Big East surprises this bowl season

It would be silly to say the Big East is the Rodney Dangerfield of college football. Because Rodney Dangerfield gets more respect than this beaten-down league.

There are many, many examples, both new and old. But I present the most recent one -- bowl season.

Going into its five games, the Big East had posted six straight winning bowl records. Not bad for a conference that has taken more hits than Glass Joe in "Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!!" Yet, only one of the five Big East bowl teams were favored to win their games. Cincinnati, a team that barely registers a blip on the national meter, was the lone favorite.

At the top of the disrespect list: Louisville and Syracuse, playing the two most high-profile games on the slate.

Common sentiment held that West Virginia would survive a high-scoring game against the Orange in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl -- even though the Mountaineers had not one shred of defense nor one answer for Syracuse in its two previous meetings.

As for Louisville, the nation collectively rolled its eyes when the Cardinals got their bid into the Allstate Sugar Bowl against No. 3 Florida. Common sentiment held that Florida deserved its spot. Louisville? The Cards were there only as a product of the nearly defunct "automatic qualifying conference" standard, as visions of the Gators walloping Cincinnati danced in their heads.

Then the games started.

Syracuse beat West Virginia down in one of the more lopsided bowl games this season.

Louisville stunned Florida and the SEC in the biggest shocker of bowl season.

So much for misperception, right?

The Big East rolled to a 3-2 bowl mark -- Cincinnati also beat Duke in the Belk Bowl -- to register its seventh straight winning bowl record. Did it happen with teams leaving the Big East? Yes. Did the two marquee wins come via two departing teams? Yes.

Unfortunately that is reality, though some of us did envision what could have been had everybody stuck together. The bottom line: the Big East is in an awfully difficult spot, and so are the departing teams. But their wins go in the Big East record book, not the ACC record book.

So they should be celebrated for what they are -- victories that prove good football can be played outside the hallowed SEC and Big 12 halls. That holds true for the Big East, and it holds true for the ACC -- the two most maligned conferences among the six automatic qualifiers.

There was one more common thread in those two marquee wins: both Florida and Louisville physically dominated. And it was not even close. Syracuse absolutely manhandled West Virginia up front, with nearly 400 yards on the ground offensively in addition to two sacks and eight tackles for loss on defense.

Louisville won up front, too, an area where most believed the Gators had the advantage. Florida could never quite get its run game going and barely touched Cardinals quarterback Teddy Bridgewater -- an incredible testament to the marked improvement both offensive and defensive lines showed in that game.

What has been obvious to those of us who have covered the Big East became obvious to the nation in those two games -- just about every team in this league plays a physical brand of football. Certainly more than the Big 12, which is high on finesse and low on physicality. When you can win that one key area, chances are you can win a game, underdog or not.

Louisville and Syracuse proved that. In the end, that made the Big East one of the biggest winners this bowl season.