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Whose schedule is more competitive for Boise State: Mountain West or Big East?

If Boise State is going to return to the Mountain West, it's worth considering what the makeup of the division would be, and how it would compare (competitively) to a potential Big East division. One has to consider what division Boise State would be in as to whether or not returning to the MWC would be better competitively for them. There's also the consideration of how good or bad a division is and how that factors in to whether or not a possible 1-loss season is "good enough" to get a high bowl bid.

The MWC certainly does have some lousy teams. So does the Big East (especially now that they've gotten Tulane & Memphis).

Using the "F/+ rankings" (that footballoutsiders.com comes up with) we can have a reasonably objective view of whether or not Boise State would be in a better or worse situation, competition-wise, with the Big East vs. the Mountain West.

I'm going to use the 5-year averages from 2007-2011 for each team. The source is here (at the SB Nation footballstudyhall.com blog). The newcomers to FBS are not ranked - only the 120 teams that have been in FBS for 5 or more years are ranked.

These are the rankings for the other teams in Boise State's possible division, along with the "trend." The trend is given as a positive or negative percentage, and most of the percentages are below 20%. One thing worth noting is that a trend can change around relatively quickly (for better or worse) given a coaching staff change. Mike Locksley had a horrible time at New Mexico, but perhaps Davie can do better (it'd be hard for him to do worse).

FYI, Boise State's rank is 4, and it's trend is +21.3 (very high on both counts).

Here are the possible divisions.

MWC scenario 1: Mountain West adds Boise State & San Diego State. Boise State in a 6-team division with Utah State, Wyoming, Colorado State, Air Force, and New Mexico.

54: Air Force: trend +1.6

100: Utah State: trend -12.3

101: Colorado State: trend -12.6

104: Wyoming: trend -13.1

118: New Mexico: trend -17.9

Average rank: 95.4

Median rank: 101

According to these rankings, this division, other than Boise State & Air Force ... is awful. Four of the six teams are in the bottom 20 (out of 120 FBS programs).Yes, Utah State certainly did much better this year, although the long-term trend hasn't been good.

MWC scenario 2: Mountain West adds Boise State, San Diego State, UNLV, Tulsa, SMU & Houston. Boise State is in an 8-team division with Utah State, Nevada, UNLV, San Jose State, Fresno State, San Diego State and Hawaii.

60: Nevada: trend -0.2

71: Fresno State: trend -3.7

72: Hawaii: trend -3.7

91: San Diego State: trend -9.0

100: Utah State: trend -12.3

109: San Jose State: trend -15.4

112: UNLV: trend -16.9

Average rank: 87.9

Median rank: 91

This is certainly more competitive than the other MWC scenario. It still has some junk at the bottom, but it's also got more than just one decent opponent in the group.

FYI, here are the numbers for the other new teams in the presumed 16-team MWC (who would probably not be in the same division as Boise State):

49: Houston: trend +2.5

50: Tulsa: trend +2.4

81: SMU: trend -5.8

93: UTEP: trend -9.5

Big East scenario: The Big East eventually ends up with 14 football teams. Boise State is in a 7-team division with San Diego State, Houston, SMU, Memphis, Tulane, and one other team.

49: Houston: trend +2.5

81: SMU: trend -5.8

91: San Diego State: trend -9.0

117: Memphis: trend -17.7

119: Tulane: trend -18.4

Average rank: 91.4

Median rank: 91

Houston has certainly been good, although losing their coaching staff after 2011 certainly didn't help them this year. Tulane & Memphis are worse than most of the worst teams of the Mountain West (save New Mexico). These numbers are roughly comparable to the MWC scenario 2 division, but they are also incomplete. Whoever is the last team would determine whether or not the division is better or worse than the MWC scenario 2 division.

Here are some of the rumored choices for the 7th team in a Big East division out west:

30: BYU: trend +8.4 (has said "no" more than once to the Big East)

52: Central Florida: trend +2.1 (UCF has occasionally been mentioned as a team to "move west")

54: Air Force: trend +1.6 (like BYU, has said "no" more than once to the Big East)

70: Temple: trend -3.1 (the theoretical "western" team before Louisville & Rutgers bailed out)

71: Fresno State: trend -3.7 (would be a decent addition)

112: UNLV: trend -16.9 (would be a ... ummm ... big market)

Here are the presumed teams in the Big East's other division, which Boise State would play occasionally but not often:

23: Cincinnati: trend +10.5

32: South Florida: trend +7.7

42: Connectcut: trend +5.1

52: Central Florida: trend +2.1

56: Navy: trend +0.6

64: East Carolina: trend -1.1

70: Temple: trend -3.1

Average rank: 48.4

Median rank: 52

This is clearly the best division we've seen. But Boise State would not be in this division. And Cincinnati and Connecticut are trying their hardest to get out of this conference and into the ACC.

FYI, for MWC Scenario 2, this would be the presumed eastern division of that conference (assuming UTEP, Tulsa, SMU & Houston are added):

49: Houston: trend +2.5

50: Tulsa: trend +2.4

54: Air Force: trend +1.6

81: SMU: trend -5.8

93: UTEP: trend -9.5

101: Colorado State: trend -12.6

104: Wyoming: trend -13.1

118: New Mexico: trend -17.9

Average rank: 81.25

Median rank: 87

I haven't included BYU in any of these scenarios because I'm not convinced they're willing to come back yet from football independence (they have a good deal going with ESPN). If they did decide to return to the MWC, that would certainly be a boost (as BYU has a ranking of 30).

My conclusion overall from this is that the best scenario for Boise State may be being in the Mountain West if (1) they are in an expanded 16-team conference, and (2) they have a good division-crossover opponent (e.g. Air Force, Tulsa or Houston). This scenario would give them a strong presence in California (either one or two road games there every year), some quality division opponents (Nevada, Hawaii, Fresno State) and assuming an 8-game conference schedule, they would still have a decent opportunity to pick up good non-conference opponents.

Overall, the theoretical Big East is a stronger football conference, as far as having a group of better football teams. But the conference is arguably not stable, Boise State would not be playing most of those better teams on a regular basis, travel would be worse, the presumed revenue gains may not exist, and the basketball team would be in a much worse conference (Big West). Exposure might be better in the Big East, but this is an unknown. Given the fact that most of the Big East's popular teams have left (or are leaving), how much coverage the Big East continues to receive is an open question.

As far as the "going undefeated" argument goes, I think the potential 8-team division in MWC scenario 2 is roughly comparable to the 7-team division in the Big East. Therefore, I don't think there's a substantial difference of perception regarding a 1-loss Mountain West Boise State vs. a 1-loss Big East Boise State (as far as these two scenarios are concerned).

What are your thoughts?

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