Big East second-half preview

What if we were to tell you in August that the Big East would hire a huge television executive as its new commissioner, a man in place to guide the conference through its next historic television deal? And that he would have three ranked, undefeated teams halfway through the season to sell?

And what if we told you that the ACC had suffered another letdown and that the Big East was 4-3 against that conference? Or that it possessed three more ranked BCS teams than the Big Ten, another conference it has surpassed in on-field superiority this season?

Odds are that most fans would take it all in a heartbeat. And the funny thing is, there is still room for improvement.

There is little separation so far among the conference's fourth- through eighth-place teams, and seeing how that develops will be a very interesting sidebar to the storyline of the conference title race. Pitt has done little outside of routing Virginia Tech. Syracuse has done little outside of topping Pitt. UConn and USF can't seem to get out of their own ways.

And then there's Temple, possibly the best story in the conference after six games. The Owls returned to the Big East after nearly watching their program vanish eight years ago, and now they are 2-0 in conference play, riding their first-ever Big East winning streak.

Temple gets a chance to do some serious damage this weekend when it hosts undefeated Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights still have the chance to win their first Big East title. A year after sharing a three-way conference crown, Louisville and Cincinnati are trying to take more steps under third-year coaches.

The Big East has been the brunt of many jokes. And it did, kind-of-sort-of, lose one more (partial) member last month in Notre Dame. But the product on the field is as good as it has been in at least three years, giving followers lots to smile about as the season's second half kicks into gear.

Bold prediction: Despite a top-heavy league that boasts three undefeated, ranked teams, I don't think anyone will run the table this season. Rutgers just doesn't have enough offense. Louisville doesn't have enough defense. And Cincinnati hasn't shown enough consistency against so-so competition. All three teams are very good, and it would do wonders for the Big East if one ran the table -- even if it likely still got shut out of the BCS title game -- but there are too many questions surrounding each of the big three to make me believe any of them will win out.

Looking forward to: How the big three stack up against each other. Rutgers, Louisville and Cincinnati all play each other in the second half of the season, with the Cardinals hosting the Bearcats on Oct. 26. But Cincinnati gets Rutgers at home, and the Scarlet Knights get Louisville at home, so it wouldn't be much of a surprise if each of these teams dealt another its first loss.

Top five games:

Cincinnati at Louisville, Oct. 26: This is the first of the round-robin action among the conference's three undefeated clubs. And it will be Cincinnati's first real road test, in prime time, no less. Can Munchie Legaux rise to the occasion?

Pitt at Notre Dame, Nov. 3: Insert ACC jokes here. Still, this is one of the few nonconference challenges in the second half with national implications. The Panthers could be facing a 7-1 or even 8-0 Irish squad that is coming off a trip to Norman, Okla. Pitt nearly pulled off the upset last year.

Rutgers at Cincinnati, Nov. 17: This is the Bearcats' turn to play host to another conference contender. The Scarlet Knights very well could enter this game at 9-0, raising the stakes even higher, and Cincinnati might, too, if it can knock off Louisville three weeks earlier.

South Florida at Miami, Nov. 17: USF looks dead right now, but this is an important game for both state and conference bragging rights. A win makes the Big East 5-3 on the season against the ACC, and it will give the Bulls a season split against Sunshine State rivals Florida State and the Hurricanes.

Louisville at Rutgers, Nov. 29: Conference schedule-makers might be onto something, especially if both teams are undefeated. The Scarlet Knights' 2006 victory over the Cardinals is one of the greatest highlights in program history. A win in this game could top it if it clinches them a Big East title.