Big East Conference Gets a Facelift

The 2004 Big East football conference has undergone a hefty makeover, the 2005 season shaping up quite differently. Administration, coaches, players, and media representatives met to discuss the new conference on Tuesday July 19th. Buzzing with excitement, the Newport, RI Marriot Hotel's conference room staged the highly anticipated event.

Along with each team's head coach and a handful of players, over 100 television, radio, and print media reporters attended, eager to find out what changes the addition and loss of three teams would induce in the league.

 

            With the adding of the Louisville, Cincinnati, and the University of South Florida, the Big East should prove far more competitive. 

"Every team has an opportunity in this league," said Connecticut head coach, Randy Edsall. "It's very balanced. I think Louisville, with the number of people returning, should be picked first in the league, but I also think that if people don't play on top of their games each and every week they could come away with a loss. Just look at the statistics. Last year if we had this conference the Big East had a better winning percentage than any conference in the country," he pointed out. "There's energy and excitement throughout the programs."

The conference suffered losses of Virginia Tech, Boston College, and Miami University, but regardless, the league is excited about the new changes.

            "This (Big East media day) is probably the most exciting day in the history of our twenty-six years," said commissioner Michael Tranghese. "We're bringing in three schools who are excited to be here and who we are excited to have."

            Tranghese is not alone in his enthusiasm for the changes. Every coach, whether his program is new to the consortium or is a seasoned Big East veteran, is anxiously awaiting the new, rivaling nature of the conference.

            The inclusion of new teams and deletion of old teams aren't the only changes within the Big East, though. A substantial variation on the game comes to this conference by way of Instant Replay.

            "I was pleasantly surprised by the demonstration (of instant replay)," said Syracuse coach Greg Robinson. "I think it could be very useful. I was not a big advocate of instant replay in the NFL. I thought it really broke up the game, but the (new) system, the way it is set up; quite frankly I think it's a better deal. It's a better format."

            As mentioned by West Virginia coach Rich Rodriguez, television time-outs break up and add length to the game as it is. Though the replay addition is met with mixed reviews it will, regardless, be a part of the 2005 season.

            Louisville joins the Big East with a number one pre-season ranking within the conference. Pittsburgh, West Virginia, Syracuse, Connecticut, Rutgers, USF, and Cincinnati all fall into the rankings respectively.

Louisville received 23 of a possible 24 first-place votes, having come off an 11-1 season including a 44-40 victory over Boise State in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl. The Cardinals will be working under head coach Bobby Petrino and will return fourteen starters for 2005.

Dave Wannstedt's Pittsburgh Panthers snagged the one remaining first place vote and are projected for second place. The Panthers were part of the Big East's four-way tie for first place in 2004, sharing the Big East champion title with Syracuse, Boston College, and West Virginia. Pittsburgh, though, was the league's BCS representative. The Panthers return sixteen starters.

Having earned a share of the Big East title two years running, West Virginia is ranked third for the upcoming season. The Mountaineers finished 8-4 overall and 4-2 in the Big East last season. They have appeared in eight bowl games throughout the past eleven seasons.

Syracuse University's Orange fill the number five slot in the pre-season rankings. Head Coach Greg Robinson is new to both the Orange and to the Big East Conference. Syracuse upset Boston College in 2004 to earn a spot in the Champs Sports Bowl, where they lost to Georgia Tech (51-14). The team returns fourteen starters.

The UConn Huskies, under Randy Edsall, joined the Big East last season and put up an 8-4 record. Edsall took the fifth-ranked team to its first bowl appearance in school history, the Motor City Bowl, where the Huskies triumphed over Toledo (39-10.) UConn suffers the loss of quarterback Dan Orlovsky for 2005. This season will be Connecticut's third as a Division I team.

Greg Schiano heads into his fifth year as Rutgers' head coach, his team ranking sixth. The Scarlet Knights led the Big East in sacks last season. RU also returns offensive threats in quarterback Ryan Hart, running back, Brian Leonard, wideout Tres Moses, and tight end Clark Harris.

The University of South Florida, new to the conference, is ranked seventh. Directed by Jim Leavitt, the Bulls return eight of eleven defensive starters. Running back Andre Hall will be the offense's cornerstone, having rushed for 1,357 yards and eleven touchdowns last season. USF finished with a 4-7 overall record in 2004.

Also new to the conference, Cincinnati finished their 2004 season 7-5, a PlainsCapital Fort Worthy Bowl victory under their belt. Mark Dantonio returns to coach the Bearcats, who are ranked eighth in the pre-season polls. Tight end Brent Celek will lead the Bearcat offense.

Change has hit the Big East conference hard this year. New, competitive, and eagerly awaited by fans, the league should prove to be a far more resilient conference in 2005, held in higher regards than ever before.

"I see the Big East as having a group of teams that will be very representative of college football," Robinson concluded.


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