Conference: Mountain West Conference (MWC)
Active Since: 1999
Current Member Schools: Air Force Falcons, Brigham Young (BYU) Cougars, Colorado State Rams, New Mexico Lobos, San Diego State Aztecs, Texas Christian (TCU) Horned Frogs, UNLV Rebels, Utah Utes, Wyoming Cowboys. (9)
Bowl Affiliations: New Mexico Bowl, Las Vegas Bowl, Poinsettia Bowl, Independence Bowl, Armed Forces Bowl. (5)
Conference Champion – TCU
Conference Runner-up – BYU
Overall Bowl Record: 4-1 (Bowl Challenge Cup Champion)
AP All-Americans: TCU DE Jerry Hughes (First team), BYU TE Dennis Pitta (Second)
2010 Outlook: Three top-25 teams, a BCS bowl bid and a Bowl Challenge championship. Sounds like a BCS conference right?
Actually, it was the 2009 edition of the Mountain West Conference, a conference that in the past few years has been able to produce not only some of the best non-BCS conference action, but also has seemingly mastered the role of BCS-buster, submitting three teams—TCU last season and Utah in two other seasons—to the BCS.
2010 finds the MWC at an all-time high, coming off one of its best seasons and returning most of the skill that helped the conference make so much noise last year.
Of course, any conversation about a repeat of last year has to begin with TCU, who not only made their way to a Fiesta Bowl bid, but also finished fourth in the final BCS standings, the highest ever finish for a non-BCS school.
The Horned Frogs return star quarterback Andy Dalton and most of the explosive offense that averaged nearly 40 points per game last season. And despite losing First-Team All-American DE Jerry Hughes, the Frogs’ defense returns seven of 11 starters. However, the schedule looks quite daunting for the Frogs, with games at SMU and Utah plus visits from Oregon State and Baylor looming.
If TCU is to falter anywhere along the line, Utah is poised to retake control of the conference and can easily make their way to another BCS bowl. The Utes take on two tough BCS opponents, the Big East’s Pittsburgh and independent Notre Dame, along with tests against TCU and BYU. If they can make their way through that schedule unscathed, it would be hard to refuse the Utes a BCS bid.
Although the conference has been the domain of the Utes and Frogs these past few seasons the conference has quietly become strong from top to bottom, and any of a variety of teams could challenge the two for conference bragging rights.
BYU, who toppled both Sam Bradford and Oklahoma early in 2009, finished 11-2 last year and looked as strong as any MWC team, will compete again despite losing QB Max Hall to the pros. Air Force and Wyoming looked revived in ’09 and are poised to continue improving in 2010. Wyoming’s young gun Austyn Carta-Samuels could challenge Dalton as the conference’s player of the year and could make some early noise against BCS schools like Texas and Boise State.
Its not a surprise to find a strong Mountain West anymore, but the depth of the conference this season could go a long way towards solidifying its spot among the Football Bowl Subdivision elite, and even a BCS automatic bid somewhere down the line when the board reviews the automatic qualifiers in 2012.
2010 Heisman Hopefuls: TCU QB Andy Dalton, Wyoming QB Austyn Carta-Samuels
BCS Know How’s 2010 Predictions:
Conference Champion – TCU (11-1, 8-0)
Conference Runner-up – Utah (10-2, 7-1)
Heisman Finalists: None