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Big East Week: Underlying Literary Themes in the Big East

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Growth and Initiation
A person grows only in so far as he or she must face a crisis of confidence or identity. / A young man must go through a special trial or series of trials before maturing.
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No league's confidence or identity was in anywhere near the state of flux that defined the Big East in 2004 and 2005. The conference was like a slowly-developing kid reaching that point in adolescence when childhood friendships start to splinter, who's maybe hung with the cool kids because his dad has an awesome, high-paying job, providing access to the best toys before anyone else. And then, during that most awkward social phase, his dad loses the job. It was great before, when everybody got along, but everybody else is growing up, finding themselves, and our poor little Big East is beginning to be shunned, shut out of the polls, blown out in the BCS. Why do we hang out with you again, dork? Before West Virginia bloodied Georgia's nose in the Sugar Bowl - and really, it had no choice, given the bullying - the entire league was on the border of excommunication to the social Siberia of the mid-major lunch table (in the BCS cafeteria, if you really want to put the screws to this metaphor, but SMQ does not engage in torture).


Seriously, at one point, the Big East was like one more BCS loss from turning goth.
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You'll still hear the occasional insecure taunt, but generally everyone is agape at the speed of the reclamation job and scrambling to distance themselves from the ACC because it's, like, so 1997. The Big East's coming of age has come not only from standing up to the big kids, but in filling out a little: as much as it needed Louisville and West Virginia to show some muscle to fill the power vacuum at the top, it needed that other solid contender (Rutgers, surprisingly) and the "any given Thursday/Friday/Saturday" sniping potential of Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and South Florida, the last two of which won eight and nine games last year, respectively, and each downed one of the league's alpha males. Even the teams at the top are still generally considered in the "up-and-coming" column for the moment, before they bow to suspected juggernauts waiting to emerge from the urban recruiting fields of Tampa and New Jersey. But a crisis of confidence? Identity? No, we like the the Big East because it's its own conference. It does its own thing. The Big East doesn't mindlessly follow all the other conformist conferences. And if Syracuse can drop its zero (see below) and get itself that long-awaited hero - dare to dream - maybe it can even be the BCS prom queen! (sorry).

The Individual In Society
Social influences can only complete inclinations formed by Nature.
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Pat White thinks he's a quarterback. Always has. But certain other programs didn't see the arm of a major college passer. Steve Slaton loved playing running back, even the physicality of it, but his first choices saw a 5-9 track guy and asked, wanna play corner? Their natural inclinations for the backfield were untenable in the societies they longed to enter at LSU and Maryland; White, especially, could never sling the ball around like JaMarcus Russell in Jimbo Fisher's pocket-oriented system.

But in Rich Rodriguez's very specifically-tailored society, the lumbering Russell could never be Pat White, in the same way the undisputed gem of West Virginia's 2005 recruiting class, 235-pound five-star freight train Jason Gwaltney, couldn't match the obscure Slaton's tailor-made acceleration. Rodriguez has had nothing to do with developing his stars' natrual inclinations - Gwaltney might still be on the team if he did, and more experienced Adam Bednarik might have outlasted White for the quarterback job - but where other coaches sought to mold those talents to their own inclinations, it is Rodriguez's unique social influence that so perfectly completes them, on his terms and their own. The sorrow of parting in two years will be reciprocal, but at least it's still that far away.


Look, Syracuse, I know he seems like a nice guy and you probably don't want to hear this, but...just how much do you really know about Greg?
Human Relations
Marriage is a perpetual comedy bound to fail.
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All comedy is relative, of course, though the rest of the conference has no doubt enjoyed the clumsy union of Greg Robinson and Syracuse. It's a cruel pleasure. The Orange are the old friend that's quietly worried you for years, the attractive, educated catch whose puzzling failure in love is discussed with earnest concern over evening pinot with mutual friends, who to everyone's relief finally cut the cord on her last stale, dead-end relationship, only to wind up in an even more destructive affair with a middle-aged bore who seems decent enough but hopelessly incapable of making her happy. At least there were a few good times with the last guy before things started to turn sour, at least he was smart enough to finish the Sunday sodoku with her. At least he offered some stability, for Christ's sake. But this...you don't know what this is, and it's increasingly obvious she really doesn't, either.

But is it your place to say anything? You've been friends long enough to remember the good times, back when you were both so full of life, optimistic, annually competing for conference championships. If any shred of that is still alive, you should probably just be patient - maybe the new guy will surprise you, or else she'll just come to her senses.

An Individual's Relation to the Gods
The gods are indifferent toward human beings and let them run their undetermined course.
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In his 1989 film Crimes and Misdemeanors, Woody Allen masterfully explores the nature of morality and relativism in a random, codeless universe that sends no lightning bolts to dash the wicked. Devoid of cosmic or (if you can get away with it) wordly consequences, he asks, what is right and wrong? It's a question that fascinates Allen, who returned to the subject 15 years later in Match Point (essentially Crimes and Misdemeanors goes to London with a more attractive cast), and that also appeals to Louisville, it would seem, which dares God, the universe and sanctimonious pundits alike to bring retribution against the team for its new weakside linebacker. Who is to say whether Willie Williams' actions in eleven burglary-related arrests from age 14 to 18 were "wrong"? Or in his allegedly hugging a female student without her permission, hitting a man at a bar and setting off three fire extinguishers in his hotel within a five-hour span during an epic recruiting trip to Florida? While on probation? Are you a jury?

All of us would love to keep our noses upstanding and clean, but Willie Williams is a free man, he's eligible, Slaton and White must be tackled, and - to paraphrase Martin Landau's Judah Rosenthal - pristine admission ethics are a luxury Louisville cannot afford.