THE FUTURE OF THE BIG EAST

Clearly, the Big East is at a crossroads. There are two forks in the road. The road to the left is the minor leagues of college football and a seat at the table with Conference USA, the Atlantic 10 and the Mid-American Conference. The path to the right is the BCS highway and it is the major league of college football that is paved with fame, recognition and money, both in and out. But it is also fraught with pitfalls and the big question is which path is the Big East about to take.

Since the Big East began playing football as a conference in 1991, it has won two national championships (Miami 1991 and 2001). In addition, Virginia Tech finished 11-0 in 2000, playing for the national championship against Florida State in the Sugar Bowl but losing 46-29. Miami played Ohio State for the national championship in 2002 but also lost. The success of the Big East on the gridiron has been for the most part the select company of Miami and Virginia Tech, which between the two of them have won nine of 14 Big East championships followed by, West Virginia 2, Syracuse 2 and Pitt 1.

But now the schools that are responsible for so much of the success of the Big East are gone for good. Which schools are going to step-up and become the new Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College? Conventional wisdom would look west towards Pittsburgh Pennsylvania, Morgantown, West Virginia and Louisville, Kentucky. But is that really the case? There are three sleeping giants in the Big East and they all more or less hug the coastline. Follow the shoreline and you may very well arrive at the future of the Big East. On the fields of Rutgers, Connecticut and the University of South Florida may very well lie the future of the Big East and there is the possibility that these three schools may replace Boston College, Miami and Virginia Tech as the marquee teams in the Big East. And here is why:

Connecticut
With a storied basketball program and arguably the most loyal fans in the Big East, UConn like Rutgers is considered a sleeping giant. With a large enrollment base (27,579) the State of Connecticut also benefits from a great sense of pride from many residents who have never set foot on the Storrs campus. The support for the UConn program was witnessed this past weekend, when the Huskies had their annual Blue-White Spring Game that was attended by over 9,000 fans. Cornell Brockington (Burlington, NJ) led the scoring with 2 touchdowns. Mostly, due to the success of its men and women's basketball teams, probably no team in the Big East travels as well or supports their university as fervently. In just it's third season at the Division 1-A level, the Huskies posted an 8-4 record and defeated Toledo in the Motor City Bowl 39-10. During this past recruiting period, UConn had a 26-member recruiting class, including five players from the State of New Jersey, most notably Kitt Pommels, the two-way threat from Paterson Catholic who was a recruiting priority of Rutgers. With a brand new stadium (Rentschler Stadium, new training facilities being built and 3 nationally televised games slated for the fall (Syracuse, West Virginia and Louisville), UConn is poised to build off of its successful 2004 season. It has a highly successful coach in Randy Edsall, great facilities, fan support and most importantly the support of its State, UConn will more than likely dwarf the accomplishments of Boston College in the Big East, taking its rightful place as the team of New England. This will be critical to the Big East's future success.

University of South Florida
Speaking to a media gathering at the Tampa Palms Golf and Country Club, Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese in response to a concerned question about South Florida joining the Big East, had a very interesting comment. "The only thing I can tell you is, whenever you mentioned South Florida, Miami in particular didn't want to hear about it." And there is good reason for that concern. With an enrollment of 41,392, the largest in the Big East and situated in the fertile recruiting grounds of South Florida, there are many who believe that USF has the potential to take its place amongst the big three of Miami, Florida and Florida State. Entering the Big East this year, the Bulls play their home games at Raymond James Stadium, home of the Tampa Bay Bucs. The Bulls have state-of-the-art facilities and played their annual spring game on April 16th where the Green posted a 14-7 victory over the White. The big question is how much will being a part of the Big East help USF's future recruiting which had a very respectable recruiting class this past February finishing with the 54th highest-rated recruiting class (Rutgers was 67th). Everything is in place for the Bulls to succeed in a big way as a future Big East member.

Rutgers
The original sleeping giant, there has been a consensus for years that out of all the schools in the Big East, Rutgers has the most potential to become the 800-pound gorilla. The second highest enrollment of all schools in the Big East, the only Big East School located in close proximity to both the New York and Philadelphia metropolitan areas and with arguably the best facilities in the Big East, the potential for success at Rutgers is enormous. Like South Florida, Rutgers recruits from a prime-recruiting base of New Jersey, but has also made inroads in Florida, New York State and Pennsylvania. Unfortunately, Rutgers has had the most trouble convincing its own kids to stay and play for its home school. Many people feel that winning will solve that problem and once it does, Rutgers will be a team to be reckoned with. But the fans, alumni and residents of New Jersey are getting extremely restless as this mantra has been heard now for well over twenty years. Still, the potential is there and this will be a critical year for Coach Schiano as he attempts to break the Scarlet Knights out of its losing ways.


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