Remember the Big East. Remember it well, because it may not be long for this earth.
OK, maybe that's an exaggeration but with expansion winds blowing throughout college football, maybe it isn't. Once again, the conference is on notice with the Big Ten looking to improve its television profile. If the Large Eleven picks off Connecticut, Syracuse, Rutgers or Pittsburgh, then the Big East has to stay viable.
That's getting ahead of the carnage, er, story. For now, the Big East will continue with new coaches (Cincinnati, Louisville, South Florida) and the same old story in places like Syracuse. The conference will continue to promote itself with 14 weeknight games (six on Thursday).
Cincinnati and Pittsburgh once again look like the class of the league. UConn is one of the quietest success stories in football. Charlie Strong finally gets his chance at Louisville. The Skip Holtz era begins at South Florida. West Virginia hasn't gone away under Bill Stewart.
Their schedules are finalized except for Syracuse which is still looking for a non-conference game. Might we suggest a Big Ten opponent? Could count in both leagues' standings.
Game of the year: (non-conference) Miami at Pittsburgh, Sept. 23. These old Big East rivals are both standing at the altar of BCS bowl contention. Neither current coach has broken through. Dave Wannstedt still hasn't won that conference title after a heart-breaking end to last season. Randy Shannon is still in rebuilding mode. It doesn't help that Jacory Harris (hand) and Graig Cooper (knee) will miss spring practice. That doesn't tell us much about seven months from now.
This game will go a long way toward proving if Wanny and the Panthers are worthy of that BCS bowl. Same for Shannon who is 7-9 on the road.
There is a bit of history for those of us who can remember all the way back to 2003. In the regular-season finale at Heinz, Miami won an Orange-Bowl-or-bust game 28-14. That was the Canes' last Big East game.
Game of the year: (conference) Pittsburgh at Cincinnati, Dec. 4. Three in a row for the Bearcats? Brian Kelly has left enough talent for Butch Jones to get to a third consecutive BCS bowl. Last year's snowy matchup in Pittsburgh was a classic decided by a botched extra point.
This season's game will be impacted by a couple of high-profile replacements. Pat Bostick and Tino Sunseri will battle it out in the spring to replace Bill Stull as Pittsburgh quarterback. The mouthy Mardy Gilyard will be missed at Cincinnati but only until one-time USC five-star recruit Vidal Hazelton takes over as Zach Collaros top target.
Team on the spot: Rutgers. Whatever happened to Greg Schiano's magic? The Scarlet Knights have finished above third only once since the 11-win season in 2006. That was a three-way tie for second in 2008. Are we expecting too much? This is, after all, Rutgers but the '06 ride was such a tease.
The offensive line underachieved last season even though tackle Anthony Davis could be a high draft choice. Quarterback Tom Savage showed flashes as a freshman but needs to make that leap to difference maker as a sophomore. The most exciting player in the conference might be Mohamed Sanu who was effective out of the Wildcat and at receiver.
Toughest non-conference schedule: Hard one because the schedules are so balanced in the Big East and Syracuse is still looking for a game, but Pittsburgh seems to be in the most peril. It opens at Utah, then gets I-AA power New Hampshire nine days later. The Miami game comes to Pittsburgh after an open date. The Miami and Notre Dame games are sandwiched around a home game against Florida International.
Wanny and AD Steve Pederson are putting the program out there playing two BCS teams and a team that is in a de facto BCS league (Utah). That could be a season killer. It also could lift the Panthers into that BCS bowl.
Easiest non-conference schedule: Rutgers. As much as the Knights need to get back on national scene, they've got the schedule to do it. Norfolk State, Florida International, Tulane and Army don't exactly strike fear into hearts. The only sweat-breaker is North Carolina which comes to New Jersey on Sept. 25. Win that and Rutgers should start 6-0 before going to Pittsburgh on Oct. 23.
Check back in November, though. Beginning Nov. 3, Rutgers plays at South Florida, Cincinnati and West Virginia in its final five games.