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Big East notebook
By Greg Auman
Published August 31, 2007
The Big East, in its short 16 years of football, has just one Heisman Trophy winner: Miami's Gino Torretta in 1992. Two players from current schools struck the pose before the league existed - Syracuse's Ernie Davis in 1961 and Pittsburgh's Tony Dorsett in 1976 - but this year's crop of Heisman hopefuls may be the league's best ever.
In Louisville's Brian Brohm, Rutgers' Ray Rice and West Virginia's Steve Slaton and Pat White, the Big East has four legitimate Heisman candidates. The conference's current eight teams have had just three players finish in the Heisman top five since the Big East's inception, including Slaton last year. We're going out on a limb and saying the league will add to that list in December.
The 4-3 split
Having only eight football teams gives the Big East an unbalanced league schedule, where half the league has four home games and three on the road, and the opposite for the other half.
As much as this is a major gripe for league coaches and athletic directors, the advantage of the extra home game hasn't made a tangible impact on the league standings. In two seasons under the current format, schools with four home games are 29-27 in conference games, so schools with four road games are 27-29.
That's not to underscore the value of playing at home in the Big East: Last year, home teams went 18-10 in conference play, and none of the league's eight teams won more than two conference games on the road.
The lucky ones this year (with four games at home) are Connecticut, Pittsburgh, Rutgers and Syracuse, with some of the league's toughest teams among those handicapped with only three at home: Cincinnati, Louisville, USF and West Virginia.
Strength of schedule
The Big East's breakout 2006 season brings even greater scrutiny to its schools' choices for their five nonconference games. Half the league follows USF's formula of playing two games against BCS-conference teams, two against non-BCS Division I-A teams and one at home against a Division I-AA opponent. Our picks for who's tough and who's yellow:
WEAKEST: Rutgers and Cincinnati have only one BCS team on their nonconference schedule: the Knights face Maryland (9-4 last year) and the Bearcats get Oregon State (10-4). The weakest schedule, however, has to be Connecticut, which opens at Duke (0-12 last year), then hosts I-AA Maine and Temple, which went 1-11 last year. The Huskies' five nonconference opponents went a combined 17-42 in 2006.
TOUGHEST: West Virginia is the only Big East team whose nonconference opponents combined for 30 wins last season at 32-31. The Mountaineers don't face a I-AA team, and a league-high three of their games - Western Michigan, Maryland and East Carolina - are against I-A teams with winning records.
GOOD AND BAD: We applaud Syracuse for scheduling a league-high three BCS opponents (Washington, Iowa, Illinois), but none of their five sported a winning record in 2006, and their last three - Illinois, Buffalo and Miami (Ohio) - went a combined 6-30 last year. Greg Robinson needs a bowl, so he needs at least a 3-2 mark outside the Big East, to be safe.
We compare the nonconference opponents of each Big East team, including the combined record from last season of I-A opponents:
Team Opp. Rec. Toughest Weakest
West Virginia 32-31 Maryland (9-4) Marshall (5-7)
Louisville 26-25 Kentucky (8-5) Murray State (1-10)
USF 23-26 Auburn (11-2) Elon (5-6)
Rutgers 23-27 Maryland (9-4) Norfolk State (4-7)
Cincinnati 20-30 Oregon St. (10-4) Miami (Ohio) (2-10)
Pittsburgh 19-30 Navy (9-4) Grambling (3-8)
Syracuse 17-44 Iowa (6-7) Buffalo (2-10)
Connecticut 11-37 Virginia (5-7) Duke (0-12)
ACC-Big East challenge
The ACC is now generally seen as the weakest BCS conference, but its teams will get a chance to prove themselves against the Big East this fall. Big East teams have 15 games against BCS-conference opponents, and nearly half - seven of them - are against the ACC. Maryland and Virginia play two Big East teams each, with North Carolina, N.C. State and Duke playing as well. Last year, the Big East went 7-3 against the ACC, with Louisville and West Virginia a combined 4-0.
Move over, Kiper
The Big East had just three players taken on the first day of the NFL draft in April - Louisville defensive tackle Amobi Okoye, Pitt cornerback Darrelle Revis and Rutgers fullback Brian Leonard - but we're thinking that number should double in 2008.
There are the big four Heisman candidates, and expect to hear all year how Bobby Petrino's Atlanta Falcons will earn the first pick and take his old quarterback, Brian Brohm. In addition to those big four, here are five other league players who could be first-day picks:
Mario Urrutia and Harry Douglas, WRs, Louisville: The 6-5 "Super Mario" is Brohm's biggest target, and the speedy Douglas, just 5-11, outperformed him last year. They combined for 2,238 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Malik Jackson, LB, Louisville: The Cardinals' offense will get the headlines, but Jackson is trouble for QBs, with 15.5 tackles for loss last year.
Keilen Dykes, DT, West Virginia: Nice size at 6-5, 295 pounds, and he was first-team all-conference last season.