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The Countdown

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

P.S.R. Op-Ed

Trading Utah for Boise State

The climb will soon get just a little steeper for Air Force, thanks to Boise State's arrival.

Air Force certainly doesn’t have it easy. Not when Utah, B.Y.U. and T.C.U. loom large on the schedule. Not when recent non-conference opposition includes Minnesota, Houston, Notre Dame and Tennessee. This year’s non-conference slate includes Northwestern State and Oklahoma, the latter on the road, joining annual tilts against Army and Navy.

Nevertheless, the Falcons are in the midst of three consecutive seasons with at least eight wins, a program first since doing so from 1982-85. In better news, Utah is poised to depart for the Pac-10, leaving a gap alongside the Horned Frogs and Cougars atop the conference.

Utah’s departure was tempered by Boise State’s arrival, of course. One door opens, another closes for the Falcons.

There’s a difference between finishing fourth in the Mountain West and fourth in, say, Conference USA. As if that wasn’t a given. Nevertheless, take a look at the teams Air Force trailed last fall, when its 5-3 conference mark fell one game out of third place: Utah, 23-3 since 2008; B.Y.U., 43-9 since 2006; and T.C.U., winners of at least 11 games in four of the past five seasons.

Then there’s Boise State: the mighty Broncos, 49-4 since 2006, 14-0 last season, a genuine national title contender in 2010. Could it be? Could the Mountain West actually be stronger with Boise State, not Utah, challenging T.C.U. and B.Y.U. for conference supremacy? It seems foolish to think so, but one could very well make the argument — based on Boise’s recent track record — that the M.W.C. will be in better shape in 2011. No Utah, no problem (maybe).

It’s plain to see why Boise State’s departure for the Mountain West makes sense. The conference lost one of its three standard-bearers, albeit slightly less than a week after Boise’s addition. Utah had been integral to the M.W.C.’s ascension into respectability, thanks to its consistent success and, as we all remember, upset win over Alabama in the 2009 Sugar Bowl. In fact, it’s no stretch to deem Utah most responsible for the conference’s current standing.

Boise State brings a similar resume to the table. Wins, against little and big fish alike. Its arrival means the M.W.C. likely won’t suffer any significant letdown. It also makes me think about the possibilities: What if Utah had stayed? Can you imagine a power quartet like the Utes, Broncos, T.C.U. and B.Y.U.? Can you imagine?

Regardless of Utah’s departure, the addition of Boise State means maybe, just maybe, the Mountain West remains in play for a future seat at the B.C.S. table. Wouldn’t that be nice? Not to mention well-deserved: year-in, year-out, the M.W.C. puts forth a top three that rivals many B.C.S. conferences while blowing the rest of the non-B.C.S. landscape out of the water.

This would be great news for the Mountain West. It would also be of little recompense to Air Force — though the B.C.S. revenue would be a great asset to the athletic department. Of the current Mountain West, not including Utah or Boise State, no team looks to suffer more from Boise State’s arrival than the Falcons.

Yes, Wyoming went bowling last fall, as did Colorado State two years ago. But outside of Air Force, no other M.W.C. program outside the top three — past, current, or future — is a realistic yearly bowl contender. Nor can any tout a similar string of success. Boise State’s arrival doesn’t really affect U.N.L.V., for instance, as it would just be another loss for the Rebels. Not so for Air Force. Every game counts when you’re not just fighting for bowl eligibility, but national recognition.

It couldn’t have come at a worse time: things are really starting to heat up under Troy Calhoun, owner of a 26-14 mark over three years at his alma mater. He’s created a tough, fundamentally-sound program reminiscent of the stronger teams under his predecessor — and coaching mentor — Fisher DeBerry.

A window could have opened, if Boise hadn’t joined the conference before Utah bolted for the Pac-10. It still smells like an opportunity wasted, as Air Force lost a rival — winners of six of seven over the Falcons — but added a national power. I feel for the program, and feel for Calhoun.

He might also have pushed Air Force as far it can go: eight to nine wins, yearly bowl participant, top four in the Mountain West. This is a fine standard to set, particularly for a service academy largely lacking the wherewithal — financial, facilities, recruiting — of its leading conference brethren. Adding Boise State means more time spent in fourth place, by and large.

More eight-win seasons, with three losses coming in conference play. More trips to the Armed Forces Bowl. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Regardless, a tough task — finishing in the top three in the Mountain West — may be on the verge of becoming even more difficult. Yes, that is possible.

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Comments

  1. wildcat6 says:

    Air Force’s 2010 schedule does not include Northwestern of the Big Ten, but Northwestern St. of Louisiana. Ought to be less of a challenge for them.

    Paul: You’d think so. Thanks.

  2. Adam Nettina says:

    It might actually help AF, at least as far as recruiting is concerned. Why? Because AF’s coaches have been using the whole “The MWC (and the AFA) is now in play for an automatic BCS bid” argument with a lot of force as of late. At least, according to a number of AFA commits(http://navy.scout.com/2/942765.html). You can bet the staff will be selling Boise as a step up over Utah, and just another reason why coming to the AFA, and playing ‘bigtime’ football, behoves recruits over going to say, Army or Navy.

    Just my two cents from covering SA recruiting.

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