Home for the Holidays: Big East
Three Big East Teams Missed Bowl Eligibility
The Big East conference is very much in flux, but only three of its football teams missed the postseason this year.
The Louisville Cardinals, led by sophomore quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, were undefeated until mid-November, and their 10-2 finish won the conference and sent the team to the Allstate Sugar Bowl.
Right behind the Cardinals were the Cincinnati Bearcats, who narrowly defeated the Duke Blue Devils in the Belk Bowl earlier this week. Cincinnati lost head coach Butch Jones to Tennessee, but they landed a surprising replacement in Tommy Tuberville, who jumped ship from Texas Tech to Cincy after three seasons. Rutgersfinished the regular season with the same record as the Bearcats, but an overtime loss to Virginia Tech in the Russell Athletic Bowl gave the Scarlet Knights a 9-4 final record.
Syracuse's win-loss total wasn’t necessarily an accurate reflection of the team’s playall year, but the team got a solid win over former Big East opponent West Virginia in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl, and Pittsburgh, which narrowly made it to a bowl game at 6-6, will face Ole Miss for the first time in team history on Jan. 5.
And at the bottom of the Big East were the three teams – Connecticut, Temple, and South Florida – that didn’t make the postseason.
UConn, in its second season under Paul Pasqualoni, had a rough year but was still just one win away from eligibility at 5-7. Temple, which has become a steppingstone coaching job over the last five years, went 4-7, but the losing season was still good enough for Boston College to lure coach Steve Addazio away. South Florida fired its coach, Skip Holtz, after just three seasons, hiring another up-and-coming head coach to (hopefully) do what Holtz never could.
Whether or not they had successful seasons, all the teams in the Big East face uncertain futures. Some are moving to other conferences – the ACC or Big Ten – in the next few years, while the ones left behind will face new opponents, and the possibility that the league itself may not survive.
The Huskies have only been competing at the FBS level for about a decade, but under former head coach Randy Edsall, they quickly climbed the ranks, with six winning seasons and five bowl games since making the transition. Edsall hasn't had the same success in his new job at Maryland, and neither has UConn, which just limped through its second consecutive losing season amid decreasing attendance.
UConn struggled on offense this season, behind starting quarterback Chandler Whitmer, who admitted to having a difficult time adjusting after transferring from junior college. The defense was Connecticut's strength all year, but the unit will take a hit next season. It was among the top 25 defenses in the nation in 2012, but the team loses defensive coordinator Don Brown, who will fill the same role at Boston College next season.
The Temple Owls experienced their first losing season in four years with their 4-7 finish in 2012. The team took a step backward in their first year back in the Big East, after being dropped from the conference in 2004. The Owls will have yet another new coach next season: Matt Rhule, a former Temple assistant who spent 2012 as the assistant offensive line coach for the New York Giants.
Rhule's offensive coaching background and new offensive coordinator, former Nevada assistant Nick Rolovich, will need to bring some stability to the Temple offense next season. Senior tailback Montel Harris, who transferred from BC for his final year, led the conference with 105.4 rushing yards per game. He set school and conference records for single game rushing yards (351) and touchdowns (7) against Army, and received All Big East honors.
In addition to replacing Harris, the Owls need a better plan at quarterback. Junior Chris Coyer started most of the team's games, but he was often relieved by junior Clinton Granger, and while former coach Addazio said he felt comfortable with either in the game, the frequent quarterback changes suggested otherwise.
South Florida capped off their worst season in the team's 16-year history by firing coach Skip Holtz after three seasons. He's already been picked up by Louisiana Tech, while USF brought in South Florida native Willie Taggart to turn the Bulls around. When Taggart took over at his last stop, Western Kentucky, he ended his alma mater's 20-game losing streak and in three seasons, coached the Hilltoppers to their first ever bowl game. USF hopes he can do the same thing for their team, which finished last in the Big East in each of the last two seasons.
Taggart will leave his own mark on the team, bringing in an almost entirely new staff. Running backs coach and recruiting coordinator Larry Scott is the only holdover from the brief Holtz era. The team also loses 25 seniors, 15 of them starters, including fifth-year senior quarterback B.J. Daniels. First-team All Big East kicker Malkon Bonani and second-team linebacker Sam Barrington, defensive lineman Cory Grissom, and offensive guard Mark Popek are also seniors, and their departure gives one of the youngest coaches in college football a very young team next season.