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We are the Big East and we are ...

Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett
... taking a step back.

Two years ago, Louisville, West Virginia and Rutgers were all in the top 10. But then Bobby Petrino left for the Atlanta Falcons (on his way to Arkansas). Rich Rodriguez bolted for Michigan. And Greg Schiano hasn't been able to sustain the momentum in New Jersey. Meanwhile, Pittsburgh has yet to climb above mediocrity and Syracuse is enduring its worst stretch in history. Both those tradition-rich programs should be league tent poles.

So it's no wonder the Big East is struggling in 2008.

But ...

South Florida is blossoming into the power everyone always thought it could be. It's way too early to count out Steve Kragthorpe at Louisville or Bill Stewart at West Virginia. Brian Kelly is building a consistent winner at Cincinnati, and Randy Edsall is taking Connecticut to new heights. Perhaps this is a step back for now, with a major leap forward on the way.

Best case scenario: South Florida runs the table and forces its way into the national title mix. West Virginia or UConn wins enough to earn consideration for an at-large BCS bid.

Worst-case scenario: A falling tide sinks all boats. South Florida loses a league game, and everyone writes off the entire league as subpar. A poor bowl season makes critics wonder why the Big East deserves an automatic BCS bid instead of the overachieving Mountain West.