Big East exceeding all expectations

Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett

I will borrow a technique from Stephen Colbert as I pose a question.

Big East: Great league or greatest league?

That's facetious, of course, but only to a point. You don't hear much laughing about the Big East anymore.

The league has four teams in the latest BCS standings, tied for the most by any conference. The Big East has more teams in that Top 25 than the Big 12, ACC and SEC. And it has two teams in the top 10 of the human polls in Cincinnati and Pitt. The SEC is the only other league with two top 10 teams.

Those numbers are even more impressive when you consider that the Big East has only eight teams, and half the conference is in the Top 25 of the BCS standings.

It's quite an accomplishment for a conference that entered the season with no ranked teams. Clearly, we all missed on our projections. The questions about Cincinnati's 10 lost starters on defense and Pitt's quarterback play and loss of LeSean McCoy have been emphatically answered.

The Big East's showing this season will help keep its future BCS qualification safe. The Mountain West, with has three teams in the BCS standings, may have an argument for inclusion as an automatically-qualifying conference, but that league can't say it deserves in at the exclusion of the Big East.

Last season, the conference never had a serious contender for the national title. But in retrospect, 2008 was the aberration. West Virginia was on the verge of making the 2007 BCS title game before a final-day loss to Pitt, and in 2006, Louisville came within a field goal of reaching the promised land.

This year, No. 5 Cincinnati remains in the hunt, while leagues like the Big 10, ACC and Pac-10 have already been eliminated from the BCS title discussion. With the SEC title game matchup locked up on the first week of November and the Big 12 looking like Texas and the 11 dwarfs, the Big East might have the most exciting finish of any conference. All three league title contenders play each other in the final month, beginning with West Virginia at Cincinnati this Friday night.

And the Big East looks well positioned for the future as well.

If Brian Kelly stays at Cincinnati, the Bearcats should continue to contend, especially with Zach Collaros as a future superstar at quarterback (if he's not one already). Pitt has won 18 of its last 23, has a loaded roster and a true freshman running back (Dion Lewis) who may be the Big East's offensive player of the year. West Virginia isn't going away. South Florida and Rutgers brought in their best-ever recruiting classes this past offseason and are playing a lot of freshmen in key roles. Connecticut has been ultra-competitive in its five losses, and its two-deep is littered with underclassmen.

While the Big East isn't the greatest league, it's no joke to say things are looking pretty great.