I've been trying to follow the other Big East football teams through spring practice to some extent, and there's one theme that keeps popping up: that the conference loses a lot of offensive firepower from last year. I think things will even out a bit over the next few months, but it will be difficult to replace the likes of Kenny Britt, Pat White, Donald Brown, and LeSean McCoy.
At the same time, it's also true that a lot of the Big East defensive units are looking strong this spring. When I think of a defensive-oriented league with a lot of parity, I can't help but think of last year's ACC. The best way to evaluate a conference's strength is through their collective out of conference resume. The ACC fared well in that regard last year. However, because no single elite team emerged, and many of them struggled on offense, the conference did not get much respect for most of the year. That's despite the fact that they finished third in Sagarin's rankings, and were actually first before bowl season started.
It's not entirely fair to say that because Big East teams lost a lot of talent from last year, the conference will fare worse in 2009. Because players can only stick around for four or five years, college football is cyclical and always in flux. It doesn't necessarily matter how much the Big East lost. Rather, what's important is where each team and conference stand with respect to their peers. To know how good the Big East will be this year, you have to look at how everybody else is doing too. Everyone else may have lost more.
When I speak of "ACCization", it's not intended as a pejorative. I'm positing that if no single top team emerges in a conference, and its teams don't have a lot of offensive firepower, then perception of the league will fall below its "true" relative statistical strength. If parity reigns in the Big East this year, it might as well be with a few quality OOC wins (ahem). But even if that were to happen, what is a certainty is that the Big East isn't going to get much popular respect this year. People want to see Big XII shootouts, not ACC defensive slugfests. They also tend to get hung up on not having marquee teams at the top either.
If you look at Sagarin and other rating systems, the Big East fared better than the Mountain West last year. In fact, it fared better than the Big Ten. Yet, Utah's victory in the Sugar Bowl led to another round chest bumping and pleas from our friends in the Mountain time zone. The disparity exists because a conference is just the sum of its parts. The champion is weighed as heavily in importance as the worst team. The MWC may have Utah and a few other good teams at the top, but the middle and bottom don't measure up.
Now, on to what happened in the Big East...