The Mountain West Conference has been rocked by realignment in the last six months, both coming and going. Boise State joined up and, for a brief moment, it seemed like a BCS autobid might be in the cards. Then Utah bowed out, heading to join the Pac-Whatever with Colorado. Now, being formally announced as I write this, BYU has made it official that they will be independent next year. We know that Fresno State & Nevada are coming along shortly as well, but they certainly aren’t BYU & Utah. The MWC is now at a somewhat clunky 10 teams, so the question is whether or not they’ll move to find two more or adopt a nine game schedule.
For 2010, however, everybody’s still hunting for the last MWC championship in the BYU/Utah Era. TCU has the target on its back, after sweeping the league last year and earning an invite to the Fiesta Bowl. They’re stacked again this year and the consensus league favorite. Highly rated Utah will be challenger #1, and all eyes will be on their stadium when TCU visits on November 6. BYU can never be counted out, but a rebuilding process looks to have them a step below the top two this year. Air Force has lost a lot of players, but the skill guys are back and they’re looking to supplant BYU in the top echelon.
Until about a week ago, the Sun Belt looked like it belonged to Middle Tennessee State. Then it was discovered that star QB Dwight Dasher had taken a $1500 loan from a known gambler, lost it in a poker game, and failed to pay it back. He’s now been ruled ineligible by the NCAA and will be out at least 2-3 games depending on the success of MTSU’s appeals.
All is not lost for the Blue Raiders, as they have two experienced JuCo quarterbacks ready to go behind Dasher, and a talented backfield, so the suspension isn’t going to turn MTSU into Western Kentucky overnight, but it does close the gap back to the rest of the league. It does, however, diminish their chances for a big non-conference win.
Chasing down the Blue Raiders will be the Troy Trojans, who have shared or won the league outright each of the last three years, but face a big rebuilding project this year. Louisiana too will be a contender, with a lot of players returning from last year’s 6-6 club.
Conference USA has been featured in dozens of realignment rumors this summer, yet nothing has come to fruition. First was a rumor that Memphis and/or UCF and/or East Carolina were off to the Big East and it was a done deal. Nothing there. Then, with the MWC/WAC fallout was the rumor that Houston was gone to the Mountain West- nothing so far. There’s word that Louisiana Tech wants to join the league, but no indication that the league has any need for them. So, as of now, Conference USA looks exactly like it has since 2005.
Last year’s conference champs, East Carolina, have a new coach and lost a lot of their team over the offseason and look to be a dark horse at best in 2010. Meanwhile Houston, West division champs a year ago, is fully loaded and looks like they could make a splash nationally, and they assume the mantle of conference favorites. There will be no shortage of teams looking to take the Cougars down a notch, with UCF, Southern Miss, and SMU looking like the prime candidates to take their shot.
For all we know, this could be the last Western Athletic Conference preview ever. Probably not, but they’re on very shaky ground right now. As it stands, they plan to keep Fresno State and Nevada around through the 2011 season, meaning that next year they should operate as an 8 team conference with Boise’s departure to the Mountain West happening next summer.
Once Fresno & Nevada are gone, the WAC is down to six. Louisiana Tech is supposedly investigating/evaluating/begging a spot in C-USA or the Sun Belt, which would put them a lot closer to their competition, Utah State apparently wants into the MWC, and Hawaii has rumbled about going independent. The transition time from FCS up to FBS is at least two years, so even if they protect the six they have and add two or three from below, 2012 could be a limbo year. The NCAA may grant a waiver and allow them to compete with just six during this process, but there’s a lot still up in the air.
BYU’s decision on their independence is due tomorrow, which could have a lot to do with the WAC’s future stability.
But enough about all that, we have 2010 to think about. Obviously storyline 1A is Boise State. #5 in the Coaches Poll (the one that matters for the BCS), one of the dominant national preseason stories has been whether they can, or should, get a spot in the title game if they run the table. While the question of ‘should’ can be endlessly debated, our coverage at the site will mostly focus on the ‘can,’ assuming they beat Virginia Tech. But not now, this is a conference preview.
If we acknowledge that Boise State should be favored to win the WAC comfortably, the real race is for second in the league. Nevada lines up as the favorite for that role, as well as the WAC team with the best chance to disrupt Boise’s unbeaten streak. Fresno State and Idaho should figure into the race for second as well.
The team previews are done, so we’re zooming out a level to look at each conference as a whole, and we’re doing it fast- football is very nearly upon us.
The Mid-American Conference had what might have been a bit of a breakout year in 2009. Both division races went down to the last two weeks, with the East not being decided until the MAC’s now-traditional Thanksgiving Friday season finales. But the football was exciting and competitive all through the season, the league showed up for two of the best bowl games of the year, and Central Michigan ended the year 23 & 24 in the polls.
For 2010, we have two clear favorites and a few question marks right behind them about who will emerge- and someone always does- to push the favorites right to the end of the season. In the West, Northern Illinois is loaded and ready to chase down their first conference championship since 1983. In the East, the resurgent Temple team looks to avenge their final-Friday loss to Ohio and take their place in the title game.