With the death of the Pac-16 dream (for now), it's likely that Larry Scott will settle on inviting Utah to come play for his conference to even things out at 12 member institutions. As a result, many folks proclaiming that minus the Utes, the MWC's hopes at a BCS automatic qualifying bid are no better than before this expansion episode.
Perhaps, but let's take a closer look and actually do the math.
A QUICK RECAP
The BCS's automatic qualifying formula is based on three criteria:
- Finish in final BCS standings of the highest-ranked team.
- Average finish of all members in the final BCS poll in the computer rankings.
- Number of teams in final BCS poll top 25, scored in a point system and adjusted for conference size.
The final BCS poll of a season is the one at the end of the regular season. There is no post-bowl BCS poll.
A conference must finish in the top six of all conferences in parts (1) and (2) and have at least 50% of the points of the highest scoring conference in part (3) to gain an automatic bid. If a conference is in the top six of one of the first two parts but seventh in the other (and has at least 33% of the leader's points in the third), it must petition the Presidential Oversight Committee in order to get an automatic bid. The evaluation period is the 2008-11 football seasons.
Prior to the shuffling of schools, the MWC ranked third in part (1), seventh in part (2), and had 91% of the SEC's leading point total in part (3).
A QUESTION OF TIMING
Here are two quotes from BCS's rules as posted on its web site:
A conference will become the seventh automatic qualifier if it finishes among the top six conferences in both No. 1 and No. 2 and if its ranking in No. 3 is equal to or greater than 50 percent of the conference with the highest ranking in No. 3.
The computations will be made according to the conference's membership on Dec. 4, 2011.
At the moment, Colorado is scheduled to join the Pac-10 in 2012. Should Utah also join in 2012, the Utes' records should count towards the MWC because of the date of when the determination will take place. Note that if a conference meets the levels outline in the first paragraph quoted above, it "will become the seventh automatic qualifier" with no caveats or qualifications. Unless the BCS has some hidden rules somewhere (or unless the scoundrels in charge change the rules), the MWC could earn its auto bid with Utah's records included even if the Utes leave in 2012.
TO THE NUMBERS
With the addition on Boise State, the MWC's standing understandably improves.
Nothing changes in part (1), as the Broncos were behind the MWC's top team in each of the last two seasons. In part (2), the MWC's average finish improves from 58.85 to 53.68. It is chasing the sixth place Big Ten in this category, which with Nebraska clocks in a 49.91. That's a lot closer. In the third category, the MWC actually takes the lead by half a point, so it's safe.
With Boise State and Utah's records, the MWC is tantalizingly close to getting that automatic bid. However, no one wants to see the MWC get its bid on a technicality. How's it doing without the Utes' records?
It takes a slight hit on part (1) because it loses Utah's sixth-place finish, but Boise State's ninth-place finish keeps the MWC safe in fourth place. On part (2), the MWC's average slips to 58.00, only 0.85 better that where it started. In part (3), Boise State's strong finishes keep the MWC as the leader.
As long as its top teams can keep up the pace over the next two seasons, the MWC is safe in parts (1) and (3). Part (2) is still the snag, as the MWC has seen its bottom four teams in each of the last two years finish 78th or worse in the average computer rankings. With Boise State included with Utah in the conference, the gap between the Big Ten and MWC over the last two years was sliced in half. The other half can't be eliminated without the bottom getting better.
In the MWC's favor, it would be difficult for Colorado State (100.5 computer poll average in 2009) and New Mexico (114.75) to get worse, and Brady Hoke at least has San Diego State pointed in the right direction (up to 94.5 in '09 from 110.5 in '08). UNLV is trying a new coach this year too after an average finish across 2008-09 of 79.25. In addition, Purdue is scuffling under Danny Hope (75.62 average finish from 2008-09) and Indiana has been mostly hopeless under Bill Lynch (95.88). Illinois also declined to fire Ron Zook this off season, though Michigan's projected turnaround will hurt the MWC's chances.
The best case scenario for the MWC is for Utah to stay of course, but failing that, a Ute exit in 2012 would give the conference a chance to test just how automatic "automatic" is in the BCS's eyes. If the MWC has to petition the committee, there's no chance that it will count an exiting Utah's records towards the MWC's totals.
Looking at the country as a whole would help in such a petition considering that the gap (as it stands today) in part (2) between the seventh place MWC and the eighth place WAC is more than twice as large as the gap between the Big Ten and MWC. That Big Ten-MWC gap is also smaller than the margin between the first place SEC and the sixth place Big Ten.
Again, nothing much matters if the dregs of the MWC don't shape up. However, the amount they have to shape up is much less if Utah stays or doesn't leave until 2012. This is still a story to watch over the next couple of years.