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Friday, January 7, 2011
Mountain West crowned top conference

By Gregg Found

Sure, TCU is bolting for the Big East, Utah is jetting for the Pac-10 and BYU is leaving to become a football independent. But in case you haven’t been paying attention, the Mountain West is the best conference in the country.

At least in bowl season.

The MWC’s 4-1 record in bowl games this year is the best of any conference, and it hands the MWC the latest edition of the Bowl Challenge Cup. The Cup, given to the conference with the best bowl winning percentage, was implemented in 2002 by ESPN.

The MWC has won it a whopping four times in the Cup’s nine-year history. No conference has even come close to those four Cup wins -- the ACC (two wins) is the only other conference to have earned the Cup more than once. Suffice to say, bowl season is where the MWC teams shine. The conference has won three of the last four and four of the last seven Cups.

Let’s do a quick rundown of the teams that made the Mountain West’s win possible:

• BYU opened bowl season with a 52-24 win against UTEP in the New Mexico Bowl.
• Utah, the conference’s only loser, dropped the MAACO Bowl Las Vegas 26-3 to Boise State.
• San Diego State cruised against Navy 35-14 in the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl.
• Air Force beat a major conference opponent in the AdvoCare V100 Independece Bowl, topping Georgia Tech 14-7.
• And in the Granddaddy of Them All, TCU beat Wisconsin 21-19.

It’s probably fitting that in the bowl season where TCU became the first team from a non-AQ conference to win the Rose Bowl, a win that many said was “for the little guys,” the Horned Frogs’ conference follows suit with a dominating performance.

The Mountain West might look quite a bit different in the years to come, but they can enjoy their Bowl Challenge Cup win for the time being.

Of course, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the Sun Belt’s narrow miss. Had Middle Tennessee won Thursday night, the Sun Belt would have gone a perfect 3-0 in bowls and claimed the Cup.

Yes, all three of those wins would have come against MAC teams, which doesn’t quite compare to the competition that most other conferences faced. But that’s still no small feat, considering that the Sun Belt had never before even had the required three bowl teams to be eligible for the Cup.

Plus, the Sun Belt only had two teams with winning regular-season records this season. And the conference went a whopping 4-32 in non-conference games during the regular season. So even with a 2-1 record in bowl games, the Sun Belt has a performance it can be proud of.