For the UConn football faithful, a trip to the Fiesta Bowl announced the arrival of the young program. For many national college football analysts, the Huskies' berth in a BCS bowl announced the decline of the Big East Conference.
The truth is, both might be right.
UConn ended the season with a five-game winning streak to secure the conference title and a slot in the Fiesta Bowl, where the Huskies were overmatched by Oklahoma. And while it was a milestone for the program, it was also an indication of where the conference was in 2010.
"I think of the six automatic [bid] conferences, you'd be hard to argue that the Big East is any better than sixth," ESPN college football analyst Jesse Palmer said. "Certainly when UConn goes to the Fiesta Bowl last year and I believe they lost five games, it's hard for a lot of people to justify that. You look at the Big East record last year out of conference, it was very, very poor."
Overall, Big East teams were 25-16 against nonconference opponents. But against BCS opponents, Big East teams were 3-11.
This year, the conference has one team (West Virginia) in the Associated Press Top 25 preseason poll. With TCU set to join 2012, the Big East will gain some national credibility.
But for now, the Big East isn't getting much respect.
"I think clearly, of the BCS conference, that it's been dead last -- six out of six every year," said Phil Steele, who publishes his College Football Preview magazine and runs the website www.philsteele.com. "It hasn't been all that close when breaking it down. ... But going forward, I think this year will be a big step up. Adding TCU next year is a big plus and I think we're going to start to see the Big East get better."
Steele has been publishing his preview magazine for 17 years and his Cleveland-based staff breaks down every game of the season, using statistical analysis to rate teams and conferences. And while he, like other analysts, say UConn's bowl bid was an indication of how poor the Big East was in 2010, he also sees the flip side.
"For a program like Connecticut to go to a BCS bowl game that's important," Steele said. "I can see Connecticut taking a step up. I'm bullish on the Big East for the future. It's going to be a lot better than it has been the past few years."
ESPN analyst David Pollack also has hope for the future of the conference, but he said the criticism has been justified and UConn is at the center of the critiques.
"UConn getting in [the Fiesta Bowl] caused a little bit of an uproar for people wanting to re-evaluate the BCS and not give an automatic bid to the Big East," Pollack said. "But you've got to remember, a couple of years before that Cincinnati had a great run. Brian Kelly left and it was a little bit of a different situation. I think the Big East can definitely take some steps up."
Palmer said the influx of new coaches -- Dana Holgorsen, Todd Graham and Paul Pasqualoni are entering their first seasons, Butch Jones, Charlie Strong and Skip Holtz are starting their second seasons -- is a good sign for the conference. And as an analyst who broadcasts Big East games, he appreciates the level of play.
"I think it's going in the right direction, certainly with TCU the league immediately gets stronger," Palmer said. "I think one of the things the Big East doesn't get credit for is how tough it is to go through the conference schedule unscathed. It's very, very tough to go through the conference schedule undefeated. That's kind of one of the reasons I enjoy watching Big East football."
But that's a point lost on many college football watchers in other parts of the country. Some have argued that the Big East doesn't deserve an automatic bid to a BCS bowl and there has been media speculation that traditional powers such as West Virginia and Pittsburgh could be ripe for the picking by another conference as realignment heats up.
More likely, the Big East will fortify with TCU and perhaps other programs supplementing the conference. Steele points out that adding TCU could open up Texas as a recruiting area for other Big East schools, which might in the long run be as significant as adding a top-ranked program to the conference.
"It's important for a lot of reasons," Steele said.
And as for UConn's national credibility, Steele says the conference title and Fiesta Bowl bid are nothing but positive steps for the program. He also loves the hiring of Pasqualoni, whose recent NFL experience could impress recruits.
"There's a lot of signs pointing up for Connecticut," Steele said. "Considering where Connecticut was, being able to play in a bowl like that, it is big. The main thing is to get folks around the nation talking about you. When you're in one of the BCS bowl games, everybody around the country talked about Connecticut football. Before, maybe they didn't know Connecticut played football. They do now."Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times