Recently, ESPN’s “College Football Live” did a show on the state of Utah, highlighting the teams there. Naturally, the topic came up of Senator Orrin Hatch’s bout with the BCS and the fight to get the Mountain West Conference in on the action. After watching Utah derail the Tide last year, I found myself asking the same question posed to Brock Huard on the show: “Why doesn’t the Mountain West have an automatic bid in the BCS?” Huard’s answer was that the bottom of the conference, namely: “New Mexico, Wyoming, and San Diego State,” needed to play better to make a stronger case for this. This is the same answer I get from many people: the bottom of the conference is too weak. Like every football conference, the bottom-tier Mountain West teams are a bit underwhelming, however, I question their weakness as opposed to some of the weak sisters in BCS Conferences.
Starting with New Mexico, they went 1-2 in their non-conference games, beginning with a loss to hapless Texas A&M at home. A closer look reveals that New Mexico beat themselves 28-22, rather than this being a display of Big 12 dominance. “The Lobos had more first downs than A&M (20-to-16), more total offense (370-to-236) and more rushing yards (216-to-92). But UNM had four turnovers to one for Texas A&M.” (http://www.golobos.com/sports/m-footbl/recaps/090608aag.html) Clearly, New Mexico shot themselves in the foot on this one. Their second non-league game came the following week against the decent University of Arizona. The Lobos prevailed 36-28 over a high-octane Wildcat offense. Tragedy struck them in their final non-conference game against another high-powered offense in Tulsa. Star quarterback Donovan Porterie was knocked out for the season and the disoriented Lobos struggled to finish the game losing 56-14. Had Porterie played all season, New Mexico would’ve easily gone bowling and Brock Huard never would’ve mentioned them as a “bottom” part of the league. Coach Rocky Long stepped down at the end of last season, but look for the Lobos to be back toward the top this year under Mike Locksley.
The Wyoming Cowboys are more difficult to cast in a good light. They were awful last year, finishing 4-8. Their non-conference schedule was one of the few encouraging things about last year’s team, even though it was a cake-walk. Their first non-conference game pitted them against the Ohio Bobcats in Laramie, Wyoming, which was actually fun to watch if you like Toilet Bowls. A fourth quarter comeback gave Wyoming a 21-20 win. Another second-half comeback lifted them over FCS North Dakota State in a 16-13 pillow fight. The Falcons of Bowling Green then drilled Wyoming 45-16, turning out to be their only blemish in non-conference contests. Then, the Cowboys traveled to Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, Tennessee. In front of over 100,000 fans, they surprised all of the Volunteer Faithful with a 13-7 victory. Last year’s Tennessee team could definitely be classified as the worst in the last few decades, yet hailing from the “mighty” SEC, one would think they could still easily put away the ‘Pokes. Wyoming had their way though, and Tennessee Coach Phil Fulmer was shown the door at the close of their season. Wyoming has a long way to go before even talking about going bowling next year. New coach Dave Christensen will have to make some major adjustments.
If it was hard to talk up Wyoming, it’s nearly impossible to sell San Diego State. The Aztecs lost 29-27 to the FCS Cal-Poly Mustangs in their season opener, and ended up only winning twice all season: 45-17 over Idaho, and 42-21 over UNLV. The Aztecs did give Notre Dame a nail-biter in week two, only losing 21-13 in South Bend, but Notre Dame was hardly a team to get excited about last year. San Diego State has a lot of work to do if they want to improve next season. We’ll see what new coach Brady Hoke from Ball State can do for them.
Now that we’ve perused Brock Huard’s bottom three teams in the Mountain West, let’s have a gander at lackluster teams from some BCS Conferences:
SEC- Tennessee looked awful last year, prompting Phil Fulmer’s exit. They lost to hopeless UCLA 27-24, above-mentioned Wyoming, and barely beat Northern Illinois 13-9 in Knoxville. Tennessee finished 5-7. Mississippi State lost to Louisiana Tech 22-14, lost to Auburn in one of the most boring games ever, 3-2, and basically had one of the most boring seasons ever, finishing 4-8. Auburn played a pathetic season also, squeaking by Mississippi State as mentioned above, a 14-12 win over Tennessee, and a loss to perennial conference doormat Vanderbilt 14-13.
Big 10- Michigan had a debacle for a season last year, finishing 3-9 and displaying ugly losses against Notre Dame, Toledo, and Purdue. Purdue also looked terrible, barely beating Michigan and Central Michigan, losing to Notre Dame, and getting drubbed by Northwestern. Indiana looked bad too, losing to Central Michigan and Ball State and finishing 3-9.
Pac 10- Washington didn’t even win a game last year, their best game was a 28-27 loss to BYU. Washington State also looked gross, finishing 2-11 with losses to Hawai’i and Baylor. UCLA was hammered 59-0 by BYU and also lost to Fresno State 36-31 in Los Angeles.
Big 12- Iowa State went 2-10, their only wins coming against Kent State 48-28, and FCS South Dakota State 44-17. They also lost to UNLV 34-31, who really should’ve been one of Brock’s bottom three Mountain West teams. Texas A&M lost to Arkansas State 18-14, barely beat Army 21-17, and proceeded to get pummeled throughout the year. Baylor finished 4-8 with wins at the hands of FCS Northwestern State, and three other “lackluster teams” in Washington State, Texas A&M, and Iowa State. Colorado also looked very bad in many games, finishing 5-7. Hopefully Coach Dan Hawkins will sit his son out at QB next year.
The bottom line is that there really isn’t much difference between “Brock’s Bottom Three” Mountain West teams and bad teams in other BCS Conferences. Every conference has bad teams, so the argument that the Mountain West’s bottom teams need to play better for the conference to gain an automatic BCS bid really doesn’t cut it.