Who would have thought last fall that the savior of Big East football would have come from the State University of New Jersey. Yep, Rutgers.
Now before you think I've lost my mind, hear me out on this.
After Boston College, Virginia Tech, and Miami took the money and bolted to the mediocre ACC, you could hear the death knell for the Big East as a major power. It was a given that West Virginia and Louisville would remain elite, yet as Syracuse and Pitt fell apart, the strength of the elite would be questioned as the WVU/Louisville game would be the only good measure for the country.
A funny thing happened on the road to WAC'dom, West Virginia beat Georgia in the 2006 Sugar Bowl, in Atlanta. The conference got a mulligan for an off 2005. UConn and South Florida were young programs with potential, but in this instant culture, potential doesn't pay the bills.
Enter Rutgers. Rutgers who had played in one bowl game in their entire history until 2005, and even that was in New Jersey, made a bowl game. A pounding by Arizona State and their pinball offense later and the Scarlet Knights were forgotten again. Until September anyway.
They started 2006 right where 2005 left off, they were winning. North Carolina didn't impress many people, but Ray Rice rushed for over 200. Other wins followed. A trip to Annapolis beckoned and some figured that the mini-Rutgers run was over. Navy failed to score.
After the dust settled from Louisville's crowning defeat of WVU, most again figured that the Soprano's ride was over. We were wrong.
Yes, they eventually were beat. Yes, they played in a lower tier bowl game, that by the way they destroyed Kansas State in. Yes, there were and are questions, but something funny happened on the way to the ball, Greg Schiano, who has built the program, turned down the Miami Hurricanes, a program dripping with tradition, to stay in Piscataway.
Never mind the hot blonde, lets stay with the brunette next door.
In two short seasons, after taking a few years to right the ship, Rutgers won their first bowl game, finished in the Top 15 in the country, and had their first double-digit win season.
Why does Rutgers and Schiano's new contract make the Big East stronger? Well, having three major programs will make us much more likely to give credence for whomever gets hot in the Big East. An undefeated team will have to slay two Goliaths to get to the BCS Title game. You can obviously recruit better if you have a program that could seriously get all the way to the top. Finally, the pressure from the conference will be off to either plead a deal with Notre Dame or pushing the newer programs to make even bigger strides.
There is no guarantee that Rutgers will remain an elite team, but the emergence in that direction not only keeps the locals happy, it keeps Louisville and Morgantown happy, and when the new TV deal comes in, it keeps the bean counters happy.
Tell that to the parity filled ACC.