The quest to become an automatic qualifying conference did not die when the Mountain West lost the last of its marquee teams.
Indeed, the Mountain West is holding out hope that its appeal to the Presidential Oversight Committee will be granted, giving it AQ status for 2012 and 2013. The big question is whether the league deserves it, considering its membership will look radically different for those two seasons.
Utah is gone. BYU: gone. TCU: gone. Boise State is headed for the exits in 2013. Remember, it is those four schools that allowed the Mountain West to meet the standards laid out in two of the three categories needed for automatic qualification. Yet those four schools will be gone by 2013.
Three of those schools had BCS appearances during 2008-11, the years included for the qualification cycle. Each had at least one top-25 finish in the BCS standings. Though Boise State achieved most of its success in the WAC, its credentials count toward the Mountain West because it joined this season. Though Utah and BYU left this year, what they accomplished in the Mountain West count, too.
If those four schools had remained, there would be a powerful argument to give the Mountain West an AQ spot. Boise State has finished in the top 10 of the final BCS standings four straight years. TCU narrowly missed its third straight BCS appearance. One of the biggest travesties of recent BCS selection has been the constant exclusion of Boise State as an at-large selection, and that would be repaired with an AQ spot.
But what is the Mountain West without Utah, TCU, Boise State and BYU? By the time 2013 rolls around, the league will be left with Nevada, Fresno State, Hawaii, Air Force, Colorado State, Wyoming, New Mexico and UNLV.
Three of those eight teams are bowl eligible this season. Only Hawaii has made a BCS game in its history. Colorado State has not been to a bowl game since 2008; New Mexico since 2007; UNLV since 2000. Four of those schools will have new head coaches in 2012, and none appear ready to become the next "BCS buster" because they have not maintained the same level of consistency as the schools that have departed.
The Mountain West argues in its appeal to the committee that it deserves a spot for a variety of reasons. The league believes its performance during the qualifying cycle is deserving of inclusion. And as for the question about whether it should become an AQ conference despite its membership changes, the league points to none other than the Big East -- the BCS whipping league.
In February 2004, prior to the implementation of the BCS contract established for the 2004-2007 cycle, the Big East Conference (Big East) experienced membership change which significantly affected the competitive strength of its football enterprise. However, without any formal action, the Big East was permitted to retain its automatic-qualifying status for the next cycle -- apparently based upon reputation and relationships, rather than demonstrated performance.
The league points to two other instances in which the Big East was allowed to retain its AQ status in its appeal letter.
Those comparisons are understandable, but the situations are different. The Big East was grandfathered in as a member of the "original six" automatic qualifying conferences. Whether the Big East deserves its spot should not come into play here because the Mountain West should be judged based on its own merits.
This is a league that has had many big wins over AQ teams, and performed well in BCS games and bowl games in general. The league has won the Bowl Challenge Cup four times since 2002-03. But there is a bottom line here: The Mountain West is simply not the conference that got all these national accolades.
Now it is up to the Presidential Oversight Committee to determine whether that matters.