Newport, R.I. – It’s been 21 years since the Big East finally fielded its football division to pair up with the already hugely successful basketball brethren under then relatively new boss Mike Tranghese.
Dave Gavitt’s successor pulled off a coup in 1990 convincing Miami to join Big East football from day one. It gave the league instant, albeit controversial, credibility with the swashbuckling Hurricane program under Dennis Erickson as games commenced in the 1991 season. “The U” won it all with an Orange Bowl whitewash of Nebraska.
Back then, the league held its football media day in the large dining club and press box at the old Giants Stadium, making it easy for the national and New York media to descend on the proceedings to provide the much desired big time glare.
But once the ACC raided the ‘Canes, Virginia Tech and eventually Boston College between the 2003-04 football seasons, the Big East shifted direction moving media day closer to its longtime Providence home base. It choose to entertain the out-of-town visitors with both a good old fashion New England Clam Bake and spectacular summer weather, amidst the built-in elegant surroundings of a posh city such as Newport.
As Syracuse (and Pittsburgh) participated one final time in the football pre-season proceedings this week at the Big East’s summer home, aka the venerable Hotel Viking, there was no sense of looking back and reflecting on the coming end to a longtime relationship. So much has transpired since last September’s initial shock wave of the ACC move that it’s now anti-climatic.
And besides, coming off a season in which Doug Marrone’s team dropped its last five games, while about to embark on preparations for a season that will have his team face four BCS conference opponents in non-league games before a projected seventh-place in the eight team league, Marrone has plenty to occupy his time. Conference affiliation isn’t high on his list.
“I’ll tell you what. I’ve had this question a hundred times (in the last few months). I have no feelings about that (the last Big East season),” Marrone told those around the Syracuse table.
“I guess it’s because our focus is so much on getting the players ready to compete and getting ready to play a (tough) schedule. We have a lot to prove and have to go out there and get it done.”
Even with fifth-year quarterback Ryan Nassib poised to have a big season, a talented group of receivers for Nassib to throw to, a veteran offensive line, seven returning defensive starters, a sold kicking game (not kickoffs), and three solid classes of recruits on campus, the schedule’s so tough that a sub .500 record might actually hide improvement.
“My responsibility is to coach football, get this team better, get these kids better, Marrone said. “Whoever we play, whatever’s on that schedule, that’s who we’re going to play.”