After the BCS served the MWC yet another rejection last week, it is now time for the MWC to move on. Forget Orrin Hatch, slick attorneys, long-winded PowerPoints and frequent flyer's miles to Washington, and get your helmets back on. It's 2009 now and time to go back to the field to make your case.
What exactly is the Mountain West looking for? Attention? Respect? Inclusion? BCS money? A shot at the National Championship? Whatever it is they are seeking, it will be theirs for the taking in 2009.
For the first time ever, nothing is off the table for this non-BCS conference. All they have to do is win. Earn it on the field. It's that simple.
One of the biggest challenges the MWC struggles to overcome with their current argument is the lack of injustice. After all, they received a BCS berth and the lucre that comes with it. What are they missing? A National Championship?
Let us be honest.
Utah had a terrific 2008 season. But Utah did what great defensive teams typically do: win often but win close. Winning close has never been popular with the pollsters who make up two-thirds of the BCS.
As a result, even at 12-0 with several impressive victories, Utah never came close to cracking the top five, let alone the top two.
Was Utah robbed? Not really. Clearly the voters undervalued Utah throughout the season but truthfully the Utes really had not done anything to markedly distinguish themselves from the other top teams. That said it is hard to make a case that Utah was unfairly kept from the National Championship Game.
It was not until Utah mercilessly disposed of a Crimson Tide team that went virtually untouched in the SEC regular season, that Utah rightfully joined the crowded I-Got-Left-Out-Of-The-National-Title throng.
The point is however, that at least Utah had the chance to showcase their program on the big stage against a national powerhouse. While the MWC may cry foul they should also be sure to thank the BCS for at least giving them a shot.
That never happened before in the BCS. And while Utah may feel slighted, they now have been to two BCS bowl games in the last five years. What other Western programs not-named USC can say that?
So with little to complain about in the first place, 2009 gets even better. The way 2009 is shaping up, the MWC will have the chance to get everything they have been fighting for—without having to beg or sue for it.
The 2009 schedule provides the ideal balance of a challenging but palpable schedule for the formidable triumvirate of Utah, TCU and BYU. Challenging enough that there are no limits.
The opportunity is there for the MWC to get whatever it desires—a legitimate shot at the Crystal, the potential for a one-loss BCS berth, or even the remote possibility of two BCS berths. They will just have to play for it.
That's not much to complain about. In fact, is it really all that different from the Pac-10 or some of the other BCS conferences? Honestly?
To remove the BCS glass ceiling, at least for 2009, two critical things must take place within the MWC, both of which occurred in 2008.
First, the top three teams Utah, BYU and TCU cannot lose to any other MWC team. Second, the mid- and bottom-tier MWC schools must have at least a few marquee victories against their counterparts in other conferences.
Last year, UNLV beat Iowa St. (Big 12), Wyoming beat Tennessee (SEC) and New Mexico beat Arizona (Pac-10). A repeat of lower-tier upsets will help the computer rankings and overall national perception.
If those two items can be secured, the following September games should provide enough buzz and BCS credibility to keep all possibilities on the table for the MWC champion.
BYU vs. Oklahoma (Dallas, TX)
On September 5th, BYU kicks off the season versus powerhouse Oklahoma on Jerry Jones' turf in Dallas. While few expect the Cougars to beat the reigning runner-up, a win would do wonders for the Cougar program.
A top ten ranking would almost certainly follow and, with upcoming games against Florida State, TCU and Utah, an undefeated BYU should have a strong enough schedule and big enough wins to finish ahead of any two-loss and most one-loss teams in the final BCS rankings.
Even if Brigham Young faltered to a Utah or a TCU on the way, the top ten ranking and prestige of downing the Sooners could prove strong enough to jettison an undefeated Utah or TCU to the National Title scene or a one-loss BYU to the BCS even if Utah or TCU had already taken a berth.
A loss to Oklahoma would be expected and would not necessarily dampen the Cougar's hopes for a BCS berth. A tight score might even be considered a success in the court of pollsters opinions and likely set the Cougars up for a BCS berth should they run the table with only that one loss.
Two weeks later, the Cougars host ACC division favorite Florida State, who figures to be a top twenty team by kickoff time in Provo. BYU returns a ton of talent from an explosive offense and can be lethal at home. The Seminoles return eight starters from last year's imposing defense.
The implications of this game will be very compelling and provide a telling contrast on where the top tier MWC stacks up compared to the cream of the ACC.
TCU at Virginia, TCU at Clemson
Meanwhile, the Horned Frogs and sack-happy Jerry Hughes will hit the road to ACC country where they will open 2009 in Charlottesville, followed by a trip to South Carolina to face the Clemson Tigers. It's likely the Frogs will be favored in both games.
If the MWC can show some level of superiority over a BCS conference it would get increasingly difficult to deny their cause. Especially when BCS Chairman John Swofford hails from the ACC.
Utah at Oregon
Also this fall, Utah travels to Eugene to face the explosive Oregon Duck offense. At Autzen nonetheless. A win will be Utah's seventh consecutive over a BCS school and likely vault the Utes to the top ten (depending on how well the Ducks fared in Boise two weeks prior).
A Utah win over a Pac-10 favorite could keep the MWC's recent dominance over the Pac-10 fresh in mind.
Three games versus the ACC. Two on the road. A neutral setting against a top three team and a road trip to Autzen. It won't be easy, but if the MWC wants inclusion beyond 2009 these are the types of games they need to prove they can win.
Could you imagine if the MWC was 3-0 versus the ACC? Would Mr. John Swofford, BCS Chairman and ACC Commissioner, still have grounds to question the MWC's worthiness?
Would college football nation be more sympathetic if a 12-1 (2-0 vs. the ACC) TCU got shut out of the BCS while a 9-4 ACC team got in? Or what if a 12-1 or an 11-2 BYU was shut out while a 9-4 Florida State they beat cashed in on the BCS jackpot?
Simply by winning, the MWC can help create the injustice and outcry needed to legitimize their quest for a seat at the table.
But the MWC has to demonstrate superiority not just parity. A 5-0 or a 4-1 record in the five games described above will help make that case. Anything less will not be enough to disrupt the status-quo.
A successful 2009 could do wonders for the MWC. The opportunities are there. The MWC just has to take advantage of them.
(Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)