Conference Realignment and the Mountain West Conference: What Could Have Been?

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Conference Realignment and the Mountain West Conference: What Could Have Been?
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College football was swept by massive conference realignment this year.

Nothing has changed yet, but by 2013, the conferences will be much different than they are now. 

The Big Ten will have 12 teams, adding Nebraska. The Big 12 will have 10, losing Nebraska and Colorado. The Pac-10 will become the Pac-12, adding Colorado and Utah.

These are traditional power conferences, blessed with the privilege of automatic qualification.

You being on this site more than likely signifies that you understand what this means. If you don't, allow me to explain.

There are six automatic qualifying conferences: The ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, Big East, Pac-10 and the SEC.

The champions of these conferences automatically get a bid to a BCS bowl.

Of course, the teams ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in the final BCS rankings play for the BCS national championship. Aside from the championship, there are four BCS bowl games: The Rose Bowl, Fiesta Bowl, Sugar Bowl and Orange Bowl.

"At-large" teams fill the voids.

For instance, this year, SEC champion Auburn plays Pac-10 champion Oregon for the championship. Big Ten champ Wisconsin plays undefeated TCU in the Rose Bowl. TCU plays in the Mountain West, a non-AQ conference. They are ranked No. 3, which gives them an at-large bid.

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Ohio State and Arkansas, the teams in the Sugar Bowl, are also at-large. So is Stanford, which plays ACC champion Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl. 

The other bowl, the Fiesta, drew a lot of controversy: It pins Big 12 champion Oklahoma against Big East champion UConn. To receive an at-large bid, you must be ranked in the top 12 (as a non-AQ conference champion, such as TCU in the MWC) or ranked in the top 16 and higher than at least one BCS conference champion.

UConn is ranked No. 25 in the AP poll, but is not ranked in the BCS poll, sitting at 8-4.

It brought on a lot of debates. One of the biggest: Is Big East really good enough to be an automatic qualifier? And is there a conference more deserving?

The UConn Huskies are the Big East champions; they have an 8-4 record. They lost to Michigan, Temple, Rutgers and Louisville. Their key wins were over preseason Big East favorite Pittsburgh, who finished with a disappointing 7-5 record and against the only Big East team that was ranked in 9-3 West Virginia by a field goal in overtime.

A few years ago, West Virginia just barely missed out on a national championship. Last year, Brian Kelly led Cincinnati to a Sugar Bowl against Florida, but left for Notre Dame before the game.

The Big East has seen some teams near the top since West Virginia's glorified 2005 season. Louisville was really good under Bobby Petrino and Cincinnati under Brian Kelly. 

Does the Big East deserve to be an AQ conference?

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The Big East has known success. 

But this year, 9-3 was the best record. Cincinnati went 4-8. Louisville was 6-6. It's safe to say that the Big East had a down year.

And UConn is the team that will line up against Oklahoma. Me personally, I hope they show up. Maybe they can pull a Boise and get the upset. 

But it still brings to mind: What conference would be more deserving of automatic qualification?

Until recently, I said to everyone: Look at the Mountain West.

The Mountain West is a non-AQ conference that seems to always field one outstanding team. They are home to the original BCS Buster: Utah. In 2004, Utah was undefeated.

Since then, Utah, TCU and BYU have repeatedly been at the top. And it hasn't been against measly in-conference foes. The teams in the Mountain West have been solid lately.

The MWC had four teams with at least eight wins. The Big East only had two. (In the Big East's defense, they had one more bowl-eligible team than the MWC.) As the Big East got weaker, the Mountain West got stronger. And it seemingly was about to get even stronger.

The MWC raided the WAC for all of their best teams.

Think about it: Next year, the team that has played BCS Buster since 2006, Boise State, will be in the MWC. Nevada, a good offensive team and the only one to beat Boise State in the past two seasons, will join them. Fresno State and Hawai'i, two solid teams (the latter being better) will also be in the MWC. 

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Could a Mountain West Conference with TCU, BYU, Utah, AND Boise have earned AQ rights?

Pretty good looking conference, right? You've got your studs in TCU, Boise State and Utah. You have your teams that could break away any season in BYU and Nevada, and there are teams on the rise as well.

San Diego State went 8-4; that's impressive. It's almost worthy of AQ consideration. 

But it won't happen.

I was so excited about this conference, then I started seeing the headlines. 

Utah will move to the PAC-12. BYU is going Independent. TCU is moving to the Big East.

That makes a strong case for the Big East and will potentially bring it some respectability back.

The Mountain West suffers from this: They lose three of their best teams; Nevada and Hawai'i could be sleepers for years to come and it puts Boise in a more respectable conference, but it takes away the possibility for qualification. 

I thought maybe the MWC could replace the Big East, but I don't think they can now. 

The possibility of having AQ status revoked is still a possibility. What do you think?

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