You can imagine what WAC commissioner Karl Benson must be feeling these days.
On the one hand, he has got to feel pride, seeing Boise State and Nevada in the Top 25 -- the first time the WAC has had two teams ranked since Sept. 28, 2008. On the other, he has to feel incredible disappointment, knowing those two schools and Fresno State are ditching his league for the Mountain West.
Benson refused comment when asked about the dichotomy earlier this week, saying only, “I’m not going to go down that path.”
Strange as it may sound, what is good for the WAC is good for the Mountain West this season.
If Nevada keeps winning, the Wolf Pack help out Boise State in the BCS computer rankings and perhaps in national perception. It also would help fill the void that BYU is leaving in the Mountain West’s quest to become an automatic qualifying conference. The same could be said of Fresno State, which is off to a 2-1 start but reeling after a loss at Ole Miss.
The quest for AQ status is three-pronged. Results from the 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011 seasons will be evaluated to determine whether the Mountain West qualifies. Here is the evaluation process, for those who need a refresher:
1. The ranking of the highest-ranked team in the final BCS standings each year.
2. The final regular-season rankings of all conference teams in the computer rankings the BCS uses.
3. The number of teams in the Top 25 of the final BCS standings each year, with adjustments to account for the size of league membership.
The Mountain West would have to finish among the top six conferences in No. 1 and No. 2 and have a ranking equal to or greater than 50 percent of the conference with the highest ranking in criteria No. 3. If the Mountain West fails to meet these standards, it can apply to the Presidential Oversight Committee for an exemption.
The calculations will be made based on conference membership on Dec. 4, 2011. That is why it is so critical for the Mountain West to get Fresno State and Nevada on board for the start of the 2011 season. They are currently embroiled in a legal fight with the WAC, which maintains those schools must remain through 2011-12. Boise State will begin play in the Mountain West in 2011.
As it stands now, the Mountain West would fall short of AQ status.
If Fresno State and Nevada are able to join for the 2011 season, both are going to have to turn it up to bolster the chances of the Mountain West. Utah leaving for the Pac-10 is negated with the addition of Boise State, which has been ranked in the top 10 of the BCS standings in 2008 and 2009. TCU remains.
The problem here is replacing BYU, which is going independent. The Cougars finished No. 16 in the final BCS standings in 2008 and No. 14 in 2009. Neither Fresno State nor Nevada finished in the Top 25. That is why their performance this season is so critical.
Nevada must keep winning, for the WAC and the MWC. Look at what happened in 2008. Fresno State was ranked No. 22 after a 3-1 start, but dropped from the rankings after a 32-29 overtime loss to Hawaii. The Bulldogs ended up losing four more games that season and finished 7-6.
Nevada is now in at No. 25, its first ranking ever in the coaches’ poll. Fresno State coach Pat Hill, familiar with the expectations that come with rankings, said, “I think it’s good, but you have to keep winning to stay there,” Hill said. “We live in such a day of hype and everything else you have to keep playing.”
Nevada coach Chris Ault seems to understand the ramifications.
“I do think it’s a great motivator for our football team to get recognized and understand you’re playing that well that people are appreciating it,” Ault said. “The bottom line is you still have to line up. We’ve got a long ways to go.”