Monday, October 27, 2008

A Blessing In Disguise?

As painful as the recent loss to TCU was, this could be best for the conference, and thus BYU's future, in the long run.

BYU had its way in conference play the last two seasons. Although some of the victories were too close for comfort, the only statistic that most who determine important matters in college football will remember is that no one beat the Cougars. I was wondering if another team anywhere in the country had gone undefeated in their conference the last two years. Ohio State lost to Illinois last year, and mighty USC lost two conference games in each of the last two years. Neither the Big 10 nor the Pac-10 have been considered recently to be in the same league as the SEC or the Big 12, so BYU's dominance of the Mountain West--and, before that, other teams going undefeated in conference play--can only lead many to suspect that the overall strength of the conference is not on par with those of leagues that currently comprise the group of automatic BCS qualifiers. One could make the argument that different teams going undefeated proves its strength, and I agree with that argument. However, others will likely say that one team "got hot" and dominated other good-but-not-great-schools.

Frankly, the best scenario for the Mountain West is now to have Utah beat TCU, and then BYU beat Utah. If each team has no other losses, that would leave TCU with two (one coming against Oklahoma on the road), and BYU and Utah with one each. The SEC and Big 12 might be able to match that, but could any other conference?

A conference with three strong teams, plus a couple of decent schools like Air Force and New Mexico--although the Lobos admittedly don't look quite as solid this year as they have in recent seasons--would need to be given consideration as an automatic qualifier in the BCS. I certainly think such a league would not take a back seat to the Big East, and an argument could be made that the ACC would not be significantly better, either--as long as Florida State and Miami are in their current state of less-than-national-championship caliber.

To further strengthen their position, though, the Mountain West Conference should allow Boise State to join their club (I would have added Fresno State as well, but I understand that is out of the question because the Bulldogs accept academic non-qualifiers). The Broncos have proven they are not a flash in the pan. Not only would this strengthen the MWC, but it would likely keep BSU from periodically coasting into a BCS bowl (which may well happen this year) as they annually have to deal with BYU, TCU, Utah, and Air Force. Current reasoning among non-automatic BCS qualifiers is that any team in such a conference essentially needs to go undefeated to reach a BCS bowl game. The MWC would force a re-evaluation of that logic with the addition of one more strong team. The reason conferences with champions that automatically qualify for the BCS do not have to go undefeated to be considered quality teams is that it is expected that the level of competition in their leagues would make an undefeated season rather unlikely. To illustrate, nobody bats an eye when SEC teams are in the Top 10 at the end of the year with two conference losses, because the league is that good from top to bottom. Could anyone feasibly expect to regularly see an undefeated MWC champion if the top half of the group includes BYU, TCU, Utah and Boise State, and then Air Force and New Mexico are thrown in for good measure?

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Accurately Predicted, Sadly

This falls under "I hate it when I'm right". I wrote in January about the difficulty I foresaw in running the conference table a third consecutive season. I asserted that BYU would win its non-league games this year, but that the task would be even harder to go undefeated in the Mountain West again.

I think Bronco Mendenhall is an amazing coach, but I hope the 32-7 loss to TCU, and Horned Frogs coach Gary Patterson's admission that his staff had been preparing for BYU since January--along with the TCU tackle dummy wearing a BYU helmet--illustrates what I wrote about teams targeting the Cougars. Mendenhall is great, but not perfect. I hope he will see the value in deflecting attention to other conference teams where he can, talking about how good they are, etc. and not coming up with slogans like "Quest For Perfection" that make other teams so overjoyed when they finally beat BYU. Or was I the only one who noticed TCU's defender in rapture after sacking Max Hall and recovering a fumble late in the game when the outcome was hardly in doubt?

I suppose if Mendenhall could always get his team to walk the walk to match the talk, he could disregard how the opposition feels about things. So far, however, I haven't seen a coach anywhere who can do that all the time. I continue to believe he improves his team's potential for success by publicly showing humility, even as he builds up his troops behind closed doors.