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November 28, 2008

Mailbag: Is White the Big East's best?

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The Big East has existed as a college football conference just since 1991, but in that time it has had great change and great players.

Teams have come and gone. In fact, half of the original eight members are gone. Miami, Boston College and Virginia Tech moved to the ACC and Temple now is in the MAC. But through all the changes - which included USF, Connecticut, Cincinnati and Louisville joining the league - the Big East has boasted outstanding individual players.

In fact, there have been 56 Big East players selected in the first round of the NFL draft. So, selecting the conference's best player of all time isn't an easy task. Where would you start?

Well, this week's mailbag shows some would start with a player still playing in the Big East.

Big East's best?

Kris in Hollidaysburg, Pa.: I believe we have a definitive answer to the question of who is the all-time best player in the Big East. With five touchdowns and 200 rushing yards against Louisville last week, West Virginia quarterback Pat White demonstrated why he stands alone as the best player in Big East history. In one swift stroke, White broke Donovan McNabb's Big East career touchdown record and Brad Smith's NCAA quarterback rushing yards record. White has it all, and I think it will be a long time before we see someone else step onto a college football field with his combination of athleticism, intelligence and ability to win. What are your thoughts on where White stacks up all-time? I have him as one of the greatest players to never win the Heisman along with Vince Young and Peyton Manning.

I do agree that Pat White is a special player and one of the greatest in the short history of the Big East. But is he the best? I'm not sure.

If the argument was whether he's the greatest quarterback I might be inclined to agree, although that's not a sure thing, either. Maybe some forget about McNabb's exploits, and don't forget that Michael Vick played at Virginia Tech when the Hokies were in the Big East.

You also have to ask if the "best player" tag is based on a career or a season or two.

Back in 2003, my Heisman Trophy vote went to Pittsburgh receiver Larry Fitzgerald. Five years later, I still believe he was the most outstanding player in college football that year.

And when considering the best players from the Big East you have to remember all those great Miami defensive players, such as Ray Lewis, Sean Taylor and Ed Reed, who was a two-time first-team All-American. Dwight Freeney played at Syracuse, so you have to consider him, too.

Therefore, I'd stop short of proclaiming White as the best ever in the Big East. He's certainly among the best, which should be sufficient. If I had to pick one player as the greatest, I'd probably go with Vick.

'Bama's bowl bid

Chris in Troy, Ala.: Assuming that Alabama finishes the regular season undefeated and loses to Florida in the SEC Championship Game, what bowl game does Alabama get into? I honestly think that it hurts more to lose later in the season compared to losing early on.

No doubt late-season losses are more costly. Just ask Penn State, which has one loss but is out of the national championship discussion after losing to Iowa on Nov. 8. Had that one-point loss occurred in September, the Nittany Lions might be considered a national championship contender.

If undefeated Alabama loses in the SEC Championship Game, the Tide will be out of national championship contention. In that case, Alabama will head to New Orleans for the Sugar Bowl. There, the Tide likely would play unbeaten Utah.

In that same scenario, if SEC champion Florida were to jump to No. 1 in the BCS standings, the Sugar Bowl likely would match Alabama and USC.

USC vs. SEC?

Henry in California: USC can't get to the national championship game, so why not match the strongest SEC team vs. USC anywhere?

Why not, indeed?

As mentioned above, it could happen if Florida gets to No. 1 in the BCS standings. And if Alabama remains unbeaten and wins the SEC championship, Florida easily could play USC in the Sugar Bowl.

Those games probably would be as compelling as any matchup the championship game could offer.

ACC talk

John in Tallahassee, Fla.: Going into the last week of the season, 11 of the 12 ACC teams have a chance to become bowl eligible. The one that has no chance to become eligible − Duke − is 1-5 in the ACC, but managed to beat Vanderbilt, which is .500 in the SEC. Yet all we hear about is the ACC's mediocrity. If the SEC had 11 of its teams with the possibility of becoming bowl eligible with one game to go, wouldn't we be hearing the usual nonsense about how deep the SEC is and how any team can lose to any other SEC team because they're all so tough, etc.?

The criticism aimed at the ACC is not because 11 teams still have shots at becoming bowl eligible, but rather that none deserve to play in a prestigious bowl.

There are 34 bowl games, so it stands to reason that some conferences would have several teams eligible for bowl games, especially if there are no elite teams.

The SEC has Florida and Alabama, which are both legitimate national championship contenders. If the SEC had no teams in the national championship discussion and was struggling overall, it would be an even bigger story than the ACC.

The whole country would be buzzing about how far the SEC has fallen, not how great it is because of a surplus of OK teams.

The ACC has had its moments. Still, no ACC team ranks higher than 20th in the BCS standings. And in the past three weeks, nine of 10 ACC teams ranked in the AP Top 25 lost.

Worthy rivalry

Steven in Round Rock, Texas: Your article on rivalries left off one of the biggest Missouri-Kansas. I don't think it gets the notoriety, but it has to be the nastiest.

I won't argue that's an intense, nasty rivalry. But bitterness alone does not make for a "great" rivalry. In my opinion, a "great rivalry" needs to have national relevance most of the time.

Until last season, when both teams were in the national championship picture, the Kansas-Missouri game was insignificant for anyone not emotionally involved with the schools.

Every game counts?

Sean in Valdosta, Ga.: I have heard all the talk about a playoff with the top eight teams. I don't think that is fair. What if I went to UTEP and we went undefeated. I don't think we would make it into the top eight even if we were the only undefeated team in the country. I think there should be a playoff between all the conference champions to make it fair to all. Guys that go to teams like UTEP can't aspire to win an NCAA championship. All they can win is a conference championship. If I went to UTEP, I could win a basketball championship as long as I won the NCAA tournament, but I can't win a football championship. Please help me understand.

I can't understand it either, Sean.

You deserve credit for using UTEP as an example. Of course, UTEP then known as Texas Western won the 1966 NCAA basketball tournament. Under the football rules, UTEP wouldn't have had the opportunity to even play for the title.

This season, almost everybody says there's no way Utah could win the football national championship. Indeed, I think Florida, Alabama, Oklahoma, Texas, USC and Penn State would beat the Utes by multiple touchdowns. But I've been wrong before. In fact, I thought there was no way Boise State would beat Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl two years ago, but the Broncos won.

It's doubtful an undefeated team from the WAC, MAC or Mountain West would win a national championship, but how do we know unless they played? Shouldn't they at least get a chance?

Well, they won't under the current system, which features let's all repeat the company line here the most important regular season in sports, where every game matters.

Even that line isn't true. If every game matters and the regular season is so important, why are teams such as Utah, Boise State and Ball State omitted from national championship contention before any games are played? This season, each is unbeaten, but none has a shot at the championship game.

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.
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