NCF Nation: non-BCS

Friday non-AQ mailblog

June, 26, 2009
Posted by's Graham Watson

Warren from Boise writes: Did ESPN drop the games Oregon vs. BSU and Oregon vs. Utah AND BYU vs. Oklahoma? All in September. People in your post are confused because you left out all these games and I was curious if they've been dropped.

Graham Watson: No, these games are still on. The games I posted were in addition to the games that already had been announced. Sorry for the confusion, but I clarified it in the lede to the post.

Mike from Shelley, Idaho writes: Maybe I missed it, but I can't believe this link was not be featured in the blog. It's been over a week now: I'd love to hear your comments on it as well when you're back from vacation.

GW: For those who haven't read or clicked on the link, it's commentary from Boise State president Robert Kustra blasting the unfair practices of the BCS. While I thought it was fine commentary, I was wondering who saw the letter other than those who regularly follow Boise State? If it was a letter sent to the BCS oversight committee then bravo. If it was an open letter to the school then I have to wonder what the point of it was. Drop me a line if you know the answer to that.

Joe Vandal from Boise writes: I'm sensing a change in Moscow. What are your views on the upcoming season for the Vandals? Seems like Rob Akey has the team pointing in the right direction. With a great returning core of Nathan Enderle and Deonte Jackson it's looking like a promising year. Plus the Kibbie Dome is getting a makeover, maybe the natural light coming through the new windows will boost morale.

GW: I don't know about the light boosting the morale, but I do think Idaho is going to be much better than it has been in some time. I agree that Akey has the team moving in the right direction and with several returners and a full complement of scholarships, the Vandals could get out of the WAC cellar. In fact, I fully expect that.

Tyler from American Fork, Utah writes: Graham, I just wanted to comment on the completely bias directly aimed transfer rule, which was amended. I am talking about the "official church mission" transfer eligibility rule, which now prevents kids who serve a mission from transferring right away. Instead if the kid is in jail for two years he can transfer right away. This is the WAC just crying for no reason and it makes it unfair to a young man who decides that maybe his life should go in a different direction after retuning home from his mission.

GW: I can see both sides of this, but I think the rule was being abused and that's why the NCAA had to step in. It's really not fair to allow a kid to transfer and play right away on the basis of a religious practice. It's just not. I think the transfer rule should apply to everyone, unless granted a waiver. No one should get special treatment there. Probably not the answer you wanted, but that's just my thoughts.

Corey from Baton Rouge, LA writes: With the recession cutting into athletic costs across the country, do you foresee a widening gap between the BCS automatic qualifiers and the rest of the FBS?

GW: Yes, but because the economy is hitting everyone so hard, I'm not sure it would be any worse than it is now. It's all going to be relative. If Troy and Michigan are both losing money, chances are they're probably still going to be as far about a year from now as they are right now. Not sure if I explained that well, but I think the proportion will remain the same.

pettyofficerkeller from Newport News, VA writes: What are the Mountain West's expansion options? Which do you think is most likely? And what do you think the timeframe is?

GW: I don't see the Mountain West expanding anytime soon, and quite honestly, I don't think we'll see any expansion before the current BCS contract ends in 2011. Even then, I think there won't be any movement until like 2014 when the next contract ends. The only reason conferences would start to expand earlier is because of the economy. And in the MWC's case, the move to expand might be to all but guarantee that non-AQ BCS spot (and money) every year.

Mike P from Arkadelphia, Ark., writes: Will we ever see a day where Arkansas State will finally get over the "mediocrity" hump and become a regular bowl contender like Troy? Go Red Wolves!

GW: I think the best way for that to happen is for the Sun Belt Conference to have more bowl opportunities. Now, those are currently in the works, but until that happens, it's going to be tough for any Sun Belt team to consistently be a bowl contender.

Zach from Akron, Ohio writes: I've been reading a lot of chatter recently about the MAC wholly or partially moving down to the FCS level. Do you think it would be a good move for the MAC to drop a few teams?

GW: OK. First, I don't see this happening. If you're thinking teams in the conference might move down because of finances, that would be ridiculous. The MAC schools make most of their money from the nonconference guarantee games they get from AQ schools. Those schools won't play those MAC teams (or whatever conference they would be) if they were FCS. Also, I e-mailed the league office and there's been no chatter about this there.

Joe from Dothan writes: Graham, While everyone seems to agree that Troy is the favorite to repeat in the Sun Belt, I think that a lot of us would like to see maybe an upset of one of those SEC teams we have lined up. Your thoughts on our chances?

GW: Well, I think Florida is probably going to be out since Tim Tebow will be on a mission to finish off his collegiate career right. I don't think the Gators drop a game against Troy. But Arkansas, right in the middle of the season, sandwiched between South Carolina and Mississippi State, could be very interesting. I like that it's late in the year and though the Trojans will be focused on conference play and making a bowl, I do think they'll be in a good place chemistry-wise to really make the Razorbacks sweat in that game.

Posted by's Graham Watson

The undefeated season.

It's become the Holy Grail for teams from the Mountain West, WAC, Conference USA, Mid-American and Sun Belt, the five conferences that don't earn an automatic bid to the Bowl Championship Series.

  Matthew Stockman/Getty Images
  Utah coach Kyle Whittingham's Utes made a big impression last season going undefeated.
It's the only way the 52 teams from those conferences get a sniff at a BCS bowl.

Since the introduction of the BCS, three teams -- Utah, Boise State and Hawaii -- have played on college football's biggest stages. Those three teams have amassed a 3-1 record in BCS bowls against teams that didn't have to be undefeated for their shot at national exposure and millions of dollars in BCS money. And while it hasn't all been pretty, the teams from the non-automatic qualifying schools are slowly starting to show parity and ultimately demand equality.

That was no more evident than this past season when Utah defeated Alabama 31-17 in the Sugar Bowl to cap their 13-0 campaign.

"The only way to get yourself into a BCS situation is to play your way into it," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. "That's the way you get there."

But while conquering a schedule that's good enough to reach a BCS bowl has been accomplished by teams in the Mountain West and WAC, the three other non-automatic qualifying conferences -- Conference USA, the MAC and the Sun Belt -- have been on the outside looking in. They're watching their brethren to the West get all the notoriety while they try to negotiate the road map teams such as Utah and Boise State have drawn.

(Read full post)

Click here to check out Graham Watson's season recaps of all the non-BCS conferences.


Posted by's Graham Watson

Although the season is only two weeks old, it's never too early to look at the provisions for multiple non-BCS teams to make a play for a BCS bowl. Currently, there are four undefeated non-BCS teams -- East Carolina, BYU, Utah, and Fresno State -- that are ranked nationally in the Top 25.

If one of those teams remains in the top 12 nationally, it earns an automatic berth. But if two teams are ranked in the top 12 or in the top 16 and above a BCS conference champion (looking at you Big East and ACC) then things get a little dicey.

According to BCS rules, no more than one team from a non-BCS conference can earn an automatic bid. If there is a second -- or third -- non-BCS team that meets the BCS requirements, then that team(s) will be placed into the pool of at-large teams with the other BCS schools.

Basically, that non-BCS school would either be last year's Kansas or last year's Missouri.

So, it is possible for two non-BCS teams to make BCS bowls, but highly unlikely. Besides, I'm fairly certain the number of ranked non-BCS teams will drop to three by the end of the weekend (yes, I'm being vague, wait for my picks).

Posted by's Graham Watson

Conference USA is the sleeper conference of the non-BCS.

Tulsa has the schedule and the talent to be the non-BCS' best candidate for a BCS bowl if the team can find a suitable replacement for quarterback Paul Smith and just a little bit of defense. The Golden Hurricane had the best offense in the country last season and put on display with a 63-7 shellacking of Bowling Green in the GMAC Bowl. The win gave Tulsa 10 wins for the first time since 1991 and opened the possibility that the newest non-BCS power could come from the middle of the country rather than the West.

"We're picked to win Conference USA and I think we have a chance to have the best team we've ever had," Tulsa coach Todd Graham said. "Preseason polls and all that stuff don't mean anything. You still have to play the year and play the game. It's a new season and all that. But you know, it's a compliment to what we've done in the past that people think a lot of us. If you look five or six years ago, they were tearing down the goal posts for winning one game, so we've come a long way."

But Conference USA needs to prove to the nation that it's ready to play with the big boys. The league was 2-23 against BCS teams last season, the weakest record of all the non-BCS schools.

And no Conference USA team has really taken stranglehold on the league. The past six seasons have produced six different conference winners, which speaks to parity, but not the dominating qualities that it takes to break into a BCS bowl game.

Of the top four finishers from last season -- Central Florida, Tulsa, East Carolina, and Houston -- Tulsa ad Houston have the easiest roads to a BCS berth. Neither team plays an opponent that is currently ranked in the preseason Top 25, but they still have quality foes. If all it takes is going undefeated to reach a BCS game, Conference USA might have the top contender.

Posted by's Graham Watson

For years, the MAC had been considered the power conference of the non-BCS because of dominant teams such as Toledo, Marshall, Northern Illinois, Miami-Ohio and Bowling Green State.

Although those years are gone, the conference is still trying to maintain its competitive advantage with up-and-comer Central Michigan, which has won the last two MAC titles, and Bowling Green, which is starting to regain its past form.

The only thing that's missing from the "modern" MAC is consistent signature wins. Last season, the MAC went 0-15 against teams ranked in the coaches poll, and its top two teams, Central Michigan and Bowling Green, were 1-7 against BCS teams last season.

"I think people around the country are aware of us because of the success that we've had," Central Michigan quarterback Dan LeFevour said. "We've won two conference championships. We have yet to win a game against a BCS opponent so we're looking to do that this year."

Despite the lack of success against BCS opponents, the MAC has not shied away from playing some of the nation's toughest competition. Central Michigan will face Georgia, the No. 1 team in the coaches preseason poll, in its second game of the season. MAC teams will face ranked opponents such as Ohio State, Missouri, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, Tennessee, Penn State and Fresno State. Nine of the conference's 13 teams will play a team that's currently ranked in the preseason Top 25.

The MAC will have to improve its record against BCS teams and ranked teams if it wants to climb back up the non-BCS ladder.

Ideally, the MAC would like to revert back to its 2003 form when its teams defeated five ranked teams, including three the weekend of Sept. 20. That season, three teams finished with double-digit wins. The MAC had no teams finish with more than eight wins this season and also was 0-3 in bowl games, losing by an average of 27 points. Only Central Michigan made a strong showing with a 51-48 loss to Purdue.

Posted by's Graham Watson

The WAC's conference competitiveness is a cause for concern for commissioner Karl Benson, which could be construed as odd considering the conference has produced the last two BCS busters. But from middle to bottom, the WAC is one of the weakest non-BCS conferences.

In each of the last three seasons -- the start of the reconstructed WAC -- the top three teams have each won seven or more games, but the bottom three teams have never combined for more wins than one of the top three teams have produced. For example, in 2005 Louisiana Tech finished third with seven total wins. The bottom three teams finished with five combined wins.

"We definitely need to get better in the bottom half of the league," Benson said. "From a football standpoint, we are ranked by all nine members. We have had teams ranked in the
100's and they have to get better. It has an effect on those teams in the top half in terms of BCS selection and BCS ranking. Our coaches know that and are striving to get better."

The result is criticism over whether a non-BCS team with such a soft schedule should be allowed in a BCS game. Boise State proved it belonged with an overtime win over Oklahoma in the 2006 Fiesta Bowl, which capped a 13-0 season. But Georgia walloped Hawaii 41-10 in last year's Sugar Bowl making some question whether Hawaii, despite its 12-0 record going into the game, had played a strong enough schedule to warrant a BCS spot.

Hawaii ranked 111th in strength of schedule at the end of the year, according to the NCAA, and five WAC teams had strength of schedules in the 100s. All of the WAC's nine members finished with a strength of schedule 90 or lower with Fresno State, who played two ranked BCS teams in the nonconference, leading the group.

The WAC knows the lower third of the conference is bringing the entire conference down and is starting to reach out to those struggling teams. It has increased resources to schools and recruiting is better. More WAC teams are starting to schedule difficult BCS non-conference opponents to make up for the strength of schedule lost during the conference season. And several coaches know their time is running short. Teams such as New Mexico State and Utah State have been in the bottom of the conference standings every year since 2005.

"We're seeing improvement," Benson said. "Our schools are investing more in their athletics programs. Since teams join the WAC, they get better, because of the recruiting standpoint. They get because of the television exposure. Programs are going to grow as they mature in the WAC."

Posted by's Graham Watson

The WAC has been the conference everyone has been talking about in terms of BCS busters the last couple years, but the Mountain West has a chance to change that this season with BYU garnering attention as a potential spoiler.

Mountain West

BYU finished last season as the highest-ranked non-BCS team in both major polls and was pronounced the non-BCS favorite by the coaches last week.

But it's not BYU that has the Mountain West considered the non-BCS conference on the largest upswing. It's the team's few are talking about. Utah and TCU have opportunities to creep into the BCS buster picture with major games against Michigan and Oklahoma, respectively. Utah was beaten down by injuries last year, but has all of those players back. TCU had several off-field distraction last year, but both coach and players say those distractions are gone.

"I think some people might count us out, which is great," TCU center Blake Schlueter said. "I hope everybody thinks that we're not any good because then we'll get the opportunity to go show them. We've typically done well I the underdog role because we go out there hungrier, I guess."

Teams such as New Mexico, which is the only Mountain West team to gain bowl eligibility each of the last seven seasons, Wyoming and Air Force all have the potential to push for the league title.

Top to bottom, the Mountain West is the most balanced non-BCS conference. It is the only non-BCS conference to have five teams finish last season with eight or more wins. And it and the Mid-American conference were the only non-BCS conferences without a one-win team.

"Our conference is full of great teams and somebody like UNLV, who got picked (in the preseason rankings) can always come and knock the top team off," Schlueter said.

The Mountain West is also progressing off the field. The conference's television station will be part of DirecTV's standard package and the conference has the same proposal out to Dish Network.

Commissioner Craig Thompson said the conference is also in negotiations with the Humanitarian Bowl to be the league's fifth bowl partner.

In my continuing series on non-BCS recruiting budget, I turn my attention to the Sun Belt Conference.

The Sun Belt has the lowest recruiting budgets in the country. As I stated in the introduction Thursday, Louisiana-Monroe has a little more than $87,000 to spend on men's recruiting, which is among the lowest totals in the country.

The numbers from the Sun Belt are blown away by conferences such as the Mountain West and Mid-American, which are on the higher end of the non-BCS recruiting money scale. Although the Sun Belt is considered the lowest level non-BCS conference, it still pops up and punches bigger-budgets teams in the mouth every now and then. Troy defeated Missouri in 2004, and Louisiana-Monroe defeated Alabama and Florida Atlantic knocked off Minnesota last year.

Up next, the Western Athletic Conference.

Western Kentucky$297,212$433,174
Middle Tennessee State$260,081$355,423
Florida International$266,601$322,054
Florida Atlantic$176,388$256,903
Arkansas State$139,475$211,786
North Texas$102,307$181,841

Posted by's Graham Watson

The following are five clutch performers to watch this season. Again, there are far more than five players who could make clutch plays this season, but these five are the best for their team's success. These are in no particular order.

Max Hall, QB, BYU -- Several BYU quarterbacks have made clutch plays to make the Cougars great and Hall has a chance to carry on that legacy. The schedule sets up nicely for BYU to make a run at another undefeated season.

Eugene Jarvis, RB, Kent State -- No one is expecting a lot out of Kent State this year, but Jarvis could be the spark the team is looking for. He is the nation's top returning running back and could be the MAC's Offensive Player of the Year.

Tom Brandstater, QB, Fresno State -- Fresno State will go as far as Brandstater will take them, and it won't be easy with a brutal nonconference schedule. He'll need to pull out some clutch wins to keep Fresno State afloat.

Ian Johnson, RB, Boise State -- Johnson was plagued by injuries last year, but says he can return to 2006 form this season. Johnson has been the team's catalyst for the last few years and will need to return to that form to return Boise State to the top of the WAC.

Rusty Smith, QB, Florida Atlantic -- Smith led the Owls to the Sun Belt championship last year and has the talent to do it again. The Owls are just starting to gain national attention, but a great season by Smith could make FAU a non-BCS sleeper.

Posted by's Graham Watson 

Next, the Mountain West.

UNLV comes in with one of the highest recruiting budgets in the non-BCS. This is understandable because there's not a lot of talent in the state of Nevada. However, with a men's recruiting budget of over $500,000 (I know for all male sports), UNLV should be a lot better at football.

The most surprising stat to me was Colorado State recruiting budget. Sonny Lubick was working with a huge handicap there. It will be interesting to see how new coach Steve Fairchild operates with those monetary restrictions.

San Diego State$336,880$537,391
New Mexico$314,492$436,991
Colorado State$192,245$307,621

Posted by's Graham Watson

Who has the biggest recruiting budget?

The Chronicle of Higher Education published a report for its August issue detailing the recruiting budgets for more than 1,000 collegiate institutions across the country. The report encapsulates all recruiting, not just football, but breaks it down by money spent on each gender.

Tennessee, Notre Dame, Florida, Auburn, Kansas State, Georgia, Nebraska, Arkansas, Duke, and Ohio State round out the top 10, while schools such as Illinois, Texas, Oklahoma and West Virginia are scattered across the nation's top 25.

According to the article, 21 Division I schools each spent more than $1 million in 2007, including all of the schools listed above (Tennessee was the only school over $2 million). The 65 top teams spent a total of more than $61 million in 2007, an 86 percent increase from 10 years before.

So what does this mean for the non-BCS?

Well, it doesn't take a mathematician to realize that the schools of the non-BCS don't have the scratch to keep up with the big boys in recruiting. Of the 51 non-BCS schools, not including the independents, only UNLV tops $700,000 in recruiting with $514,025 to spend on men's sports. Only four schools have total recruiting budgets of more than $600,000, but just two use over $400,000 for men's sports. The WAC doesn't have a team that spends more than $352,000 on men's sports recruiting (Idaho). The next biggest spender in the WAC is New Mexico at $305,000. The Sun Belt doesn't have a team that spends more than $266,000 -- Florida International. Middle Tennessee State spent $260,000 on men's sports. There's not another team in the $200,000s.

Louisiana-Monroe, the team that knocked off Alabama last year, has a men's sports recruiting budget of just over $87,000, the lowest of the non-BCS. Want more perspective? Appalachian State, the Division I-AA team that knocked off Michigan last year, spends around $140,000 on men's recruiting.

Of course these totals don't all go to football, though football recruiting takes up a significant portion, and different conferences have different men's sports. But the vast differences in recruiting budgets, even across the non-BCS, is staggering. What's even more interesting is that the teams that are consistently winning -- Boise State ($228,172 for men's sports), Hawaii ($190,387) and Troy ($133,297) -- work on some of the smallest men's recruiting budgets in Division I-A.

Over the next few posts, I'll break down each non-BCS conference by men's sports recruiting money and overall recruiting money. The numbers will amaze. It's not always the biggest budgets that mark success.

Coming up in the next post, Conference USA.

Let MWC media days begin

July, 21, 2008

Posted by's Graham Watson

LAS VEGAS -- Welcome the Independents and Others blog (otherwise known as the non-BCS blog). We're officially kicking off ESPN's Blog Network with in-depth coverage of media days. My goal is to take you both inside and outside of the media room and give you a feel for the event.

If you've been reading the non-BCS blog for the last couple weeks, thanks. However, that was just a sampling of what's to come this season. Now that the season has officially begun (at least from a media standpoint), there will be more posts with more information than has ever provided on the non-BCS teams before. Chances are every time you check back there's going to be a new posts, so check back often.

I will be learning about the 54 teams of the non-BCS while providing you comprehensive coverage of the schools you love. I welcome feedback -- I know there's already been quite a bit -- and I want to know what you want to know. All ideas are welcome in this forum just send them to my mailbag.

Over the next few days I'll be taking you through the magical world of media days. It's a dizzying time where coaches and players move from microphone to microphone during a two-day span voicing their hopes and concerns about the upcoming season.

First up is the Mountain West Conference from Las Vegas. I believe the MWC has some of the strongest non-BCS teams in the country, including BYU, which has a legitimate chance of making a BCS bowl this season.

"I think we have an excellent team returning and I think the program philosophy now has matured and is engrained in our team to the point where it more is replacing and reloading the faces that have left rather than identifying and trying to develop new names and faces," BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall said.

BYU starts this season with a 10-game winning streak from last year and has won 11 games in each of the past two years. It's those results that have BYU coaches, players and fans thinking the team is poised to return BYU football to its glory years of the '80s.

"The expectations have just increased around our program to the point where folks are now talking again about BYU like its glory years and as a national contender," Mendenhall said. "Our goal all along is to try and return the program to that place. When you consider having 10 of 11 players back offensively, and really, most of our losses being defensively, I think it allows a lot of excitement and scoring potential. I think that's why most folks have us maybe being predicted as an early season favorite in the league and maybe on the national level."

The official MWC media poll will be released today and I'll post it as soon as I see it. My guess is that BYU and Utah top the conference with TCU, Nevada and New Mexico rounding out the top five.

MWC media days will begin with television interviews as early as 8 a.m., but print folks, such as myself, won't begin until 9 a.m. I'll be loitering around the lobby to see if I can get some interesting tidbits before then. It is Vegas, after all.

In fact, I ran into both the BYU and Utah student-athlete representatives Sunday afternoon.

Utah quarterback Brian Johnson was being interviewed and teammate Louis Sakoda looked on. As luck would have it, Johnson finished right when a troop of Hawaiian Tropic models were walking through the hotel. He stopped them and he and Sakoda took photos with about seven young ladies.

I also ran into BYU quarterback Max Hall and he told me he had flown in from Arizona after attending the wedding of BYU tight end Dennis Pitta, who married the sister of Hall's wife, Mckinzi.

"I'm really close with him and all my receivers," Hall said.  "To be honest I was really hoping she'd marry him. I was being a little selfish."

Hall and defensive lineman Jan Jorgensen have never been to a media day, and said they've been told that they'll answer the same questions many times over. As for down time, Hall said he spent his sleeping. Jorgensen isn't sure what the two will do.

"We don't drink, don't gamble, don't really do anything," he said. "We'll probably go to the pool, but we can't be hanging around the Hawaiian Tropic girls like the Utah guys."

Coaches and student-athletes will speak from a podium for 10 minutes then coaches will have individual interviews. The student-athletes will have their individual interviews with print media on Tuesday.  

The print interview schedule is as follows (player representatives in parentheses):

Air Force (Travis Dekker, Ryan Kemp)
New Mexico (Zach Arnett, Donovan Porterie)
Wyoming (Ward Dobbs, Devin Moore)
Utah (Brian Johnson, Louis Sakoda)
Colorado State (Jeff Horinek, Kory Sperry)
TCU (Blake Schlueter, Jason Phillips)
BYU (Max Hall, Jan Jorgensen)
San Diego State (Russell Allen, Tyler Campbell)
UNLV (Casey Flair, Frank Summers)