Non-AQ teams ready to blaze new trails in new conferences

Kyle Whittingham isn't going to get misty-eyed over the fact that Utah is leaving the Mountain West for the Pac-12 -- a move made official tomorrow. That's not really his style.

"I'm not a sentimental guy," Whittingham said. "My wife can attest to that. That's not in my makeup. You just move on. That may sound a little bit callous, but that's my mentality. Just take care of your business and move on."

But there's something to be said for the relationship the Utes shared with the Mountain West. Utah was the original BCS buster during the 2004 season and laid the groundwork for a legislative inquiry into the BCS system after its undefeated season, complete with a Sugar Bowl win over Alabama, in 2008. The Utes helped put the Mountain West on the map, helped the conference gain more national television exposure and put it on the path to becoming a BCS automatic qualifying conference.

Also helping in that endeavor was BYU, which will become independent in football Friday, and TCU, which leaves for the Big East this time next year.

The play of those three Mountain West teams encouraged Boise State to join the Mountain West and help continue the tradition.

Boise State had long outgrown the WAC, but it was where it cut its teeth and established itself as a formidable FBS team.

"It was a tremendous platform for us with the ESPN exposure, with the success that we had not just in football, but in all of our sports," Boise State athletic director Gene Bleymaier told the Idaho Statesman. "It was a very good conference for us competitively and it has given us the platform on where we're now ranked in the top 10 in the country in preseason in football and getting the visibility that we're getting and two BCS bowl opportunities and the WAC had three. As a conference, that was significant."
The shifting of non-AQ powers to their new conferences is just one of many signs of the changing of the guard. Teams such as Utah, BYU and TCU have done enough in the nonautomatic qualifying leagues to warrant courtship from the big boys or chart their own course independently. Boise State, which has two BCS bowl wins to its credit, is leading the charge to make the Mountain West an automatic qualifying league, something that isn't far from the realm of possibility.

The have-nots of college football are becoming the haves and are following the footsteps of several non-AQ teams that made the transition and thrived.

It was just six years ago that Louisville, Cincinnati and South Florida moved from Conference USA to the Big East. Since then, Louisville and Cincinnati have both won conference titles and played in BCS games.

There's no reason why the current crop of departing non-AQ schools couldn't make similar splashes. Utah will have the best opportunity early as it moves into the Pac-12, but TCU will be an immediate contender in the Big East in 2012. BYU will have a more difficult time making a BCS bowl as an independent, but it does have the chance to gain more national traction with its ESPN television deal and a schedule that includes Texas, Ole Miss and Utah this year, and games against Boise State and Notre Dame in the future.

While Boise State isn't moving into an automatic qualifying conference, it does have a unique opportunity to be a BCS bowl mainstay despite its conference affiliation. Boise State doesn't need AQ status to continue its assault on AQ and non-AQ teams and can attain as much -- if not more -- recognition as any of the other departing non-AQ schools with its play on the field.

While Friday will mark a big day in the evolution of football for teams such as Colorado and Nebraska and the Pac-12 and the Big Ten, it's a monumental step for the non-AQ schools that have worked their way into the same room with the big boys and soon will be considered equals.

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