June 14, 2009

Which will be the best non-Big Six race?

At the College Football Roundtable, we ask each member of the coverage staff for their opinion about a topic in the sport.

Today's question: We have started our 1-120 countdown, and most of the teams thus far have come from non-"Big Six" conferences. Which non-"Big Six" conference race intrigues you the most this season?

Olin Buchanan's answer:
The Mountain West Conference is the most intriguing race. Utah, TCU and BYU are the leading contenders, Air Force could emerge, Colorado State is coming off a good year in its first season under coach Steve Fairchild and New Mexico, Wyoming and San Diego State have new coaches. Last season's showing proved the MWC is a league that has to be taken seriously, with Utah finishing undefeated for the second time in five seasons and BYU and TCU both posting double-digit victory totals. The conference might not produce a BCS bowl team this year because of challenging non-conference schedules, but we should have learned not to count out MWC teams.

Tom Dienhart's answer:
The Mountain West without a doubt has been the top non-"Big Six" league this decade. So, it's fitting the MWC will close the 2000s with another interesting race. TCU is the best non-"Big Six" program never to get to a BCS bowl. That may end this fall. But don't discount Utah and BYU. And then there's Air Force, which continues to get better under Troy Calhoun. If that isn't enough, Steve Fairchild has Colorado State on the move and New Mexico (Mike Locksley), San Diego State (Brady Hoke) and Wyoming (Dave Christensen) are energized by new coaches.

David Fox's answer:
The Mountain West needs to build on 2008 to solidify its case for consistent BCS inclusion. The worst thing that could happen to this league would be a mediocre showing in non-conference play and for a team such as Air Force or Colorado State to win the league. Utah, BYU and TCU have chances to score major non-conference upsets. The league will be forgiven even if Utah loses to Oregon and BYU loses to Oklahoma, provided they're competitive. But the Utes, Cougars and Horned Frogs are the pace-setters for the league. When those teams play each other, the games need to have BCS implications. Only if the Mountain West strings together a few more seasons like 2008 will the league have more legitimate complaints with the BCS.

Mike Huguenin's answer:
Boise State is the non-"Big Six" team that looks to have the best shot at being a BCS-buster, but the WAC is such that Boise should cruise to the title; there is no intrigue in the WAC. There is some intrigue in Conference USA, but the best teams aren't good enough to get into the BCS. That brings us again to the Mountain West. TCU looks as if it could finally break through and grab a BCS bid, but BYU and Utah should be competitive for the league title as well. BYU plays host to TCU and Utah this season, while Utah is on the road against BYU and TCU. Each of those games is in the second half of the season, so the buildup could get interesting.

Steve Megargee's answer:
The Mountain West will have a tough time matching its 2008 success, but the league remains far and away the most compelling of any of the conferences from outside the "Big Six" leagues. Is this the season TCU breaks through? Does Utah slip a notch after losing quarterback Brian Johnson and both of its coordinators? How will BYU respond after seeing its archrival earn the BCS bid the Cougars wanted so desperately? While those three teams are far better than the rest of the Mountain West, it will be interesting to see how the offseason coaching changes affect the rest of the league. Can former Missouri offensive coordinator Dave Christensen help Wyoming put more points on the board? Will Brady Hoke's success at Ball State translate to San Diego State? And how long will it take former Illinois offensive coordinator Mike Locksley to rebuild at New Mexico? Boise State is the team from outside the "Big Six" conferences with the best chance of earning a BCS bid, but the Broncos are so far ahead of the rest of the Western Athletic Conference that the WAC race doesn't intrigue me nearly as much. The Mountain West should be much more interesting to follow.


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