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Big East: Want Respect? Follow Pitt's Schedule Lead

September 23, 2010

The tired argument against the Big East being a red-headed stepchild among Bowl Championship Series conferences is being defended again by league coaches, even as they've seemingly worn concrete boots in the waters against other BCS-conference schools in the early going in 2010.

The fact that Big East teams are just 1-6 in such games - that one victory being West Virginia's 31-17 triumph against ACC-based Maryland last weekend - isn't what bothers Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt as much as those two numbers combined.

Seven games against BCS foes at this point in the season, simply isn't enough, he reasoned. It's no better when you open it up to games against actual Division-I teams, where the Big East is 4-9. UConn, the AP's pick to win the league, lost to Temple last week.

Wannestedt doesn't know how good of an idea it is for his guys to play teams like No. 13 Utah (on the road to start the season), No. 19 Miami (home this weekend) and at Notre Dame (on Oct. 9), when other league teams are getting calls from the likes of the Hurricanes, putting them on hold, and sneaking out of the room to resume a cell phone call with Wossamotta U.

Coastal Carolina, Stoney Brook, Norfolk State, Akron, Eastern Kentucky, and Indiana State are some of the map dots Big East schools have already played - games that are only shown on ESPN2,000.

Wannstedt's somewhat OK with that, but if a few of the league's teams are going to jump up and play schools with nationally recognized mascots and traditions, they all should, he said.

He knows that's not likely to happen because a victory against Akron, most years, is better than a loss to Miami or Notre Dame.

''At the end of the day, it's the number of wins you have,'' Wannstedt said. ''That's what usually separates you in December.''

Not always.

Just look at last year's Cincinnati Bearcats. They ran the table with a perfect regular season, their most notable non-conference victory coming at No. 24 Oregon State. They also beat a 3-9 Illinois team, Southeast Missouri State, Fresno State, and Miami (Ohio).

At the end of the season, unbeatens Alabama (SEC) and Texas (Big 12) played for the title. The Big East Bearcats, left out of that party, lost to Tim Tebow, 51-24, in the Sugar Bowl.

What that said, running the table in the Big East with a weak non-conference schedule in most years, isn't enough to get it done.

So what's the answer?

Get back in that room. Pick up that phone. Play the big boys. If no one is giving you respect, go get it. Some of that is happening in the league this week.

In addition to the Pitt-Miami game, Rutgers will play host to North Carolina (which was 16th in the preseason polls before hard times hit Chapel Hill), and a battle of unbeatens will take place in Louisiana between No. 15 LSU and No. 22 West Virginia.

''It's a big week for notoriety,'' West Virginia coach Bill Stewart said. ''Us winning some of these games would surely put a bright light on our league, and that's what we want to do.''

Let's face it, there is absolutely no way around this fact: Big East teams will be 28-28 against each other at the end of this season. Cincinnati was 7-0 last year, West Virginia and Pitt were 5-2, UConn, Rutgers, and South Florida were 3-4, and Louisville and Syracuse were 1-6.

The names may not be in that order again this year, but the numbers, in some fashion, definitely will.

To make a real difference, you have to go out of conference and make a statement, not sit back and continue to rely on this one:

''If you just take a look at the history of the Big East, it's very good,'' Wannstedt said. ''As far as we're concerned, we'll end up having a seat at the table.''

OK. That's good enough for now.

''I think we all want to prove ourselves and win every game every week,'' Wannstedt said. ''You're always going to have people talking whether you win or lose or how you play the game. Regardless of what you do, people are going to talk about you positively or negatively.''

If you win on the road in places like Baton Rouge or Coral Gables, they can talk all they want. Reality will be larger than perception.

Jim Elliott can be reached via e-mail at:

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