Updated Nov. 16
Ever since the Western Athletic Conference divided in 1999, the debate has raged. It's been like Superman vs. Batman, blondes vs. brunettes, Republicans vs. Democrats. Although recently it's looked more like the last House mid-term elections -- clearly one-sided.
Yup, that's been the Mountain West in recent years compared to the WAC, its long-lost relative, with the key being "recent years." Because this season, it's not so obvious.
Let's face it, the Mountain West has built up some cred behind the strength of TCU, Utah and BYU. However, we found out early the Cougars weren't the same team this season and learned in the last two weeks Utah isn't either. The Utes' destruction at the hands of TCU followed by their demoralizing loss to Notre Dame does a lot of damage. Not only to Utah and the Mountain West, but to TCU and its title hopes.
San Diego State is helping pick up some of the slack, enjoying a renaissance under coach Brady Hoke, but isn't strong enough yet to help carry the weight. Utah's pull in the past has been a lot stronger than SDSU can provide right now.
That brings us back to the Mountain West/WAC debate -- a hot topic this season because of the situation with Boise State and TCU. One, the Broncos, have put up with a lot more bashing over their conference and schedule than the other, and that's partly thanks to the reputations each has built. But it's a debate worth reopening now.
TCU's best opponent in the league was supposed to be Utah. The Utes' best win came over Pitt -- but it was a game Utah won at home in overtime. The Panthers, whose resume was unimpressive to begin with, then played Miami in Pittsburgh and were trounced. Also, both Utah and Pitt were taken down this season by the perfectly mediocre Notre Dame. Utah was clearly benefitting from some soft schedule wins and a favorable perception of its program and the league.
So that would seem to favor the third- or fourth-best team in the ACC over the second or third in the Mountain West. Not a bad thing if we're talking about the SEC, but the ACC has had some well-chronicled struggles.
The WAC, on the other hand, has the same number of ranked teams, with Nevada now sitting higher than Utah, and boasts a couple of nice squads in Fresno State and Hawaii. Plus, the WAC is winning the inter-league battle this season, seven games to four, with one more left to play, which will likely go to the WAC when UNLV visits Hawaii.
Despite those numbers, it's a very tight contest. Much tighter than many seem to think.
Still, the Mountain West was the big mover this week -- that is, moving down in the power rankings.
1. SEC (Last week: 1): The Good: Two teams in the top five in the country -- including the No. 2 squad -- and six in the Top 25 (even though a few teams look a tad higher than where they might deserve). The Bad: The champion of the East (South Carolina) winning the division with a 5-3 record, the only team above .500. The Ugly: The upcoming game between Vanderbilt (1-6) and Tennessee (1-5).
2. Big Ten (LW: 2): The Good: Still has three teams in the top 11 and a couple of candidates in the "best one-loss team in the country" conversation -- Wisconsin and its suddenly explosive offense and Ohio State. The Bad: There's nothing the league can do now, but the lack of a great non-conference win. The Ugly: Illinois losing to Minnesota. Just like that, Zook's seat is burning again.
3. Big 12 (LW: 3): The Good: Oklahoma State -- and to a lesser degree, Texas A&M -- continuing to play so well and fill a void being left by other teams slipping. The Bad: This late in the season, only seven teams are bowl-eligible. A couple more will likely get in when it's all done, but likely with less than impressive 6-6 records. The Ugly: The Texas freefall continues.
4. Pac-10 (LW: 4): The Good: Oregon. What's not to like? The offense was finally stymied, and so the D carried the weight. Also, Chip Kelly's confidence continues to pay huge dividends. The two-point conversion early was the difference. The Bad: Again, inconsistency. Cal is a good example. At home it's a Top 25 squad -- but on the road, probably not even top 50. Another example is ... The Ugly: Really, Oregon State? Losing to Wazzu at home?
5. ACC (LW: 6): The Good: A free promotion based on the leagues below. Oh, and Virginia Tech looks like the team most critics believed it would be. The Bad: Mediocre is the word that comes to mind when looking at the rest of the league. No team seems capable of winning the Atlantic Division. The Ugly: What has happened to Wake Forest? The Deacons have gone from the Orange Bowl a few seasons ago to probably the ACC's worst this year.
6. WAC (LW: 7): The Good: Boise State and Nevada continue to hold their rankings. The Bad: Nobody seems able to challenge Boise (but Fresno and Nevada are still to come). Thought maybe the Vandals would start to breakthrough this year, but the loss to the Broncos shows Idaho isn't there. The Ugly: San Jose State can't buy a conference win.
7. Mountain West (LW: 5): The Good: TCU keeps winning, and hanging in the national championship conversation. Plus, San Diego State has only three losses by a combined 11 points. The Bad: Utah and BYU going through rough patches at different times this season. The Ugly: In a nine-team conference, four of the programs already have eight or more losses.
8. Big East (LW: 8): The Good: There is still a BCS berth to play for. Also, no team has more than six losses, meaning each program can hold out hope for getting into a bowl. The Bad: No team has more than seven wins, and only Syracuse has reached that number. The Ugly: Try and find a good non-conference win. The closest is West Virginia over Maryland. Outside of that, squadoosh.
9. C-USA (LW: 9): The Good: The battle in the East is a good one. Plus, the league had some nice wins this season, notably ECU over N.C. State and Tulsa over Notre Dame. The Bad: UCF falling out of the Top 25 as fast as it got in. Would have been nice for the league to hold a spot a little longer. The Ugly: The West Division features five teams with at least five losses on the year.
10. MAC (LW: 10): The Good: Two teams (Temple and Northern Illinois) are in the others-receiving-votes category, both higher than any team from the Big East, C-USA and Sun Belt. The Bad: No one program has been able to put together a good, prolonged run to establish the beginnings of a factory. The Ugly: Akron, the only team in the nation without a win; 0-10 is the definition of ugly.
11. Sun Belt (LW: 11): The Good: Umm, there is one team with a winning record. That's something. The Bad: The best non-conference win the league scored was FAU over UAB. The Ugly: Where do you start? I thought a few years ago this conference would start to grow up, be able to get on par with the MAC, having the inherent advantage of being in the South. I was way off!