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Beasts of the Big East

Both teams are legitimate title contenders if one remains undefeated.

Brendan Galellaoraclesports@yahoo.comCOLUMNIST

Any undefeated team in a BCS conference should play for the national title. Otherwise, there will be question marks surrounding the legitimacy of the winner, especially if it defeats a team that has already been beaten during the regular season.

Two excellent football teams are playing for Big East supremacy tonight as No. 3 West Virginia travels to No. 5 Louisville to renew their “Backyard Brawl” rivalry.

If the Cardinals or the Mountaineers can finish the season undefeated, they deserve a chance to play for the national title; but there is a strong possibility they won’t have the chance because of the uncertainty of the BCS ranking system.

The two teams are in trouble because outside of Rutgers, the computer system considers the Big East a weak conference.

The Big East took a major hit when Miami, Boston College and Virginia Tech fled to the Atlantic Coast Conference. All three teams have been ranked in the top 25 this season.

Even the Scarlet Knights are having trouble moving up in the rankings, as their 8-0 record has only advanced them to No. 12.The winner of the Big East should not be penalized because their replacements, with the exception of Louisville, are young football programs.

Big East football was represented well during last year’s Sugar Bowl by West Virginia. Coming into the game, there were grumblings about the Mountaineers playing in one of the “Big Four” bowl games, but they proved their inclusion was legitimate.

Running back Steve Slaton took away the Georgia Bulldogs’ tremendous home-field advantage inside the Georgia Dome in Atlanta by rushing for 204 yards and three touchdowns against one of the nation’s stingiest defenses.

Slaton now leads the NCAA’s most potent rushing attack as the Mountaineers are gaining an average of 319 yards per game on the ground.

West Virginia has the second-longest winning streak in the country at 14 games, only trailing Ohio State’s 16 straight victories.

The Mountaineers have been ranked in the top five since the third week of the season.

A true sophomore, Slaton has become a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate and should play for the national title if his team remains unbeaten.

Omitting an unblemished West Virginia team from playing for the national championship would further expose a flawed BCS system.

But the Mountaineers aren’t the only Big East school in the midst of a special season.

Louisville is 7-0 this season despite losing Heisman Trophy candidate Michael Bush for the season during the first game, when he broke his right tibia.

Injuries seemed to pile up as quarterback Brian Brohm missed two games with an injured thumb, but the Cardinals still prevailed. They’ve already beat Miami 31-7 when the Hurricanes were ranked No. 17. Louisville’s offense has been impressive, outscoring its opponents 271-88 this season.

Possibly the most balanced team in the conference, Louisville ranks second in the Big East in both scoring offense and points allowed. Even more impressive is the Cardinals’ defense, which allows only 74.9 rushing yards per game.

Both West Virginia and Louisville are excellent teams and deserve their ranking without question. If either team is able to remain undefeated, that means they will have beaten a top five team in the country, in addition to No. 12 Rutgers.

Two unbeaten teams should play for the national title instead of a one-loss team versus the winner of the Ohio State-Michigan game, if there are two unbeaten teams.

Remember what happened in 2003 when LSU was the Associated Press champion and Southern California was the BCS champion, making them co-champions?

Another controversy like that can be avoided by doing the right thing and including an undefeated Big East team in the running for the national championship.

Big East leaders’ schedules are too weak to play for national championship.

Kevin Smetanaoraclesmetana@yahoo.comCOLUMNIST

College football is undoubtedly the most exciting sport to watch, but its way of deciding a national champion is flawed.

A team loses one game, and its chance of making it to the national championship game is very slim. The system doesn’t work because an undefeated team with a weak schedule can make it instead of a one-loss team that played several ranked opponents.

With three Big East teams undefeated and ranked – No. 3 West Virginia, No. 5 Louisville and No. 12 Rutgers – there’s likely to be an undefeated team coming out of the conference. But a spot for that team in the national championship game would be undeserved due to the lack of difficulty within the three teams’ schedules.

Several other schools have just one loss – a quality loss – but depending on how the BCS computers work, a Big East team may end up No. 2 when the season is over, putting that team in the national championship game.

No. 4 Florida gave up its only loss to No. 6 Auburn, while No. 7 Texas lost to No. 1 Ohio State.

And the Nov. 18 game between the Buckeyes and No. 2 Michigan could go down as one of the best regular-season games in NCAA history. A loss by either team can’t be frowned upon, but it can keep them out of the national championship game.

The winner of tonight’s game between West Virginia and Louisville will finish the season unbeaten if it can hold off the Scarlet Knights on Nov. 9 or Dec. 2, respectively. But other than the games the three teams play against each other, their schedules are too weak.

West Virginia has already faced its toughest non-conference opponent – a 45-24 blowout against Maryland. Louisville’s only non-conference game worth mentioning was a 31-7 win against Miami – a team that is no longer ranked and on the decline.

The top teams in the Southeastern Conference and Big Ten may only face one or two tough non-conference teams, but their conference schedules are stacked.

There’s nothing the top three teams in the Big East can do about the lack of depth in the conference, but these teams can prove they belong ranked with the best by scheduling a couple respectable non-conference games.

Cincinnati has the toughest schedule in the Big East. Along with facing the three ranked Big East teams, the Bearcats lost to Ohio State and No. 25 Virginia Tech.

If West Virginia and Louisville would have scheduled two ranked non-conference teams, there wouldn’t be a debate over whether an undefeated season should result in a chance to play for the championship in January.

Tonight’s game is the biggest Big East showdown since the conference was restructured in 2005. It’s the closest the Big East can come to a Texas-Oklahoma game or an Ohio State-Michigan game.

West Virginia and Louisville – along with the help of Rutgers – have proven the Big East belongs in the same discussion as the Big Ten, Big 12 and SEC, but until the conference gets better as a whole or until more teams are added, current teams need to schedule more games against ranked non-conference teams.

The BCS has been highly criticized the past few years, and deservingly so. It’s a dead-end argument, but college football needs a playoff system just like the rest of college and professional sports.

The winner of tonight’s game may or may not be as good as Florida, Michigan and Auburn, but either way, a Big East team is likely to end up playing for the national championship.

But regardless of whether that team belongs there, it will be good for the Big East, and it will help the growth of USF’s program.