MANEUVERING through the Big East in basketball is a real test for member schools. If West Virginia defeats Rutgers today and splits its last two games, the Mountaineers very well could give the league 11 NCAA tournament games.
There are only 16 Big East basketball teams, so respect is in no short supply for the conference.
It's almost the opposite case in football. As even casual sports fans know, the SEC is perceived as the college football king and the Big East a peasant, especially after last season. It marked the first time since 1991, when the Big East opened for business in football, that no league team finished in the Top 25 of the coaches' poll. A 19-year winning streak was snapped.
True, Big East teams finished 4-2 in bowl play, but league BCS representative Connecticut was pancaked 48-20 by Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl. The big bowl wins included South Florida over Clemson and ... did I mention USF's win over Clemson?
So the conference has work to do in football, and that boils down to scheduling and winning.
It was interesting, then, to check all the conference schedules for the 2011 season. According to the league release, the "nonleague schedule features a number of compelling matchups."
A glance at the schedules shows there may indeed be a number of "compelling matchups," but that number is low. Marquee games? Almost nonexistent.
There are only three non-conference Big East games scheduled against teams that finished in last season's final coaches' Top 25 poll. There are only two games scheduled against teams that finished in last season's final Associated Press writers' poll.
But, OK, let's look ahead, right? Last season is over.
Well, I printed out four of those much-too-early-preseason Top 25 lists from four reputable outlets: SI.com, ESPN.com, cbssportsline.com and Rivals.com. The lists vary, but one can tell research went into the efforts and many of the same teams made all the grades.
Of those preseason Top 25 teams, Big East teams have scheduled contests against three. LSU is highly regarded across the board. Notre Dame (which faces two league teams) made every list. However, the third team, Utah, barely made one list, that of SI.com, at No. 25.
I know there's a fine line between scheduling to prove one's self and overscheduling, but these are trying times for Big East football. And the composite schedule probably won't help gain respect for the league. Opportunities are very limited.