If the season started today, where would you rank the nonautomatic qualifying conferences?
The notion of ranking the conference didn’t serve as more than braggin’ rights until recently when the BCS announced that conference standing in the computer rankings would be a part of the criteria for determining automatic qualifying status.
So where would you put each of the non-AQs?
ESPN.com’s Mark Schlabach ranked each of the FBS conferences, but I decided to weigh in on where I thought the nonautomatic qualifiers should fall if the season were to start today.
No. 6 Mountain West: This is a tough call because the Mountain West isn’t going to start the season as strong as it has in the past. TCU likely will be the only preseason ranked team, but it will probably be ranked higher than any Big East team. However, the Big East will probably be better across the board to begin the season. Utah, BYU and Air Force all have the talent to end up in the rankings at some point this year and the schedules should give those teams -- with undefeated seasons -- another opportunity at a BCS bowl berth.
No. 8 WAC: Boise State is the gem of the WAC and it will open the season ranked in the top three nationally. However, the rest of the conference leaves a little something to be desired. Fresno State, Nevada and Hawaii all have shown flashes of being contenders, but none have been able to sustain it, especially against better competition. However, there’s a little more overall strength in this conference than some of the conferences below it. Idaho should once again be a bowl contender, and Louisiana Tech and Utah State should have better seasons.
No. 9 Conference USA: C-USA and the WAC could be interchangeable if it weren’t for Boise State. Similar to the WAC, C-USA has a lot of strength across the board, but it has yet to have a team really dominate the way Boise State has done in the WAC. Tulsa, East Carolina and Houston have had opportunities to really move the conference into the upper tier, but none of those teams have been able to sustain their momentum once the spotlight shined in their direction. There are good teams, though. In addition to the aforementioned, Central Florida, SMU and Southern Miss all have an opportunity to win the league and UTEP and Marshall could be dangerous.
No. 10 Mid-American Conference: The MAC has made some definite strides in the past few years, but with the loss of some of the more publicized players, it will once again be struggling for national attention. This league has a long way to go to catch up to some of its non-AQ brethren, but there are some talented teams with Northern Illinois, Temple and Ohio. This conference will have many opportunities to prove itself, especially against AQ foes, but there has to be a level of consistency by more than one team before it can overtake any of the conferences ahead of it.
No. 11 Sun Belt: The Sun Belt is celebrating its 10th season and it’s definitely made some major progress during that time. There have been a lot of key upsets and stellar games that have put this conference on the map, but the overall talent level is still lacking. It’s good that the Sun Belt has more bowl opportunities this year because it will be able to showcase some of the teams that have been nationally neglected such as Louisiana-Lafayette, Florida Atlantic and Arkansas State.