Opening up the ol' mailbag ...
Didier O. from Richmond, Va., writes: Do you seriously believe the Big East is better than the ACC? ESPN needs to have you drug tested. That league is absolutely awful -- a collection of absolutely mediocre teams with absolute bottom feeders like Syracuse and Louisville. Rutgers, who is one of the Big East's best teams, plays nobody out of conference just like most Big East teams and finished 3-5 in that joke of a league. The ACC plays more quality nonconference opponents than any other conference and it isn't even close.
Brian Bennett: Conference rankings are one of the silliest, most pointless arguments. But if asked to do so, I'll defend the league I cover. You say the Big East has a bunch of bottom feeders. I say the ACC has Duke, Virginia and Maryland, all of which would have struggled to beat anybody in the Big East last year. (Remember that Rutgers blasted Maryland on the road). You say the Big East has mediocre teams. I say nine of the 12 ACC teams finished with at least five losses last season. The Sagarin Ratings at the end of last season had the Big East as the nation's No. 2 conference, with the ACC No. 4. The top Big East team, Cincinnati, finished ahead of the ACC's best in both the final regular-season and postseason polls.
You can make a reasonable argument for either side. But to say the ACC is heads and shoulders above the Big East simply isn't supported by the facts.
Ben from Austin, Texas, writes: Really loved your article on where the Big East fits in the conference rankings. I always find it pretty interesting the usual lack of love at the beginning of every year, yet somehow, at the end, the Big East CONSISTENTLY has one of the most exciting races for the conference title. How can the BE be expected to contend for a national championship if they aren't given a little bit more love in the beginning of the year? I know preseason rankings mean nothing, but have you ever heard of a team outside the top 25 starting the year given the chance to play for a national title by the end of the year? Even outside the top 10? It just seems like other people, not the teams, are 'dictating' how good the conference is.
BB: Well, don't forget that just last season, Cincinnati started outside the Top 25 and finished No. 3 in the final polls. The Bearcats were one second in that Big 12 title game from possibly playing for the national title, and in another year when there weren't so many undefeated teams probably would have gotten a shot. So it can be done.
Does the Big East get disrespected in preseason polls? Probably a little bit, yeah. Let's be honest: preseason polls are usually based heavily on last year's results. The best way to get ranked high to start the year is to finish the previous season strong. Look back to 2008, when West Virginia began the year ranked No. 8 coming off its Fiesta Bowl win, or 2007, when Louisville started off No. 10 following its Orange Bowl victory. The Big East has lost in both its BCS and No. 2 bowls the past two years. So the solution is to play better in big bowls.
Craig from Augusta, Ga., writes: Everyone is talking about the Big 10 expansion taking Rutgers and other Northeast schools. What do you think about the surprise of USF? It is in the Tampa market and would open up Florida as Texas would open up Texas. In light of the Big 10 commish's comments of wanting to go south.
BB: Well, that would certainly constitute a major surprise by Jim Delany. But it's not going to happen. Not only does the geography make no sense, but USF does not fit the academic profile of the Big Ten.
Michael from Indianapolis writes: I just read your Top Five candidates for a hypothetical Big East expansion (or replacements). I understand your logic in suggesting UCF, but how about a school a bit more outside the box? I'm talking about TCU. I know, I know, they're not a good "geographic fit." Then again, USF is a multi-hour plane ride, and a world's difference in climate from all other members. With TCU, the Big East would become the only BCS league with members in the recruit-rich states of Florida AND Texas. Plus, TCU isn't a potential BCS contender like ECU or UCF. Rather, it arguably was one Texas play from playing for the national title.
BB: It's certainly an unconventional approach, but as a football member TCU brings more to the table than just about any other realistic partner for the Big East. The problem I see is of course geography. Not just the travel expenses, but TCU would feel like an outsider in its own league because it's so far away. The school would have no natural rivals. The other thing is, TCU might be just as well off in the Mountain West, especially if that league decides to add Boise State and expand. The Mountain West isn't far from gaining an automatic BCS bid in the next cycle. TCU would also be an attractive option for the Big 12 if that league needs replacements.
So while I could see the Big East wanting TCU, I'm not sure the feeling would be mutual.