Mike Tranghese remembers only too well what it was like negotiating the Big East's bowl tie-ins three years ago.
The conference had just lost Miami and Virginia Tech. Boston College was heading into a lame duck season before joining the Hurricanes and the Hokies in the ACC. Louisville, South Florida and Cincinnati, hardly established powers, were getting ready to enter the new-look league.
When Tranghese went to tout the reeling conference to bowl officials, it wasn't exactly an easy sell.
``When we negotiated these contracts, this league had not even played a football game,'' Tranghese said during a teleconference Monday. ``When we negotiated these contracts, we had no leverage, and to be quite candid and blunt, we were lucky to get what we got.''
Tranghese ended up brokering deals with the PapaJohns.com, Gator, Sun, Meineke Car Care, Texas and International bowls, most of which didn't exist when the original Big East began in the early 1990s.
Not that Tranghese cared. The bowls gave the conference much-needed exposure and allowed it to prove itself against decent competition. The Big East went 5-0 in bowl games last year and has won the last two Bowl Championship Series games the conference champion has played in.
Now, with No. 2 West Virginia on the verge of playing for a national title and several other schools emerging as serious contenders, Tranghese would like to up the ante on the Big East's bowl tie-ins when the next BCS contract comes up in a couple of years.
At the top of the list is getting dates against teams from the Big Ten and the SEC, two conferences that are not affiliated with any of the non-BCS bowls the Big East could play in.
``I think if we play those kind of teams everything else will take care of itself,'' Tranghese said. ``The game would have tremendous meaning because of the nature of the two conferences. I've talked to (Big Ten commissioner) Jim (Delany) and (SEC commissioner) Mike Slive about whether we can get it done. That's a big goal of mine.''
Tranghese would also like to partner with one more bowl game so a bowl-eligible team from the conference won't be left out of the mix.
Pittsburgh stayed home last season despite a 6-6 record. Louisville could also be stuck this season if it finishes 6-6 by beating Rutgers on Thursday night.
``We're looking at the creation of new bowls and talking with current partners as a way to perhaps upgrade some things,'' Tranghese said. ``We've had some very low-level, initial conversations with bowls who next time around might be interested in us.''
Not that the coaches are complaining about the current bowl structure. After leading the Bearcats to their first nine-win season in 54 years, coach Brian Kelly is simply happy to be playing during the holidays. Cincinnati will face Southern Mississippi in the Papajohns.com Bowl in Birmingham, Ala., on Dec. 22.
``At the end of the day, we're all playing for a national championship,'' he said. ``After that, a bowl game is just the icing on the cake.''
NO MORE FRIDAYS: In addition to tweaking the bowl system, Tranghese said he'd like to adjust the conference's TV agreement so teams no longer have to play Friday games.
The conference played six Friday games this season. Rutgers and Louisville played on Friday twice, with USF, West Virginia, Syracuse and Connecticut each making one appearance.
Playing on Fridays is not ideal, Tranghese said. But like the situation with bowl tie-ins, the conference didn't have many choices when it negotiated the last TV deal.
``People were telling us our league was lousy, and now I have to negotiate a TV contract,'' Tranghese said. ``We were left with little, little choice. ... If we hadn't played Friday games, we'd not have a TV contract and programs can't sustain that.''
STILL BRAWLING: While the 100th edition of ``The Backyard Brawl'' between Pittsburgh and West Virginia will have national implications, Pittsburgh coach Dave Wannstedt said the game won't be much different than the 99 that came before it.
Long before the nation paid attention, the two schools located about 90 minutes apart judged their season based on how they did against the other.
Wannstedt was an offensive tackle for the Panthers from 1970-73. During his senior season, the Panthers won at Morgantown, beating coach Bobby Bowden and the Mountaineers 35-7. Wannstedt saw the game as a turning point in the program.
``We had had a few wins prior to that, but that was the first win I remember,'' said Wannstedt. ``The next week I think it gave our football team confidence. It was, 'Hey we beat a very good football team on the road and it can be a stepping stone.'''
The Panthers would go on to win the national championship in 1976.
West Virginia coach Rich Rodriguez, a defensive back under coach Don Nehlen in the early 1980s, remembers thinking the Mountaineers had put the Panthers away during the 1982 game after teammate Darryl Talley blocked a punt.
Not exactly.
Pittsburgh quarterback Dan Marino led the Panthers to a comeback victory.
``We thought we got away with it,'' Rodriguez said. ``I'm sure it'll be the same intensity this weekend.''
The Panthers lead the all-time series 59-37-3, but the Mountaineers have won four of the last five and 11 of the last 15 in the series.
HONORS: Cincinnati quarterback Ben Mauk finished his breakout season for the Bearcats by putting together his finest performance of the season in a 52-31 win over Syracuse. He threw for 431 yards and four TDs and ran for another score, earning Big East offensive player of the week honors for the second time this season.
West Virginia linebacker Mortty Ivy was the defensive player of the week after recording a career-high 11 tackles and a forced fumble in a 66-21 win over Connecticut.
West Virginia kicker/punter Pat McAfee was the special teams player of the week for the third time this season after scoring 11 points and averaging 52.7 yards on three punts.
QUICK HITS: South Florida leads the nation in takeaways with 40. Cincinnati is second with 39. ... Louisville quarterback Brian Brohm became the conference's all-time leading passer in a loss at South Florida on Nov. 17. Brohm entered his final game against Rutgers with 9,719 yards in three seasons in the Big East, surpassing the record of 9,565 set by former Miami quarterback Ken Dorsey. ... Louisville kicker Art Carmody can become the all-time leading scorer in Football Bowl Subdivision history with two points against Rutgers. Carmody, the 2006 Lou Groza winner as the nation's top kicker, has 422 career points. Houston kicker Roman Anderson set the record of 423 between 1988-91.

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