The Mountain West Conference has been a player in the college football news landscape during the summer of 2010. With expansion crisis sending shock-waves throughout college football the Mountain West was not left unchanged. With Nebraska and Colorado bolting the Big 12 for supposed greener pastures and new Pac-10 commissioner Larry Scott looking to ravage the remnants of a once proud conference, the unthinkable looked possible for the Mountain West: The "little conference that could" might become an automatic-qualifier to the BCS. With the top portion of the Big 12 headed to the Pac-10 and SEC, the MWC looked to be the greatest beneficiary. Schools like Kansas, Kansas State, and Missouri were possible acquisitions. With the addition of perennial Top 10 program Boise State, pundits were beginning to predict that the "fly-over" conference might be ready for prime-time.
Then, it all ended.
Texas reminded the rest of the members of the Big 12 that what they say, goes. The Longhorns used the system and the pervasive expansion environment to its, and only its, benefit. The Big 12 was salvaged at great financial expense to the other members of the Conference who seemed willing to sell their souls to the Burnt Orange in exchange for the status quo. As non-automatic qualifiers understand all too well, being a member of the proper country club is the only rational choice in Division 1 football.
To add insult to injury the Pac-10 raided the top tier of the MWC and brought the Utes of Utah to the West Coast Show. Not only did the Utes rightly abandon the MWC for a significant financial benefit, the timing could not have been worse for the MWC. With the BCS continuing to use a four-year period to decide who enters its remarkable ponzi scheme, the last year of the current review coming at the end of 2011, the defection of the Utes and their two BCS victories cost the MWC a chance at an auto-bid. The addition of Boise and the departure of Utah resulted in a compound negative for the conference as a whole.
Left in the green-tinted dust of the Running Utes are perennial Top-25 squads Boise State, BYU, and TCU. These programs, with an immense amount of national respect, were left to deal with the likes of San Diego State, Wyoming, and New Mexico as opponents to defeat on their way to a 'possible' BCS berth. The Utes, on the other hand, have graduated to the likes of USC, Oregon, and UCLA as opponents on their schedule to a possible BCS National Championship berth. A tough pill to swallow for those left behind.
Boise State was only an announced member of the Mountain West for six days before Utah bounced for the left coast. The Broncos have compiled the most victories in Division I football during the last decade, feasting on the woeful competition of the WAC (sans Fresno). Just fifteen years ago the Broncos weren't even members of the highest division of collegiate football! What an amazing transformation. To be honest, the Broncos are thrilled about the conference upgrade and realized that an invitation to the Pac-10 was a pipe dream.
BYU has a 35+ year history of college football excellence. With a rabid national fan-base the Cougars have been well represented for the past three and a half decades. The Brigham Young football program built a football dynasty in the days of the old Western Athletic Conference and that success did not cease when the Cougars moved to the Mountain West Conference in 1999.
BYU was rumored to be heading to the Big 12 during the mid-1990's only to be snuffed out by a white-haired politician residing in the Texas Governor's mansion. Since that day, Cougar fans have longed for a graduation of competition. Now, circa 2010, the Cougars heated and despised rival from the north, the University of Utah, is moving on up. And the Cougars are left wondering what might have been. There are certainly other factors that prevented BYU from being invited to either the Pac-10 or the Big 12 but they are so redundant that we refuse to discuss them.
Then there is the TCU Horned Frogs. Fresh off a BCS berth in 2009 this program hasn't seen this level of success since the days of Sammy Baugh. Head Coach Gary Patterson has transformed the forgotten men from Ft. Worth into a legitimate national program. The hard-nosed coach has placed the TCU program in the Top 25 consistently over the past decade and seems to have a handle on recruiting the Lonestar State.
Back in the days of the Southwest Conference, the Texas Christian program was actually a member of the Bowl Coalition and Bowl Alliance, proteges to the Bowl Championship Series. But following the formation of the Big 12, and the invitation that never came, the Horned Frogs were left with a result of betrayal. TCU's country club membership was revoked. Jumping from three conferences since the mid-1990's, the Horned Frogs have been college football's vagabond. The Mountain West, it seems, was just another stepping stone to a reuniting with their Southwest brethren in the Big 12. But the invitation didn't come again and Big 12 commish Don Bebee placed the knife even further in the back of the Frogs by proclaiming that any future expansion would not come from the Lonestar State. What once was lost may never be found. Now that is a difficult diagnosis to sleep on.
And what of the rest of the Conference? Let us just say they are happy to be along for the ride. Football drives revenue and these programs haven't exactly had the success on the field as of late to render a place at the bargaining table. The Baylors and Iowa States of the world have confidants in the likes of Colorado State, New Mexico, San Diego State, and UNLV. Yes, Air Force was excluded on purpose.
So what does the future hold for the Mountain West?
See Part 2 Tomorrow!!