Which College Football Conferences Will Automatically Go to the BCS in 2012?
There are three metrics by which the BCS evaluates every FBS conference to determine whether or not it will have an automatic bid to the BCS bowls.
First off, the BCS has stated that no current conference will lose its AQ (Automatic Qualifying) BCS bid before the 2013 season. Secondly, the BCS has limited the number of AQ conferences to no more than seven and no less than five.
The three metrics evaluated over the final BCS standings are:
1) Points for number of teams in the Top 25 BCS standings.
2) Highest ranking team in the final BCS standings.
3) Average computer rankings of every conference team.
To automatically qualify, a conference must score 50 percent of the value of the top team in Metric 1 and finish in the top six among all conferences in both Metrics 2 and 3.
A conference can petition for inclusion if they finish seventh in either Metric 2 or 3, while also finishing at least fifth in the other and maintaining a 33 percent value in the first metric.
Now, we'll break down each of the three metrics.
Points for BCS Top 25 Finishes
Finishing 25th in the BCS is not the same as finishing first. Here is the breakdown of points awarded:
Top six finish: 4 points
Top 12 finish: 3 points
Top 18 finish: 2 points
Top 25 finish: 1 point
Additionally, small conferences with less than 10 members will be given a plus-25 percent bonus, while conferences with 10 or 11 members will be given a plus-12.5 percent bonus.
Conferences will be evaluated on their membership for the 2012 season. This means Fresno State and Nevada will count toward the MWC, while TCU will count toward the Big East.
Here are the rankings following this week's release of the final BCS standings:
Pct (Raw) Pts - Conference
100% (36) 36.0 - SEC
90.6% (29) 32.6 - Big 12
86.1% (31) 31.0 - Big Ten
83.3% (24) 30.0 - Big East
77.8% (28) 28.0 - Pac-10
41.7% (12) 15.0 - Mountain West
41.7% (15) 15.0 - ACC
As we can see, both the Mountain West and ACC are behind in automatic qualification. The Mountain West is still eligible for petitioning to get in. The ACC is not in danger of losing its bid until the next bowl cycle, and even then it should keep it.
The Top Ranked Teams
Our next metric is the highest rank for a team in each conference. TCU, Utah and BYU were the only Mountain West teams finishing in the Top 25, so the addition of Boise State really saves their chances.
Here are the average top finishes from 2008-2010:
Rank (Val) Conference
No. 1 (1.3) SEC
No. 2 (3.3) Big 12
No. 3 (4.7) Pac-10
No. 4 (5.7) Big East
No. 5 (7.0) Big Ten
No. 6 (8.3) Mountain West
No. 7 (12) ACC
Once again, the Mountain West and ACC are at the bottom of the rankings. The Mountain West remains within striking distance of the Big Ten if they have a team ranked two spots ahead of the Big Ten champion.
Finishing eight spots ahead of the Big East champion is another feasible goal, although both scenarios likely require a team other than TCU to go undefeated (Boise State?).
The importance of that No. 5 ranking is that it gives the Mountain West a chance to petition for inclusion if they fall to No. 7 in our final metric.
The Computer Rankings
In our final metric, if all AQ spots were up for bid, it would be the ACC fighting for a No. 5 ranking while the Mountain West would be fighting for a No. 6 ranking. In either case, the conference would need to appeal for an AQ spot because of their below 50 percent finish in our first metric.
First we will look at the Computer Rankings from only the 2010 season:
Rank (Avg.) Conference
No. 1 (32.7) Big 12
No. 2 (39.7) Pac-10
No. 3 (46.1) SEC
No. 4 (48.4) Big Ten
No. 5 (51.0) Mountain West
No. 6 (55.2) ACC
No. 7 (58.6) Big East
It is not too much of a surprise to see the Big East languishing at the bottom, and this is even after adding TCU's No. 3 finish.
For as much as Nevada, Air Force and Fresno State accomplished for the Mountain West this year, it may be too little, too late as we look at the following three-year averages:
Rank (Avg.) Conference
No. 1 (41.1) SEC
No. 2 (41.2) Big 12
No. 3 (45.3) ACC
No. 4 (45.5) Big East
No. 5 (45.9) Pac-10
No. 6 (48.6) Big Ten
No. 7 (61.2) Mountain West
The ACC is apparently a deep conference, despite the low finishes of its champions, and the Big East has jumped back into the fray with the addition of TCU.
Yes, the Mountain West has a near insurmountable task if it wants to pass any of the Big Six conferences. The movement of three of the top four mid-majors (Utah, TCU and BYU) widened the gulf between the haves and have-nots.
With this gulf, the Mountain West must have a team ranked above the Big Ten (by two spots) or Big East (by eight) to even have a chance at an AQ bid.
Hope for the Mountain West?
The idea of a merger with Conference USA has been discussed.
The basic idea is that the two conferences would rework their football divisions so that the weaker half of each is in a separate football conference, while the stronger halves earn a BCS bid.
One of the two problems with this is that without more Top 25 finishes (Central Florida's being a slight help), the conference(s) would still need to petition for an AQ spot. There is no guarantee that any merger would help their situation.
The second problem is that their Computer Average would still be only seventh best. Unless both conferences place three teams in the Top 25, they are still going to be ineligible for automatic inclusion.
In conjunction with the C-USA maneuver, bringing back BYU would boost both the Top 25 finishes and computer average. The catch with this move would be that the AQ conference would have only 10 teams (any more would dilute the computer average too much) and the Western Division would be much stronger than the Eastern Division.
Would BYU be willing to return to the Mountain West if they could be in a AQ conference? Annual games against Air Force, Nevada, Boise State and Fresno State would help the Cougars' strength of schedule.
Outline of Possible Merger
Here is perhaps the only opportunity these teams have of securing an AQ bid without going through the appeal process.
Upper Conference: West Division
Boise State, BYU, Nevada, Air Force, Fresno St.
Upper Conference: East Division
Tulsa, Houston, Southern Miss, Central Florida, East Carolina
Teams play all of the other teams in their division, and on the last week of the regular season, teams from each division will be paired No. 1 East @ No. 1 West, No. 2 East @ No. 2 West... The division hosting the final games will be known beforehand for increased ticket sales.
These final games will be the only cross-divisional games, as a minimum of five such games are needed to be able to call two divisions part of the same conference.
In addition to these five games, each team will play four opponents from its home conference in the Lower Division (ex. Nevada vs. UNLV). This totals nine games played within the 24-team league.
Lower Conference: West Division
New Mexico, Wyoming, Colo St., UNLV, SDSU, Hawaii, UTEP
Lower Conference: East Division
Marshall, UAB, Memphis, Tulane, Rice, SMU, La Tech
These seven-team divisions will operate like the MAC East currently does. Three teams will play the full round robin division, while the other four will play all but one division foe.
On top of these games, five teams will play against the other half of the conference (East vs. West) to fulfill the mandated minimum, while each team's other three (and for one team, only two) games will be played against teams in the Upper Division from their home conference.
This tallies a nice, snug nine-game schedule for all teams involved.
The winners of the Lower Divisions will face off in a true conference championship game. If ever enough teams are strong enough to buoy the upper division, the upper and lower halves will maintain a balance of 12 teams apiece, each with its own championship game.