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Bleeding Answers

I answered some questions for the Rutgers' blog Bleed Scarlet today, mostly concerning the state of Syracuse football and the Big East.  Turnabout is fair play (that's the saying, right?) so I asked Jon over there some questions as well and his answers are below:

John Marinatto. Your initial thoughts?

The selection of Marinatto is troubling. Since the Big East formed in 1979, all three commissioners - Gavitt, Tranghese, and now Marinatto, were tapped from the Providence College athletic department. The selection of Marinatto signifies acceptance of the status quo, which means chaos and overcrowding on the (very successful) basketball end, and football continuing to be a lower priority.

There were some rumblings over the past few weeks tha the Big East was looking to bring in an outsider like former Big XII commissioner Kevin Weiberg. Even though the selection of Marinatto was announced as unanimous, my suspicion is that the basketball-only schools forced this selection past any resistance. Now the football schools need to start looking towards the future, and strongly consider splitting the conference in two.

If you were named Big East Commish instead, what would be the three most important things you'd want to accomplish?

Marinatto is hitting all the right notes publicly about the fact that the Big East desperately needs to upgrade its pitiful bowl tie-ins. The Big East (and, unfortunately for now, Notre Dame) needs exclusive rights to one New Years Day bowl game for its second place team, and they need to find a respectable second-tier bowl for #3, knocking the Meineke Bowl back down to #4. Essentially, something resembling and equivalent to the old, pre-ACC raid lineup.

The Big East is a crowded 16-team behemoth at this point. Basketball is successful, but the sheer strength and depth of the league might hold down its number of bids in March, in addition to creating a scheduling nightmare. The prime emphasis on basketball has led to football being neglected. The Big East needs to split intwo, with the basketball and football schools agreeing to go their separate ways. Xavier seems like a slam-dunk addition on the basketball side, but finding a suitable candidate for expansion in football is a major challenge. Ideally, I'd want to go after the Boston, Philadelphia, and or Washington/Baltimore markets, to increase the league's cachet with ESPN when the next round of contract negotiations for television rights come up.

Big East football needs a ninth football member. Marinatto is absolutely right about the fact that the C-USA pupu platter holds little to no appeal; promises of Memphis bringing in a brinks truck full of FedEx money and ECU's apparent willingness to submit to embarrassing levels of prostration aside. Any team that the Big East would want to add (Penn State, Notre Dame, Boston College, or Maryland) likely wouldn't want to join. All the BE can do for the most part is sit on their hands, and pray that a mid-major east of the Mississippi catches fire for a multi-year stretch. Then again, they can always hope the teams in other conferences get greedy and decide make a play for an easier path to the BCS, five dollar a gallon gasoline returns and bankrupts BC's travel budget, the Tobacco Road schools get fed up with the new power structure in the ACC, or the NCAA gets some teeth and starts strictly regulating the conferences, something like that. In the meantime, just be happy that Mike Tranghese did manage to ingratiate himself deeply enough into the BCS backroom that the Big East's BCS bid looks secure for the near future. I can only hope that BE football bounces back from a very subpar 2008.

Before this season, Greg Schiano and "coaching rumors" seemed to go hand-in-hand. Thanks to Rutgers' slow start this season, almost all of those rumors have left town and moved over Brian Kelly's way. In a way, were the early season problems a good thing for the long-term viability of the Rutgers football program?

In retrospect, the hagiography of Greg Schiano during the past few years looks like a classic bubble. Even writers that I greatly admire, including those in the national/local media and influential bloggers like Brian Cook of MgoBlog, really seemed to gloss over Schiano's many warts during the past few seasons. Rutgers was so bad under Terry Shea (our version of Greg Robinson), that it's natural to think that anyone who could turn around Rutgers must be an absolute miracle worker, even though RU's history tends more towards mediocrity than sheer terribleness. The bubble has popped, but there's still a good foundation in place. They're not going to have ten plus wins every season, but a year like 2008 is probably the floor.

There always have been some grumblings locally about Schiano; every coach has his own particular strengths and weaknesses. With Greg Schiano, they were glossed over in the novelty of Rutgers crawling up from the bottom, but they were always there. Of course, as a whole, the Rutgers fanbase is eternally grateful to Schiano, and any fans that oppose him are in an extreme minority. Rutgers and Greg Schiano are a good match mutually, and as a whole, he's definitely the right person to lead the football program moving forward.

Yes, it's good to see the rumor mill quiet (even though most RU fans didn't expect him to leave), and another bonus is to to sober up some of the more vocal, bandwagon elements of the fanbase, who annoy and antagonize the loyal diehards even more than they do fans of other teams. One last potential benefit is the hope that Schiano and the coaching staff will learn from the (many) mistakes that they made this year, and make less of them in the future.

As a whole though, 2008 has been a net negative for the program, although not a crippling blow. New Jersey and Rutgers University are, collectively, broke (which predates Wall Street's meltdown), which is to say the least, not the ideal climate for expanding Rutgers Stadium. The athletic department received a lot of negative publicity over the summer due to a spat between the AD, and a member of the board of governors who was leaking information to the press. With Ray Rice and most of the offensive line graduating last season, the core of the 2006 team is mostly gone by now, which has left the football team looking for a new identity this year. I don't know if there is ever a good time to have a bad season, but 2008 was a terrible, terrible climate to struggle in.

The Big East is on track to receive more bowl bids this season than either of the previous two. The conference has taken a lot of hits for it's lack of an upper echelon program and overall parity. But in a way, is there good to come from this?

I know that Syracuse fans have been critical of the way that Rutgers and UConn have set up their OOC schedules in recent years. Both were building from nothing though; they're not established programs like Syracuse that can fall back on decades of football tradition. One thing that I've picked up from years of cupcake wins and mediocre bowl games is that every little bit of momentum does help. "Moral victories" do exist, but it's better to blow out a terrible team then to get humiliated by a USC. At the end of the day, media, fans, recruits, nearly everyone just looks the total of wins and losses and doesn't care about strength of schedule. Mid-tier SEC teams can only complain about SOS so much while teams like West Virginia pull away the Pat Whites of the world on the backs of another ten-win season. Eventually, those recruiting classes should lead to BE teams that are actually deserving of their records, and all of those creampuff wins help teams build confidence and get into a winning mentality, which hopefully leads to Big East teams being more willing to take chances out of conference.

Similarly, even going to lower-tier bowls helps with building momentum (in addition to giving teams a few more weeks of practice reps). The jumbled mess of Big East football in 2008 is far from ideal on any level, but it could be worse. Everyone is going to have to pick themselves up and try again next year.

Last time we spoke I asked what you thought Rutgers' final record would be. You said "6-6, maybe 7-5." Now that we're closing in on the end of the season and the Scarlet Knights are 4-5, what are you going with?

I'll go with 6-6. Rutgers has been trending upward recently, and USF downward, but this Saturday's game makes me far too nervous to predict a win. I expect USF to remember that they're USF sooner or later. That would leave the team's chances of going to a fifth-tier bowl up in the air for reasons that you described. I'd definitely take a bowl, any bowl, over the alternative of not going to one, no matter how middling it may end up being.

Looking back on this season, there are a lot of things that I wish had gone differently, but number one on my list would be the loss at Navy that sent Rutgers to 0-3. It was just one of those games where one team dominates in most of the statistical categories, but makes a handful of critical mistakes that lead to snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. That's the one that got away, and if Rutgers finishes at five of six wins, it's what everyone will be pointing back to and kicking themselves over.

Thanks again to Jon over at Bleed Scarlet.