Much has been written about "automatic qualifiers" for BCS games -- that is, conference champions who are guaranteed a BCS bowl berth -- but there was never a defined list of criteria for how a non-automatic qualifier conference could become one. Now there is.
The evaluation includes the following for each conference (1) the ranking of the highest-ranked team in the final BCS Standings each year (if a conference does not place a team in the final BCS Standings, then its highest-ranked team is determined by the conference member that has the highest average ranking in the computer rankings used in the BCS Standings), (2) the final regular-season rankings of all conference teams in the computer rankings used by the BCS each year, and (3) the number of teams in the top 25 of the final BCS Standings each year, with adjustments to account for differences in the number of members of each conference.â†µâ†µ
A conference will become the seventh automatic qualifier if it finishes among the top six conferences in both No. 1 and No. 2 and if its ranking in No. 3 is equal to or greater than 50 percent of the conference with the highest ranking in No. 3.â†µ
That's good news for the Mountain West. Well, maybe.â†µ
The MWC has been the premier non-AQ conference for the last couple of years, buoyed by TCU, Utah, and BYU. TCU was fourth in the final 2009 BCS rankings, and Utah was sixth in 2008's last BCS standings. They satisfy the first criterion for the last two years; that's essentially half of a third of the battle, because results from the 2008-2011 period are going to determine whether the MWC crashes the BCS party.â†µ
The latter third seems easy enough, too: TCU, BYU, and Utah have all been in the top 25 of the final BCS standings in each of the last few years, greater than 50% of the Big 12's five schools in 2008 and the Pac-10's five in 2009.â†µ
It's that second one that will be tricky. Graham Watson writes that neither the MWC nor the BCS says the conference passed the threshold for the second criterion in 2009, and though there are exceptions...â†µ
Further, a conference will be eligible to apply to the Presidential Oversight Committee for an exemption if it finishes among the top six in both No. 1 and No. 2 and if its ranking in No. 3 is equal to or greater than 33.3 percent of the conference with the highest ranking in No. 3, ORâ†µâ†µ
If it finishes among the top seven in either No. 1 or No. 2 and among the top five in the other and if its ranking in No. 3 is equal to or greater than 33.3 percent of the conference with the highest ranking in No. 3.â†µ
...it's not entirely clear whether the MWC would be in the top seven conferences, because the formula for the rankings in the second criterion is some compilation of several computer rankings that isn't spelled out.â†µ
It's all fascinating for college football dorks like me, and leads to a ton of other questions. Do late-season losses by fringe top 25 teams drag down conferences? Could AQ schools lose their status if they don't meet the criteria? Do any biases of computer rankings tip the scales one way or another? How could superconference expansion screw all of this up?â†µ
It's hard not to get lost in the enigmas. To return to the point: yeah, there is a chance the Mountain West becomes an automatic qualifier after the 2011 season. We kind of know how it might happen. And we sort of don't.â†µ
College football's magical mystery tour rolls on.â†µ
This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.