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Big East mailbag

Good afternoon and happy Election Day. Or if you're a South Florida or Rutgers fan, happy football eve. Or if you're a Cincinnati or West Virginia fan, my condolences.

Let's get to some e-mail:

Patrick from Charleston, W.Va., writes: About following The Guy: I think you are missing a few key things when saying the WVU fans are disappointed only against the context of the Rich Rodriguez years and we need to remember what it was like before that. In the '80s we were playing Pitt at closer to their prime, 11-0 Syracuse, a more dominant Penn State every year, Miami some, Doug Flutie's BC. In the '90s we were playing Miami every year, Va Tech had come on the scene, Syracuse and Pitt were still good. Today, we have 12 games rather than 11, so more opportunities to get 9 wins. There are way more bowls, so yet another opportunity to get 9 wins, and a watered down Big East.

No, for me, it's not about being spoiled by RR's success, it is all about meeting or exceeding expectations or in Stew's case, not living up to potential. The offense going in the gutter, clock management issues, questionable game-time decisions, those are the factors that have me wanting Stew gone. Not two 9-win seasons.

Brian Bennett: You make some good points, and certainly a nine-win season isn't what it used to be. Of course, you could also argue that from top to bottom, the Big East has gotten better ... there are no doormats like the old Rutgers teams or Temple or Syracuse under Greg Robinson. Regardless, my point was that everything exists within a context. If the final three Rodriguez years hadn't been so wildly successful, there's no way Bill Stewart would be under so much heat after winning nine games in each of his first two years.

You could say that Stewart's transition shouldn't have been as difficult since he was on Rodriguez's staff, and I'd agree with that. West Virginia should be better than 5-3 and clearly there are problems that need to be addressed with this staff. I'm just saying it's better to be the guy following the guy who followed The Guy, and whoever comes after Stewart -- whenever that may be -- will likely be pretty popular with Mountaineers fans.


Michael from Oceanside, Calif., writes: You totally hit the nail on the head with the perils of being the guy that follows The Guy. As a fairly intense Mountaineer fan I can say wins and losses aren't this coaching staff's problem given the 25 years I've followed WVU. ... The fairy tale idea that you plug someone in for Pat White and keep rolling is like Florida plugging someone in for their quarterback; we all see how that worked out. Diversifying the offense three years ago in the belief that defenses were catching up to the spread option is a sound enough principal.

However, in your professional opinion though don't you think the WVU talent throughout this whole transition is and has been better suited to look more like Oregon 2010 than Wake Forest '06? Particularly given what the WVU offense at the their Jet tempo looked like in 06-07. WVU fans are disappointed because we've be sold a concept that translates to "We're going to have more different ways to score less points against teams with inferior speed/talent in the hope that that puts us in position to have a chance to win close games down the line." At least that is how it looked 4 of the last 5 games?

Brian Bennett: I don't know about Oregon, since nobody really looks like them. And even though Geno Smith did some good things running the football at UConn, I still think he looked uncomfortable doing it, and he's much more of a passing guy. I'm not sure this staff has figured out what it is yet, offensively. The Mountaineers will use jumbo packages with Ryan Clarke and then switch to five-wide and then go spread option. Noel Devine wasn't even on the field in overtime at UConn. Great offenses stick to what they do best and do it over and over again.


Dan from Boston writes: So word on the street and in the papers says that the Big East is meeting in Philly today to discuss expansion. Temple, Villanova, Houston, UCF and TCU are the names mentioned most, which additions do you think can make this a more viable conference and do you think they should go to 10 or 12 and go get the championship game and put it at the Meadowlands or Lincoln Financial Field?

Brian Bennett: Word on the street? How about, word in my blog? Anyway, yes, the meetings are going on as I write this and hopefully we'll have some information by the end of the day. I believe the presidents and athletic directors will decide to pursue expansion, and then it will be a matter of deciding on teams. Villanova and TCU in some ways hold the cards here. If they want in, they'll get in, but they have to decide if it's the right move. I'd like to see the conference go to 10 teams for now unless it is going to dump some of the dead-weight basketball-only programs. A 19- or 20-team basketball league is a nightmare.


Brian from N.J. writes: As a Rutgers grad, it pains me to say this, but I would think if Syracuse runs the table (which it could given the remaining schedule of Louisville, RU, Connecticut, and an awful BC team) that a 10-win season doubling every expectation, Doug Marrone is a lock for every major coach of the year award. You have to tip your cap to that accomplishment, agreed?

Brian Bennett: Absolutely. I think he's a lock for Big East Coach of the Year even if the Orange win only one more game. He has a real shot at the national awards as well. Auburn's Gene Chizik is probably the front-runner right now, but Marrone has to garner serious consideration.


Mike V. from Rochester, N.Y., writes: I know you picked Cincinnati to beat Syracuse last week, and were at the game. Probably thought that Zach Collaros would be playing as did I. I felt that although statistically the game was even, Syracuse played it the way they wanted to and benefitted greatly from Cincinnati mistakes, mostly by the QB Chazz Anderson. Still, SU stuffed the run, and really were never in serious trouble. So my question: How much better is Syracuse than the past few years and what is the difference?

Brian Bennett: The difference, I think, is the defense is playing at an extremely high level, the offense doesn't hurt itself with mistakes, the special teams are really good and overall the team is playing with confidence and togetherness. That's enough to win games in a bad year for the league. I don't think the Orange are a Top 10 or Top 15 team by any means, but they're very solid and can compete with a lot of people.


Andrew R. from Pittsburgh writes: I have a question about bowl tie-ins. If Syracuse and Pitt are the only teams with 7+ wins, and if the rest of the conference's bowl eligible teams finish 6-6, could a 6-6 Notre Dame team poach the Meineke Car Care Bowl?

Brian Bennett: No. Notre Dame's only tie-in with the Big East is the Champs Sports Bowl, and it can't go to that at 6-6 ahead of eligible Big East teams.


Max from CT writes: As a UConn alum (who found himself on the field after the WV game last week), I feel obligated to let you know that NO ONE thought such a sloppy victory that was basically handed to us merited the field-rush. Let's just say that, had this been a noon kickoff and the extra 8 hours of tailgating were not involved, it would not have happened. The program's still young -- don't judge us.

Brian Bennett: I'm not judging, though I will poke a little fun. As I wrote, I totally understand the excitement of beating a rival for the first time, especially in overtime. I remember when Kentucky beat Alabama in overtime in 1997 for the first time in about 1,000 years and fans rushed the field. That Crimson Tide team finished 4-7. Yet it made sense, sort of.


Jon from Pittsburgh writes: If Pitt finishes it's regular season 9-3, will the Big East at least be represented in the BCS Top 25? What do you see their ranking being if they can win out?

Brian Bennett: Pitt would be hurt by the overall image/performance of the league, and a lot of voters would still doubt the Panthers from their nonconference losses. Still, a seven-game winning streak would be hard to ignore, and I think Pitt would be in the 20-to-25 range.


Dave from Pittsburgh writes: So with Syracuse's revival, what is the best single-year turnaround in Big East history?

Brian Bennett: The best I could find was Virginia Tech's leap from 2-8-1 in 1992 to 9-3 the following year. West Virginia improved from 3-8 in 2001 to 9-4 in 2002. Since 2005, there have been three teams who have improved by four wins in one year. Rutgers went from 7-5 to 11-2 in 2006; Pittsburgh went from 5-7 to 9-4 in 2008; and Cincinnati went from 4-7 to 8-5 in 2006.


Andrew L. from Cincinnati writes: Who in the world is calling the offensive plays for Cincinnati? Down 24-7 in the 3rd quarter and coming off a rare interception ... what gets called? Two Pead runs up the gut for all of three yards, an incompletion and a punt. Next offensive possesion, still down 17, they get to a 4th and 2 near midfield with 12 minutes left and the punt team comes on? The crowd almost booed the entire team off the field. At this point I'm assuming the staff looked at the clock and went for it, but Chazz Anderson threw it low enough for a lineman to bat it down. On top of all that, Anderson was ineffective for the entire game and it took until the last possession to FINALLY give Brendan Kay a look. Is there any reason at all why the guy calling the plays, be it Butch Jones or the offensive coordinator, should continue with those duties?

Brian Bennett: I was a little baffled by some of the decision-making as well, especially on the punt/timeout/no punt. I also thought the Bearcats should have gone for it on fourth down near midfield at the end of the first half when they were finally gaining some momentum. I give the staff a break, though, because of the injury to Collaros. He means so much to that team, and Anderson just hasn't played much the past two years (and Kay even less). The coaches clearly didn't have much confidence in what they could do with the passing game last week, and give Syracuse's defense a lot of credit as well.