How Bad Is The Big East, Really? A Historical Perspective

[image via www.footballreportersonline.com]

For the last couple of years now, whenever someone has wanted to bolster a comment that degrades the current head football coach’s ability, that poster has said something along the lines of "the Big East is terrible," "the Big East is horrible," or, my personal favorite: "the Big East is god-awful."

Usually these same people will say that since the departure of Miami, Virginia Tech, and Boston College, the conference has been there for the taking every year, and that the Mountaineers have sorely under-performed, especially the last three years. This is not to say that I don’t agree that West Virginia shouldn’t have won a couple of Big East titles in the last three years, but for some time now, I have wondered if these assertions about the Big East’sconference strength, or lack of it, would hold up under scrutiny.

Taken as a whole, I don’t think so.

This post has involved quite a bit of research, it took me a while to settle on what factors I would lean on. I have always trusted Jeff Sagarin’s ratings due to the fact that every team’s performance is linked to every other team’s, and, as the season progresses the numbers form an elaborate house of cards that I findsuperlative when looking at things like conference strength, andschedule strength. So, I included those two. I thought final rankings and the number of ranked teams from the conference would be instructive, and finally, the Big East’s record versus competition from other BCS conferences certainly seemed relevant. Just in case your memory is foggy, VT and Miami departed after the 2003 season, while BC hung around for 2004, which was also Temple’s last year as a Big East member. Also, the Big East had only seven members in ‘04.

Year

Big East Sagarin Rank by Central Mean

Avg, Sagarin Schedule Strength

# of Teams Ranked in Final Usa Today 25 (Highest)

BE vs. Other BCS Conferences

Bowl Record

1998

5

53

3 (VT, 19th)

7-11

2-2

1999

7

47

2 (VT (3rd)

8-12

2-2

2000

2

39

2 (Mia, 2nd)

8-7

4-1

2001

6

49

4 (Mia, 1st)

10-8

4-1

2002

6

52

4 (Mia, 2nd)

9-12

3-2

2003

6

55

1 (Mia, 5th)

9-11

2-3

2004

8

69

1 (Ville, 7th)

8-11

1-3

2005

7

63

2 (WVU, 6th)

5-14

1-3

2006

2

36

3 (Ville, 7th)

14-7

5-0

2007

4

48

2 (WVU, 6th)

8-10

3-2

2008

5

56

2 (Cin, 17th)

11-9

4-2

2009

2

44

3 (Cin, 9th)

11-9

4-2

2010 (RS)

7

71

1 (WVU, 21st)

3-12

?

Totals

5.1

52.5

2.3 (Avg., 8th)

111-133

35-23

This is a lot of information to process.

  • Clearly, Virginia Tech and Miami were ruling the roost from 1998-2003, but it is also interesting to note that the conference as a whole was only better than 5th in central mean once in that span. And its second-place finish in 2000 was really just the product of the Hokies and Hurricanes being far-and-away better than their colleagues. Both finished 11-1 while the rest of the conference went 7-5 or worse.

  • Remember last year when several of our regular commenters kept saying exactly what they are now, that the Big East was terrible? The numbers don’t bear that out. In fact, the Big East has finished second among all conferences twice since the departure of the traitors to the ACC- last year and in 2006. 2009’s good showing was powered by the fact that four-of-eight teams won nine games, two others winning eight.

  • The Big East was legitimately bad-ass in 2006. Louisville, WVU, and Rutgers all had 11 wins or more, with USF and Cincy adding nine and eight, respectively, against the toughest schedule the conference has faced in the BCS’s history. Add to that a 14-7 record against other BCS conference competition (the best the conference has ever done) and a perfect 5-0 in bowls. The only thing missing from this possibly being labeled the best season in Big East history is a national champion.

  • Easily the worst of the Big East seasons is 2004, but I am going to exclude it, because things were in flux, the conference had only seven members and one of them was Temple. I would say that it is close for worst conference year between 1999 and2005. In both years, the Big East provided two good teams and six average ones and wound up ranking seventh in central mean. Both times, however, it wasn’t the Mountain West that jumped the Big East. It was the 1-A Independents, which in my book doesn’t count because they don’t comprise a real conference. (Say what you will about the Big East, but no non-qualifying conference has ever finished ahead of it by Sagarin’s numbers). In 1999, it was 11-1 Virginia Tech, 9-4 Miami with four schools going 5-6 or worse. In 2005 it was 11-1 WVU, 9-3 Louisville and five other schools going 6-6 or worse. Add in a 5-14 record against BCS conference foes and a 1-3 mark in bowls, and 2005 has to edge out ‘99 as the most inglorious of any 8-team Big East year.

  • There is no doubt that the Big East is down this year. There are ample statistics to back that up. Seventh in central mean (the Indy’s again hold the six-spot) against the worst conference schedule strength in the 13 years of the BCS, only one ranked team (although Uconn does sit 26th), and a 3-12 mark against BCS conference competition. But even as one can argue that the conference is uniformly mediocre, one might also say that the conference beat up on itself a bit: five schools clustered between Louisville’s 6-6 and WVU’s 9-3, which led to a team with the right tie-breakers snagging a BCS bid as an unranked conference champ. I don’t think the conference-wide lack of quarterback experience can be discounted in just how many games were lost by members this year, especially on the road, where QB inexperience really hurts. The Big East’s members combined to go 21-24 on the road this year, and 17-20 against all BCS foes (Big East teams included). Still, consider that Big East teams are favorites in every bowl game but the Fiesta. I wouldn’t be surprised if the conference gets a bit of redemption in Bowl Season.

  • Lastly, I would like to note that the conference’s worst year, 2005, was followed by its best in this analysis, 2006. Similarly, 2000 proved to be a great year for the conference following the dismal performance of 1999. So, no matter the outcome of the bowls on this year’s numbers, we would do well to remember that these things go in cycles. And with the addition of TCU, I hope the conference is gaining a member that will aid the cause of muting the many talking heads at the four-letter who seem to relish taking pot shots at the Big East.

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