Mountain West bolsters status after opening week
DENVER – If you can beat ’em, maybe you can join ’em.
While the rest of the country debates the merits of TCU and Boise State as potential BCS busters, Mountain West Conference commissioner Craig Thompson is simply relishing the early season successes of the Horned Frogs and Broncos as they pick off teams from power conferences.
TCU, the defending league champion, is ranked fourth after defeating Oregon State in the opener, one spot behind Boise State, which buoyed its national title hopes by rallying past Virginia Tech, 33-30, on Monday night in Landover, Md.
Although Boise State doesn’t join the league until next season, the Broncos’ record this year and last – when they were 14-0 – will be factored into the formula as the Mountain West Conference vies to land an automatic BCS berth like the six major football conferences already enjoy.
Halfway through a four-year evaluation process, Thompson likes the direction the conference is heading, even as traditional power BYU moves to independent status next season and Utah bolts for the Pac-10. Fresno State and Nevada have agreed to join the MWC and more expansion hasn’t been ruled out as Thompson’s preference is to eventually field a 10-team league.
These days, the buzz around college football centers around Boise State and TCU and whether they’ll be able to hang around long enough to be serious contenders for the national title.
That would provide more evidence of what Thompson has been saying for years: his league deserves more respect.
“It’s incumbent upon us to continue to perform at a high level and arguably put ourselves in a position that, in the next cycle of BCS bowl negotiations, we can commandeer, if you will, and negotiate an automatic place,” Thompson told The Associated Press on Wednesday. “I think the Mountain West Conference deserves an equal access point with the other six conferences.”
For now, it remains a slippery slope for those schools outside the BCS domain. An early loss certainly spells doom for a BCS bowl bid.
That’s the harsh reality for a nonautomatic qualifying conference, something that Thompson hopes will change.
“Maybe one day we’ll see an 11-1 Mountain West team play in a BCS bowl game. I don’t think it’s too far from that,” Thompson said. “But for the most part, our seasons are based on September. In this case, the first week of September, the first game of the season. There’s not a lot of wiggle room.”
Thompson was in attendance for TCU’s 30-21 win over a ranked Oregon State team in Arlington, Texas. Later, he watched Boise State’s comeback against Virginia Tech, No. 10 at the time, on television with keen interest.
Rarely has he rooted so hard for a Western Athletic Conference school.
“I thoroughly, thoroughly enjoyed that performance,” Thompson said, laughing. “You could go on about any dot-com (site) right now and find dozens of debates and stories about whether Boise State is deserving of the BCS championship game. Or about TCU lurking around.
“People now are starting to take notice of and appreciate the performances by the TCUs, Utahs, BYUs and, in future years, the Boise States.”
The Horned Frogs and TCU coach Gary Patterson have a tricky road ahead, facing a nonconference docket that includes Baylor and SMU, along with a trip to Utah on Nov. 6.
For Boise State and coach Chris Petersen, the schedule doesn’t appear as dicey, with a home game against Oregon State on Sept. 25 more than likely providing the biggest roadblock.
Then again, the danger may lie in casting an eye too far down the road.
“When you start looking ahead, and say, ‘OK, now we’re 7-0 or 8-0 or 9-0,’ that’s when you get in trouble,” Thompson said. “These coaches, they’re just looking at this as, ‘Who do we have Saturday?’ Gary Patterson – people may scoff and say he’s going from Oregon State to Tennessee Tech. But he’s not worried about anybody except Tennessee Tech right now.”
The allure of the looming rivalry between Boise State and TCU is quite tantalizing to Thompson. The two powers have met in back-to-back bowl games – the Horned Frogs beating Boise State, 17-16, in the Poinsettia Bowl following the 2008 season and the Broncos winning last year on an even grander scale, 17-10, in the Fiesta Bowl.
“I salivate over the matchup in the future,” Thompson said. “Two really well-coached teams, very exciting teams to watch. Tremendous skill players. I’m excited about that future game under the Mountain West umbrella.”
To raise the conference’s profile, though, it’s going to take more than just two elite teams, especially with the departures of Utah and BYU. That’s another component of the evaluation process – how well each individual squad stacks up.
“Our top is very solid. It is on par with most all of these automatic qualifying conferences from a performance standard,” Thompson said. “Every performance counts. Every win is calculated. We need to have each and every member perform better.”