Things are changing within the power rankings of the Football Bowl Subdivision conferences. What is becoming obvious over the course of the 2014 season is that the Southeastern Conference’s position on the throne at the top of those leagues is becoming tenuous as it faces challenges from the west. The PAC12 Conference has been slowly on the rise since it expanded in 2011 by adding Utah and Colorado and is now threatening to vie for the National Championship.
But a another story in those rankings has been the quiet but steady rise of the Mountain West Conference as the sixth best conference in the nation and the number one overall conference among the G5 leagues. As recently as last July sports outlets across the country had the MWC ranked below the American Athletic Conference and often in 8th place behind Independents in conference standings:
3. Atlantic Coast
4. Big 10
5. Big 12
6. American Athletic
7. Mountain West
9. Conference USA
But as the 2014 season begins to wind down the latest standings reveal that things have changed in that hierarchy. Realtimerpi.com has the MWC in sixth place (not including independents) and the AAC is now behind both the MWC and Conference USA in FBS conference rankings. Here's their latest conference rankings:
3. Atlantic Coast
4. Big 12
5. Big 10
6. Mountain West
7. Conference USA
8. American Athletic
The AAC has actually fallen two positions from their 2013 rankings. It marks the first time ever the AAC ranks below the MWC conference. That conclusion is supported in the College Football Ranking Composite put out by Massey.
How it happened: Over the past decade conference realignment devastated both the MWC and AAC, formerly the Big East Conference. The MWC lost its three biggest stars: Utah to the PAC12, TCU to the B12, and BYU to independence. But the Big East was hit even harder during that timeframe with the losses of Syracuse, Pittsburg, Louisville, Rutgers and West Virginia.
The difference has been that the MW has been able to rebuild with members from the Western Athletic Conference that include Boise State, Fresno State, Utah State, San Jose State, Hawaii and Nevada to build a solid 12-team conference. The new AAC, on the other hand, added Houston, Navy, SMU, Tulane, East Carolina, Temple and Central Florida to solidify their new conference and replace the loss of their star power. The reviews of those additions of both conferences have been mixed. Some teams have performed very well and others have struggled in their new digs.
Where the MWC is taking over the lead is in team depth, beginning with Boise State, Colorado State, San Diego State, Nevada, Utah State, Air Force and Fresno State. The AAC has Memphis, East Carolina, Central Florida, Cincinnati and Houston carrying their standard. As an example the MWC has two teams ranked in both the AP and USAToday top-25 polls this week: #21 Colorado State and #25 Boise State. This comes after several teams in the AAC have recently been dropped from those polls.
A look at the newly emerging 2014-2015 power rankings: The top contenders in the P5 leagues are almost through sorting themselves out for 2014 rankings, and the Mountain West is no exception. There is still some dust to settle but the conference has defined itself in those rankings at the top of the G5 leagues. The MWC is followed by Conference USA. The bottom of the FBS league lineup is also becoming more clear with the American Athletic, Mid-American, and Sun Belt conferences bring up the rear.
But don’t tell any of this to AAC commissioner Mike Aresco, who in August said that it was imperative for the American Athletic Conference to continue to pretend to be a member of the P5 conferences. "We are a power conference, pure and simple, that's what we are," he told The Times-Picayune of New Orleans then. "Whether we can break into that group remains to be seen," he continued when pressed, "but what is important for the American Athletic Conference is to separate from the other four."
Unfortunately for Aresco that is not happening. Right now it looks like the Mountain West Conference is much closer to making that separation a reality than the AAC.