NEWPORT -- The Big East Conference has always been treated like it doesn't belong amongst the other five BCS conferences.
Where all the other major conferences are dominated by football powers the Big East has been a sort of merry-go-round at the top ever since Miami left with Boston College and Virginia Tech to the ACC.
Of the league's eight teams, five of them have won a share of the league title with Louisville, West Virginia, Cincinnati and UConn having represented the conference in the BCS over the last five years.
Last season, Connecticut won the Big East and the BCS bid to the Fiesta Bowl but were not ranked the entire season. At Big East Media Day on Tuesday commissioner John Marinatto remained confident the league will bounce back.
"All of our teams can realistically make a run at a bowl game or vie for the conference championship this season," Marinatto said. "All eight of our schools have won a bowl game the last four years. While I acknowledge that we didn't have our best season in 2010, all of us our confident that last season was an aberration."
The Big East kicked off the 2011 season anointing West Virginia as the heavy favorite in the league garnering 21 of 24 votes for first place in the preseason media poll. Pittsburgh was second followed by USF, Cincinnati, Syracuse, UConn, Louisville and Rutgers.
In other conferences the preseason poll is a good script for the coming season. Not so in the Big East, which has perhaps the most competitive conference from top to bottom. Last year UConn was picked fourth and won the league title. Something like that happening again isn't out of the question.
The Big East begins this season continuing to morph into a football power conference and remains in transition. Favorites West Virginia and Pittsburgh have new head coaches in Dana Holgorson and Todd Graham while defending champion Connecticut also has a new coach bringing in Paul Pasqualoni for his second stint in the conference.
Louisville's Charlie Strong, Cincinnati's Butch Jones and USF's Skip Holtz are in their second year while Syracuse's Doug Marrone begins his third year. Rutgers' Greg Schiano now becomes the dean of Big East coaches, as he has spent 11 years with the Scarlet Knights.
Pasqualoni was the Syracuse coach for 14 years and is the all-time Big East leader in wins before leaving the school in 2005. It's a different era now.
"The league is different than it was in '91-92 when we started football," Pasqualoni said. "We had a very dominant team in that conference (Miami). Miami won 9 of first 13 conference championships.
"I don't know in those years how realistic it was for teams in our league to win the conference championship. It is much different today."
The conference continues to evolve as a football playing entity.
Texas Christian University has accepted a bid to play in the Big East beginning next year. The Horned Frogs won the Rose Bowl last season and are an expected preseason top-10 team as the conference tries to establish a marquee team. TCU not only brings a national pedigree, the school also brings in the Dallas-Forth Worth television market. The
fifth largest media market in the country.
The Big East is in early negotiations on a new television contract and the addition of TCU is only the first step in solidifying a lucrative new deal. According to reports, the conference walked away from a $1 billion deal with ESPN and is aggressively trying to sign a new deal with various television outlets. To help bolster its television footprint, the conference has been aggressively studying further expansion and hasn't ruled out going to 18 teams or more in the football-basketball hybrid. Currently, there are now nine football school with more teams likely to come in. Villanova is considering a move up to the FBS and joining the Big East while there are other school the Big East is considering.
"We haven't limited our options," Marinatto said. "Everything is on the table. We want to be thoughtful and deliberate. The TCU situation illustrates what we have been saying for year. If the opportunity arises when we can bring quality into the league."
If there is any more expansion, it's going to be driven by television
and nailed down in the coming year.
"The Big East is stronger and has more vitality today than it ever
has had in its 32-year history,"
Marinatto said. "College football is firmly second only to the NFL in
popularity in America. And we are in more households than any
conference in the country. The public appetite has created increased
competition and demand in the media broadcast world, resulting in a
new, never-seen-before era of licensing revenues and expectations."