Adding Boise State a big step for Mountain West

The addition of Boise State to the Mountain West Conference last Friday was yet another step for the league in its quest to get in on the Bowl Championship Series fun. Make no mistake about it: the MWC needed the Broncos more than the Broncos needed their new home.

With the move, which will be made effective July 1, 2011, the conference moves even closer to fulfilling certain BCS requirements designed to determine if a league is worthy of joining the big-money party. The committee currently grades conferences based on the following criteria, stretching over a four-year period.

1) The average rank of each conference’s highest-ranked team in the final BCS standings.

2) The average computer rank of every team in the conference at the end of the regular season.

3) A point system determined by the number of teams and specific placement by each conference in the top 25 of the final BCS standings.

With the addition of the Broncos, to go along with current league powers TCU, Utah and BYU, the conference can use the team’s strong run from 2008-10 to count toward its efforts in getting an automatic bid to the BCS in 2012-13. Keep in mind that all four schools finished in the final polls last year for the second season in a row.

While the move was huge for the league, it also will obviously help Boise to be in a BCS conference — despite the fact that the Broncos haven’t needed to play in an automatic-bid league the last few years to make a dramatic impact in bowl season. But it’s never going to hurt by joining a league with other established mid-major powers, and Boise clearly deserved a step up from the Western Athletic Conference, which could potentially see a member or two move either this year or next year, depending on how all of the conference expansion drama plays out.

Since it went 6-2 in league play in its first year in the WAC in 2001, Boise managed to win 62 of 64 league contests — including an undefeated 32-0 mark at Bronco Stadium. Seven conference championships in eight years? Special. Their only two conference losses during that time were on the road to Fresno State and Hawaii — and both were in the Top 25. With a 4-1 record against teams that finished the season in the top 10 and two Fiesta Bowl victories in the past four years, the Broncos are obviously legit.

No disrespect to the WAC, but this is a much-deserved move up in class for Boise, who has designs on a national championship with 21 returning starters in the fall. With games against BCS-conference members Virginia Tech and Oregon State, the Broncos will actually have a schedule that may be good enough — depending on what teams emerge from major conferences — to play for a national title at the end of the season. They are in position to do this even while in the WAC, underlining the fact that this move is even bigger for the MWC.

It looks as though, for now, the MWC will stop at adding the Broncos, as there won’t be any potential Big 12 castoffs like Missouri, Kansas State, Kansas and Iowa State after Texas helped save the Big 12 late Monday. Imagine the turn of events in a doomsday scenario that could have turned the MWC from a very solid league into one of the strongest in the land. Of course, the conference should be content with adding just one — the steady Broncos.

On the flip side, could the Pac-10’s failure to land Texas and three other Big 12 schools now force the league to go after Utah and really cripple the MWC’s efforts to strengthen its case for a BCS bid? Currently, Utah has the highest overall final ranking of all the schools in the new MWC, including Boise. If the Utes leave, would the league seek a replacement to boost back to 10 members or be content with nine?

What we do know is that Boise State president Bob Kustra had his eyes set on a move since 2003. The Broncos were serious players for MWC consideration in 2005, but TCU joined the fray instead. Now, the Broncos are players no more. They’re in.

But will it be enough for the MWC during the next BCS negotiations even if Utah stays? The four-year evaluation period will be 2008-11, and while the top teams in the league will post strong numbers, the bottom half of the league could put the conference in jeopardy of grabbing an automatic BCS berth because of the second criteria: average computer rank of every team in the conference at the end of the regular season. The BCS requires a top-six finish in all three categories, and the MWC would likely come in seventh in that category.

However, all is not lost for the beefed-up conference. With the addition of Boise, the MWC could have a strong enough card to apply to the Presidential Oversight Committee for an exemption if it chooses to do so when the new BCS contract is up for renegotiation — arguing that it is worthy of being the BCS’s seventh conference to gain an automatic bid based on the recent successful seasons from Utah (beating Alabama in the Sugar Bowl), TCU (playing in a Fiesta Bowl) and Boise (winning its two Fiesta Bowls). Would it have helped to have some rather strong Big 12 castoffs like Missouri and Kansas? Sure, but never discount the power of Boise. As college football fans, haven’t we learned our lesson on that one yet?

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