Let's face it. The Mountain West Conference stinks in football this year.

Perhaps that's being a bit harsh, but the league certainly is down a few notches from its high point last year when it had a BCS bowl win to its credit and had two teams finishing in the final Top 10 and three in the Top 25.

After going 28-13 against nonconference opponents last year, the MWC has slipped to 20-15 overall with one more regular-season game remaining (Army at Air Force, Nov. 7) as well as bowl games.

Against automatic qualifier-BCS conferences, the MWC was 10-6 last year, the best record of any conference in the country, including a 6-2 mark against the Pac-10.

This year? The MWC has managed just a 5-9 mark against AQ-BCS leagues and is 0-3 against the Pac-10.

Breaking it down, the league has three good, not great teams this year in TCU, BYU and Utah.

It has three decent, not good teams in Air Force, Colorado State and Wyoming.

It has three lousy, not decent teams in New Mexico, UNLV and San Diego State.

Although the top three have just two losses among them in 16 games, it's arguable that each of the three schools isn't as good as a year ago.

Utah has one more loss than last year, and none of its wins has exactly been easy. TCU is unbeaten, but it barely hung on to beat Air Force on Saturday and Clemson before that. BYU is coming off its most complete game of the year but is saddled with the 26-point drubbing to what has turned out to be a poor Florida State team (now 2-4).

Air Force is solid as always but not any better than a year ago. Colorado State's upset over Colorado was negated by its loss to Idaho. Wyoming is the one team that is definitely better and could get one of the league's five bowl berths.

New Mexico is simply awful. The Lobos are 0-6 and getting outscored an average of 38-14 so far this season. UNLV started with some promise, but the Rebels have seemingly thrown in the towel for the year as evidenced by their allowing 122 points and 1,384 yards the past two weeks (that's an average of 61 points and 692 yards per game!). San Diego State is improved but not enough to get a winning record this year, and it will go bowl-less for the 12th consecutive year.

Looking ahead, it appears the Big Three won't lose except among themselves this year. BYU and Utah have already beaten Colorado State, and the Rams must play at TCU this week. Air Force has already lost to TCU, and the Falcons must play Utah and BYU on the road. Wyoming, despite its improvement, isn't good enough to challenge the Big Three, although it does get BYU and TCU in Laramie in November, never an easy proposition for opponents.

Despite the down year, the MWC can be happy about the fact that it has had three ranked teams most of the season (Utah moved back into the AP Top 25 Sunday), with TCU closing the gap on Boise State in the coaches poll.

Thanks to TCU and Utah, the league has winning records this year against the ACC and the Big East, the two leagues the MWC is trying to keep up with in its bid to become an automatic qualifying league.

However, that won't help them much in the competition over the next couple of years in gaining an automatic berth. The BCS is evaluating the 2008 through 2011 seasons to determine the six leagues that should be included as automatic qualifiers or if a seventh league is worthy.

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Leagues earn their automatic status through three criteria — the rank of the highest-ranked team; the rank of all conference teams; and the number of teams in the Top 25.

The MWC won't compete with the others in the rank-of-all-teams category, but it can in the other two. Everyone should be rooting for TCU, BYU and Utah to win as many games as possible and hopefully have all three finish in the Top 25 at season's end and hope that one of the three ends up ranked above the best ACC and Big East teams.

That way, the MWC can at least salvage something from this sorry season and try to do better next year.

e-mail: sor@desnews.com