No big six conference is undergoing a bigger overhaul in the next few years than the Big East. Three longstanding members have decided to part ways with the conference (West Virginia, Pitt, Syracuse), while eight new teams (including one former member) will be added by the year 2015. Connecticut, Rutgers, South Florida, Cincinnati, and Louisville are the five schools that have decided to stay (for now). In an age of college football where holding on to a conference’s automatic BCS bid trumps the need for any logical geographical alignment, the Big East took a big step forward in ensuring a stable future. So what are they getting?
Starting in 2012, the Big East will have two Philadelphia universities, Villanova and Temple. As you may remember, the Owls were in the Big East from 1991-2004 prior to getting booted in humiliating fashion for consistently poor play on the gridiron. They were sent to the MAC where coach Al Golden revitalized one of the worst programs in the nation and turned them into a conference champion. Golden has since departed to coach the Miami Hurricanes, leaving former Florida offensive coordinator Steve Addazio in his stead. In Temple, the Big East is receiving a tough, physical football team that has been steady winners for the past few years. The ceiling of this program is still fairly low (no on-campus stadium, poor facilities, small fan base, etc.), but the floor is very high. The Owls will provide instant stability to a conference much in need of it.
Houston has certainly raised some eyebrows recently with their electric offense and the gaudy passing statistics of former quarterback Case Keenum. Starting in 2013, the Cougs will officially be members of the Big East. Next year will be a huge transition for the program as they attempt to rebuild after the loss of their head coach, quarterback, and the majority of their skill position talent. However, recruiting improved drastically under former coach Kevin Sumlin and the athletic department has been showing a commitment to maintaining a successful football program. The city of Houston is a big television market and this Cougar football team should add a ton of excitement to the Big East.
Southern Methodist Mustangs
SMU will become the second Big East team located in Texas when they join Houston as a full member in 2013. Football tradition is in no short supply for this Mustang program, as the likes of Doak Walker, Eric Dickerson, and Craig James have all walked on the Dallas campus. Coach June Jones brought his high-powered spread offense with him from Hawaii and it has had a big impact on the team’s success. Like Houston, recruiting for SMU has picked up tremendously in recent years, and it should only get better as the Mustangs move into a more prestigious conference. This is a big pickup for the Big East.
Central Florida Knights
In my opinion, snagging Central Florida was the biggest coup of the entire realignment process for the Big East; UCF is a sleeping giant in the world of college football. The University is devoted to its football program, their facilities are off the charts, and it sits in a legitimate recruiting hotbed. The Knights struggled with injuries last year and missed out on a bowl game, but the year prior they finished 11-3, won the Conference USA Championship, and defeated Georgia in the Liberty Bowl. UCF joins the Big East in 2013 and their potential for long-term success is definitely formidable.
There’s not too much good that can be said about Memphis football. Dontari Poe was a first round pick in this year’s NFL Draft…and thats about all I got. This is clearly an addition designed to enhance the Big East’s already stellar basketball reputation, without worrying too much about football. There are a few positives though. The city of Memphis is a big television market and it also happens to be a pretty good recruiting area. So that should help, right?
Boise State Broncos (football only)
Wait, I thought this was the Big East? Boise’s in Idaho! Newsflash: No one cares. Boise State is a winning program and the Big East wants winners, no matter where they’re from. Chris Petersen and the Broncos have established themselves as arguably the best team not in a big six conference. That’s all about to change when they move to the Big East in 2013. This program has done all that can be accomplished while playing in the WAC and Mountain West, and it will be very interesting to see how much more Boise can grow now that they are in a BCS automatic qualifying conference.
San Diego State Aztecs (football only)
Nothing about San Diego State screams the words “big east”, but once again, it really doesn’t matter. The Aztecs have had a pretty good program over the past few years, producing some big names such as quarterback Ryan Lindley and running back Ronnie Hillman. Former SDSU coach Brady Hoke, now at Michigan, came in and infused a hard-nosed attitude on his players, and that appears to have carried over to new coach Rocky Long’s regime. The Aztecs have averaged 8.5 wins over the past two years playing in the Mountain West, and their newfound Big East membership should only provide them with better opportunities for success.
Navy Midshipmen (football only)
Contractual obligations prevent Navy from joining the Big East until 2015, when they will become a football-only member. Despite being a service academy, the Midshipmen bring along with them an impressive nation-wide fan base which will be great for the Big East’s television ratings. Still, though, Navy will have a hard time improving their program in future seasons simply because recruiting is so much more difficult for them. However, their 8 win average over the past four years proves that winning at the FBS level is not impossible for Navy as well as the other service academies.