When the 2010 college football season started, the Mountain West Conference was officially home to nine member institutions: Air Force, Brigham Young, Colorado State, New Mexico, San Diego State, TCU, UNLV, Utah and Wyoming.
But for true fans of the MWC, they saw the conference as having eight schools, just subtract Utah and BYU from that list and add Boise State.
You see, the MWC is in its third season of a four-year trial period with the BCS, trying to make a case for why its conference champion should get an automatic bid for one of the coveted January bowl games.
The case argued in the first two seasons faired well, with Utah defeating Alabama in the Sugar Bowl at the end of the 2008 season and last year we saw TCU square off against Boise State in the Fiesta Bowl.
Not bad, but with Utah announcing this summer that it would be heading off to the newly-formed Pacific 12 and BYU following its Catholic brethren, Notre Dame, by going independent at the end of the season, any feats that the two accomplished as MWC members would now be placed on either the Pac-12â€™s or the Cougarâ€™s personal resumes.
Because neither university would be MWC members when the BCS trial period ends at the conclusion of the 2011 season. However, since Boise State joins in 2011, the Broncosâ€™ resume since 2008 (Poinsettia Bowl, Fiesta Bowl and wherever Boise State lands at the end of this year) wonâ€™t be WAC credentials, but ones of the MWC.
So as far as the top of the league is concerned, 2010 has been a great for the MWC, with TCU, Air Force, SDSU and Boise State all bowl eligible. Sadly, CSU, UNLV, New Mexico and Wyoming are all dragging the conference down worse than Kerry BishÃ© did to â€œScrubsâ€ Season 9â€™s Nielsen Ratings.
Though no matter how bad the bottom may be, it is the top of the conference that has outsiders watching, just waiting for someone to slip up so they can justify the Big Eastâ€™s automatic bid to BCS over the MWC â€“â€“ despite the fact 10 weeks into the 2010 season, Syracuse is the only Big East school that has reached six wins.
Thankfully for the sake of the MWC, TCU single-handedly saved the leagueâ€™s outside shot of potential auto-bid status in the Horned Frogs most difficult game of the year against the most fierce opponent â€“â€“ a showdown with then-No. 5 Utah in Salt Lake City.
The final score?
It was 47-7 in favor of the purple people eaters, virtually guaranteeing the Frogs back-to-back MWC championships and the first conference school to reach a BCS game in consecutive seasons.
Not bad for a school that has been historically known for landing the leftover Lone Star State recruits Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech and Oklahoma passed up.
But realistically, thatâ€™s always been the case for TCU under Gary Patterson, even before the Frogs joined the MWC in 2005, moving over from Conference USA. It was the 2002 and 2003 seasons for TCU where it went 10-2 and 11-2, respectively, that put C-USA in the national football spotlight and garnering the Frogs an invitation to the MWC.
It is why the Big East is allegedly so interested in TCU today, because thatâ€™s what Patterson-coached teams do, push their conference prominence to the next level. And as long as the MWC has TCU in its grasp, an opportunity for auto-bid status within the BCS remains possible.
Adding TCU in 2005 was the best decision the MWC, a conference that has no enforced monetary penalty if an institution decides to leave, has ever made. Without the Frogs, there would be no reason for extending an invitation to Boise State as the leagueâ€™s status would be nowhere near where it is today.
So no matter what MWC school you may be a fan of, donâ€™t get too bummed when TCU thrashes your football team, because that butt whooping is a blessing in disguise and hopefully, for the sake of justice, youâ€™ll be thanking Patterson for his wisdom far superior of all other conference coaches when the 2012 season kicks off.
Sports Editor Matt L. Stephens can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Follow Matt on Twitter @mattstephens