Long have been the comparisons between the Big East and the Mountain West. Ever since Utah beat Pittsburgh in the Fiesta Bowl following the ACC's raid, there has long been a shadow of doubt over the Big East's inclusion within the BCS.
That could change next year.
First off, we must say that the Big East will not be losing their automatic BCS bid at any time before the 2014 bowl games..
But, the Mountain West is competing against the Big East for the possibility of earning an automatic bid of their own for the 2012 and 2013 seasons.
The main qualification category that the MWC has been lagging in for earning an automatic bid has been the computer polls. At the end of this past season, before teams began switching conferences, the standings looked like this:
No. 1 (38.7) SEC
No. 2 (40.6) ACC
No. 3 (43.1) Big East
No. 4 (46.6) Big 12
No. 5 (48.7) Pac-10
No. 6 (50.7) Big Ten
No. 7 (59.2) MWC
The conference needed to crack the Top 6 in this standing in order to guarantee themselves an automatic BCS bid. However, the conference had only a few good teams amongst a bunch of mediocre teams.
Two of the league's biggest teams, Utah and BYU, left the conference high and dry. Boise State was added to the conference, balancing out Utah's performance over 2008 and 2009.
BYU's loss, however, could not be made up for by the subsequent addition of Nevada and Fresno State, two teams with lower computer rankings and no Top 25 finishes.
In addition, the two conferences that the Mountain West was chasing closest, the Pac-10 and Big Ten, added solid teams in Utah and Nebraska and both boosted their computer averages well out of reach.
The conference still holds out hope for petitioning the BCS Oversight Committee for inclusion if they finish in the Top 7 in average computer rankings and Top 5 in average highest ranking team.
Now for 2010
Now that we have settled into conference play this season, relative conference ranks are locked into place for the most part. Should we still write off the Mountain West?
Of surprise, the Big East is playing horrible and Air Force and Nevada have joined Boise State and TCU in the Top 25.
The Mountain West only needs to pass one BCS conference across the 2008-2011 computer averages. Could they pass the Big East?
So far this season they have done so. The 10 teams on slate to begin the 2012 season in the Mountain West are averaging a rank of (53.2) in the computers. The Big East? just (67.6).
Now, this is only one season. With BYU struggling this year, it appears that the Mountain West is slipping from their phenomenal 2008 and 2009 seasons.
Au contraire, this year the Mountain West is in the best situation they've been in since they nearly overtook the Pac-10 in the 2008 season. The reason? The improvement of some conference teams relative to BYU and the higher than anticipated rankings of Nevada and Air Force. This set of 10 teams has not put together a higher computer average in either 2008 or 2009.
A New BCS Conference?
The margins are slim. The three year averages for the Mountain West and Big East look so:
No. 6 (51.5) Big East
No. 7 (58.6) Mountain West
Even if we double the extraordinary results of this year into 2011, the final year of the evaluation, the Mountain West is still a hair behind.
No. 6 (55.3) Big East
No. 7 (57.3) Mountain West
Further expansion would not work. The often suggested Houston Cougars have a three-year average worse than the Big East. The same could be said about Fresno State.
Hoping for a deeper Big East descent may work. Could they play worse than the MAC? But most likely the Big East will bounce back next year.
Perhaps the most viable option is to wait two more years and then re-evaluate again. Who knows, another Boise State type team may emerge from the WAC or Conference USA.
It has been discussed before; but, a merging of the Mountain West and Conference USA into two football conferences (a BCS conference and a feeder league) would work. The MWC and CUSA would maintain separate identities in all other sports.
Taking the top six teams from each conference, here is the progression of their average:
As can be seen, these 12 teams are all up-and-coming. Every team's ranking is improving by more than nine spots on average every year.
The merger solution simply calls for teams to maintain eight traditional conference games, add one cross-conference (MWC vs. CUSA) game and stage a championship.
Here are the top six teams from each conference that will be playing in the BCS football conference with their three-year averages:
(5.6) Boise State
(38.9) Air Force
(56.8) Fresno State
(42.3) East Carolina
(68.7) Southern Miss
(71.3) Central Florida
In addition to five division games and one cross-division game, teams will play three games against their traditional conference mates in the feeder football conference. Every two years teams will be re-evaluated and switched between the two conferences as needed to maintain a BCS presence.
This amalgam of teams is currently stronger than the Big East and would thus earn an automatic bid for the 2012, 2013, and possibly further seasons.
Expect the commissioners to consider this move following the final BCS standings and computer polls in December. 20 months would be a short turnaround for adding a MWC-CUSA game to every team's schedule, but for the sake of $20 million annual BCS dollars, replacing a conference game for the first two years would be worth it.