Football in the Northeast

…which, for football purposes, includes South Florida. 

In 2005, the Big East – long a basketball-heavy conference – lost three of its five traditionally strong football programs to the ACC, while one of the remaining two, Syracuse, had fallen on desperate times.  To remain a viable football conference (and retain its BCS status) the league was forced to raid Conference USA and managed to land three basketball-heavy schools with football programs.  In the case of Louisville, the football program was even pretty strong, coming off an 11-1 season in 2004.  Still, the conventional wisdom at the time was that South Florida, Louisville, and Cincinnati were far-from-adequate replacements for Virginia Tech, BC, and Miami and that the Big East’s days as a BCS conference were numbered.  Meanwhile, the ACC was expected to be entering a period of dominance with its new additions that would make it every bit as strong a football conference as the SEC.

This is now the fifth season since that realignment occured.  The first season, 2005, went pretty much as everyone expected, with 2 ACC teams in the final top 10 of the BCS rankings, and West Virginia the highest ranked Big East team at 11, and only Louisville joining it in the final top 25.  But in all but one of the four years since then, the Big East has not only consistently demonstrated that it is a strong football conference, it has even arguably been better than ACC, especially considering its substantially smaller number of teams. 

In 2006, three of the final top 12 teams hailed from the Big East, including not only expected powerhouses Louisville and West Virginia but also one-time also-ran Rutgers.  The highest-ranked ACC school was Wake Forest at 18.  In 2007, West Virginia just barely missed out on the BCS title game, finishing at number 6, while upstart Cincinnati managed to finish at 17, and three other Big East schools just barely missed being in the final top 25.  Virginia Tech and BC were the only two ACC schools to finish in the top 20, at 9 and 11, respectively (Clemson was at 21, and two other schools were in the “just barely missed” category). 

2008, of course, was a big down year for the Big East, but it was hardly a good year for the ACC, either, with Virginia Tech as the top-ranked ACC school, finishing at 15.  Cincinnati was the top-ranked Big East school at 17.  Florida State and Georgia Tech squeaked into the final top 25 for the ACC, as did West Virginia for the Big East.  Pitt and Rutgers received votes in the final AP poll for the Big East, while BC received votes for the ACC.  So even in 2008, as between the Big East and the ACC, there was no clearly better conference.  Yet these results led to much speculation that the Big East’s time as a BCS conference was on its last legs; no such speculation existed for the ACC, of course. 

Indeed, so low was regard for the Big East and so unimpaired was regard for the ACC after these results that in the 2009 preseason poll, the ACC managed to land FOUR teams in the Top 25 poll, including Virginia Tech at number 7.  By contrast, the Big East had zero – as in not a single team.  Yes, after a bad year for both the ACC and the Big East, and despite the Big East being arguably the better conference in the years prior to that, conventional wisdom somehow deemed the ACC as in effect the second best conference in the nation, behind only the SEC. 

So what happened when we actually played the games this year?  The Big East has been the better conference.  In the most recent BCS rankings, the Big East has the numbers 5 (Cincinnati), 12 (Pitt), 24 (South Florida), and 25 (West Virginia) ranked teams, with Rutgers closing in on the top 25.   That’s 5 out of the conference’s 8 teams (admittedly, Greg Schiano could win every game in Rutgers’ non-conference schedule with nothing but walk-ons).  The ACC still has three teams in the BCS top 25, including Georgia Tech at 7, with Clemson just barely on the outside, but this is a much smaller fraction of their conference. 

Moreover, the non-conference records are revealing.  The Big East’s non-conference record is 29-7.  Every single team, including doormats Louisville and Syracuse, managed to post a winning record in non-conference play, and only Rutgers loaded that schedule top-to-bottom with patsies (although South Florida’s schedule thus far outside of its upset of Florida State is really weak sauce).  Even UConn, despite all that it has gone through with the murder of one of its players and a 1-4 conference record, has a decent chance of bowl-eligibility.

The same cannot be said of the ACC.  Its 30-15 non-conference record is hardly impressive in the world of cheesecake pollster-friendly scheduling. 

The point of this little ditty is this: it would be nice if at some point the people who make college football opinion – and thus determine who gets to play in the BCS Bowl games – would at some point recognize that we can play some football up here in the Northeast (which, for football purposes, includes South Florida) and that just because a major conference is associated with the American Southeast doesn’t mean it’s a terribly good conference.  Moreover, the history of the last five years ought to demonstrate that it’s either high time college football’s opinion makers took the Big East off its perennial Death Watch or that they put the ACC (and probably the Big Ten, while we’re here) on it.

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24 thoughts on “Football in the Northeast

      • As a Rutgers alum, I appreciated the piece. As to High School football in the Northeast, two words: New Jersey. In this past April’s NFL draft, seven of the 32 and five of the first fifteen players taken in the first round were from the Garden State.

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  1. Your South Florida caveats are all well and good, but how exactly are Cincinnati, Pitt, and West Virginia in the northeast?

    The Big East is an eastern conference like the Big Ten has 10 teams…

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    • Or UCLA… although the Bruins stink this year (and have stank like a rotten fish for the better part of the decade), the second they put together a bowl run, you can bet they’ll be preseason Top Ten next summer.

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    • True that. But at least no one’s speculating about how long it will be before the Pac-10 ceases to be a BCS-caliber conference. Still, the whole East Coast bias thing has quite a bit of substance to it. Which, I suppose, makes the hating on the Big East even more annoying – they’re hating on the Big East even despite the East Coast bias, while somehow having no problem whatsoever with the mediocrity of the ACC. Ugh.

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  2. I agree with you. ACC football is every bit as bad as Big East football. Cincinnati isn’t even the best team in Ohio, and the Buckeyes aren’t that good this year. If there is any justice, the Big East champ will play the ACC champ in a bowl game, and no one will care.

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  3. The status issues with the BE go beyond what opinionmakers say about automatic qualification into the BCS. An undefeated Big East champion has a pretty reasonable chance of not even being allowed to play for the championship. An undefeated team from any other AQ conference gets dibs and I suspect that an 11-1 USC, Texas, Oklahoma, Notre Dame (ha-ha) or SEC team would get to cut in line before they would let a BE team have a shot.

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  4. When I started reading this post, I was expecting some cracks about how South Florida (the geographic region) is culturally Northeastern. Then I realized you meant the mis-named USF.

    As for me, I don’t really follow all of this beyond the tongue-in-cheek trash talking goes with attending Florida State when both my parents went to UF and are huge Gator fans. But yeah, we’re really not very good this year.

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  5. You make a blanket statement about weak out-of-conference scheduling without actually looking at the teams the conferences play out of conference. Why not actually look at, for example, the number of other BCS conference teams that have been scheduled? I know why: That would damage your thesis. How many SEC teams on on Big East schedules this year? Pac 10? Big 12?

    Let’s also look at what happened when one of the ACC’s worst teams, NC State, played one of the Big East’s best, Pittsburgh. Oops.

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  6. Ahem.

    Cincinnati: wins over Pac-10 Oregon State (now 6-3, at Oregon State) and Fresno State (also now 6-3 out of the WAC)
    Pitt: A tough early season road loss to NC State, yes, but also a 27-14 win over now-7-3 Navy
    WVU: A road loss to Auburn (now 6-3, at 25 in the Coaches’ Poll and out of clearly the best conference in the country), a 35-24 win over Big 12 Colorado, a 24-7 dismantling of Marshall, and a 35-20 win over East Carolina. True, none of those are great wins, but they’re by no means you’re typical cupcake teams, either.
    South Florida: A convincing 17-7 road win over Florida State (funny how you forgot about that one, especially since FSU was ranked at the time, which it shouldn’t have been, but which is also kind of my point here). I won’t defend the rest of USF’s non-conference schedule.
    Rutgers: A 34-13 road dismantling of Maryland – another ACC team. Did I mention Rutgers has a freshman quarterback? I won’t defend the rest of RU’s non-conference schedule.
    UConn: A 23-17 road win over now 7-3 Ohio; a tough 2-point loss to UNC, which is a middle-of-the-pack ACC team that was ranked 21st in the nation in the preseason polls and was still ranked at the time; and an 8-point road win over Big 12 South Baylor. UConn is now 1-4 in Big East play
    Louisville (a Big East bottom-feeder this year): A narrow 31-27 road loss to SEC Kentucky; a 30-14 road loss to 8-1 Utah; and a 25-23 victory over 5-4 Southern Mississippi (which had previously beaten ACC Virginia).
    Finally, Syracuse (also winless in Big East play): A tough 3-point loss to Big 10 middle-of-the-road Minnesota; a 28-7 blowout loss at Big 10 Penn State; and a 37-34 win over Big 10 Northwestern – now 6-4 and coming off a huge upset over Iowa.

    By my lights, in heads up play the Big East is 2-2 against the ACC, with two very tough losses and two dominant victories.

    I also count, let’s see here, 12 games already played against BCS conference opponents amongst 8 teams, with USF still to play Miami, and Cincinnati still to play Illinois. That doesn’t count that Pitt and UConn are still to play Notre Dame, nor does it count games against perennial high-quality non-BCS teams like Navy, Utah, and Fresno State. That adds up to just about half of the Big East’s non-conference schedule.

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  7. Playoffs. We need playoffs. Even within the BCS system, you could just not have pre-season rankings. No rankings until the 6th week of the season and simply have the top 10 BCS teams go to the five bowls no special conference deals. Of course that will never happen.

    I would just keep the BCS with 8 teams for the four major bowls (Rose, Orange, Sugar, Fiesta) and then have those winners (four) have 2 rounds (3 games total) tacked on and voila, it’s all good.

    As an admittedly lifer Big Ten anti-SEC fan, I have to admit the finals every year in my system would very likely be two SEC teams. The Big East is better than the ACC but that doesn’t tell us much really. The Big Ten is definitely been down since Ohio State lost to Florida. The Big 12 has really become basically the Big 1 (Texas) with an occasional half-decent Oklahoma or Texas Tech. But the Big 12 North is for s–t. And the Pac 10 is USC with an always hot/cold Oregon and/or Cal plus yearly upset winner Oregon St.

    My rankings of the Conferences

    1. SEC

    3. (Tie) Big 12/Pac Ten
    4. Big Ten
    4. 5. Big East
    6. Mountain West? Acc?

    But it’s a big leap down from SEC to Big 12/Pac 10 and then an even bigger leap down to Big Ten. And then with the other conferences it’s tough to gauge–how good is TCU really? I don’t think they would beat LSU.

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    • I think the MWC champion (be it Utah, BYU, or TCU) could beat the champions of the Big East and ACC champs more years than not and the Big Ten many years. I would give them pretty good odds on the Pac 10 champion this year.

      The problem with the MWC is that there’s a big drop-off after the first three teams or so. The Big Ten is a much more solid conference. It’s hard to believe that the Big 12 and ACC got so bad.

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      • The WAC, with Boise State, probably also belongs in the conversation, especially with Fresno State and Nevada usually putting together very respectable seasons.

        Of course, the central point is that, of the BCS conferences, the Big East is perenially singled out as the red-headed stepchild, with success stories viewed as flukes, while the perenial shortcomings of the other BCS conferences are repeatedly excused as merely being down years. At some point the opinion makers need to acknowledge that either the Big East is as good a conference as the ACC and perhaps the Big 10 (and certainly better than the Big 12 North) or that the ACC, Big 10, etc. are simply not the powerhouses that they used to be and other conferences need to be added to the BCS.

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        • Outside of Boise, the WAC really isn’t worth mentioning, really. Nevada and Fresno are good, but on part with Conference USA.

          I agree with you on the BE at least as it pertains to the ACC. The Big Ten and Big 8 have history that give it less to prove, on the whole. The Big East’s current configuration doesn’t really have that, though. Neither does the ACC (except Miami, which doesn’t have have a history with the ACC). So it’s not surprising that they would get the short end of the stick. Not saying it’s right, of course.

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  8. I didn’t forget South Florida beating FSU. Why would you say that? What makes you think FSU is any good? Well, they did pound BYU, and BYU is 7-2 and ranked 22nd. That fits your definition of a quality out-of-conference win (Ohio) or loss (Penn State), but not mine.

    I don’t quite follow that you think beating the worst team in the ACC (Maryland) makes up for the second worst (NC State) beating one of your two best. Do you think Louisville could beat Clemson? Do you think Syracuse could beat Georgia Tech? Do you think South Florida will beat Miami?

    I am amused that you are touting Colorado, Marshall, Baylor, Southern Mississippi, and Illinois as evidence of a strong out-of-conference schedule, but I guess they must seem that way from your perspective.

    You state that the SEC is “clearly the best conferences in the country” as if that excuses losses to middle-of-the-pack Auburn and 11th best Kentucky. Do you think Kentucky has contributed to the SEC’s status? They did beat Auburn, which I guess by your logic puts them above West Virginia.

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  10. Can we count Boston College as a Northeastern school? We’re still pretty good!

    I attended BC during the switch to the Atlantic Coast Conference, and still struggle with my feelings about it. On the one hand, I think the ACC is an incredibly competitive conference (I won’t speak to any comparisons to other conferences in terms of quality; as this post and thread make clear, those comparisons are tough and contentious). To speak in cliche, any team can win a conference game on any given Saturday.

    The downside is geographic. BC is the most far-flung of the ACC schools, and the acrimony surrounding the move from the Big East denied us our most natural geographic rival, Connecticut (the only other New England school that plays D-1 football). There’s a lot to be said for geographic rivalries. It’s sad.

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