Tier Two Conference Comparison

Nate Crain continues the debate over which of the "have-nots" are worthy to join the "haves" in the BCS. Crain found that no conference has made a strong claim that they deserve to play, and get paid, with the big boys. The weeks to come could change that evaluation, however.

The college football season is winding down and mostly conference games remain on the schedule. Now is a good time to look back to see how each of the conferences vying for an automatic BCS bid have fared against BCS opponents and the number of top 25 finishers each conference will likely have at the end of the season. The BCS decided during the off season that it will strongly consider the number of top 25 finishers each conference provides at the end of each season and over a four season span.

Arguably, the three conferences with the best chance to get an automatic bid when the BCS re-evaluates its current bids are the Mountain West Conference, Conference USA, and the controversial current automatic bid holder the Big East Conference. The comparison of these three conferences shows some marked differences in performance.

Conference USA has had by far the most disappointing season with regard to its lack of success against BCS opponents. In fact, Conference USA's combined record against BCS opponents is 2-18! The two wins came against Mississippi State and Duke who a combined record of 3-16. The fact is, Conference USA has not competed at a high enough level against BCS opponents this season to make the case that it deserves an automatic BCS bid.

There is an above average chance that Conference USA will have one top 25 finisher in UTEP at the end of the season. Interestingly enough, UTEP (7-1) is the only team in the conference that did not schedule any BCS opponents this season. Even if UTEP wins out, its strength of schedule will hold it back from getting a high ranking, but a bowl game win or loss will likely determine its fate between ranked and unranked. The rest of the teams in the conference have three or more losses, however there is an outside chance that Southern Miss could slip into the rankings at the end of the season with a bowl win.

The Big East Conference has fared a little bit better than Conference USA in beating BCS opponents at a higher yet unimpressive rate with a 4-10 combined record. The four victories came against the combined 15-18 Kentucky, Oregon State, North Carolina, and Maryland. The four victories do not show the quality of the conference as much as the strength of Louisville, which defeated three of those four BCS opponents. To its credit, West Virginia did beat a respectable Maryland team. The rest of the conference has proven very little with their out of conference schedules.

West Virginia and Louisville are by far the Big East's two best teams as they are both are in the current top 25 rankings with records of 7-1 and 6-2 respectively. Louisville and Pittsburgh were the media darlings at the beginning of the season, but West Virginia has stolen the spotlight. Surprisingly, South Florida is still in the conference race with just one conference loss and West Virginia still to play. West Virginia needs to win out or the Big East faces another year of ridicule for letting a mediocre team represent the conference in the BCS bowl game. Barring a collapse. both Louisville and West Virginia should finish in the top 25. The rest of the conference has been somewhat disappointing

The Mountain West Conference has proven the most with regard to parity within its ranks, putting up a 5-8 record against BCS opponents with all five victories made by different conference teams. The wins are against Missouri, Washington, Arizona, Mississippi, and Oklahoma with a combined record of 17-26. The marquee conference win of TCU over Oklahoma in Norman was probably the biggest surprise of the season for many fans.

Although TCU has had several close calls this season, it has proven to be the premiere team in the Mountain West with a record of 9-1 record and #18 ranking with only one game left against lowly UNLV. Thus, a Liberty Bowl berth and a top 25 ranking are virtually a lock for TCU. The rest of the conference has beaten each other up during conference play and no team has separated itself from the pack, although BYU has a four-game conference win streak.

Based on this season's performance thus far, it appears that Conference USA has not made a strong case for the automatic BCS bid based on its 2-18 BCS record and the possible lack of top 25 finishers. Neither the Mountain West nor the Big East have fared particularly well as against BCS opponents, but they have each had marginal success at 5-8 and 4-10. The Big East has a slight advantage with two current top 25 compares to the Mountain West's one. Of course, the verdict will not be in on the "second tier" D-I conferences until the bowl games have been played and the final 25 rankings are released.

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