The Mountain West Conference extended an invitation to Boise State on Friday amid hopes that the addition of the Broncos will tip the scales in favor of the MWC's admission to the BCS.
It seems like a perfect scenario: a conference on the verge of gaining automatic qualification in a BCS bowl for its champion adds a perennial top 25 team that has gone unbeaten twice in the last four seasons, and won a BCS bowl in each of those years.
BCS qualification is now a forgone conclusion, right?
The Mountain West Conference already has its share of top-tier teams. Utah has two BCS victories of its own, the most recent a pounding of Alabama two seasons ago. TCU has also garnered national respect, and BYU has notched four consecutive top 25 finishes. The problem lies in the fact that the rest of the conference is pretty bad.
Air Force can generally be counted on to win more games than it loses, but since the collapse of the Colorado State mini-dynasty, the other five conference members spend each season fighting it out to be the one mediocre team that scrapes its way into a bottom-rung bowl game.
Why is this a problem? Because an unbeaten Mountain West team is still regarded as suspect due to the overall weakness of their schedule. Adding Boise State seriously diminishes the odds of a Mountain West team going undefeated, but does little to improve the top-to-bottom strength of the conference.
Bringing in the Broncos is not a bad thing. It will garner the conference a bit more national attention and a shade more national respect, but it is not enough.
The Mountain West needs a core of teams that consistently win seven or eight games. Teams like San Diego State, New Mexico, Wyoming, and UNLV are unlikely to ever fit that bill, so the conference likely must expand to 12 in order to build a strong core. Houston would be a nice addition, delivering a solid program and a large (by MWC standards) media market.
But who else to add? Nevada and Fresno State have racked up their wins in the WAC, a conference that is widely considered to be even weaker than the MWC. SMU appears to be turning it around under June Jones, but is a long way from a return to respectability. That leaves the Mountain West hoping for the rumored breakup of the Big XII.
Should that happen, the MWC must hope that teams like Kansas and Kansas State fall their way (really, any Big XII team not named Baylor). Should they luck into Missouri also being available, a move to 16 teams might be in order, provided some of the aforementioned teams are also available.
The University of Texas will meet Tuesday to discuss its fate, and by extension the fate of the Big XII. Should that conference choose to stay together, it would not be a surprise to see them snatch TCU from the Mountain West, which would put the MWC right back where it started.
In that scenario, the Pac-10 could conceivably snag Utah or BYU in order to bring its membership up to 12 and permit it to hold a championship game. Depending on how the college football dominoes fall, the Mountain West could soon find itself a major player on the college football scene, or even worse off than it was a few days ago. You can bet commissioner Craig Thompson is holding his breath.