When the Mountain West decided to invite Boise State to join the conference last summer, it figured it was enhancing its chances to get an automatic qualifying bid for the 2012 and 2013 seasons.
My how things change.
When Boise State agreed to join the league starting this season, Utah, BYU and TCU were still members. Had the league retained all four schools, it would have been well positioned to become a seventh AQ. But Utah decided to join the Pac-12 and BYU went independent for 2011 and TCU will move on to the Big East in 2012.
That leaves the Mountain West a vastly different league than the one that has accrued so many points in the three criteria it must meet to gain AQ status. With the departure of those three schools, the Mountain West has added Nevada, Fresno State and Hawaii to fill in for them -- essentially a better version of the WAC. Boise State and Hawaii have made it into BCS games, so that helps. It also helps that the Mountain West will be able to count everything TCU has done during this current evaluation period.
As it stands now, the Mountain West ranks No. 4 in the average rank of its highest-ranked team, ahead of the Big Ten, ACC and Big East. The MWC is No. 5 in the number and ranking of teams in the Top 25. But it is No. 7 in the average computer ranking of all teams in the conference. The Mountain West must be in the top 6 in this category to qualify. The league has an average rank of 63, well behind the Big East's average rank of 50.
That means schools like New Mexico and UNLV have to vastly improve this season for that number to improve. It appears as though the Mountain West will fall short of meeting the criteria, so it will have to petition to the Presidential Oversight Committee for a waiver. Whether that waiver is granted is anyone's guess.
"I wish it were as simple as saying if we had two 10-win teams, five eight wins teams and a 6-6 team ... but it's not that simple," MWC commissioner Craig Thompson said. "We have performed at a very high level, gone to three straight BCS games, but we probably need to have minimally one if not two Top 25 teams and then we can't afford to have one- or two-win teams."
Is the Mountain West deserving when the league will be a completely different composition than the one that got them so many of its BCS appearances and Top 25 finishes?
"It is a different look, but we also are adding Boise State, 2-0 in BCS bowl games," Thompson said. "Hawaii played in the Sugar Bowl, so we are replacing people with BCS performers."
The fact remains that no non-AQ team has ever played in a BCS national championship game. No one-loss non-AQ team has made it into a BCS game period. Even if the Mountain West does get an AQ bid, there are no guarantees it would get any closer to getting into a national championship game. Conference expansion did little to enhance the MWC cause.