- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Cincinnati quarterback Zach Collaros doesn’t need another reason to help the Bearcats win the Big East.

Conference realignment? Not his problem. Pittsburgh and Syracuse bolting to the ACC in 2014, with Connecticut practically begging to go too? Collaros will be long gone by then. Who’s in, who’s out, who’s next, all of it is met with a shrug of the shoulders.

“Me being a senior, it’s like: Whatever,” Collaros said. “I just don’t like any of the Big East teams. That’s all (the motivation) I need. They can go play wherever they want, as long as UC is all right in the long run.”

The short run is looking pretty good for the Bearcats _ and the rest of the Big East’s “leftovers” _ too.

Who wants to wait three years to shake things up? In the Big East, the makeover is already underway.

South Florida is unbeaten, ranked 16th and surging behind quarterback BJ Daniels. The Bearcats (3-1) can tie last year’s win total with a victory on Saturday against Miami (Ohio). Louisville is showing signs of life under Charlie Strong and freshman quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.

Preseason favorite West Virginia (3-1) can’t run the ball. Pitt (2-2), picked to finish second, is enduring some very visible growing pains as it adapts to coach Todd Graham’s “high octane” offense. Syracuse (3-1) needed a blown extra point call by the referees to beat Toledo in overtime last weekend.

Conference play officially begins Thursday when the Panthers host USF, an opportunity for the Panthers to gain some traction under Graham and a chance for the Bulls to show they’re for real.

Pitt coach Todd Graham downplays talk that Pitt and Syracuse are Public Enemy No. 1 now that the schools are short-timers.

“I really don’t think that’s an issue at all,” he said.

Maybe, but things could get awfully uncomfortable. Two months ago, the Big East was counting the days until burgeoning power TCU came aboard next fall. Now it’s fighting for it’s life after a pair of the conference’s cornerstones opted for the greener _ at least financially _ pastures in the ACC.

Things got ugly when Virginia Tech, Miami and Boston College did the same thing nearly a decade ago. While it’s a little early for the vitriol to start given the amount of lag time, there’s little doubt the five schools who have pledged to hang in there want to showcase they’ll be just fine without the Panthers, Orange and Huskies thanks.

It worked, kind of, last decade.

Miami was forced to share the Big East title with West Virginia during its last year in the conference in 2003. Boston College was relegated to co-champion in a watered-down league in 2004.

Pitt and Syracuse will have some work to do if they want to even get that close in a conference race that looks more open by the week. Then again, maybe no one should be surprised. Five of the league’s eight teams have shared the title since the league added USF, Louisville and Cincinnati in 2005.

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