Big East struggling against non-conference foes

| Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2010

On page 6 of the Big East media guide, three large charts illustrate the conference's recent success against non-league opponents.

The Big East's non-conference record, under headlines such as "Better than Ever" and "Getting it Done," is a point of pride for the eight football schools.

But this year the Big East is closer to the MAC and the WAC than the Big 12 or Big Ten.

"We haven't fared that well out of conference so far," said Connecticut coach Randy Edsall, whose Huskies lost at Michigan, 30-10, in the Sept. 4 season opener. "It's right there. The proof is in the pudding."

The Big East is 10-6 in out-of-league games, a .625 winning percentage that would rank as its worst showing vs. non-league foes in five years. Not only is the Big East without a quality FBS non-league win this season, but seven of those out-of-conference wins came against FCS (former Division I-AA) schools.

Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt says it's too early to judge the Big East's strength. In the past five seasons, only one conference, the SEC (.792), has a better non-conference winning percentage than the Big East (.722).

"I still believe what I said in July at the Big East meetings -- our conference is very good," Wannstedt said. "I think you've got to wait a couple more weeks and let a few more games be played and then maybe sit back and evaluate it."

The Big East will get a chance to redeem itself. Pitt (Miami), Louisville (Oregon State), West Virginia (Maryland and LSU), Cincinnati (North Carolina State and Oklahoma) and Rutgers (North Carolina) play major conference non-league opponents in the next 12 days.

Pitt (1-1), which lost to Utah, 27-24, in overtime as part of the Big East's sluggish season-opening weekend, plays No. 17 Miami (1-1) on Thursday, Sept. 23, at Heinz Field.

The Big East lacks a signature win. Its only three FBS victims were Akron (which lost at Syracuse); Marshall, which collapsed in an overtime loss to rival West Virginia; and Florida International, which nearly upset visiting Rutgers before losing 19-14.

The ACC is the only other top-eight conference without a victory over a school from another automatic BCS qualifier. The ACC's Division I-A wins came against Navy, Kent State and UCF.

Pollsters are taking notice. West Virginia, at No. 21, is the only Big East team in the latest Associated Press Top 25. Pitt is the top program in "Others receiving votes."

The spotlight on the Big East's troubles faded a bit Saturday when then No. 13 Virginia Tech lost to James Madison, an FBS school, as the low point of a brutal weekend for the Atlantic Coast Conference. But the ACC (14-7, .667) still has a better record against non-league opponents than the Big East.

Last season, there were no Big East teams in the preseason top 25, but the conference went 36-10 in non-league games, second best among all Division I-A leagues.

"There are going to be some years where maybe your out of conference record isn't as strong as it was in other years, because of the number of people you are losing or you have young people at certain key positions," Edsall said. "That's going to take place."

To its credit, the Big East hasn't ducked anybody. Its non-league losses were against teams from the Big Ten, Pac-10, SEC, Mountain West and WAC, and five of them were on the road.

And unlike some other major conferences, the Big East doesn't have a "bad loss" this season. The SEC (Ole Miss lost to Jacksonville State), the Big Ten (Minnesota lost to South Dakota), the Big 12 (Kansas lost to North Dakota State) and the ACC (Va. Tech lost to James Madison) all suffered embarrassing defeats to lower-division schools.

"I still think we have a very strong league," Edsall said. "I think you are going to see the teams in the Big East get better each week."

Additional Information:

Stepping out

A look at how FBS (Division I) conferences have fared in non-conference play:

Conference Record Winning %

Big 12 21-3 .875

SEC 15-3 .833

Big Ten 17-4 .810

Pac 10 13-4 .767

ACC 14-7 .667

Big East 10-6 .625

Mountain West 8-6 .571

WAC 8-7 .533

Conference USA 7-9 .438

MAC 8-12 .400

Sun Belt 3-11 .214

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