Louisville claims BCS bid, but are better days on the way?
For another year, the Big East football season almost seemed to be a sidenote.
In 2011, charter football members Pittsburgh, Syracuse and West Virginia announced their departures as did never-was member TCU. In 2012, Louisville and Rutgers bolted.
To put it in further perspective: Three of the four teams that shared the Big East title in 2012 will be out of the league in two seasons.
The conference realignment soap opera masked an interesting season for the Big East, which went down to the final weekend of the season when Louisville defeated Rutgers 20-17 to seal a BCS bid and deny the Scarlet Knights their first outright championship.
The intrigue of the league is best reflected in the coach of the year rankings: Charlie Strong completed his rebuild of Louisville in his third year on the job, and it may not have been the best coaching job in the league this season.
First-year coach Kyle Flood, who was a backup option for the job when he was promoted, had Rutgers within a field goal of a conference title. Butch Jones exceeded expectations once again at Cincinnati. Doug Marrone led the best in-season turnaround. And though Temple failed to reach the postseason, Steve Addazio kept his team competitive for most of the year.
Here's a look back at the Big East in 2012.
Other season recaps and awards
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Offensive Player of the Year Standings
1. Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville -- No team was more dependent on its quarterback than Louisville. Bridgewater (right) fought through injuries at the end of the season to deliver the Cardinals their first BCS appearance since 2006. The sophomore from Miami led the league in pass efficiency, completion percentage and touchdown passes. He also finished strong with 16 touchdown passes in the last six games.
2. Ryan Nassib, Syracuse -- Nassib led the Big East with 3,619 passing yards and was one of the focal points of the Orange’s 5-1 finish. He’ll leave school as Syracuse’s all-time passing leader and the fourth Big East quarterback with 9,000 career yards.
3. Alec Lemon, Temple -- While it’s tempting to pick Temple’s Montel Harris and his 351-yard effort, we’re sticking with Lemon. The senior was the Big East’s only 1,000-yard receiver in 2012, boosted by his performance in the final six games. Lemon caught 46 passes for 801 yards with seven touchdowns in the 5-1 stretch for Syracuse.
Defensive Player of the Year Standings
1. Sio Moore, Connecticut -- Where to start with the Huskies’ defense? Connecticut could claim a handful of slots on the All-Big East first team defense after finishing in the top 10 nationally in total defense and run defense. The veteran linebacker Moore was in the middle of these efforts, finishing second in the league in sacks and tackles for a loss.
2. Khaseem Greene, Rutgers -- The reigning Big East Co-Defensive Player of the Year seems poised for another run at postseason honors, though it seems possible he could share the award again. Greene led the Big East in tackles (125) and forced fumbles (six) while adding two interceptions and 10.5 tackles for a loss.
3. Aaron Donald, Pittsburgh -- The Panthers defensive tackle finished the season on a hot streak with 25 tackles and nine tackles for a loss in his final three games. Pitt’s breakout player finished sixth nationally in tackles for a loss with 18.5 and pestered quarterbacks all season.
Coach of the Year Standings
1. Butch Jones, Cincinnati -- We picked Cincinnati to finish fifth in the Big East, so it’s time to give due credit. Despite rebuilding the offense and losing his best player on defense midseason, the Bearcats earned a share of the Big East title. A win in the bowl game will clinch Cincinnati’s fifth 10-win season in the last six. Then again, the Bearcats would have clinched that mark in the regular season if not for a loss to Toledo.
2. Doug Marrone, Syracuse -- It would have been easy for Syracuse to call it a season by mid-October. At that point, the Orange had lost four games and the only wins were over Pittsburgh in a snoozer and Stony Brook. Marrone saved the season and possibly his job by putting the focus on a physical run game and his veteran quarterback. Syracuse finished 5-1 and earned a share of the Big East title.
3. Charlie Strong, Louisville -- Although the season finished with two losses in the final three games, Strong led the Cardinals to their best season (10-2) since the final year under Bobby Petrino. And with a young roster, Louisville is built to last into the ACC. Will Strong join the Cards in the new league?
10 Things We Learned from the Big East in 2012
1. Change is the new normal
By 2014, only one team from the 2003 lineup will be in the Big East, and that team (Temple) was kicked out of the league only to rejoin in 2012. By comparison, the ACC raid that claimed Boston College, Miami and Virginia Tech seems tame. Since the start of 2011, six teams have left the Big East, including TCU, which never played a game as a league member. The trend may continue in the next round with Cincinnati and Connecticut ripe to be picked up in the next round. Even Boise State and San Diego State, on a Western island in the Big East, could draw the eye of another league. For 2013, however, the league has its alignment set. The new Western teams may be best equipped to compete right away -- particularly if looming NCAA sanctions render UCF ineligible -- but long road trips may take their toll.
Big East Realignment
Bold indicates teams joining the Big East. Italic indicates teams leaving.
|Cincinnati||Cincinnati||Boise State||Boise State||Boise State|
|Pittsburgh||Pittsburgh||Houston||East Carolina||East Carolina|
|USF||Temple||San Diego State||San Diego State||Navy|
|West Virginia||USF||SMU||SMU||San Diego State|
2. Teddy Bridgewater is poised for a 2013 Heisman run
Bridgewater’s final game of 2012 will give him plenty of momentum for player of the year awards going into 2013. Despite a broken non-throwing wrist and injured ankle, Bridgewater battled through a 20-of-28 performance for 263 yards with two touchdowns to clinch Louisville’s BCS bid. Beyond guts, he showed accuracy, too. A perfectly threaded pass to Andrell Smith in the fourth quarter helped seal the game for Louisville. He’ll enter next season with as much preseason fanfare of any Cardinals quarterback since Brian Brohm.
3. Louisville is only getting started
With Bridgewater only a junior next season, the Cardinals will be the frontrunner in the Big East in 2013 and perhaps the ACC a year later. As Charlie Strong rebuilt the roster, Louisville has been one of the nation’s youngest teams for the last two years. That youth will all grow up at the same time next year. The Cardinals lose only a handful of seniors including center Mario Benavides, offensive tackle Alex Kupper and cornerback Adrian Bushell. A young Louisville team went 15-3 since Oct. 21, 2011. What’s in store for a veteran team over the next two seasons?
Week 14 recap: Alabama wins SEC classic, Bridgewater shines
4. Gary Nova will be under pressure in the bowl game and into 2013
Credit Kyle Flood for sticking to his plan to stay with one quarterback for an entire season. He had an experienced backup on hand (Chas Dodd), but he never wavered on Nova. That means pressure on the Rutgers quarterback into the bowl game and next season. Nova threw 13 interceptions in the final six games of the season, including six against Kent State and another pick on a ghastly miscommunication to seal the loss to Louisville. With Jawan Jamison and Savon Huggins returning, Rutgers’ power run game will be the focus of the offense, but Nova must be more consistent if the Scarlet Knights are going to win a bowl game and contend in 2013.
5. USF is starting from scratch
The Bulls made the move formal Sunday afternoon by firing Skip Holtz after a dismal 3-9 season. Beyond changing the head coach, USF will have to start from scratch in a number of areas. The Bulls played the final three games without B.J. Daniels, an exercise that only proved the Bulls had no one ready to replace their senior quarterback. Beyond Daniels, the Bulls will lose senior lineman Mark Popek, cornerback Kayvon Webster and linebacker Sam Barrington, all of whom played critical roles the last three years. Beyond the obvious personnel issues, USF has a broke psyche to mend. The rash of fourth quarter losses from last season eventually turned into blowouts at the end of 2012. And the injury bug continued to play a major role for another season. This job is a sleeping giant of sorts -- a big public school sitting in a fertile talent base -- but whether it was Jim Leavitt or Holtz in charge, it has yet to break through.
6. Butch Jones enjoyed the best coaching job of his career
At Central Michigan, Jones inherited a program built up by Brian Kelly along with quarterback Dan LeFevour. At Cincinnati, Jones also stepped into Kelly’s shoes. The last two seasons, though, have proven that Jones is not in Kelly’s shadow. Jones started with a new starting quarterback and no clear replacement for Isaiah Pead. As the season went along, Jones made a quarterback switch and lost his best defensive player, Walter Stewart, to injury. The Bearcats still finished 9-3 and with a share of the Big East title. The loss to Toledo should sting, but Cincinnati’s only conference losses were by a combined 10 points to Louisville and Rutgers.
7. Doug Marrone worked magic in the second half
Syracuse played the toughest schedule in the Big East with non-conference games against Northwestern (9-3), USC (7-5), Minnesota (6-6) and Missouri (5-7). It’s a fair question to wonder where Syracuse may have finished if it played a more manageable non-conference slate. But perhaps the Orange needed a few lessons in winning and losing. The Northwestern game was lost on turnovers and poor defense, and the Minnesota game was lost on sloppy effort. Those problems rarely manifested themselves late in the season for Syracuse. The Orange averaged 216 rushing yards in the final six games and improved a turnover margin from minus-10 in the first half of the season to plus-nine in the second. Marrone deserve a fair amount of credit for turning a lost season into Syracuse’s second postseason trip in three years.
8. Pittsburgh got its man in Paul Chryst
Finally, the Panthers will reach a bowl game with a coach who doesn’t have the word “interim” in front of his title. The season was a wild one for Pitt, starting with a loss to Youngstown State, continue with a triple overtime loss to No. 1 Notre Dame and a win over Rutgers. It was a messy trip to 6-6, but coach Paul Chryst may have settled the scene in a tumultuous program. He inherited a fractured locker room that came together as the season went along. And, meanwhile, quarterback Tino Sunseri became one of the league's most improved players, running back Ray Graham regained his 2011 form, and the defense finished in the top three in the league. Next season will bring new challenges, including an ACC schedule and a new backfield of highly touted 2012 signees Rushel Shell and Chad Voytik. But the program his finally in steady hands.
9. Was this the last hurrah for defenses at Rutgers and Connecticut?
Rutgers and Connecticut finished the season with the top two defenses in the Big East, and both ranked in the top 10 nationally. For Rutgers, this group will have one more game after a standout two-year run. Linebackers Khaseem Greene, Steve Beauharnais and Ka’lial Glaud, defensive tackle Scott Vallone and safety Duron Harmon are all seniors, and cornerback Logan Ryan may be an NFL early entry candidate. Rutgers has had little trouble rebuilding its defense over the years, but that was with Greg Schiano at head coach. That will be a key storyline this spring. As for Connecticut, the Huskies’ defense was good enough they only needed the offense to be barely average to compete. This, however, did not always happen. In 2013, Connecticut will undergo its own changing of the guard with linebackers Sio Moore and Jory Johnson, cornerbacks Blidi Wreh-Wilson and Dwayne Gratz and defensive end Trevardo Williams gone.
10. Temple is going to be competitive
The Owls never topped their early season moment in the sun when they defeated USF and Connecticut in back-to-back weeks, but Temple still showed potential. Temple was competitive for the first half against Rutgers, Louisville and Syracuse -- a good sign for a rebuilding program that was in the MAC a year ago. Montel Harris will be gone, but Steve Addazio may have found his 2013 quarterback in Juice Granger.