Can we just stop this “let’s go back to the Mountain West” ridiculousness? I understand that BYU fans would love a little extra access to the College Football Playoff, and I understand that Utah fans love to poke fun at the Cougars. But the idea of BYU re-joining Wyoming and UNLV is getting way more traction than it ever deserved.
Those clamoring for MWC re-admittance point to the “Boise State model” as Exhibit A. Play one or two quality non-conference games, beat up on inferior conference opponents, finish the year undefeated, and skate into a major bowl game (and win it). And it’s tough to argue with that recipe; the Broncos have won two BCS bowls and a New Year’s 6 bowl in the last decade.
But at what price? Trips to Laramie every other year? A regular season of obscurity and irrelevance? Is it really better to beat New Mexico and Fresno State every year than to get the chance to play the likes of Nebraska, Michigan, UCLA, Michigan State, LSU, and Missouri? The BYU fan experience is exponentially better as an independent, especially now that the long term contracts Tim Holmoe signed years ago are coming to fruition.
And let’s not over-inflate the value of G5 membership. Although all BCS busters except one (Boise State in the 2009-2010 Fiesta Bowl) have earned their BCS bowl bids through the automatic bid created for non-AQ conferences, all but one did it with an undefeated record (Northern Illinois in the 2012-2013 season). That means that the extra access non-AQs got in the BCS didn’t really help them that much; they almost certainly would have earned most of their BCS bids at-large.
I must concede, however, that the G5 conferences have better access under the CFP system than they did in the BCS years. Specifically, the highest ranked G5 team gets a New Year’s 6 bid no matter what, whereas non-AQ teams only got an automatic BCS bid if they were ranked in the top 12 or ranked in the top 16 and above an AQ conference champ. It must be admitted, then, that membership in a G5 conference is more valuable now than it was during the BCS years.
But not much. Sure, Boise State benefitted greatly from the G5 auto-bid this year, but going forward that will likely be the exception, not the rule. As was the case throughout the history of the BCS, most years the top-ranked G5 team will earn its spot on its own merits, meaning BYU won’t be able to get away with a 2- or 3-loss season and still hope to make it to a NY6 bowl. Even as a G5 member, BYU would have to go undefeated (or maybe have one loss to, say, UCLA in Pasadena) most years to have any realistic dream of going to a NY6.
BYU is charting a new course, creating the “BYU model,” if you will. Instead of getting respect by winning a lot of easy games and a few tough ones, they have opted to play a riskier schedule against elite competition. Realistic BYU fans understand that this will undoubtedly result in fewer wins than they are used to. But Holmoe and company are betting that the heavy exposure, relationships with top-tier programs and conference, and occasional victories against elite teams will earn BYU the respect they feel they deserve and put them in position to benefits from the next big conference shakeup. It also helps that BYU doesn’t have to share its ESPN money with a dozen other teams.
Aside from the obviously more entertaining nature of independence, the BYU model has a better chance of leading to a P5 invitation than the Boise State model. After all, if winning a lot of games is all it took, the Broncos would have been invited long ago. And yet, here they are, filling the spot of MWC powerhouse left vacant when Utah, TCU, and BYU left.
They can keep that spot. The best, most lucrative, and most entertaining path to inclusion for BYU is independence.
Update: A previous version of this article stated that Utah and Boise State earned their BCS bids at large. That has been corrected.