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Friday, June 7, 2013

Rise (and Possible Fall) of the Mid-Majors

Wild on Sports
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Rise (and Possible Fall) of The Mid-Majors
By Wild on Sports Analyst Bryan Ridall

In 2004, the Utah Utes, with Alex Smith as their quarterback and Urban Meyer as their head coach, took college football by storm, going 11-0 en route to a Fiesta Bowl Match-up with the Pitt Panthers, which they won 35-7. Utah ended the year undefeated, and was ranked #4 at the end of the year, becoming the first true “BCS Buster,” a mid-major team who not only took an “At-Large Bid” for a BCS bowl game, but won the game in decisive fashion, showing that there is plenty of strong football being played outside of the major conferences.

While major conferences and their teams receive all the publicity and money, teams from mid-major, or non-BCS conferences, have been relegated to playing the role of spoiler during the season and in bowl games. However, teams from these conferences play with pride and have shown the nation that they can take on any team from any conference. Since Utah’s Fiesta Bowl win, Boise State has won two Fiesta Bowls, Colt Brennan led Hawaii to the Sugar Bowl against Georgia, TCU has played in a Fiesta Bowl and won a Rose Bowl with Andy Dalton as their quarterback, and last year, Northern Illinois, a team from the MAC, made it to the Orange Bowl. With the increased expectations amongst all teams in college football, and the transition from the BCS to the new playoff format, there will be opportunities for mid-majors to leave their imprint on college football. The new playoff format is designed to pit the top four teams in the country against each other, based on a selection committee. With the other conferences getting tougher, it is likely that a team like Boise State could go undefeated and be among the top 5 teams once the selection committee is set to choose its teams. The new playoff system will also allow the top mid-major teams to play in prime-time bowl games, increasing their visibility and ultimately revenue.

Though the playoff system will provide a better opportunity for mid-majors to play in the championship game, all success has consequences. Because of the overwhelming money in college football and the broadcasting rights of those teams, college football has been undergoing aggressive realignment, which will continue for the next three years. Already, three mid-majors; TCU, Temple, and Utah, have aligned with BCS conferences; with many more changes to come. At one point, Boise State was considering a transfer to the Big East for football, but has since reconsidered and is staying in the Mountain West. However, with the continued success of certain programs, the amount of money being paid for conference television rights, and the opportunity to play the best teams in football at some of the best venues, it seems that many of the best teams in smaller conferences will soon be lured into the larger conferences. The two conferences most likely to get divided are the Mountain West and Conference USA, for entirely different reasons. The Mountain West is by far the most talented of the non-BCS conferences, and may be better than the Big East and ACC top to bottom. With teams like Boise State, Fresno State, San Diego State, and Nevada, major conferences would love to be able to add one or all of those teams in order to increase competition and revenue within their conference. Conference USA has already started to lost its high profile teams, with SMU, Houston, UCF, and Memphis aligning with the American Athletic Conference. Conference USA also has teams that represent various areas of the country, so multiple conferences could divide the conference up evenly. If these conferences were to get absorbed, it would leave only three non-BCS conferences left, which would create a large divide in college football; pertaining to money, talent, and recruiting ability.

The next five years will dictate the future of college football, with the non-BCS conferences as the only ones that will be largely affected. The success of the new playoff system will go a long way to determining whether or not teams can expect to compete while in smaller conferences, or if they need to “sell out” and join a bigger conference. No mid-major has ever made it to the National Championship Game, but let’s hope that it changes, because if not, there may not be mid-major teams left.

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