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Randy Hollis: MWC right to celebrate bowl success

Published: Saturday, Jan. 8 2011 10:50 p.m. MST

The Mountain West Conference is proudly pounding its chest today after winning the annual ESPN Bowl Challenge Cup for the second straight year.

And what in the world, you might rightfully wonder, is the ESPN Bowl Challenge Cup?

Well, it's a rather unheralded, obscure competition, organized by ESPN beginning in 2002, in which our favorite four-letter word — otherwise known as the world-wide leading all-sports network — recognizes the conference that posts the best bowl-game winning percentage among the 11 conferences that comprise the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS).

A conference must have a minimum of three teams participating in postseason play to qualify for the "coveted" Cup — you know, the one none of us really knew about or pay much attention to.

As our BYU beat writer, Jeff Call, pointed out in an article in Saturday's sports section, the Mountain West went 4-1 in its five bowl-game appearances that capped the 2010 campaign, and the MWC's .800 winning percentage can't be beat by any of those other so-called major conferences like the SEC, Pac-10 or Big East, which still have teams playing today and Monday.

This marks the second straight year that the Mountain West has claimed the Cup, and the fourth time in seven years. The MWC is the only conference to win the award in consecutive seasons and is also the only league that's won it more than twice.

But before we get too puffed up about the MWC's apparent bowl-game dominance, we need to point out that, if that perennial college football powerhouse otherwise known as Middle Tennessee State had beaten Miami (Ohio) in the Who'sYerDaddy Bowl (or whatever it was called), then that bastion of college football, the Sun Belt Conference, would've won this year's Bowl Challenge Cup with a 3-0 record.

So while the Mountain West should be mighty proud of its postseason accomplishments, let's not make too much out of it.

Besides, two of the five MWC teams that played in this year's bowl-game marathon, BYU and Utah, have gone Elvis (who, bless his blue suede shoes, would've turned 76 years old Saturday) — they've all but left the Mountain West building. And another one, TCU — which became the first non-BCS school to play in and win the Rose Bowl — will be walking out the door real soon, too.

BYU and Utah have contributed mightily to the Mountain West's bowl-game success over the last several seasons. The Utes had won nine straight bowl games before their Las Vegas Bowl setback to Boise State, which joins the MWC next season. And the Cougars have come home with wins in four of their last five bowl appearances.

Some folks would argue that the reason for the Mountain West's success is that MWC teams are facing a lot of mediocre opponents in bowl games. While this year's BYU bowl opponent, UTEP, would certainly qualify as such, don't forget that Utah and BYU have both knocked off some big-time programs from BSC conferences over the years as well.

After all, the Mountain West press release proudly proclaims that the league has posted an 11-3 bowl record against BCS automatic-qualifying conferences since 2004, and that the MWC has an overall bowl record of 13-7 against opponents from AQ leagues since the league's inception in 1999.

Over the past seven seasons, the Mountain West's overall bowl game winning percentage of .710 (22-9) is better than any of the 11 Challenge Cup conferences in the country.

Not too shabby at all. The league, indeed, has plenty to be proud of when it comes to the Challenge Cup, even if a lot of folks out there either didn't know about it, chose to ignore it or pooh-pooh the MWC's postseason record.

So, as they walk away from the Mountain West, Utah and BYU can certainly feel good about their contributions to the league's postseason success in capturing the Cup, obscure as it may be.

It'll be interesting to see if Mountain West newcomers Boise State, Nevada, Fresno State and Hawaii can join the likes of San Diego State and Air Force to help the conference continue to build upon that kind of bowl-game dominance in the years to come.

e-mail: rhollis@desnews.com

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