So the 2011 season is wrapping up and like every year the rest of the College Football world is setting its sights on the Big East conference as a league undeserving of its BCS bid. As a HUGE Louisville fan, I’m obviously vested in the survival in the league as an Automatic Qualifier. But even if the Big XII comes calling for the Cardinals this Spring (like I’m hearing they will), the Big East still DESERVES your respect and here’s why:
1) THEY WANT OUR TEAMS. Don’t believe me? Ask the ACC. Since 2004, the ACC wasn’t happy with itself so they went to the Big East well not once, but TWICE. In 2004, the Atlantic Coast Conference decided that they wanted to rival the SEC in football and poached Virginia Tech, Miami, and Boston College to create a 12-team league and an ACC Championship Game. The Championship has been a raging success by the way, attracting 27,360 (about 3,000 shy of what Louisville took to the Orange Bowl, in 2007) to the 2008 contest. That was after the game was moved from Jacksonville, FL after poor attendance in Jacksonville caused conference officials to seek a new site and found worse results in Tampa. Now the game is played in Charlotte.
The Big East countered the losses before the 2005 season by adding Louisville, Cincinnati, and South Florida. Not to mention this fall the Big 12 has also gone to the Big East and took TCU and WVU this fall to fill the void of Texas A&M, Missouri, Nebraska, and Colorado leaving the past two seasons. There are rumors that the Big 12 is not yet done with the realignment of their own. If you are counting, that is 5 teams in 7 years that have attracted other “superior conferences”.
2) THEY WANT OUR COACHES. Since the New Big East was formed, there has been annual coaching turnover in the Big East Football programs. In fact, only Rutgers has had the same coach (Greg Schiano now rumored to Penn State), during that time.
2006: Bobby Petrino hired away from Louisville by the Atlanta Falcons, now Arkansas Razorback head coach. Steve Kragthorpe comes from the HC job at Tulsa for the Cardinals. Mark Dantonio was successful at Cincinnati, and parlayed that into his current job at Michigan State, the Bearcats hired Brian Kelly.
2007: Rich Rodriguez lured away by Michigan, assistant Bill Stewart promoted.
2008: Greg Robinson fired by Syracuse, the Orange Hired Doug Marrone (New Orleans Saints OC).
2009: Notre Dame came in and plucked Brian Kelly from Cincinnati, Butch Jones comes in from Central Michigan. Steve Kragthorpe fired by Louisville, Louisville hires Charlie Strong (DC at Florida). Jim Leavitt was removed from duty over allegedly striking a player in the locker room, USF turned to Skip Holtz.
2010: Randy Edsall hired away from UCONN by Maryland, UConn hires former Syracuse coach Paul Pasqualoni. Bill Stewart fired, WVU hires Dana Holgorsen (OC at Oklahoma State). Dave Wannstedt fired by Pitt, Panthers hired Todd Graham from Tulsa.
2011: Butch Jones is the hot name for every opening in the country. Skip Holtz rumored to be a leading candidate at UNC. Charlie Strong has been mentioned at Penn State.
3) BOWL RECORD
Since the realignment (starting with the 2005 season) here are the bowl records of the 6 BCS conferences:
Big East 21-11 (.656), SEC 34-18 (.654), PAC 19-14 (.576), Big XII 23-21 (.523), ACC 22-28 (.440), Big Ten 17-28 (.377).
Post season records can be skewed in an individual season. Some conferences can have banner years followed by dismal bowl seasons, but over the course of a 6 year window, like the sample taken here it becomes hard to hide. I’m going to discuss how this relates to ‘scheduling around the myth’ later, but bowl games are the one time of the year when games are set up for two teams who have achieved at least some measure of success.
4) BCS RECORD. The Big East is 6-7 (.462) in BCS Bowl games for the past 13 years (no at large bids), and since the 2005 realignment the league is 3-3 in BCS Bowls. ACC by comparison to the Big East has been AWFUL. IN 13 appearance in BCS games the ACC is 2-11 (.154), and just 1-5 since the realignment. SEC (.714), PAC (.625), Big East (.462), Big Ten (.478), Big 12 (.444), ACC (.154).
5) HYPOCRISY IN THE MEDIA . Last season the national media wound up it’s collective negative energy and focused on UConn winning the league and getting blasted in the 2011 Fiesta Bowl to Oklahoma 48-20 (28 point defeat). But no one mentioned the blasting that Viriginia Tech took to Stanford by the same margin 40-12 (28 point defeat). It was UConn is awful the Big East doesn’t deserve to be a part of this! But for Virginia Tech it was: Andrew Luck is awesome, Stanford is incredible. If you look at performance it’s the exact same result, with two entirely different national reactions.
In November 2006 Louisville and West Virginia played a #3 vs. #5 matchup with 1008 collective yards, and a 10 point Louisville win. After the game, the national media BLASTED the league and the two schools for not playing defense and that the two schools couldn’t win against schools from the SEC, Big Ten, etc. because of this lack of defense. 10 MONTHS EARLIER in January 2006 Texas and USC played in the BCS National Championship Game, where Texas would defeat USC by 3, and the two teams racked up a collective 1130 yards! That contest was hailed as the GREATEST GAME EVER PLAYED by the national media. 2 Weeks AFTER the UofL vs. WVU game, Michigan and Ohio State played as #1 vs. #2 and racked up 900 yards of total offense, and it was termed the “Game of the Century” and heralded for its offensive prowess.
So what I take out of that is that when two traditional powers play a high octane game with 1000+ yards it is awesome, amazing, great for TV, and the sport. But when two teams who aren’t a part of the establishment do, it is BLASPHEMY and awful, the two teams MUST be discredited. To me that was the height of the hypocrisy.
6)SCHEDULING AROUND THE MYTH
The myth is the traditional power. The myth is the program who no matter what personnel issue, coaching change, scandal, or otherwise is ALWAYS going to be a pre-season Top 25 team by the Media, Coaches, and Computers. The myth is that way, well, because that’s the way it has always been. No one really takes a lot of time dissecting the myth’s roster, scheme, or depth chart because well they are Mythical U. The myth persists because of donor dollars. Donors don’t care how or why their team wins 10 games in a season, they just want to see their school with ranking and 9-10 wins each season no matter what. As a result, the myth is protected and the entire sport suffers as a result.
Who are these programs? Think Florida. Think Michigan. Did you know that Florida hasn’t played a regular season out of conference (OOC) game outside of the state of Florida since 1991 when the Gators went to Syracuse and suffered a 38-21 loss on 9/21/91? That’s 20 years!!! Think it is a coincidence that they routinely AVOID competition away from their home territory? Think it is a coincidence the last time they did travel OOC was after a loss? Sure, Florida is happy to host sub-par teams, collect the paycheck of a game in The Swamp. I understand the money aspect. I also understand that Florida plays Florida State home and away each season as well as playing an SEC schedule. But is that what college football is about? Is that why the players work their collective tails off throughout the off-season? To play Florida Atlantic, UAB, and Furman?
Michigan on the other hand actually does have some plans to play Alabama next season in Cowboys Stadium along with Air Force. However, here is the OOC schedule for the Big Blue for the past few seasons (they play ND every season): 2011 (Western Michigan, Eastern Michigan, San Diego State), 2010 (UConn, UMass, Bowling Green State), 2009 (Western Michigan, Eastern Michigan, Delaware State).
I pick on Michigan and Florida, not because I dislike their programs. I do it because it is easy. If Michigan is playing Ohio State, I’m always rooting for the Wolverines. Charlie Strong built his reputation at the University of Florida while they won 2 of their national titles. So it’s not as if I HATE either school. Really these were just two EXAMPLES of a systemic approach of “scheduling to protect the myth”. I just don’t think that is what competition should be about. I think it should be, anyone, anytime, any place. I especially have that mentality while being a fan of the Big East where a team only has 7 conference games, and 5 OOC games necessary to fill the schedule. Also while everyone around the country lambastes the league, it leaves fans from each program eager to prove them wrong. Which is why the bowl season is so important to Big East programs.
Without top schools to schedule, teams like Louisville, Cincinnati, etc. have to fill their dates with whoever is willing and that leaves them open to even further criticism. It isn’t the school that is avoiding the ‘up and comer’ that gets the criticism. It’s the ‘up and comer’ program who can’t find anyone to play who takes the brunt of it all. During the 2004-2006 run Louisville had, the main argument was that Louisville didn’t play anyone. Despite the fact that several BCS level schools had dropped them from their schedule leading up to their games, leaving Louisville to scramble to find an opponent. Boise State has had this same issue the past few years with people discounting their schedule (like Craig James voting them #24 this week despite being 10-1 with a 1-pt loss to #18 TCU).
In the past decade Louisville has tried to schedule REPEATEDLY schools from the Big Ten, SEC, and ACC. Here is a list of schools that have backed out of HOME AND HOME series’ with Louisville that I personally have knowledge of: Georgia Tech, Duke, Wisconsin, Indiana, Vanderbilt, Georgia. Note: Indiana, Ohio State, and Vandy are the closest BCS programs NOT regularly on Louisville’s schedule.
Also see if you notice a trend in the last time Louisville played the following teams from BCS conferences:
Alabama: 1991 Fiesta Bowl Louisville wins 34-7
Auburn: 1974 Louisville loses 16-3 (only meeting)
Arizona State: 1994 Louisville wins 25-22
Baylor: 1996 Louisville loses 14-13 (only meeting)
Boston College: 1998 Louisville wins 52-28
BYU: 2001 Liberty Bowl Louisville wins 28-10 (not a BCS team obviously, only meeting)
DUKE: 2002 Louisville wins 40-3 (only meeting)
Florida: 1992 Louisville loses 31-17
Florida State: 2002 Louisville wins 26-20 (much respect for FSU making the PJCS trip)
Illinois: 2001 Louisville loses 34-10 (Champaign is a 4 hour bus ride)
Indiana: 1986 Louisville loses 0-21 (Bloomington is a 2 hour bus ride, local media covers them)
Kansas: 1990 Louisville wins 28-16
Kansas State: 2008 Louisville wins 38-29 (great fans, great trip in 2006!)
Maryland: 1995 Louisville wins 31-0
Miami (FL): 2006 Louisville wins 31-7 (had a lot of fun with their fans from 2004-2006)
Michigan State: 1996 Louisville wins 30-20
Mississippi State: 1976 Louisville loses 30-21
Missouri: 1981 Louisville loses 34-3 (only meeting)
North Carolina: 2011 Louisville loses 14-7 (return in 2012)
North Carolina State: 2007 Louisville wins 27-10
Ohio State: 1992 Louisville loses 20-19 (UofL Failed 2-pt conversion at end of game & Columbus is 3.5 hours away).
Oklahoma: 1999 Louisville loses 42-21 (Josh Heupel was on fire).
Oklahoma State: 1982 Louisville wins 28-22
Oregon State: 2010 Louisville loses 35-28
Penn State: 1997 Louisville loses 57-21
Purdue: 1987 Tie 22-22 (3 hour bus ride, Courier-Journal covers Purdue on occasion).
Tennessee: 1993 Louisville loses 45-10 (4 hour bus ride)
Texas: 1994 Louisville loses 30-16 (beat Longhorns in 1993)
Texas A&M: 1994 Louisville loses 26-10
Utah: 2009 Louisville loses 30-14
Vanderbilt: 1974 Louisville loses 44-0 (3 hour bus ride)
Virginia: 1989 Louisville loses 16-15 (Louisville won match up in 1988).
Virginia Tech: 2006 Gator Bowl Louisville loses 34-25 (last regular season matchup in 1992 Louisville won 21-17).
Wake Forest: 2007 Orange Bowl Louisville wins 24-13 (only meeting)
The Cards have never faced: Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Clemson, Georgia, Georgia Tech, Iowa, Iowa State, LSU, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, Northwestern, Notre Dame, Ole Miss, Oregon, South Carolina, Stanford, Texas Tech, UCLA, USC, Washington, Washington State, Wisconsin (25 teams out of 67 current BCS teams, 37%).
The biggest problem I have is that these “Myths” don’t want to give any “up and comer” credit, but they also don’t want to line up and play them. You can’t have it both ways. You can’t avoid them because you are scared of a loss and then act high and mighty while criticizing the schedule. The system as it is created right now is simply totally opposite from the “American Way” where if you come in and work hard and put something nice together you get rewarded. It’s opposite. If you come from no where in college football you are ridiculed for your past, and your present isn’t appreciated. These MYTHS can keep their own myth going by simply avoiding the hot team, further invalidating the ‘up and comer’ and not allowing them to challenge the establishment. Tom Jurich (Louisville’s AD) has stated that he would love to schedule ANY BCS school who is willing to do a HOME and HOME series, or even a HOME/HOME/Neutral.
The Sun Belt conference actually created a bylaw for their members that requires them to play home and home series with out of conference opponents so that their members didn’t continually have to take beatings on the road from traditional powers who were happy to write a large check to pad their schedule.
In the end College Football Needs A Playoff. Don’t hate a conference that benefits from the system. Don’t hate a conference who performs better than others in the same system. It’s the same system that is about to allow an Alabama team to play for a National Championship when they aren’t playing for their CONFERENCE Championship. It doesn’t make sense that ONE game decides everything when a team can only play 12-13 games tops and there are 120 teams. Play an 8-team playoff, play a 12-team playoff! Settle it on the field.
But for now we play in a system where the conference champion regardless of record plays in a BCS bowl. In a system where a national champion doesn’t necessarily have to win its own league, and in a system that can artificially be manipulated through Coaches Polls and National Perception. So if Louisville takes an Orange Bowl Bid at 7-5 after UConn takes care of business on Saturday, will all Louisville fans hear the bellyaching of the entire nation? Sure. But don’t hate the player, hate the game. Maybe I’ll see you in South Beach in about 5 weeks.