The BCS Selection Process is clear:
The champion of Conference USA, the Mid-American Conference, the Mountain West Conference or the Sun Belt Conference (the "non-AQ group") will earn an automatic berth in a BCS bowl game if either:
A. Such team is ranked in the top 12 of the final BCS Standings, or
B. Such team is ranked in the top 16 of the final BCS Standings and its ranking in the final BCS Standings is higher than that of a champion of a conference that has an annual automatic berth in one of the BCS bowls.
However, no more than one such team from the non-AQ group will earn an automatic berth in any year, unless non-AQ teams finish both No. 1 and No. 2 in the final BCS Standings. If two or more teams from those conferences satisfy the provisions for an automatic berth, then the team with the highest finish in the final BCS Standings will receive the automatic berth.
This season, No. 15 Fresno State of the Mountain West Conference and No. 16 Northern Illinois of the Mid-American Conference are in prime positions to earn an automatic berth to a BCS Bowl game. Both teams rank in the top 16 of the BCS Standings and are ranked higher than No. 18 UCF, the highest-ranked team in the American Athletic Conference.
Only one non-AQ team will earn an automatic berth, so when evaluating the résumés of these two schools, conference strength is an important factor.
ESPN Stats & Information’s Conference Power Rankings can provide an objective measure of conference depth. According to these rankings, the Mountain West Conference is the strongest non-AQ conference from top to bottom.
The Mountain West has seven teams (out of 12) that are .500 or better, and is 18-8 against non-AQ opponents (including independent and FCS). Unlike other non-AQ conferences, the Mountain West does not have many weak teams.
ESPN Stats & Information
Conference Power Rankings
The lowest ranked team in ESPN’s Football Power Index (FPI) from the Mountain Conference is No. 106 Air Force. In comparison the MAC and Conference USA each has at least six teams ranked below 106 in the FPI.
However, when looking at the top teams of each conference, the MAC has the most teams (5) and highest percentage of team (38 percent) with at least seven wins. Northern Illinois, Ball State, Bowling Green, Buffalo and Toledo are all bowl eligible and have at least seven wins.
When comparing Fresno State and Northern Illinois, voters will have to account for the strength of each team’s conference, their out-of-conference schedules and their dominance in their wins. Using ESPN’s new ratings systems, one can see that Northern Illinois has played a tougher schedule, but Fresno State has been more dominant in its games. It is up to the voters to decide which conference they believe is stronger and how much that affects their thinking.
This week, the MAC will be on display on Tuesday and Wednesday with three games on the ESPN family of networks -- Buffalo heads to Miami (OH) on Tuesday (8 ET, ESPNU), Kent State travels to Ohio on Tuesday (8 ET, ESPN2) and Northern Illinois will look to remain unbeaten at Toledo on Wednesday (8 ET, ESPN2). On Thursday and Friday, the Mountain West and Conference USA will have their time in the spotlight as Rice, UAB, UNLV, Air Force and San Jose State are all in action.