When the Utes -- along with Wyoming, BYU, Air Force, Colorado State, New Mexico, Wyoming, UNLV and San Diego State -- bolted the WAC for the Mountain West Conference, there were talks about the Mountain West possibly becoming the 7th BCS conference. After Utah crashed the BCS in 2004, those talks resurfaced, this time asking whether the Mountain West should replace the Big East and their automatic bid into the BCS system. Two years later, that question has been answered with an emphatic no.
Since the Utes' undefeated BCS busting season in 2004, they've gone 14-10 in two years. And while the Mountain West Conference has had two teams in a row finish their regular season in the top-24 (TCU in '05, BYU in '06), the Big East had its best season ever, with West Virginia flirting with the national championship, Louisville cracking the top ten, and Rutgers dream season.
Worse, the conference now sends its champion to the Las Vegas Bowl. A bowl game no one cares about in a city that would rather spend time at the slots than at the stadium. While I have no doubt BYU will pack the place in, for the second straight season, the game is less than compelling outside of a few local plot twists. Like Gary Crowton, Oregon's OC, going up against the team he once coached. But beyond that, the national media will skip over this bowl game like it pitted the Sun Belt Champion against a MAC team.
Of course the Vegas Bowl is just one of a few massively inept missteps when it comes to the MWC's post season. It was only two years ago that the conference sent its champion to the Liberty Bowl, a game that was played on December 29th and against the Mountain West Conference Champion and the C-USA Champion. While less compelling to Ute fans than maybe Utah playing a ranked team, the payout was far more generous than anything the conference has currently, and the buzz surrounding that bowl game trumps anything created by the Vegas Bowl.
Of course the worst part about the MWC bowl picture is that every game will be over by Christmas. The San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl -- say that in one breath -- kicks off the bowl season on December 19th, and the final bowl the Mountain West has ties to ends on the 23rd. That's the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl, the one Utah will be participating in. Pre-Christmas bowl games were supposed to be reserved for teams from the Sun Belt Conference and MAC, not the Mountain West. What a fine mess we've gotten ourselves into here, at least the WAC's champion (unless they're Boise and going to the BCS), plays their bowl game on New Years Eve.
But beyond the bowl picture, it's the inability for the Mountain West to secure a solid TV deal that has really hampered any efforts at building a solid conference. Leaving ESPN for the mtn. can be described as an utter failure, and that's putting it mildly. About 2 people pick up the mtn. and while some games were played on Versus and CSTV, it doesn't begin to make anything worth it. It was a definitely poor planned decision by Mountain West officials and I doubt next year will be any better.
Looking past the struggles on the football field for the Mountain West (the fact that only BYU, Utah, TCU and New Mexico are bowl bound -- the latter of which with a 6-6 record) the conference is in pretty poor shape. I think the athletic directors and school presidents should demand that Craig Thompson step down. If they don't, this conference will probably continue to toil in mediocrity.