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Aaron Brown, TCU

Never mind How The West Was Won.

One of the emerging themes of the 2008 college football season is How The West Is Winning.

It's the rise of two unheralded, non-BCS conferences west of the Mississippi.

Check out this week's Associated Press Top 25. One-fifth of the teams included in those rankings hail from the Mountain West Conference (No. 11 BYU, No. 17 Utah and No. 24 TCU) and the Western Athletic Conference (No. 19 Boise State and No. 25 Fresno State).

By comparison, BCS conferences like the Pac-10 (USC) and Big East (South Florida) have just one ranked team each. The Atlantic Coast Conference has two (Wake Forest and Clemson).

Indeed, the college football landscape is changing as MWC and WAC teams vie for a Bowl Championship Series berth. Meanwhile, a couple of other non-BCS teams, East Carolina (No. 23) and Tulsa, have also made noise this season.

BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall said teams from non-BCS conferences are showing that they belong.

"I think in the competitive world, there can be complacency. Possibly, the Pac-10 and the BCS conferences, because of their budgets, because of their facilities, because of tradition or whatever other reasons there might be, they might think those things mean that they play better football," Mendenhall explained.

"What the trend is showing is, that's not the case. Schools from Conference USA, the Mountain West, the WAC, the Mid-American Conference on any given week are proving to be very competitive. I'm not saying all those conferences are equal, but what I'm saying is, the gap that's perceived to be so wide, really isn't."

When it comes to non-BCS conferences, the West has been best.

Ten years ago, the then-16-team WAC split up as Air Force, BYU, Colorado State, New Mexico, San Diego State, UNLV, Utah and Wyoming bolted to create the MWC. Instead of crumbling, the WAC added Boise State while other programs improved. The MWC, meanwhile, added TCU in 2005.

Utah became the first non-BCS team to qualify for a BCS game, in 2004, and the Utes crushed Pittsburgh in the Fiesta Bowl. The last two years, the WAC has had one of its members break into the BCS, as Boise State qualified for the Fiesta Bowl and knocked off Oklahoma in an epic overtime contest; then, last fall, it was Hawaii's turn, though Georgia smashed the Warriors in the Sugar Bowl.

This season, the MWC is flexing its muscles. Not only does it have three ranked teams, but going into this weekend, the league is 5-0 against Pac-10 opponents.

"In the Mountain West, supposedly we're the little guy, but we're starting to show people that we can play with about anybody in the country," said BYU linebacker David Nixon. "That's something that's pretty special for us."

Here's a rundown on the West's top non-BCS teams:


AP ranking: 11

Record: 4-0

Wins: Northern Iowa (47-17), at Washington (28-27), UCLA (59-0), Wyoming (44-0)

Remaining schedule: at Utah State, New Mexico, at TCU, UNLV, at Colorado State, San Diego State, at Air Force, at Utah.

Outlook: The Cougars control their own destiny, as long as they keep winning. The toughest part of their nonconference schedule is over and the biggest obstacles to an undefeated season and a BCS berth appear to be the two conference road games at TCU on Oct. 16 and at Utah on Nov. 22. That showdown between the Utes and Cougars could be a BCS winner-take-all scenario.


AP ranking: 17

Record: 4-0

Wins: at Michigan (25-23), UNLV (42-21), at Utah State (58-10), at Air Force (30-23)

Remaining schedule: Weber State, Oregon State, at Wyoming, Colorado State, at New Mexico, TCU, at San Diego State, BYU.

Outlook: Utah has one more nonconference game remaining, when it welcomes Oregon State to Rice-Eccles Stadium on Oct. 2. Of the three MWC contenders, the Utes have the most favorable schedule — hosting both TCU (Nov. 6) and BYU.

Boise State

AP ranking: 19

Record: 3-0

Wins: Idaho State (49-7), Bowling Green (20-7), at Oregon (37-32)

Remaining schedule: Louisiana Tech, at Southern Miss, Hawaii, at San Jose State, at New Mexico State, Utah State, at Idaho, at Nevada, Fresno State.

Outlook: Fresh off their win at Oregon, the Broncos still have to play at Southern Miss on Oct. 11 and host Fresno State on Nov. 28.


AP ranking: 24

Record: 4-0

Wins: at New Mexico (26-3), Stephen F. Austin (67-7), Stanford (31-14), at SMU (48-7)

Remaining schedule: at Oklahoma, San Diego State, at Colorado State, BYU, Wyoming, at UNLV, at Utah, Air Force.

Outlook: If the Horned Frogs can knock off No. 2 Oklahoma on Saturday, TCU could be regarded as the MWC frontrunner. It hosts BYU on Oct. 16 in a game that will have huge BCS implications.

Fresno State

AP ranking: 25

Record: 2-1

Wins: at Rutgers (24-7), at Toledo (55-54, 2 OT)

Loss: Wisconsin, 13-10

Remaining schedule: at UCLA, Hawaii, Idaho, at Utah State, at Louisiana Tech, Nevada, New Mexico State, San Jose State, at Boise State.

Outlook: Though the Bulldogs are the only team on this list with a loss and are the lowest-ranked team of this group, they could still impact the BCS with their game at Boise State.