Next two weeks 'critical' for Big East's credibility

Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett

After two weeks of play, the Big East's nonconference record is 10-3.

Sounds great, right? A 76.9 winning percentage is nothing to scoff at. But look closely at the numbers, and it's not nearly as impressive.

Six of the league's 10 nonconference wins have come over FCS opponents. The Big East has played three teams from BCS conferences -- and is 0-3. The most impressive nonconference wins are over teams from Conference USA (West Virginia over East Carolina) and the MAC (UConn beating Ohio and Pitt defeating Buffalo).

In other words, the Big East hasn't really proven anything yet, other than it can beat inferior competition. But the opportunity to change that arrives this week.

The Big East has five games on tap against opponents from BCS conferences in Week 3, and another four in Week 4. They include three opponents from the ACC (Florida State, Maryland, NC State) two from the SEC (Auburn, Kentucky), two from the Big 12 (Baylor, Colorado), one from the Big Ten (Northwestern) and one from the Pac-10 (Oregon State). Throw in Louisville's game against defending Sugar Bowl champion Utah, and that's 10 full showcase opportunities for the Big East.

If the league wants to assert itself, then winning a fair share of these games the next two weeks is important.

"They're critical," West Virginia coach Bill Stewart said. "I hope we win every nonconference game, and I mean that sincerely. We want to represent the Big East the best we can, and I know each and every coach feels the same way."

There's just one problem: Of the 10 games, a whopping eight of them are road games for Big East teams.

The only two contests on Big East turf are Northwestern at Syracuse -- which is 0-2 and figures to be an underdog in the Carrier Dome -- and West Virginia hosting Colorado, which is off to such a bad start that even a Mountaineers' blowout victory wouldn't carry much clout.

Of the eight road games, the only one in which a Big East team looks like a clear favorite is Pittsburgh at NC State next week, and even that could be a toss-up.

The league's highest-rated team, No. 17 Cincinnati, has to travel across the country this week to play Oregon State, which beat USC at home last year.

"We've got to be able to represent the Big East as the defending Big East champs," Cincinnati coach Brian Kelly said. "It's definitely part of how we carry ourselves. We represent the Big East, a conference that continues to build and emerge, and these are opportunities out of the league that we want to win. They're important as we continue to build the credibility of this conference."

These next two weeks won't be easy. But there's only one way for the Big East to erase doubts about its stature, and that's to win.