Or were they?
Did the Mountain West, specifically TCU, live up to its hype last night? It's hard to argue the conference wasn't let down by the Frogs' performance - but to what degree? There many will differ and I'm not so sure anyone can fully answer the question. I say this because it appears there has yet to be a consensus formed in the minds of many nationally. Is Boise State just that good or are both just meh and TCU was more meh? If it's the latter, perception will sting the Mountain West and everything gained over the course of the last two years will have been lost. If it's the former, the outlook is still sketchy.
But isn't that what the BCS wanted in the first place? Why else would they pit Boise State and Texas Christian against one another? The possibility of a Utah-Alabama-like performance goes right out the window and the winner is essentially forced from the limelight by the time the national championship rolls around. That wasn't the case last year. Utah's win was lasting and played a major role in the subsequent discussion. I'm not so sure, after Alabama takes on Texas, anyone will be talking about the Broncos' legitimate argument for at least a share of the national championship.
In that regard, TCU and the Mountain West is hurt because there isn't a conference-defining win to be had. The Broncos made sure of it. Even if TCU had won, though, it still wouldn't have been able to hold a candle to Utah's win in the 2009 Sugar Bowl because - and I think this was purposely done by the BCS - it came against another non-BCS team.
Boise State is still Boise State. They may have changed a few minds, but I'm willing to bet a good number of those who count - the media and the BCS bigwigs - still see them as a glorified junior college who beats up on a bunch of bad teams from colleges no one gives a damn about .
TCU, though, was different. They were different because the Mountain West beefed up its street cred with not just the Utes' big BCS win last year, but the Frogs' doing in the Poinsettia Bowl and the fact the Cougars managed to win ten games.
Add the early success of BYU and the sustained success of Utah and you have a conference that trumps the WAC in perception.
Which ultimately means the Broncos and the WAC gained more by beating TCU than TCU could have ever gained by beating the Broncos. There is no upside with this defeat. You can't pass it off as just another loss to a really good team. Not when the margin of error for Utah and TCU in these types of games is extremely small. Just as it was for Hawaii - who went out and got thumped badly by Georgia.
The saving grace in all of this, of course, is that the WAC still hasn't been able to establish itself as more than a one-team league. That was proven this bowl season when their second and third-best teams lost winnable games in ridiculous fashion.
In the end, it wasn't the WAC who gained here. Instead, it was Boise State. They gained because, as a program, they've been able to dominate in a way no team has been able to do in modern college football outside of Florida State in the 1990s. They don't just win the WAC every year - they own it.
In today's world, that just doesn't happen anymore.
So, because of this, the loss does hurt. It hurts because this is a battle of perception and Utah and TCU might belong to a better conference than the WAC, but can anyone now honestly say they're overall better than the WAC's best team?
Boise State is now our biggest enemy because they will be the favorite to bust the BCS next year. And maybe there won't be room for two non-BCS teams like in 2009. This year, TCU was given a leg up because of their perceived conference strength. Next year, though, who's to say it's not Boise State getting a leg up because of what they did to the perceived better team from the perceived better conference?
As improbable as it may seem, and I don't say this as if I expect or believe it will happen, but if it's Boise State ranked number two behind Ohio State and Utah is third - do they have a legitimate case of getting into the national championship game over an undefeated Broncos team?
I'm not so sure.
Had TCU won last night, I think Boise State takes a hit perception wise. They take a hit because it solidifies the belief that the Mountain West is not only a superior conference to the WAC, its champion is also superior. That case can only be half-made now.
So, if the things break Utah's way or TCU's way next year and either have a legitimate shot at playing in the BCS or playing in the national championship, it just may be the Broncos who deny them a bid.
I mean, this is a race and we've lost ground here. I'm not saying we're doomed or that the Mountain West will struggle next year to best the WAC and Boise State. I'm just saying that this very well could have been a fatal blow for the WAC and Boise State. At least a blow that set them back a few years. It wasn't delivered and instead maybe perception will now dictate that TCU and the Mountain West weren't who people really thought they were.
Then again, maybe nothing will be gained or learned from this game. It wasn't exactly a perfect performance by the Broncos. If that's the lasting image of the 2010 Fiesta Bowl, then it could be a win be default for TCU and the Mountain West.