This excerpt came from an article about the Mountain West Conference by Stewart Mandel at Sports Illustrated, and it got me thinking.
"It's pretty clear at this point that the Mountain West has three very strong, nationally competitive programs in TCU, BYU and Utah. The one thing it's yet to showcase is depth. The perceived drop-off after those "big three" is far greater than that of any AQ conference. The league is nearing the halfway point of a four-year BCS review that measures its average number of Top 25 teams, the average annual ranking of each league's champ and average computer ranking of all eight teams. Right now it's looking pretty good in the first two departments but the third remains suspect."
The MWC has 9 teams with the Big 3 (BYU, TCU, Utah) dominating the past 5 years. The argument against the MWC getting AQ (automatic qualifier) status for our champion in a BCS bowl is that our Bottom 6 teams (Air Force, UNLV, Colorado State, San Diego St, New Mexico, Wyoming) are not the same caliber of competition that you see at the middle and bottom of the six AQ conferences. The key stat used in the 4-year review that Steward Mandel mentioned is the average computer ranking of all MWC schools at the end of the season. I believe the Bottom 6 are unjustly ranked because they are unjustly counted as non-AQ schools and thus perceived as weaker.
The current computer rankings for the Bottom 6 probably only give them in-conference credit if they beat the MWC Big 3. If the MWC had AQ status, more in-conference wins would inherently be given more credit. If Florida beats Kentucky, it’s a solid SEC win. If BYU beats a stout Wyoming team, it doesn’t count as much. Until the MWC gets AQ status, a better way to measure "the perceived drop-off after those ‘big three’" that Mandel writes about is to look at the MWC Bottom 6 and their records against their low- to mid-level BCS conference counterparts. So, I decided to look at the MWC Bottom 6 and their records against the six AQ conferences (Pac-10, SEC, ACC, Big East, Big 12, and Big Ten) over the past five seasons (2005-2009). I chose the past 5 seasons because TCU didn’t join until 2005, so I wanted to look at the complete history of the MWC as presently constituted. Here is what I came up with.
- From 2005-2009 the MWC Bottom 6 were 12-30 against BCS schools.
- The 12 wins included the following teams: @ Notre Dame, Washington, @Arizona St, @Iowa St, @Colorado (plus a home win vs. Colorado), @Arizona (plus a home win vs Arizona), @Missouri, @Tennessee, Virginia, @ Ole Miss.
- Of the 30 losses, only 23 came against low- to mid-level BCS teams (teams not in the conference title hunt).
- AND GET THIS! Of the 30 losses, 13 came by 8 points or less! 5 of those 13 came by 3 points or less!
- Five out of the MWC Bottom 6 have pretty solid records against the BCS schools. San Diego St is the only team without a win. Here’s breakdown: AF 2-4 (Wins: @Notre Dame, Washington); UNLV 2-3 (Wins: @Arizona St, @Iowa St); CSU 2-6 (Wins: @Colorado, Colorado); NM 3-4 (Wins: Arizona, @Arizona, @Missouri); WY 3-5 (@Tennessee, Virgina, @Ole Miss) *An interesting side-note: if you add Wyoming’s 2004, they are 5-6 with two additional wins against Mississippi and UCLA); SDSU 0-8.
- Now compare those records in #5 with the Bottom 6 conference records in the Pac-10 this year: USC 5-4, Cal 5-4, Washington 4-5, UCLA 3-6, ASU 2-7, WSU 0-9.
What this shows is that the MWC Bottom 6 are not as pathetic as the national media makes them out to be. If anything, what a comparison of #5 and #6 above shows us is that the MWC needs to develop its "middle of the pack" group some. The top of the MWC and the bottom of the MWC have comparable BCS competition records. What we lack is a stronger middle group (hence the argument to expand by bringing in teams like Boise State). Other than SDSU and their 0-8 record, the 12-22 MWC Bottom 6 record is similar to their BCS lower-level counterparts against BCS competition.
The MWC Bottom 6 have a solid record over the past 5 years against BCS schools and some big wins on the road. The most telling statistic is that 13 of the 30 losses came by 8 points or less. That is huge! This tells us that even though the losses outweigh the wins, half of the losses came down to essentially one touchdown.
Out of curiosity, I also took the MWC Big 3 and broke down their records against the six AQ BCS leagues over the past 5 years. Here are the results:
The MWC Big 3 are 25-14 over the past 5 years against BCS schools.
BYU 7-8 (Wins: Oklahoma, Oregon St, @Washington, UCLA, Arizona, UCLA, Oregon)
Utah 9-4 (Wins: Louisville, Cal, @Michigan, Oregon St, Alabama, UCLA, @Louisville, Arizona, Georgia Tech)
TCU 9-2 (Wins: @Virginia, @Clemson, Stanford, @Baylor, @Stanford, @Baylor, Texas Tech, @Oklahoma, Iowa St)
In the past two years (2008-2009), the Big 3 are 12-4; over the past three years (2007-2009), the Big 3 are 18-7.
Marquee wins include the following: Utah over SEC #2 Alabama in Sugar Bowl; BYU over #3 Oklahoma in Dallas; Utah @ Michigan; TCU @ Oklahoma; TCU over Texas Tech, BYU over #18 Oregon St; TCU @ Clemson.
This tells us that the MWC Big 3 are getting it done and justifies the national media attention on the MWC. Things also get interesting when you look at the combined record of the Big 3 and the Bottom 6:
2005-2009 the MWC overall record against BCS is 32-44 (Of those 44 losses, 17 have been by 8 points or less.)
2007-2009 the MWC overall record against BCS is 26-25.
2008-2009 the MWC overall record against BCS is 17-15.
So, what does this all mean? I began by investigating the claim that the Bottom 6 in the MWC are not equal competition to their BCS mid- to low-level conference teams. Well, many mid- to low-level BCS teams have comparable in-conference records to the MWC Bottom 6 going 12-30. Given that 13 of those 30 losses were by less than 8 points, and given the fact the BCS schools pull in millions more in BCS revenue, it looks like the MWC Bottom 6 are not too far removed from their lower-level BCS counterparts.
If the MWC were given AQ status, then it is likely that any remaining disparity between the levels of competition in the MWC and the current BCS conferences would be significantly reduced. If the MWC were given AQ status, it would bring in millions more in revenue through several sources:
- The BCS bowl the MWC champion would play in each year.
- Better non-conference games throughout the MWC would bring in more money for each school. Big-time teams would be more likely to schedule MWC teams who have AQ status. (Some would argue against this, but I believe AQ schools are more likely to schedule other AQ schools from the MWC because a win looks better and a loss doesn’t look as bad).
- More TV revenue. You have to believe the TV contracts and ads would jump up for the MWC if given AQ status. If The Mtn network survives, it would likely get picked up nationally if the MWC became AQ, and it would likely improve its quality of production.
- Better recruits would begin "staying home" within the MWC or coming in from other states because the chance to play in a BCS bowl and play on national TV each week through a hopefully improved Mtn network would be enticing. With better recruits, the quality of play in the conference will attract more booster money, more ad money, and better bowl contracts.
More revenue and more national exposure mean better recruits for the entire conference and a stronger top to bottom level of competition. I believe the perceived drop-off that Mandel and others keep bringing up is not as dramatic as we think, and by giving the MWC AQ status, the perception will likely go away rather quickly. That’s a lot to digest. And I may have just wasted 2 hours of my life researching and writing this, but what do you think?