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Big East terror alert level hits orange

If the current state of Big East football were a movie character, it would be that poor first Germanian barbarian set on fire in the opening scene of Gladiator: certainly rendered incapable of ever living up to his full potential, but still existing in a condition too ambiguous to be irrefutably pronounced dead.

On the eve of the third weekend of the 2008 college football season, the conference lays claim to a 3-8 mark against FBS schools, and an 0-4 record against other teams from BCS conferences. In the latter category, the Big East has been outscored 153-50.

The latest blow came Thursday night when Rutgers, considered one of the hottest programs in the country as recently as a year ago, was stomped at home by a North Carolina squad picked to finish somewhere in the middle of the pack of the perhaps equally scorned Atlantic Coast Conference. Mike Teel looked like the same cluelessly talented freshman who tossed ten interceptions to just two touchdowns in 2005. The running back duo of Mason Robinson and Jourdan Brooks didn't look ready to start for Rice, let alone supplant Ray Rice. And a vaunted Scarlet Knight secondary led by two-time All-Big East performer Courtney Greene made Tar Heel signal caller TJ Yates look like Sammy Baugh.

The final score was 44-12, immediately joining the ranks of 30-10, 52-26 and, of course, 27-2.

The saddest thing about all of this is that it - ag least in their minds - validates the Big East detractors who haven't altered a line of their arguments since Utah shellacked Pitt in the '05 Fiesta Bowl. Never mind that the league had the best non-conference record in 2006, that it swept its five bowl games that postseason, or that it's the only conference to go undefeated in BCS games over the past three seasons. To many people, this young season is just another example of how the Big East sucks, has always sucked and will always suck.

It's hard to admit, but if you take out "always" and add "in the foreseeable future" to the end of that last claim, you might actually be making a point difficult to refute. This postseason's all-conference squads are on track to be disturbingly senior-laden. It's the collegiate swan song for quarterbacks Pat White, Hunter Cantwell, Teel, Dustin Grutza (a loss whose severity will be determined shortly) and Tyler Lorenzen. This is also the final year of eligibility for standouts like Scott McKillop, Mike Mickens, Tiquan Underwood, Eric Wood, Terrill Byrd and possibly for talented underclassmen like George Selvie and Kenny Britt.

The team appearing poised to best withstand the unavoidable graduation hit is South Florida, which also holds the distinction of being the Big East's lone representative in the current pair of top 25 polls. The Bulls are one of just two squads in the league who remain unscathed, a label in jeopardy of being falsified with No. 13 Kansas headed to Tampa for a clash this evening. If USF goes down, the torch is passed to Connecticut, who needed a second half comeback and an overtime period to beat Temple last weekend.

South Florida helped establish the reputation of their program and conference a year ago by going on the road and beating Auburn, and now a year later they'll be looking to protect both on their home field against the reigning Orange Bowl champions. For a Friday night non-conference game in mid-September, there's a great deal on the line.

Should the Bulls slip up, West Virginia will be looked upon to re-assume the role of redeemer. The Mountaineers have high-profile games remaining with Colorado and Auburn, a pair of victories which, coupled with a strong conference and postseason showing, would likely make outsiders forget about the giant egg they laid last weekend at East Carolina.

If USF goes down, WVU's Cardinal-esque fall from grace continues and the rest of the league stays true to their early form, then October through December becomes a bunch of teams who couldn't beat anyone else beating up on each other for the right to be beaten up by someone else in early January.

This is where the league gets recast as the page whose head was cut off and returned as a denial of peace.