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The Countdown

A bottom-to-top assessment of the F.B.S. landscape heading into the 2012 season.

Need to Know

In Case of an “Unresolved Tie” in the M.W.C.

A quick housecleaning tidbit. Last Friday’s breakdown of the Mountain West’s 2012 schedule included one still-unanswered question: What are the league’s procedures when it comes to a two-way tie atop the final conference standings among teams that don’t play in the regular season? The question was raised because the M.W.C. has 10 teams but will play an eight-game conference schedule. Therefore, a handful of would-be contenders — I cited Boise State and Air Force as one example — won’t meet during in conference play. So it’s possible, if fairly unlikely, that the final Mountain West standings could find the Broncos and Falcons, or Hawaii and Wyoming, tied for first at 8-0 in conference play.

Does this matter? Not in the traditional sense. Tiebreaking procedures are vital in the Big 12, for instance; like the M.W.C., this is a 10-team league without a conference championship game. In the Big 12, the tiebreaking procedures determine a B.C.S. bowl participant. Not so in the M.W.C., of course.

Unlike a B.C.S. conference, the Mountain West only uses tiebreaking procedures as a “guide” for bowl selection consideration. Basically, the M.W.C. would break a tie between two 7-1 teams so as to give the Las Vegas Bowl, which typically takes the conference champion, a clear picture of which program should earn first consideration.

However, the bowl partners — the Las Vegas, Poinsettia, Independence, New Mexico and Hawaii bowls — aren’t obligated to follow the final conference standings and may choose bowl-eligible participants from the M.W.C. at their own discretion. If the Las Vegas Bowl committee so chose, it could bypass the conference champion and go for the team that might bring the largest crowd of highest television ratings.

As occurred in December, when the bowl opted for a second year of Boise State, 6-1 in the M.W.C., instead of conference champion T.C.U., 7-0 in conference play. The Horned Frogs went to the Poinsettia Bowl, where they beat Louisiana Tech, while the Broncos humbled Arizona State at Sam Boyd Stadium.

In short — and on paper — Mountain West tiebreakers don’t matter. They just matter to the league’s teams, players and coaches, and perhaps never more so than in 2012, the conference’s final season before joining the soon-to-be-named Conference USA conglomerate.

Think Boise State doesn’t want to end its short-lived M.W.C. affiliation with a conference championship? Think San Diego State doesn’t want to join the Broncos in the Big East with a Mountain West title in tow?

Unfortunately, the league’s tiebreaking procedures won’t be changed to reflect the possibility for an unresolved tie atop the final standings. As has been the case since the 2006 season, a two-way tie will be decided by the head-to-head advantage during conference play. In the case of a three-way tie, the M.W.C. will compare the combined record of the three teams against each other until “an advantage is gained.”

Then there’s rule 6.3.5: “Unresolved Tie.” As the conference writes in its bylaws, “In the event none of the above procedures resolves the tie, the teams involved in the tie shall be considered equal.” Keep this in mind should the slight possibility of seeing two teams finish Mountain West play at 8-0 actually come to pass — a true shared conference title.

Despite not altering the tiebreaking procedures to reflect the new conference schedule, credit the M.W.C. for making sure that the top teams do meet during the regular season; not pitting Boise and Nevada would have greatly increased the possibility for an unresolved two-way tie at the end of the regular season. And both the Broncos and Cowboys meet Wyoming, the conference’s third-best team.

Each of the Mountain West’s 10 programs will miss one team during conference play. Air Force misses Boise State. Colorado State misses Nevada. Hawaii misses Wyoming. New Mexico misses San Diego State. Fresno State misses U.N.L.V., though that’s not great news for Tim DeRuyter and the Bulldogs; Fresno could use all the easy wins it can get.

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  1. Kellen says:

    Actually, the MWC “champion” matters a great deal…this is from the BCS Selection procedures:

    “3. The champion of Conference USA, the Mid-American Conference, the Mountain West Conference, the Sun Belt Conference, or the Western Athletic Conference will earn an automatic berth in a BCS bowl game if either:

    A. Such team is ranked in the top 12 of the final BCS Standings, or,
    B. Such team is ranked in the top 16 of the final BCS Standings and its ranking in the final BCS Standings is higher than that of a champion of a conference that has an annual automatic berth in one of the BCS bowls.”

    If, say, Boise State and Air Force both went undefeated in conference play, and were both in the BCS eligibility zone, the tie-breaker would be significant, as one of the two teams would be relegated to “at large” status, while the other received the non-AQ BCS berth.

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