Moving Mountain West into BCS title picture

Dan Wetzel
Yahoo! Sports

Craig Thompson is enough of a realist to know that if at the end of the year Southern California and Oklahoma, for example, have perfect records, the BCS title game will be set.

Even a one-loss champion of either the Big 12 or the SEC – the two conferences that boast nine of the top 11 teams in this week's AP poll – would be impossible to argue against.

Brigham Young or Utah or Texas Christian could be undefeated coming out of Thompson's Mountain West Conference and probably have to settle for a Fiesta or Sugar Bowl. Settle being the key word.

If this year winds up like last year though – chaos in the chase for a spot in the BCS championship game – Thompson, the MWC commissioner, is vowing to make a push into unchartered territory.

Forget an undefeated MWC team trying to crash its way to a BCS game. If any of them survive to reach 12-0, Thompson will lobby hard for the BCS game, the one for the national title in South Florida.

"Absolutely we would campaign for that," the league commissioner said Monday. "I don't think it's inconceivable that a 12-0 Mountain West team could arguably play for the national championship."

Oh, it's inconceivable, although not impossible. The BCS's moneyed interests would sooner cut back on bowl games in lieu of more study time for players than allow an interloper to make a run at the title.

For anyone paying attention, however, it makes perfect sense, no matter the long odds.

The BCS is built on perception being reality, but right now the Mountain West's reality is not its perception.

Proof unfolded spectacularly Saturday for Thompson as he sat in his Colorado home and watched the three televisions he has set up side-by-side-by-side. In one perfect day the Mountain West went 4-0 against its rival Pac-10, pushing the league's mark to 5-0 against that conference and 6-2 against all of the "big six" leagues.

News of the dominance may have slipped by you, mostly because outside of UNLV winning at then No. 15 Arizona State, it wasn't all that shocking.

"We're at the point now where the BYUs, the Utahs, the TCUs, the Air Forces, they expect to win against BCS automatic qualifiers at home," Thompson said.

"That's where those programs are. They don't expect to win 59-0, but … "

Thompson laughed a little and who can blame him. When BYU humiliated UCLA 59-0 on Saturday, the Cougars' legitimacy no longer could be discounted.

Neither can the Mountain West's. The BCS has six automatic qualifying conferences – ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, SEC and Pac-10. The Mountain West is stuck with the rest, trying to prove itself worthy each Saturday.

If you consider the strength of a conference by the difficulty of running the table by clearing week-in, week-out hurdles, only the SEC, Big 12 and, to a lesser degree, the Big Ten are more daunting than the MWC this year.

The Mountain West is fourth. The gauntlet for BYU is tougher than what USC has to handle in the Pac-10 (the Trojans' dominating nonconference performances make them No. 1 with a bullet regardless of where they play).

The Big East and ACC have little argument.

If a team emerges from those six conferences unbeaten, they get pushed right into the title game. Only once has a no-loss team from the big six been left out (Auburn in 2004 due to the presence of two other perfect teams).

So why wouldn't it happen for an unbeaten champion of not one of the perceived six best leagues, but one of the six actual best leagues?

"Especially if you played the type of nonconference schedule the BYUs, Utahs and TCUs play," Thompson said. "Utah won at Michigan and (will play) against Oregon State. BYU won at Washington and against UCLA. TCU beat Stanford and still plays at Oklahoma.

"Those are better games than a lot of people are playing."

Top to bottom Thompson has demanded his schools schedule aggressively. It's the only way to build a league's credibility. Here in the Mountain West's 10th season, it's paying off.

So Thompson is ready with a new argument for the BCS, a whole new concept in controversy. Why stop at any old BCS game?

We've had these strong unbeaten teams emerge – Utah in 2004, Boise State in 2006, Hawaii a year ago. They were rewarded with a chance at a BCS bowl, and that was that.

Since they were individual productions from generally weak conferences, no one could argue they deserved a shot at the title. It would be that way if East Carolina finished 13-0 this year.

Not the Mountain West. Well, perhaps.

The BCS rules aren't changing anytime, of course. But it certainly would shake things up if the BCS took on the system employed by some European soccer leagues. Perhaps the weakest of the BCS conferences each year could lose its automatic bid, replaced by the strongest without it.

The ACC has enjoyed favored nation status since the BCS' inception in 1998. In return it has gone 1-9 in BCS bowls (the only victory coming after the 1999 regular season). This year it's leaking oil all over the place. Even its coaches admit things are down.

This season, the Big East is even worse.

Meanwhile the Mountain West keeps pounding people.

So Thompson scans the chess pieces of the season and is emboldened enough to vow that if a reasonable case can be made for the boldest gate crash in college football history, he's ready.

"Part of this whole process is two-thirds of the BCS rankings are based on the opinion of 200-plus pollsters," he said. "We'll just have to (convince) people."

One 59-0 victory at a time.

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