Big East in awkward BCS spot again

The same question vexed the Big East last year: Does a win in the BCS count for the league or not?

Two years in a row, the conference BCS representative is headed out the door for a new home. Last season, West Virginia beat down Clemson in the Discover Orange Bowl in its final game as a Big East member. This season, Louisville takes on Florida in the Allstate Sugar Bowl as it prepares to make the move to the ACC.

This is what it has come down to for the battered and bruised Big East: Its best teams the past several years are the ones getting plucked away, providing an interesting -- and almost embarrassing -- subtext to its BCS games. Do you root for these teams as programs representing the conference in the here and now, or do you want to see them lose for their role in the destruction of the Big East?

Only two current or incoming Big East members have made BCS appearances -- Cincinnati and UConn. The rest of the Big East BCS appearances, dating to 1999, belong to Syracuse, Miami, Virginia Tech, Louisville, Pitt and West Virginia. Five teams are either in or en route to the ACC; West Virginia just completed its first year in the Big 12.

Miami represented the Big East in the 2004 Orange Bowl against Florida State in its final game as a Big East member, and beat the Seminoles. West Virginia thoroughly handled Clemson last year. While the wins are a part of the Big East and its bowl record, they also serve as a reminder of what could have been. Had the Big East hung together, who knows where the league would be in the conference pecking order. The ACC certainly would not be the league it is today.

Instead, it is the ACC that has a guaranteed tie-in with the Orange Bowl under the new playoff structure set to begin in 2014. The Big East, on the other hand, does not have the automatic spot it has enjoyed. It may not even have it in 2013, based on recent comments from Bill Hancock.

So the league faces the possibility that this could be its last game with an automatic spot in the BCS, featuring a team that is leaving. Once 2014 rolls around, the conference will only get a spot in one of the "elite" level bowl games if its champion is ranked higher than a team from the MAC, Sun Belt, Conference USA and Mountain West.

That is not a shoo-in for what is left of this league, especially with Boise State gone. No. 15 Northern Illinois finished higher than the highest-ranked team from the Big East (No. 18 Louisville) this year, and that is why the Huskies got into the Discover Orange Bowl.

The Big East has done its best to discuss its rebranding efforts, pointing to bowl records and records of its incoming members. But it is hard to make a clean break and start fresh when departing members Louisville and Rutgers are hanging around for another season, and the league continues to take hit after hit. Boise State delivered the latest Monday, when it announced it would stay in the Mountain West. San Diego State could follow.

So the Big East is left in this quasi-state once again: One foot in the past watching Louisville, another trying to establish its future amid more uncertainty than any other conference in America.