So Big East Media Day was yesterday. Getting beyond the nonsense of lobsterfest and the standard goofing around with Ray Graham interviewing his brother Khaseem Greene of Rutgers, there was lots to digest here.
So let's get to it.
The day started out with Pitt being ranked fifth in the preseason poll. For the life of me, I can't understand how Cincinnati is picked higher than the Panthers. They lost a ton on offense and maybe I'll eat these words later, but I don't see them as a top team in the conference. Other than that, I'm not bellyaching too much. The fact is that the conference is wide open right now and as hard as it is to decide who the best team is, it's even harder to slot all eight teams.
Part of the day was then spent by associate commissioner Nick Carparelli explaining why the Big East is back and better than ever:
“I will say with absolute certainty that the Big East will continue to be the most competitive league in the country,” Carparelli said. “Since the announcement of the new postseason structure of college football, we’ve seen a number of stories in both print and in television that have been critical of the Big East and pessimistic about our future but I will remind you that we are barley three months in to a process that won’t be in effect until .
“So it is premature to evaluate our position for the 2014 postseason today when many of the details of the format have not yet been decided so I would ask that you wait until the process is complete, take a look at it and evaluate where we are – I know you will find that we are in great shape.”
I've actually argued similar points before the ACC's new Orange Bowl deal. And while things look bleak for the conference, the Big East is not dead. If the conference can roll out a very strong contender, they'll find their way into a major bowl game. But beyond that, let's be honest - they're really not sitting in a great position. Any new media deal is up in the air right now and almost surely won't be what the other five major conferences have in terms of payouts. Maybe even worse, there's still a great deal of uncertainty around the conference with schools like UConn constantly being rumored in expansion talks.
In other words - trying to paint a rosy picture in this instance is akin to smearing Loreal on a pig.
Okay, so the theme for Pitt is this whole lame duck thing. Steve Pederson, who didn't make the trip, has talked about this before. Most recently it came up when Pitt announced they were leaving for the ACC a year early. Pederson says they're trying to avoid that mindset:
Head coach Paul Chryst (and Chryst was apparently a popular guy, by the way) gave pretty much the answer you'd expect when asked about Pitt's new conference:
"We certainly have enjoyed our time in the Big East Conference, it has been an excellent home for us for a lot of years," Pederson said. "And I think it is important for us to make sure we put all of our energy and all of our focus into this last year and make sure that we do everything we can to make it our absolute best year ever."
“Your world is coaching and recruiting and making sure the guys who are there are growing as people,” Chryst said Tuesday at Big East Media Day. “I think that would apply no matter what conference you’re in.”
And on the field, Pitt's chances of winning the conference will rely heavily on Ray Graham. He also talked about going out with a bang and, for what it's worth, says the knee is fine, though he'll wear a brace for a while. Then there was this little nugget:
Graham will open camp with a non-contact jersey, and then the training staff will take it from there to see how he does.
To be honest that's not the biggest deal in the world. It's not even all that unexpected. But my expectations for Graham are tempered a bit more than they were a few months ago. Then there's this:
It is easy to forget that when the season opens, Graham will only be 11 months removed from injuring his knee. Many players take more than a year to return to form.
None of this is to suggest that Graham won't be an integral part of Pitt's offense or even that he won't be able to start the season. But a quick return to his dominance of 2011 isn't guaranteed by a long shot. He also says he'll see how healthy he is once he takes the field (um, yeah - not all that promising). Athlon wonders if he can get back to 100% and that is a fair question.