Now that the college football season is over, we have plenty of time to dissect what happened. Let us take a look back at what we learned about the Big East during bowl season.
1. R-E-S-P-E-C-T. Yup, that was West Virginia hanging 70 on Clemson. Yup, that was Cincinnati beating Vanderbilt. Yup, that was two 10-win Big East teams finishing in the Top 25. Not too shabby for the most disrespected league in America. The twin results of bowl season might do little to calm the anti-Big East rhetoric, but clearly West Virginia served notice that it should not be trifled with in 2012. All season long we waited on the Mountaineers to put together a complete game from start to finish. We finally got it in the Discover Orange Bowl to the tune of a bowl record for points scored, along with many other Orange Bowl and BCS marks shattered. The television ratings might not have been terrific, but West Virginia put on one heck of a show in South Florida. Say what you will about its imminent departure to the Big 12 -- that game counted for the Big East, which had lost its three previous BCS games by a combined 38 points.
2. Comeback kid. Cincinnati coach Butch Jones wasn't exaggerating when he said Zach Collaros' return from an ankle injury was one of the best stories of bowl season. It was indeed. Collaros is a good kid and a good player who deserved to lead his team in his final game. He worked countless hours in the rehab room to get his broken ankle healed up enough to be able to play Vanderbilt. His status was a question leading up to the game, so much so that the Commodores were favored over the co-Big East champs. But Collaros was able to come back to the field about two weeks before schedule and deliver a 31-24 win. His stats weren't pretty (neither were his interceptions), but Collaros gutted it out and did just enough to get the Bearcats their fourth 10-win season in the past five years.
3. Louisville has some growing up to do. Don't get me wrong. The Cardinals exceeded most everyone's expectations this season when they won a share of the Big East title, and beat West Virginia along the way. But they had a few too many mistakes in their Belk Bowl loss to NC State, and their late rally came up just short. Teddy Bridgewater threw three interceptions, and was confused by some of the blitzes thrown his way. He also took several sacks late in the game when he should have thrown the ball away. This was a winnable game for Louisville, and it always hurts to lose. But I think this game can serve as a valuable learning experience heading into 2012.
4. Rutgers completes turnaround. It was a few months ago that people like me picked Rutgers to finish dead last. Consider its bowl win against Iowa State the bookend to a terrific turnaround season. What we always know to be true about the Scarlet Knights happened again -- they won their fifth straight bowl game, the longest active bowl winning streak in the nation. The game turned out to be the final one for receiver Mohamed Sanu, who declared for the NFL draft the following week. He had six catches for 62 yards in the game, and Jawan Jamison showed once again that the potential is there for the Scarlet Knights to have a good run game.
5. Pitt ends the misery. It was a miserable season for the Panthers, and they ended it with a miserable performance against SMU in the BBVA Compass Bowl. You can hardly blame them for wanting to turn the page on 2011, a season that has been defined by the antics of former coach Todd Graham. First he left his players in the lurch by making them play a style of offense that made them look inept. Then he left his players in the lurch when he lied to them and actually left with a text message through a surrogate as his way of thanking them for their hard work this season. Pitt ended up 6-7 -- its first losing season since 2007. The top half of the league might have been good, but the Big East did have four teams with losing records for the first time since 2005.