Rutgers vs. Louisville: Big East to showcase its 'best' in pseudo championship game

Mike Ehrmann

Thursday's match-up between Rutgers and Louisville isn't officially the Big East Conference championship game, but both teams will be playing for a BCS bowl berth and a league crown. Sadly, the contest will showcase the worst of the league, not the best.

The Big East Conference has plans to implement a championship game for football starting next season, however, Thursday's regular-season finale between the Rutgers Scarlet Knights and the visiting Louisville Cardinals (7:30 p.m. ET on ESPN) is as close to a league championship game as you can get.

Simply put, the winner will be the conference champion and will earn the league's automatic Bowl Championship Series automatic berth to the Orange Bowl against, more than likely, the Florida St. Seminoles.

It hard to tell if the Big East schedule-makers guessed correctly when setting up this end-of-the season showdown, as the preseason media polls predicted Louisville as the winner and Rutgers to finish in third place behind the South Florida Bulls.

Regardless, Rutgers and Louisville will play for all the marbles at High Point Solutions Stadium Thursday - mathematically the Cincinnati Bearcats and Syracuse Orange are still have a chance but its so one-and-a-million there's no point in talking about it - and for one night the league's best will be put in the spotlight.

It's hard to argue against the pair being the top two teams in the league, as both were steadily ranked in the AP and USA Today Coaches' polls all season long; Louisville arguably has the Big East's top head coach (Charlie Strong), quarterback (Teddy Bridgewater) and offense (ranked No. 1); Rutgers arguably has the Big East's best defense (ranked No. 1).

Both teams basically have the same exact resume: Each defeated a SEC team during non-conference play (Rutgers defeated Arkansas, Louisville downed Kentucky); each defeated Cincinnati during league play, each slipped up last week against inferior opponents (Rutgers lost to Pittsburgh, Louisville fell to visiting UConn); and each basically has the same BCS ranking (Louisville is ranked No. 26 while Rutgers is No. 27).

All-in-all, the Big East "got it right" - a phrase usually saved for when the BCS rankings pits the two best teams in the nation against each other in the National Championship game - when it came to "picking" the two teams to play for the league's crown.

Yet, when the dust settles Thursday night and a champion is crowned there, sadly, will be more negatives to talk about than positives when it comes to the Big East championship game. The biggest storyline will surround conference realignment, which will focus on either Rutgers moving to the Big Ten Conference or Louisville being on the wish list of the Atlantic Coast Conference.

By the time the winner plays for an Orange Bowl crown on Jan. 1, the odds are the Big East representative will be on its way out of the league - so could its third and fourth place teams.

The second big focus on the game will surround how much of a mismatch the Big East winner will be against FSU, which should roll past Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets in the ACC Championship Game.

If Thursday night's game between Rutgers and Louisville is ugly -- and it more than likely will be -- its possible the winner will enter the Orange bowl as a double-digit underdog to the Seminoles.

(Heck, imagine if Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who will enter Thursday's game banged-up, gets hurt worse and can't play in the postseason; or if Rutgers linebacker Khaseem Greene, who suffered a head injury on Saturday, gets dinged up even more and can't go in the Orange Bowl?)

All signs point to a close and possibly a thrilling game Thursday, but there's no doubt Big East football will be exposed.

The "final season" of the Big East conference is going to end the way most expected - with a disappointing dud.

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