The Big East finally approved their football division alignment this week and the main headline for UConn? More of the same. Next year UConn will play in the same division as all but one of the teams (Temple) currently in the league (with the obvious exception of Syracuse and Pitt).
While other mixed divisional alignments have been floated for if/when the Big East expands to 14 teams -- probably 2015 -- including one with a strange "other-division dance partner format" which would have made Rutgers a yearly rivalry despite being in the other division, the league opted for a some-what logical geographical setup for now. UConn will be in the "East Division" (which really makes sense being that the Huskies are the furthest East school) along with Cincinnati, South Florida, Louisville, Rugters and new-comer Central Florida. Central Florida, along with other division-mates, will play the Huskies every season. The Big East loves to dump on Temple, and they appear to have done it again, placing the Owls in the West Division with new Big East members Boise State, Houston, Memphis, San Diego State and SMU. Get those frequent flier miles ready, Temple fans. Temple is like that kid who gets picked last in every pick up game. They have to know it now.
UConn will play three cross-division games a year against West teams, likely meaning a match-up every other year with each team and a home game against each other-division team every four years. (Keep in mind, 2 years down the road Navy and Mystery Team X will also join the league - if you are thinking about "Blue Turf" for some reason -- it's going to change again).
Also, this sets up a Big East Championship game for the division winners. This year, for example, we'd be looking at Rutgers vs. Boise State -- not a bad game. Keep in mind that while conference title games have the potential to give the league a boost, they can also be a bit of fools' gold. Had Alabama not lost to LSU and went into their title game undefeated - they'd be a shoe-in to be in the BCS title game with a win, ahead of Kansas State and Notre Dame, which don't have conference title games - not that a Big East team would be a realistic goal for the league this year. But a league title game is just another tough opponent and another chance to lose to a tough opponent - had UConn been in a game vs. Boise State two years ago, we'd have to cover our eyes a bit in that Big East Championship game.
Seeing the Big East in division form gives some finality to what's happening to the league. Neither Syracuse or Pittsburgh are top 50 RPI teams -- not a huge loss there -- both still need at least a win to be bowl eligible. Of the 12 teams in next year's Big East, five are in the RPI top 30. Current Big East members Rutgers (17), Cincinnati (26) and Louisville (28) are bowl eligible. Boise State is currently 25th in the RPI. Central Florida is 30. Currently Florida State and Clemson are the only ACC top 30 teams (although both are higher than Rutgers, the top Big East team). Only four Big 10 teams are currently in the RPI top 30. San Diego State is 34th in RPI and at 8-3 is bowl eligible. The short version is this: the Big East will be better next year than it is this year -- and definitely better than the ACC (sorry Pitt and Syracuse), especially after the top two teams. Although, the Big East may already be better this year -- the ACC's third ranked RPI team is Miami at 53.
We also have a better idea of who the Huskies will face next year: Towson (don't laugh, they were up on LSU in the second quarter this year ), Michigan, Maryland and at Buffalo. In league we could speculate: Rutgers, South Florida and Louisville at home, at Central Florida and at Cincinnati and (randomly assigning this) at Boise State, home for Memphis and at Temple. (Pulled those at random, but I think the Big East will try to keep Temple's non-division opponents somewhat local until the league grows by two teams and Temple can go back to the geographical division where they should be - so count on a Temple/Rutgers game). Now figuring who will coach and who will replace all the starters lost at defense and our tight end, that's a whole other story. If the speculated schedule is near what the league produces (non-league stuff pretty locked in at this point), then it will be the best home schedule UConn has ever had.