Tom Dienhart Rivals.com College Football Senior Writer
Let's get one thing straight: The Mountain West isn't demanding an automatic spot in a BCS bowl.
That's what some recent headlines from around the nation led us to believe. Instead, the MWC – which far and away is the nation's premier non-"Big Six" conference – just wants to be sure it is on the same page as BCS honchos in understanding what it would take for the MWC to get an automatic BCS spot that now is afforded to only six conferences: the ACC, SEC, Big East, Big 12, Big Ten and Pac-10.
Here are the Mountain West Conference teams that have finished in the AP top 25 since the league began in 1998.
1998: Air Force, 13th
2000: Colorado State 14th
2001: BYU 25th
2003: Utah 21st
2004: Utah 4th
2005: TCU* 11th
2006: BYU 16th, TCU 22nd
2007: BYU 14th
2008: Utah 2nd, TCU 7th, BYU 25th
NOTE: TCU joined the league in 2005.
"[The recent success of the league] is what brought this up," MWC commissioner Craig Thompson said. "We are raising awareness. And we want to make sure we all are on the same page as to what the qualifications and criteria are for automatic qualification to the BCS.
"There is a measurement that would allow for seven conferences to automatically qualify for a BCS bowl. As much as anything, [we want to make sure we] understand and comprehend exactly what it would take to be one of the seven."
For a non-"Big Six" conference to earn an automatic BCS slot, there are three criteria to consider:
1. The ranking of a league's highest-ranked team in the final BCS standings each year.
2. The final regular-season rankings of all conference teams in the computer rankings used by the BCS each year.
3. The number of league teams in the top 25 of the final BCS standings each year.
"In the past, there were six qualifying spots," Thompson said. "Now, there can be as many as seven [starting this year and going forward]."
Thompson says the MWC ranked seventh among the leagues in the last four-year period.
Since the Mountain West's formation in 1998, the conference has been strong, and last season may have been the best yet. Utah capped a 13-0 season by whipping Alabama in the Sugar Bowl and finishing No. 2 in the final Associated Press poll. TCU finished No. 7 and BYU was No. 25.
Teams with the fewest AP top 25 finishes and most top 25 recruiting classes in the past five years:
The Mountain West is the only non-"Big Six" league to produce two BCS winners, with Utah also turning the trick in 2004 by beating Pittsburgh in the Fiesta Bowl.
Thompson says his member schools are fully aware that it is vital to play a strong non-conference schedule. He also is aware of the potential benefits of expansion. How would the Mountain West look with, say, Boise State and/or Fresno State in its lineup?
"We aren't really talking expansion," he said. "I think we are very content and pleased with our nine-member group. Unless someone shows that, 'If you do "X," you will be guaranteed a BCS spot,' it is just kind of spinning wheels."
You have to coach, too
It's an axiom echoed often every fall by a winning coach or TV announcer: The team with the better players usually wins the game. Or as Illinois coach Ron Zook is wont to say, "It's not about the Xs and the Os; it's about the Jimmys and the Joes."
That's what makes National Signing Day an exciting event for fans. But don't jump off a cliff if your team isn't ranked in the final recruiting top 25.
True, a top 25 recruiting ranking usually translates into a good team. Starting with the 2004 signing classes, 12 schools have ranked in Rivals.com's top 25 on all five occasions: Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Florida State, Georgia, LSU, Miami, Michigan, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Texas and USC. Most of those schools have enjoyed tremendous success the past five seasons. Florida has won two national titles; USC, Texas and LSU also have won it all. Those four schools along with Ohio State, Oklahoma, Georgia and Texas are the only teams to have top 25 recruiting classes and top 25 finishes in the AP poll every year since 2004.
But high recruiting rankings haven't translated to high-level on-field results for Alabama and Miami. The Hurricanes and Crimson Tide have finished out of the final AP top 25 three times in those five seasons despite having top 25 recruiting classes each year.
Other slackers: Florida State and Michigan have finished unranked two times in that span.
Conversely, several schools have proven you don't need a roster jammed with four- and five-star prospects to have great success. The biggest overachiever: Virginia Tech. The Hokies have finished in the top 25 every season since 2004 despite just one recruiting class judged to be among the nation's 25 best. Tech also has won three ACC titles and one division crown in the span.