A Strong case for relevance

Louisville's sustained national relevance could depend on whether it keeps Charlie Strong. Joe Robbins/Getty Images

The Big East was in bad shape heading into the season. You had two schools -- West Virginia and TCU -- pay millions of dollars to leave for stronger conferences, and two more with plans to do the same next season in Syracuse and Pittsburgh.

In addition, the folks who run the playoff system that begins in 2014 told the Big East that it would no longer enjoy its preferred status alongside the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC. While those power conferences arranged contracts with the major bowls affiliated with the new playoff system (the Rose Bowl, Champions Bowl, Sugar Bowl, Fiesta Bowl and Orange Bowl), the Big East was left out and pushed to the holiday kiddie table alongside other less powerful conferences (i.e., MAC, WAC, C-USA, Mountain West and Sun Belt).

The conference had been demoted and, as a result, it was fair to question if Big East teams would remain relevant in college football and whether the conference could remain viable. That's why nobody blinked when not a single Big East team was included in the preseason top 20.

However, the one thing the conference needed in order to give it a shot at relevance has happened. The conference needed a team to go on an undefeated run and emerge as the league's flag-bearer. And the Louisville Cardinals, currently ranked No. 9 in the BCS standings, may now hold the key to the future of the Big East, both on and off the field.

It begs the question: Are the Cardinals good enough to stay at the top of the polls, both this season and going forward? And will the team (and its coach) stick around the league long enough for it to make a difference?

Let's take a look.