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Marinatto Pleased With Big East Football Start

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(File: Stew Milne/AP Photo)

(File: Stew Milne/AP Photo)

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By JOHN KEKIS,  Associated Press

Doug Marrone, Charlie Strong, Skip Holtz, Butch Jones, Greg Schiano, Dana Holgorsen, Paul Pasqualoni and Todd Graham have something in common, and it’s music to the ears of Big East commissioner John Marinatto as he tries to chart the best future path for the much-maligned conference.

All eight Big East football coaches have their teams at 1-0 after a week that saw the conference outscore its opponents, 304-100. Since it was formed in 1991, the Big East never before had a week when it started a season 8-0.

The Big Least?

Try the Beast. Well, for one week, at least.

“That’s right. That’s the first time,” said Marinatto, who remains confident his league will survive amid all the talk about its eventual demise. “It’s a 12-week-long season and there’s certainly a lot of football to be played. But it’s obviously nice to be off to such a positive start.

“I’m excited.”

Not one Big East team finished 2010 ranked in the Top 25. Not a good thing for a conference that’s forever fighting for national respect.

And it’s all about perception in college football, right?

“Last year, we were second (to the SEC) among all conferences in nonconference winning percentage,” Marinatto said.

“Five of our schools have won at least a share of the title in the last five years. All eight of our teams have played in at least one bowl game over the last two years, and all eight have won a bowl game in the last four years. That’s something no other conference has accomplished.

“We’ve always felt good. It’s just that sometimes, I guess, it’s our society that likes to view things from a negative perspective.”

Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe isn’t one of them.

“Anytime you’re a BCS conference, you’ve got good football.  You’re getting some of the better players in the country,” said Grobe, whose Demon Deacons lost their season-opener in overtime at Syracuse. “If you go to any of the BCS conferences, you’re not going to find a bad football team; you’re going to find good talent that’s well-coached and all those things. The Big East is a good conference.”

One week certainly doesn’t make a season. And wins such as Rutgers’ 48-0 shellacking of North Carolina Central of the FCS, Connecticut’s 35-3 rout of FCS foe Fordham, Louisville’s 21-9 win over FCS stalwart Murray State, or Cincinnati’s 72-10 victory over Austin Peay, another FCS team, aren’t exactly grounds to begin thinking about postseason glory.
Nonetheless, 8-0 is 8-0, and two Big East teams are in the Top 25.

“I’m happy for the conference,” said Schiano, in his 11th year at Rutgers. “It’s great for the league to start out that way. But in sports, we always draw conclusions and judgments way too soon. I think we’ll be judged, as a conference, on our body of work at the end of the season, as everyone will.”

South Florida had the signature victory, beating No. 16 Notre Dame, 23-20, on the road, and moved into the national rankings at No. 22. Other wins were by: West Virginia, which humbled in-state rival Marshall, 34-13, and moved up five spots to No. 19; Syracuse, which staged a stirring 22-0 rally over the final 11 minutes of regulation and overtime to beat Wake Forest, 32-29; and Pittsburgh, which outlasted Buffalo, 35-16.

“I think, early, it speaks volumes to sit here 8-0 with some of the wins we have. But I think it’s still too early to tell as we go forward,” said Holtz, in his second year with the Bulls. “But I keep saying, when you look at the out-of-conference record and the bowl record of this conference, it speaks volumes for the quality of play in this league, and the quality of coaching in this league.

“I think this conference is only going to get better and better as we turn and continue to move forward.”

There’s still some daylight for all those hecklers, though.

They’ll likely be quick to point out that Austin Peay is coming off a 2-9 season, has lost nine straight, and has had only 18 winning seasons in its 74 years of football. Or that Marshall is 0-11 against the Mountaineers and their game was called with 14:36 left in the fourth quarter because of severe weather.

Doesn’t matter one bit to Holgorsen, Oklahoma State’s offensive coordinator last season.

“On the outside looking in over the past several years, the thing that you knew about (the Big East) was everybody was pretty good,” said Holgorsen, who took over a Mountaineers program that has not compiled a 10-win season since 2007.

“Periodically, you’d have a great team, and there’s been some great ones that have made some pretty good runs. But over the course of the years, it’s been about parity, which if you look at the Big East going 8-0 says something about the parity of the conference.”

Holgorsen, with the Mountaineers, and Graham, at Pitt, are in their first years as head coaches in the Big East, while UConn’s Pasqualoni, who won 107 games in 14 years at Syracuse, is at Connecticut after six years in the NFL.

“I’m just impressed with our league. A lot of parity,” said Graham, who left Tulsa for Pitt. “You’d better get better every day, better be disciplined about what you’re doing, because you’re going to play in a bunch of close football games. This is, no doubt, a competitive league. As a league, we need to step forward with a big year.

“And we’re off to a good start.”

Pasqualoni says the league has improved since he was fired at Syracuse after the 2004 season.

“We said it at Big East media day this was a very, very balanced, very competitive conference, and it doesn’t surprise me at all,” Pasqualoni said. “A lot of good teams in this league. Some teams are going to win more than others, obviously, in any conference at any level of football, but coaches are doing a heckuva job in this league and players are doing a heckuva job of playing.”

The SEC has six ranked teams this week, matching the Big 12 for most. The Big Ten has five, and the ACC, Pac-12, Mountain West, and Big East each have two.

It almost seems like ancient history when West Virginia was No. 2 in the AP rankings. That was back in 2007, but the Mountaineers lost to Pittsburgh in the regular-season finale and missed out on a chance to go to the BCS championship game. Call that parity at its worst.

“We realize that there’s a lot of good coaches and a lot of good players in this conference,” Syracuse’s Marrone said.

“And we beat each other up pretty good.”
___
AP Sports Writers John Raby in West Virginia and Joedy McCreary in North Carolina contributed to this report.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)

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