The Big East is generally the butt of every major-college football joke that doesn't end with an ACC-related punchline or a charming anecdote about the SEC and meth. Its doom as a conference has been prophesied even by its logical supporters. So it does take some gumption for UConn's head coach to proclaim the following to a national media outlet:
Hayden (Logan, Utah): what do you say to people who think the big east is weak?
Randy Edsall: I say, look at our non-conference schedule. Look at our bowl records over the last few years. From top to bottom, the Big East is as strong as any conference in the country, when you look at the eight teams and how competitive it is each and every week.
It is perfectly fine that Randy Edsall believes this, or professes to. He seems like a likable dude, and handled last year's many Husky-related crises with grace and aplomb. It is right and good that he should shill for his conference when it's getting too-rare attention from the big-boy television powers. Along those same lines, it is a slow night, and is totally within bounds for me to unpack his statement with the delicious power of selective math:
"[Look] at our non-conference schedule." Not knowing whether he means us to examine the Big East's W/L record or quality of opponents, let's look at both.
The Big East's record in out-of-conference games against teams from BCS conferences over last six years is 54-63. That 46.2% victory rate is the second-worst of the Big Six conferences, besting only the Big Ten. The conference's overall OOC record in that same timespan was 142-77, fourth among major conferences.
Here's a handy list of the Big East's non-conference opponents for 2010. Currently ranked teams are in bold; teams from divisions below I-A are italicized.
• Cincinnati: Fresno State, Indiana State, North Carolina State, Oklahoma, Miami (OH)
• UConn: Michigan, Texas Southern, Temple, Buffalo, Vanderbilt
• Louisville: Kentucky, Eastern Kentucky, Oregon State, Arkansas State, Memphis
• Pitt: Utah, New Hampshire, Miami, FIU, Notre Dame
• Rutgers: Norfolk State, FIU, North Carolina, Tulane, Army
• South Florida: Stony Brook, Florida, Western Kentucky, Florida Atlantic, Miami
• Syracuse: Akron, Washington, Maine, Colgate, Boston College
• West Virginia: Coastal Carolina, Marshall, Maryland, LSU, UNLV
This raises the question: When Edsall spoke so glowingly of the non-conference slates, did he mean to tout their quality in a relative or absolute sense? Every conference plays its share of cupcake games, but he perhaps should wait to preen over a tough schedule for a year when the Huskies aren't facing Texas Southern, Buffalo, and Vanderbilt.
Using last season's final rankings to determine opponent quality for next year is premature, of course. But the above-highlighted teams all have reasonable expectations for continued success this year. The point being, the entire Big East, combined, will play a currently-ranked team six (6) times in 2010. If we add in teams with the potential to perhaps climb into the polls by the time they face a Big East squad (generously: Oregon State, North Carolina, Boston College, and Washington), that number climbs to ten, barely edging out the number of games to be played against teams from below Division I-A (nine).
"Look at our bowl records over the last few years." The Big East does have the claim to fame of going 5-0 in postseason play in 2006, and their record in the intervening years of 11-6 is second only to the SEC's. However, the conference has been invited to fewer bowls in the past three years than any other Big Six league, and last year's play in particular is very much a case of quantity over quality. Six of eight Big East teams received bowl bids, and the two most prestigious games were sore disappointments: West Virginia and Cincinnati lost the Sugar and Gator Bowls by a combined margin of 39 points. The four teams in minor bowls all managed wins.
"[Look] at the eight teams and how competitive it is each and every week." Three teams from the Big East finished in the top 25 last year. Two teams lost twice as many games as they won. Every conference has its dominant forces and lollygaggers, but "top to bottom," a nationally competitive unit this ain't.
So, what do you say to those who think the Big East is a weak outfit? Tell the Florida Internationals and the minor bowl organizers to sleep with one eye open, is what you say. THASSRIGHT.