Big East Expansion: Navy-Finally-Says-Yes Edition

The Big East Makes Another Addition: And This Time, It's Navy

After a strung-out courtship that apparently lasted 10 years according to Navy Athletic Director Chuck Gladchuck, the Midshipmen are finally part of the Big East (/Country/Continent/Least, etc.)… in 2015. While I’m always one to applaud the tradition of our service academies as major college football programs, it’s still difficult to see what this addition truly gives the “country’s first national football conference” (source: John Marinatto, who also believes Syracuse, Pitt, TCU and West Virginia were wrong in leaving). While Navy surely adds more tradition than most of the current conference schools, what it lacks is success to go along with it. Yes, the Midshipmen have been to eight bowl games in the last nine years, but just nine bowl games during the previous 125 years of play. And if for some reason, their triple-option attack just can’t measure up anymore (we saw glimpses of this during 2011), Navy could end up as an annual bottom-dweller.

So now what? For the conference to truly be a “national,” coast-to-coast league, the final addition almost HAS to be west of the Mississippi. Remember, the Big East will likely have 13 teams in 2013, but then drop down to 10 in 2014 with the departures of SU, Pitt and WVU. Navy bumps them back up to 11, but with seven teams in the Eastern time zone, two in the Central, one in the Mountain and one in the Pacific, any “Western” division likely needs another team in the western part of the country. Still, we’ll dissect some quick odds on the remaining candidates, taking an open look at the country: Continue reading

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Hyundai Sun Bowl Preview: Georgia Tech vs. Utah

The 2011 Hyundai Sun Bowl Pits Utah Versus Georgia Tech

The 2011 Hyundai Sun Bowl matches two teams moving in completely opposite directions. After starting out 6-0, the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets stumbled to just two wins in their final six games. The Utah Utes, on the other hand, were in contention for a Pac-12 South title until the final week of the season, and won four of their final five games. Which trend will continue? We discuss.

Bowl Game: (Hyundai) Sun Bowl

Location: El Paso, Tex.

First Year: 1935

2011 Participants: Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (8-4) vs. Utah Utes (7-5)

Last Meeting: 2005, a 38-10 Emerald Bowl win by Utah

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Georgia Tech (previous bowl game: 14-7 loss to Air Force in 2010 Independence Bowl)

As mentioned above, the Yellow Jackets came out of the gates on fire in 2011, with their dominant rushing attack leading them to a 6-0 start and a number-12 national ranking. Suddenly after that though, QB Tevin Washington‘s level of play decreased and the defense’s inefficiencies were regularly exploited against better competition. Still, on the positive side, Tech’s offense was still top-20 in the nation (35.5 points per game), and the running game finished third, with nearly 317 yards per contest. While it’s a tough attack to stop, there isn’t a passing game in sight, which could be inhibiting against a tenacious Utes defense.

Utah (previous bowl game: 26-3 loss to Boise State in 2010 MAACO Bowl)

While consistently shaky in Pac-12 games, the Utes stayed in the South division race until the final week due to USC‘s postseason ban. Unlike the Urban Meyer heydays (and even recent teams), the offense was mostly uninspiring — their 25.5 points per game (78th overall in the FBS) gets a big bump from a huge 54-point showing versus BYU and a very week schedule top-to-bottom. At the same time, that didn’t much matter. Giving up just 19.7 points per game this season, the Utes’ D was one of the program’s most impressive in years. Only half of the teams they faced even managed to top 20 points in a game, and four of their opponents were held to 10 points or less. Needless to say, this unit’s good, and makes Tech’s job a lot more difficult in terms of their game plan.

Verdict

As you might have guessed from the assessments above, Georgia Tech’s one-dimensional offense will have its work cut out for it versus Utah. My usual opinion on one-dimensional attacks is that they’re stopped short once faced with a superior defense, and that’s exactly the matchup we’ve got here. The ‘Wreck’s played well against inferior opponents, racking up most of their wins against poor run defenses (Clemson) and flat-out poor teams (Maryland, Kansas), and sadly for them, the Utes qualify as neither. Chances are, unless Washington’s willing to throw the ball, Tech’s in for a rude awakening. Prediction: Utah 26, Georgia Tech 20

Big East Expansion: “Now What?” Edition

When the Big East Expands Again, This Guy's Definitely Still Interested

When we last left our more beleaguered East Coast football brethren (former rivals, for the five defectors among us), they were busy expanding to a four timezones format, extending its reach over 3,000 miles from its original locale of Providence, to the shores of San Diego. Since then, Air Force has made it awkward, and no longer wants a seat with the USSR of college football, while fellow service academy Navy is officially locked into independent status until 2014 (at least). So at this juncture, as we’ve asked several times before: now what?

We’ve mentioned most of these at one point or another, but worth noting all of the current candidates again, with odds and explanations attached. The following schools are listed from most likely to garner an invite to least likely. Also keep in mind that a) all schools are pretty much on the table at this point, and b)the conference has not necessarily said it will stop at 12 teams for football.

Temple Owls (Odds — 2:1): Already members of the Big East once, Temple fits the league’s original profile (good at basketball, eastern location), and this time brings a more formidable football program (they’d hope). The biggest barrier to their admittance has always been Villanova, but unless the Wildcats want to play basketball in the Atlantic 10, that stance will probably be changing soon.

Memphis Tigers (Odds — 8:1): Another all-sports addition, Memphis could contend immediately in basketball, but would likely be the new Temple of the league (while Temple would become the Rutgers of the new Big East?). Losing 10 games this past year won’t help them out much, but another defection (not unlikely) would.

ECU Pirates (Odds — 10:1): We’ve mentioned this several times before, but the Pirates have already applied to join the Big East! That was easy. A school that regularly draws 50-60K for football would normally be a big attraction, except that they’re the fifth-best game in town down in North Carolina, and provide little in terms of TV revenue. Ceiling in the new iteration of the league would likely be an 8-4 record.

Villanova Wildcats (Odds — 15:1): Given they’re already a member in all other sports, adding Villanova would be an easy fix. And at this point, the soonest they’d join is 2014, which as luck would have it, could coincide with Navy’s entry date. On the other hand, they play home games in a soccer stadium and usually play less compelling football than (at the very least) Penn and Temple.

Southern Miss Golden Eagles (Odds — 25:1): And to be honest, if they were in an even marginally larger media market, this would be a slam dunk already. The reigning Conference USA champs would love to continue rivalries with UCF, SMU and Houston, and raise their own national profile (they’re the San Diego State of the Gulf Coast, really). Even better than all of this: They’d be an immediate contender in a budding Western division.

Tulsa Golden Hurricane (Odds — 35:1): If you’ve already got two teams in Texas, why not add an Oklahoma team, too? Tulsa’s always been decent at football, especially with the whole not-playing-defense thing which seems to work so well for C-USA teams. The drawback — most eyes in Tulsa are likely on the other two big football teams in the state, plus it would be difficult to finish higher than fourth in that Western division.

Toledo Rockets/Colorado State Rams/UNLV Rebels (Odds — 100:1 each): And this is just a sampling of the schools the Big East could consider. Hell, might even throw Hawaii in there while they’re at it. If they’re going for eyeballs and institutional cache, then they’re going for UNLV or to be honeset, Hawaii (have been to a BCS game). Logically, the pick’s Toledo — probably as good as half of the league this year and a natural rival for Cincinnati. Colorado State’s more tossed in there to represent any mountain-type team in that general region of the country.

If we’re stopping at just one additional school (to pair with Navy), Temple would appear to be the pick. However, to avoid pushing too many teams out West (and further toward leaving the conference), they may go with another choice left of the original conference footprint. If that’s the choice, I’d give Southern Miss the call first. In the case of more than just one invite though, no blog post can truly capture the amount of teams on the table. Might as well include every team currently in the MAC, Mountain West, WAC and C-USA. And that’s just for starters.

Big East Expansion: Spurned By Air Force Edition

Without Air Force in the Mix, Where Will the Big East Turn Next?

After yesterday/today’s big news, it seemed like it would only be a matter of time before Navy and Air Force joined the Big East so the league could get to 12 teams (the magic number to split into divisions and stage a championship game). Now, it appears there’s about to be a wrench thrown into that whole plan. Or maybe multiple wrenches.

With Air Force officially saying “thanks, but no thanks” (using the surprising logic of travel time and geography!) and Navy apparently locked into independence until at least 2014, the Big “East” is once again in a tough spot. Do they wait around for the Midshipmen, or just move on two new options? Logistically, if they manage to force Syracuse, Pittsburgh and West Virginia from departing for greener pastures in 2014, the conference becomes even more of a mess — supporting 13 schools for football, and 19 for basketball for one season — and that’s assuming they stand pat. If they add two more teams, now you’re looking at 15 for football (ironically, a superconference) and possibly 21 (!!!!!!!!) for basketball. Horrifying.

As much as Navy made sense before, especially with Air Force in tow, adding them no longer pays real dividends. The conference needs additions to be further west, to help bridge the enormous geographic gap between current schools and the recent five invitees. As much as people like watching the military academies, Navy usually has an eight-win cap on their season (and that’s while making their own schedule) and may not even be the biggest draw in the Annapolis area. Without a natural rival (Rutgers?), any remaining intrigue around their contests vanishes and people just wait out the string until we get to Army-Navy come years’ end.

So what’s left? As always, Temple is the top replacement candidate, and the conference would be foolish not to add the Owls for all sports. Unless, of course, they fessed up to the fact that they are no longer a basketball conference. In that case, now you’ve suddenly got some better options: ECU, Southern Miss, Toledo, Marshall (and their hoops program’s on the upswing) — hell, why not throw Tulsa into the mix? No, none of these solutions are perfect, but “perfect” went out the window for the Big East long ago. They have to do what’s necessary to survive. In this case, it might mean compromising basketball (gasp!) for the good of the football side.

Parting thoughts: They’ll end up adding Temple and Navy. However, if I were John Marinatto (and thank God I’m not), I add ECU and Southern Miss, and call it a day. Not only do you invade ACC territory, but you also inch a bit further west, making it slightly less awkward for UCF to be in the same division as Boise State. Once again, it’s not perfect. But how can it be anymore?

Big East Expansion: Four Different Time Zones Edition

Will Boise State's Lauded Arrival Save the Big East's AQ Status?

As most have probably heard by now, the Big East is suddenly not so “east” anymore. With the additions of Boise State, SMU, Houston, UCF and San Diego State, the conference is now one that stretches all the way from Florida to California, or the just as ridiculous Rhode Island to Idaho if you’d prefer that visual. Further complicating matters is the fact that it still needs two more schools to reach its goal of having 12 football-playing members. Who are the big contenders? To me, you first look at the two obvious answers:

Navy — end the years-long flirtation and help the Midshipmen get out of some of their scheduling conflicts, so they can join the league as soon as possible.

Air Force — you’re not getting one of these military academies without the other. And now that the Falcons have several travel partners out west, it’s a lot more palatable of a move for them.

If you’re Louisville Cardinals basketball coach Rick Pitino, however, you have something else in mind:

“…my hope is that they’ll go out there and get a Temple or a Memphis to keep basketball strong.”

Something tells me that Air Force and Navy will be easy gets, and the Big East probably stops there. They’ve also stated that Temple is their first alternate should there be a snag in their plans — something I support, so long as Memphis isn’t part of the deal (terrible facilities, poor academics). Then again, Syracuse won’t be the ones that have to travel all over the country just to play in-conference, so I’m not as broken up as I once would’ve been.

The bigger question, once the league fills out at 12 schools for football and who knows how many for basketball, is are they better off? For its traditional strength — basketball — there’s no way the schools above replace SU and Pittsburgh (and even West Virginia, to a point). For football? I still think it might be more of an even swap (or even a downgrade) than anyone within the conference is letting on. The Mountaineers are no Boise, but they are regularly in the BCS standings and usually win their BCS bowls as well. Pitt, Syracuse and oft-forgotten defector TCU have also been to BCS games with varying degrees of success. The other adds besides the Broncos? Zero BCS berths, few appearances in the standings and outside of the former Southwest Conference teams, little history to speak of.

Yes, as they’ve done before, the Big East will surely write its own epilogue here. But for those already penning a success story on the gridiron, maybe you should hold off for a few before you start throwing a parade for the league’s bumbling leader up in Providence, John Marinatto.

Big East Expansion: Spurned by BYU Edition

Like the Pioneers, Big East Commish John Marinatto Keeps Heading West, In Spite of Hardships

As most know, the Big East (furthermore notated as Big “East”) has been courting a full Western annex to appease the whims of the Boise State Broncos (the linchpin in the conference keeping its AQ status). This Frankenstein-like setup would include Boise, Air Force, SMU, Houston and a fifth team, plus UCF in the west to complement the traditional eastern division. That fifth team was supposed to be currently-independent BYU, who everyone thought would jump at the chance to be an automatic qualifier. Yeah, about that.

So now what? Well, there’s the logical next step of inviting Temple. Though the Owls were tossed out of the Big “East” back in 2004, there’s rumblings all around for them to return. Temple sure wants it, as does Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino. There’s also the simple option of ECU, who applied for football-only membership back in September. And of course, Villanova, who’s already a league member in every other sport, is still pretty interested in making the jump. But why would the conference be interested in any of these logical choices?

No, instead, the Big “East” is probably gunning for the least logical option this side of Hawaii: San Diego State.

Now don’t get me wrong, the Aztecs are a fine program in both football and basketball (invite for that sport unlikely, but humor me) — a real rising power the likes of which would’ve been an enterprising addition under better circumstances, honestly. But logistically, think about this one for a second: schools traveling from Florida to Idaho, Cincinnati to San Diego, New Jersey to Colorado. If invited for basketball, you’d potentially have to watch Providence head to Southern California every other year (a 3,039-mile trip according to Google Maps). Regardless though, the travel costs associated with a conference of this size and breadth would be downright staggering, and unfair to anyone involved with the program, from fans to athletes.

We’re still in wait-and-see mode at the moment, but if this happens, the Big “East” may as well be a conglomerate of independents who happen to schedule each other for convenience purposes. If the league decides to go to 16 teams in football, I’ve heard Warsaw Tech is available.

Big East Finally Moves to Sure Up Its Ranks

The Boise State Broncos Hold the Key to What the Big East Does Next

A month removed from staring death in the face, and another defection later, it seems Big East football is finally moving to fix itself. News today is that the league will invite UCF for all sports, and Navy, Air Force and Boise State for football only, growing to a potential total of 10 in football (minus Syracuse and Pittsburgh, of course).

Also included as part of the invite news is that the Big East will increase its exit fee to $10 million (and I’m assuming the same 27-month rule they’re currently trying to hold SU & PItt to as well). While still not the $20 million the ACC currently has, it’s still leaps and bounds above the current $5 million arrangement. Most of the resistance comes from the fact that all of the Big East’s current football members (save USF and Cincinnati, really) could potentially leave for greener pastures, so why penalize themselves for pursuing their best interests? While I’d assume this increase will be enough for Navy and Air Force to put aside their previous reservations, the book certainly isn’t closed on the expansion issue. Among other items, the following issues are still left unresolved:

  • Missouri still hasn’t made a decision about whether they’ll be joining the SEC next season. If they end up staying in the Big 12, it’s rumored the league stays at 10 teams. If they leave however, West Virginia and Louisville are among the rumored replacement candidates. There’s also the possibility that the Mountaineers take Missouri’s spot if they decline to join the SEC, leaving another hole for the Big East to fill.
  • What if all of the invitees don’t accept? While Navy and Air Force are probably on-board, what about Boise State? The Big East isn’t guaranteed a BCS bid past 2013, so are they truly better off in a league whose headquarters are over 3,000 miles away? The Broncos’ answer determines whether they depart the Mountain West Conference after just one season.
  • What about the 11th and 12th slots? Those are probably going to SMU and Houston, rather than initial frontrunner Temple. The Mustangs’ and Cougars’ trajectories are looking upward, and current Big East member Villanova does not want the Owls to join the league (stupid, especially in light of USF letting to of their own beef with UCF). No word on what happens if Boise State says no, as the only other real candidates at that point would be Temple and East Carolina.

As always with this situation, we’ll see what happens next…