One of the popular rumors going around is the possibility of Boise St joining the Mountain West in an effort to secure an automatic BCS bid for the league (see this link for more details). As it stands now, the Mountain West seems to be in pretty good shape in two of the three criteria for getting an automatic bid (see this link for more details on the process, and this link for a list of the qualification rules), but are seriously lacking in the second criteria, which is the overall regular season computer average for all teams in a conference. Obviously, adding Boise would help, but the league could well be substantially short of where it needs to be in that area.
There are some substantial issues with using the computers to rate teams outside of the top 25 as part of the process, not least that some of them simply don't seem to be designed for that task, and some spit out results that are on the face absurd, such as (from Billingsley):
MTSU was better than Clemson and way better than Tennessee
Troy was better than ECU
Ohio was better than Washington
Virginia and Indiana were basically a push (the 40-point ass-kicking begs to differ)
Rice was better than Syracuse
Nevertheless, it's reasonable to want to look at overall league quality as an auto-bid criterion, and I'm pretty sure they don't have any better tools to examine that sort of thing with, so it is what it is. I'm sure that plenty of BCS defenders look at the prong 2 result as confirmation that the Mountain West "sucks", and I'm sure that plenty of Mountain West supporters look at the result as BS. What I'm going to do is look at that result and see if it make sense, and explain what I think is going on.
To do that, let's do a thought experiment. Let's assume that the Mountain West is in fact the equal of a "typical" BCS league across the board, look at their 2009 regular season non-conference performances (bowls don't count under the rules, so we'll ignore them), and see how the league's results stack up against that assumption.
I'll be factoring in margin and where games were played, though the BCS computers don't factor in either, so there is certainly some noise between this list and what the computers might generate, were they ever to be set up for something like this. For ease of comparison, I'll break down each result into five tiers: substantially better, somewhat better, about equal, somewhat worse, and substantially worse. Obviously assigning each result into a tier is somewhat arbitrary, and I'm sure that you'll disagree with a couple here and there, but I think the conclusion is pretty clear from this list:
Colorado St (0-8 MWC) won at home against Nevada (7-1 WAC) 35-20, and at Colorado (2-6 B12) 23-17.
TCU (8-0) won at Clemson (6-2 ACC) in a close game, 14-10. More often than not, you'd expect a win from an undefeated BCS league champ in that sort of game, but there's always a reasonable shot of an upset.
UNLV (3-5 MWC) lost a close game at home to Oregon St (6-3 P10) 23-21. On the one hand, there's normally a somewhat reasonable upset chance, but on the other hand, there are plenty of blowout examples in matchups like those.
New Mexico (1-7 MWC) lost at Texas Tech (5-3 B12) 48-28. That's not a game normally expected to be competitive, and at least it wasn't a total ass-kicking.
TCU (8-0 MWC) blasted SMU (6-2 CUSA) 39-14 at home.
TCU (8-0 MWC) won comfortably at Virginia (2-6 ACC) 30-14.
BYU (7-1 MWC) squeaked by essentially at Oklahoma (5-3 B12), 14-13. If you want to bump this into the "slightly better tier" you can probably justify it.
BYU (7-1 MWC) crushed Tulane on the road (1-7 CUSA) 54-3. Slightly more dominating than you might expect, but any 7-1 BCS team should win that game by 30+ points.
Utah (6-2 MWC) won comfortably at home against Louisville (1-6 BE) 30-14, and lost a competitive game at Oregon (8-1 P10) 31-24.
Air Force (5-3 MWC) blasted Army (5-7 Indep) at home 35-7.
San Diego St (2-6 MWC) won fairly comfortably at home against NM St (1-7 WAC) 34-17. As a point of comparison, UTEP (3-5 CUSA) won even more comfortably at NM St.
BYU (7-1 MWC) won comfortably at home against Utah St (3-5 WAC) 35-17. Normally you'd expect an even wider margin, though it's not the sort of result that's really important in judging a team or a league.
Utah (6-2 MWC) won a somewhat close game at San Jose St (1-7 WAC) 24-14. Normally you'd expect an even wider margin, though it's not the sort of result that's really important in judging a team or a league.
Air Force (5-3 MWC) lost in overtime at Navy (9-4 Indep) 16-13. That's a game a 5-3 BCS league team should win, though an upset would be a reasonable possibility.
Wyoming (4-4 MWC) got blasted at home by Texas (8-0 B12) 41-10. Normally you'd expect a closer final score, though it's not like you'd expect a 4-4 team to have a shot in that game either.
UNLV (3-5 MWC) squeaked by at Hawaii (3-5 WAC) 34-33. You'd expect a more comfortable win from a 3-5 BCS league team, though Hawaii's generally strong home-field advantage dampens the expectation a bit.
San Diego St (2-6 MWC) lost at UCLA (3-6 P10) 33-14. You'd normally expect that to be closer, though it's also worth noting that UCLA won at Tennessee (4-4 SEC) and at home against Kansas St (4-4 B12).
Colorado St (0-8 MWC) lost a close game at Idaho (4-4 WAC). Normally you'd expect that to be around a tossup.
BYU (7-1 MWC) got obliterated by Florida St (4-4 ACC) 54-28. Bad enough that they lost a matchup that a 7-1 BCS team should cruise in, but they weren't even competitive, which was a huge black mark for the league.
Air Force (5-3 MWC) lost at Minnesota (3-5 B10) 20-13. That one gets even worse given that the Big Ten was the weakest of the six BCS leagues.
Wyoming (4-4 MWC) barely won at FAU (5-3 Sun Belt) 30-28. No way should a mid-level BCS league team not cruise against a mid-level Sun Belt team, especially since said mid-level Sun Belt team also got crushed by South Carolina (3-5 SEC) and UAB (4-4 CUSA).
Wyoming (4-4 MWC) got crushed and shut out at Colorado (2-6 B12) 24-0. That's supposed to be a win; instead it was an ugly loss.
UNLV (3-5 MWC) got crushed at Nevada (7-1 WAC) 63-28. As a point of comparison, Nevada lost at home to Missouri (4-4 B12) 31-21 and got demolished at Notre Dame (6-6 Indep) 35-0, and that's not even counting their bowl game faceplant.
San Diego St (2-6 MWC) lost at Idaho (4-4 WAC) 34-20. As a point of comparison, Washington (4-5 P10) cruised against Idaho 42-23.
New Mexico (1-7 MWC) got blasted at Texas A&M (3-5 B12) 41-6. That's supposed to at least be a reasonably competitive game.
New Mexico (1-7 MWC) lost close at home to NM St (1-7 WAC) 20-17. There's simply zero excuse for that one.
New Mexico (1-7 MWC) got crushed at home by Tulsa (3-5 CUSA) 44-10. There's simply zero excuse for that one.
So how do you interpret the list? First of all, it's painfully obvious that in aggregate, the Mountain West simply isn't as good as a typical BCS league (and that's without a single game against the best BCS league by far in 2009, the SEC). A lot of it has to do with the quality of play from the middle and lower end teams, which simply have to bring up their level of play for there ever to be any kind of reasonable comparison here (things were better in 2008, but if I were to repeat the list for that year, it still wouldn't look so good). Wyoming and New Mexico were the obvious anchors around the neck of the league, and the league can't afford that many bad non-conference results from ANY of its members going forward. That said, you can't forget about BYU's faceplant against Florida St and Air Force's losses to Navy and Minnesota. It's not all from the lower end of the league; the better teams have to bring up their level of play as well for the league to deserve more respect than the computers are giving it.
Certainly, Boise joining the league would help its overall rating, since the Broncos would substantially bring up the average. That said, Boise might not be enough to push the league over the top in this area. For the Mountain West to get an automatic BCS berth, they'll have to bring up the level of play across the league. Boise certainly makes it easier to achieve what the league needs, but unless the Mountain West can qualify for a waiver (and they very well might), it's not enough to simply add them.
Mr Pac-10's 2009 Blog
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