In college sports, conferences are always judged by the performance of their best teams. This week, the Big East?s top two teams ensured the nation will continue to think poorly of the conference as a whole.
In total, the Big East sent six teams to bowl games this year and they went a collective 4-2. The problem is that the two losses came from the Big East?s top two teams: Cincinnati and West Virginia.
Cincinnati had played great all year, ending the regular season a perfect 12-0. However, all season long, I have been saying that this Bearcats team holds the fate of the entire conference in its hands. In the Sugar Bowl, they laid an egg against heavily favored Florida, only strengthening the popular belief that the Big East is not a top conference.
West Virginia finished second in the Big East and entered the Gator Bowl with a 9-3 record. The Mountaineers went on to get dismantled by a Florida State squad that finished the regular season 6-6 (sixth in the ACC) and was playing with a backup quarterback.
The Cincinnati loss was particularly alarming, as the Bearcats looked as though they did not deserve to be on the same field as Florida. Is this really the same team that went undefeated in the regular season? The Gators had more than 380 yards and scored 30 points at the half. They scored on seven of their first eight possessions, with a missed field goal mixed in. As for Cincinnati, they ended the first half with 65 yards, four first downs, five punts and three points.
In the end, the game amounted to nothing more than a coronation for Tim Tebow. When they talk about his record-setting day (most yards ever in a bowl game — 533), Cincinnati and the Big East should hope they forget to mention who the opponent was.
No. 5 Florida: 51, No. 4 Cincinnati (12-1, 7-0 Big East): 24
The game was not as close as the score indicated. Florida dominated absolutely every aspect of this game. It was a terrible showing for the Big East?s flagship squad.
Florida State: 33, No. 18 West Virginia (9-4, 5-2): 21
A team that finished second in the Big East lost badly to a team that finished sixth in the ACC. That is never good.
No. 17 Pittsburgh (10-3, 5-2): 19, North Carolina: 17
Pitt squeaked out a victory with a last-minute field goal. It was not pretty, but at least they won.
Rutgers (9-4, 3-4): 45, Central Florida: 24
The Scarlet Knights started the Big East off on a good note. Freshman quarterback Tom Savage had one of the best games of his young career, throwing for a season-high 294 yards. The Rutgers offense was young this season and should be much better next year.
South Florida (8-5, 3-4): 27, Northern Illinois: 3
The MAC has not had much success in bowls recently, going 0-5 last year and 0-4 this season with one game remaining. Still, South Florida played extremely well defensively and junior tailback Mike Ford rushed for 207 yards — 189 of which came in the second half.
Connecticut (8-5, 3-4): 20, South Carolina: 7
If a few bounces had gone its way, UConn might have had a much different season. At least the Huskies finished on a strong note, playing dominating defense and not allowing a score until the final minutes of this one. If they can find a passing game next year, they could compete for a Big East title.