Alan Dell

Commentary: Big East needs UCF

What can you do for me?

It’s a question the Big East Conference has been tossing at UCF too long.

The Knights are awfully close to throwing it back in the face of America’s worst BCS football conference.

Preposterous as it might sound, UCF may earn itself a better deal not far down the road if the Big East doesn’t get off its egotistical perch.

This was not a good year for Big East football. Connecticut and West Virginia, arguably its two best teams, lost bowl games, and it will not have a team in the top 25 when the final rankings come out.

The league’s coaching carousel is spinning out of control with the few successful Big East coaches jumping ship as if qualifying for a BCS bowl came with a ticket out of town and the keys to a penthouse.

None of this is good for USF.

The Bulls are being mentioned in many circles as a Big East favorite next season with rising star Skip Holtz getting a chance to put in his first full season.

But if the blue chip recruits see Holtz using the league as a stepping stone, they are not going to be so willing to throw their lot into the USF program.

UCF has already solidified a spot in the BCS top 25 with its bowl win over SEC foe Georgia, which will vault the Knights up a few more notches in the season-ending polls.

The Knights are not just upgrading talent. They have made more than $200 million in facility improvements over the past couple years and are among the top 25 TV markets.

The only thing Big East football can brag about is TCU, and the Horned Frogs don’t join the conference until the 2012-13 school year.

It would be a mistake for league officials to sit on the laurels of a yet-to-be member.

Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano is the longest standing Big East football coach with 10 years. Bill Stewart has been West Virginia’s head coach for three years, but has been told next season will be his last.

Big East football needs stability if it wants to try and recruit with the best. High school players don’t want to come to a place that head coaches use as a launching pad to greener pastures.

Gary Patterson has been at TCU for 10 years, and George O’Leary has been the UCF coach for seven.

O’Leary has been named Conference USA Coach of the Year three times and has worked tirelessly to elevate the program.

UCF can prove to be a valuable member, and unlike TCU it already brings basketball credibility to what is perceived to be the country’s best college basketball conference.

The Knights play in an $85 million basketball facility, are currently undefeated and ranked 18th in the country with victories over Florida, Miami and USF. And in sophomore Marcus Jordan, they have the son of the greatest player in basketball history.

Former USF head football coach Jim Leavitt didn’t want to play UCF after a four game series despite winning each game. But he is gone and times have changed.

It’s time for a reality check.

Based on what happened this past season, it’s hard for USF to claim it has the better program. In the grand scheme of things, it’s irrelevant and would have little bearing on recruiting, which has seemed to be the Bulls’ biggest worry.

A different college football landscape has been created in the state with new coaches at Florida State and USF last season and now at Florida and Miami. Everything appears up for grabs with less than 30 days until National Signing Day on Feb. 3.

UCF has verbal commitments from eight Rivals.Com three-star recruits and has signed a four-star defensive end from a junior college. USF has 14 verbal commitments from three-star athletes while FSU has seven four-star commitments and two with five stars.

Florida has seven four-star recruits, but with new head coach Will Muschamp putting together a star studded coaching staff led by offensive coordinator Charlie Weis, look for the Gators to steal a few recruits, particularly on the offensive side, and jettison up the recruit rankings.

Holtz has a lot work to do if he wants to improve on this year’s 8-5 team, which was built on Leavitt’s players. The new coach doesn’t have much of a problem selling himself; he just needs to sell his stability.

Need to make room for UCF?

If the Big East is getting too unwieldy with too many members, boot the non football playing schools out and welcome the Knights. It will pay off in the long run.

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