because intra-league play has just begun.
"I really haven't a chance to see anyone on film, other than Louisville this week, but I know there have been some nice wins against non-conference opponents by a lot of different schools in our Conference,'' Wannstedt said.
"(But) we sure as heck haven't taken a step backward. We've taken a step forward, and I think that's the way people look at us. But it's still early in the year, and we'll see what happens come December.''
Kragthorpe readily agreed.
"A reason why Cincinnati was not ranked as highly as they've been ranked before or how high they should have been ranked or what I believe they should be ranked was that they had to replace a lot of guys on defense,'' Kragthorpe said. "But they did a good job of that, so I think that was part of it for them.
"(But) UConn's playing well. UConn went down and had a great win against Baylor, and I thought Baylor was going to have a pretty good team this year. Pitt's playing well. Syracuse has won a couple games. Rutgers is going to be a team that's (up-and-coming) because I think (Tom) Savage is going to be a really, really good quarterback for them. He's young, just a true freshman.
"So, he's going to be good,'' Kragthorpe added. "And South Florida, they go to Florida State and get a huge win against those guys without their No. 1 quarterback. So, I don't think it's defined itself yet, although some thought it would. There are some teams playing really well like Cincinnati and Pitt ... but I don't think it's shaken out yet. So, everybody's still in it.''
And the final story hasn't been written for the Big East this season.
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