Commentary

How close is the MWC to an AQ?

Originally Published: December 15, 2009
By Brad Edwards | Special to ESPN.com

The Mountain West is halfway home.

At least, it might be. We have no way of knowing for certain.

The first two years of the four-year cycle that determines which conferences will have automatic BCS bids for the 2012-15 seasons are now in the books, and the Mountain West is hoping that two years from now, its performance will have been good enough to earn it a place among the BCS elite.

Exactly where the conference stands at this moment and what it needs to do over the next two seasons to reach its goal are things that won't be shared with the college football public. That information is available to only the conference commissioners, and at least for now, they plan to keep it that way.

"The 11 conference commissioners agreed on the qualification standards," BCS executive director Bill Hancock said, "and they also made the decision to keep the specifics of those standards private."

What we do know is that each conference is evaluated on three basic criteria over the four-year cycle: 1. The final BCS ranking of the league's highest-ranked team; 2. The number of teams the conference has in the Top 25 of the final BCS standings; and 3. The final regular-season rankings of every team in the league by the six BCS computers.

So, which is the most important of the three? Or are they all given equal weight?

"That's more detail than I'm allowed to divulge," Hancock said.

Specifics aside, the message has been that if the Mountain West (or any of the other non-automatic-qualifying conferences) can stack up favorably with the big six leagues in these three areas during the four-year span, it will earn automatic entry to the BCS for the following cycle.

BCS guidelines allow for there to be as many as seven or as few as five automatic-bid conferences, so one league doesn't have to lose a bid for another to gain one.

To this end, it seems evident that the Mountain West is in decent shape at the halfway point. With its highest-ranked team being fourth this season (TCU) and sixth last season (Utah), the league has performed better in this area than every other conference but the SEC and Big 12.

And with three teams being ranked in the final Top 25 each of the two seasons, the Mountain West is as good as the ACC and better than the Big East in that part of the equation.

"If we have three Top-25 teams again for the next two years and one of them continues to be ranked in the top six, I think the numbers would look favorable for us," Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson said. "But I don't have a crystal ball, and I don't know how the other conferences are going to perform."

If anything might be hurting the Mountain West in its quest to gain an automatic BCS bid, it would be the computer ratings of the six teams in the conference after TCU, Utah and BYU. Compared to the current automatic-qualifying conferences, the MWC has a pretty big dropoff from the Top-25 teams to the rest of the pack.

But Thompson feels like the effort is there. Wyoming, San Diego State and New Mexico all changed coaches after last season, and UNLV just made a coaching change of its own.

Whether those moves will translate onto the field quickly enough to fortify the conference's overall strength remains to be seen.

"To put it in football terms, I feel like we're leading at halftime," Thompson said. "But we have to perform for two more years."

Brad Edwards coordinates the college football research for ESPN and is an analyst for "College GameDay" on ESPN Radio each Saturday throughout the season.

• Analyzes college football and the BCS as part of ESPN's Stats & Information Group
• Analyst for both College GameDay on ESPN Radio and the ESPN College Football app