History could be made in the Big East this season: all eight teams could become bowl eligible.
That has never happened. So is this good or bad for the Big East?
Well that all depends on your perspective. Big East supporters argue this is the most competitive conference in the country from top to bottom, and getting all eight teams to at least six wins would prove as much. Indeed, the Big East is the only FBS conference in which each member has won at least four games in 2011.
If Connecticut (4-5) wins one of its last three games, every Big East team will have at least five wins this season. The only conference that has had each member finish with at least five wins is the Big Ten, which did it in 1904 and 1905.
Pretty cool stats to prove that point.
But critics will say the reason the Big East is so disrespected is because of this competitiveness from top to bottom. To get respect, there has to be at least one dominant team. Look at the BCS standings -- no Big East team right now. Look at the ESPN Stats & Information power rankings. The Big East is ranked No. 8 not because it is so super competitive, but because it lacks teams that truly define "power" in these calculations -- i.e. a top-tier of teams.
This is an argument that has gone 'round and 'round since the start of the BCS era, because the perceived notion is simply that the Big East is no good. But something has to be said for a league that can qualify all its teams for a bowl game. That is, after all, the goal every team in America has, in addition to winning a conference championship.
We have been told the bowl system is the reason there is no playoff, because coaches and players love having the opportunity to get a nice trip and end the season with a reward for such hard work. Getting all eight teams into a bowl game may not improve the image of the league from a national perspective, but it will give every player and coach in the league a reason to be happy after Dec. 3 ends.
So how do all eight teams become bowl eligible? Right now, Cincinnati, Rutgers and West Virginia each have seven wins. USF, Syracuse, Pitt and Louisville each have five wins. Each must win at least one of their remaining games to get to six, the threshold for becoming eligible. UConn needs to win two of its final three.
The Big East only has six tie-ins to bowl games, so having eight eligible teams does not guarantee everybody a bowl spot. An agreement with the Champs Sports Bowl could make things more difficult, because the game is entitled to take Notre Dame once in a four-year cycle in place of a Big East team, as long as the Irish are 7-5 are better. The Big East would get first consideration, but right now Notre Dame looks plenty appealing for the game in Orlando.
If Notre Dame does take that spot, the Big East would be left with five tie-in games for as many as eight teams. The Big East champion goes to the BCS. Then the pecking order: Champs Sports Bowl; Belk Bowl, New Era Pinstripe Bowl; BBVA Compass Bowl; Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl.
The bowl games do not have to select based on order of finish. Bowls might want to avoid repeat teams; or might take geography under consideration. The Belk Bowl, for example, has had good success with West Virginia. The Pinstripe Bowl would make the most sense for Rutgers, Syracuse and UConn.
If there are more teams eligible than tie-ins, the Big East would need to negotiate to get their teams into games that have an opening. The Pac-12, for example, might not fill its bowl allotment. Depending on what happens with the SEC, the Big East could send a team to the AutoZone Liberty Bowl.
The uncertainty only adds to the intrigue in the final weeks of the season.