With a second consecutive season of sending their undefeated conference champion to the BCS, the Mountain West is earning more and more respect nationally.
I think they are close to wrestling an AQ from the Big East, but these two things would put them over the top:
1. Cincinnati leaves the Big East to join the Big Ten
It has been reported that the Big Ten will be looking to expand to 12 teams in the near future, and right now Cincinnati looks to be a perfect fit. They would create an in-state rivalry with Ohio State, they have recorded three straight 10-win seasons and two consecutive Big East Championships, and they are a program that despite losing the architect of their success are clearly on the rise. With Cincinnati, you could split the Big Ten into Western and Eastern divisions that would look like this:
Western Division: Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Northwestern, Illinois, Purdue
Eastern Division: Indiana, Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State, Penn State, Cincy
How would this help the MWC? With this shake up among two BCS Conferences, the Big East would be left without the Bearcats, who despite coach Brian Kelly, are clearly a program on the rise. The Big East would have seven teams, and would have to add an eighth by finding a program from the C-USA, MAC, or Sun Belt. The Mountain West would turn in to an attractive alternative for an AQ to the Big East.
The Mountain West would feature the current nine teams they have currently: TCU, Utah, BYU. Air Force, Wyoming, UNLV, San Diego State, New Mexico State, and Colorado State.
Compare that with who the Big East would have: West Virgina, Pitt, Rutgers, UConn, South Florida, Louisville, Syracuse, and an eighth picked from the C-USA, MAC, or Sun Belt.
No matter who they get to replace Cincy in this scenario, they would be losing the rising star of their conference. Since Rich Rod left, WV hasn’t been the same. Louisville has also fallen off the face of the national picture, Pitt has continually failed to make good on high expectations, and Rutgers and South Florida have flirted with the Top 25 at the beginning of the season but then falter down the stretch and finish as a seven or eight win team. The Big East would probably have better depth top to bottom, however in the BCS it matters what the top is doing more so than the bottom.
2. Convince Boise State to ditch the WAC and join the Mountain West
This would be a slam dunk for the MWC. As it stands right now, Boise State is the only team keeping the WAC somewhat respectable. As long as the Broncos are in the WAC, they will never make the NC game no matter how many times they go undefeated in the regular season. With the addition of Boise, the MWC would feature TCU, Utah, Boise State, and BYU at the top of the league.
These four teams have been 10 win teams for the past three to five years, and the Mountain West would have all of the BCS Busters who have won a BCS game heading into the current bowl season. With that 10-team lineup and the two non-aq schools who have made multiple BCS Bowls (Utah and Boise State), there would be a group of teams at the top that could compete with the best of many of the BCS conferences.
Neither of these scenarios are surefire answers to get the MWC the AQ bid that I believe they deserve, but either would greatly help in the conference’s quest toward BCS riches