The Big East has to deal with its first defection since Boston College, Miami and Virginia Tech abandoned ship for the ACC. This year, another of its best-known football properties takes flight as West Virginia enters the Big 12.
The defections are not over. Pittsburgh and Syracuse are scheduled to depart for the ACC in 2014.
The Big East welcomes back Temple this year to keep the number of teams on its roster at eight. The Owls were part of the league's original make-up, but were forced out after the 2004 season for both its ability to compete on the field and its financial shortfalls.
Boise State, Houston, Memphis, San Diego State, SMU and UCF will join the Big East for the 2013 season. That would give the league 14 teams next year, but is more likely to clear the way for an early departure of Pittsburgh and Syracuse. Navy is scheduled to join in 2015.
Big East athletics directors have agreed to host its football championship game on campus sites when the league moves to a divisional format in 2013.
West Virginia shared the Big East title with Cincinnati and Louisville last year with the Mountaineers capturing the conference's automatic qualifier BCS bowl bid. The Mountaineers (10-3, 5-2), under first-year head coach Dana Holgorsen, then shredded Clemson 70-33 in the Orange Bowl. Holgorsen had replaced Bill Stewart on June 10, less than three months before the opening day kickoff. Stewart, who spent 11 seasons in Morgantown as an assistant or head coach, tragically died May 21st of this year of a heart attack at the age of 59.
As for the other Big East tri-champions, Louisville (7-6, 5-2) lost 31-24 to North Carolina State in the Belk Bowl, and Cincinnati (10-3, 5-2) defeated Vanderbilt 31-24 in the Liberty Bowl.
The Bearcats' 10-win season represented a 6-win improvement over its 2010 record of 4-8.
Rutgers and Pitt also advanced to the bowl season. The Scarlet Knights (9-4, 4-3) defeated Iowa State 27-13 in Yankee Stadium's Pinstripe Bowl while Pitt bowed 28-6 to SMU in the BBVA Compass Bowl.
Elsewhere around the conference, Syracuse managed just one conference win in its 5-7 campaign, tying the overall marks of UConn and USF. Former Syracuse head coach Paul Pasqualoni (1991-2004) was in his first season at Connecticut after Randy Edsall left Storrs for Maryland. USF was in its second season under Skip Holtz.
Pitt has its sixth head coach in just a little over a year. Wisconsin offensive coordinator Paul Chryst was announced on December 22 as the new head man for the Panthers, replacing Todd Graham. Chryst has been an FBS level OC since 1997 with Oregon State (1997-1998, 2003-2004) and the Badgers (2002, 2005-2011). He was a tight ends coach for the NFL's San Diego Chargers from 1999-2001.
Since the tail-end of the 2010 regular season, Pitt has forced out Dave Wannstedt as head coach, played a bowl game under Phil Bennett as acting head coach (2010 season BBVA Compass Bowl), hired and fired Michael Haywood without coaching a game (arrested on a domestic violence charge), hired Todd Graham and lost him to resgination after one season, played a bowl game under Keith Patterson (2011 season BBVA Compass Bowl) and hired Chryst as Graham's official successor.
Rutgers will also have a new man at the helm in 2011 as Kyle Flood was promoted by Rutgers from offensive line coach after Greg Schiano terminated his own 11-year tenure to become the new head coach of the NFL's Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Rutgers made six bowl appearances in the last seven years under Schiano, and owns the nation’s longest active bowl winning streak of five games (tied with Auburn and Mississippi State). Schiano's overall record at Rutgers was 68-67, but just 28-48 in Big East games with no conference titles and a best finish of 2nd in 2006 and 2008.
The changes ahead for the Big East - both this season and beyond - create question marks for a conference that was already perceived as weak and in disarray. The loss of West Virginia means the exodus of its last consistent player on the national stage as the Mountaineers won or shared the title six times since 2004.
Of the eight teams on this year's roster, UConn and Pitt are joined by Cincinnati as the only other teams to have won or shared the title at least twice in that same time span. Louisville has one Big East title (2006) and Syracuse hasn't been at the top since 2004. Rutgers and USF have never won the title.
The conference also hasn't produced a team with fewer than 3 losses in three of the last four seasons. Even when Cincinnati emerged with a 12-1 record in 2009, the Bearcats were routed by Florida in the Sugar Bowl after head coach Brian Kelly had already left for Notre Dame.
The league's reputation wasn't helped when TCU joined the league, and then left it, without having ever played a down. The Horned Frogs accepted an invitation to the Big East on November 30, 2010 and then left it at the altar to elope with the Big 12 on October 11, 2011.
Of course, TCU has been known for its gypsy-like behavior ever since the Southwest Conference disbanded following the 1995 season. Since then, TCU has had membership in the WAC (1996-2000), Conference USA (2001-2004) and Mountain West (2005-2011).
Three teams are picked to lose fewer than 3 games this season. Louisville, Cincinnati and Rutgers would produce the league's third consecutive tri-champions with identical marks of 10-2 overall and 6-1 in conference play. From that group, the computer sees the Cardinals emerging as the Big East's automatic representative in the BCS bowls by virtue of a higher season-ending BCS ranking.
Cincinnati and Louisville were both among last year's triumvirate of title winners, but the forecast for Rutgers is quite remarkable considering that the Scarlet Knights are taking the field under a new head coach and were just 4-8 two years ago under Schiano before making the leap to a 9-4 season last year. However, two of the projected conference wins are by less than 2 points - at USF and at home vs. Louisville in the season finale.
Temple never experienced a winning season while members of the Big East from 1991-2004, but will fare much better in their reincarnation if the Congrove Computer Rankings' forecast is accurate. The computer has Temple going 7-4 this season, though it will still come up short of a .500 record (3-4) in conference play. The Owls are surprisingly picked to nab its first victory vs. Penn State since 1941, as is also forecasted to beat Maryland and USF. Temple crushed the Terps 38-7 last year for its first win in the 7-game series. This will be the school's first meeting with the Bulls.