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June 7, 2008

Roundtable: Best non-BCS race to watch?

At the College Football Roundtable each week, we ask each of our national writers for their opinion about a specific topic from the past week.

TODAY'S QUESTION: Rivals.com is in the midst of its No. 120 to No. 1 countdown, and a lot of teams we've covered thus far are from the non-"Big Six" conferences. Which non-"Big Six" league race are you most interested in this season?
Olin Buchanan
The first thought would be the Mountain West because BYU, Utah and TCU are solid programs and New Mexico continues to improve.

But to be honest, I'm more interested in the non-conference schedules because non-"Big Six" teams have to post victories over opponents from power conferences to get into the discussion for a BCS bowl or the national championship game.

Therefore, if BYU gets by Washington and UCLA in September, or if Utah defeats Michigan and Oregon State, I definitely would be even more interested in the Mountain West race. But should Fresno State manage victories over Rutgers, Wisconsin and UCLA, I'd be more interested in the WAC.

If the postseason ramifications weren't considered, though, I'd be most intrigued by the Mountain West because I think it's the best of the non-"Big Six" conferences.

Tom Dienhart
I am excited to see how the MAC sorts out this year. Last season was a disappointment because no MAC team finished in the Top 25. I think that will change this fall. The reason? There are many good, veteran quarterbacks.

It all starts with Central Michigan's Dan LeFevour. But some think Ball State's Nate Davis could have a better season. And only the college football cognoscenti knows about Bowling Green's Tyler Sheehan, Eastern Michigan's Andy Schmitt, Buffalo's Drew Willy, Western Michigan's Tim Hiller and Toledo's Aaron Opelt.

In all, 12 of the MAC's 13 teams welcome back starting quarterbacks. The others are Northern Illinois' Dan Nicholson, Temple's Adam DiMichele, Akron's Chris Jacquemain, Kent State's Julian Edelman and Miami's Daniel Raudabaugh. The only school breaking in a new passer: Ohio.

What's it mean? Expect at least one if not two MAC teams to be in the final polls. Central Michigan, Miami, Ball State and Bowling Green are the schools primed to breakthrough in what is going to be a fun race. The MAC is back, baby!

Mike Huguenin
I think the Mountain West offers the most intrigue this season.

BYU already is the quasi-media darling when it comes to possible BCS "interlopers." Quarterback Max Hall guides what should be a powerful offense, though the defense has some questions. The Cougars haven't lost a conference game in two seasons and play two Pac-10 teams in September. If they win their games against UCLA and Washington, be prepared for more "BYU in the BCS" talk.

But Utah and TCU and maybe New Mexico will make things interesting in the league for the Cougars.

Conference USA and the MAC also have some intrigue C-USA because there appears to be no head-and-shoulders favorite, the MAC because of all the experienced players returning.

Steve Megargee
The WAC champ has played in a BCS game in each of the past two years, but this season the Mountain West seems most likely to crash the party.

BYU has gone 11-2 in each of the past two seasons and returns most of its top players on offense, including quarterback Max Hall. As good as BYU looks on paper, the Cougars are no certainty to earn the conference title, let alone a BCS bid. BYU must play TCU and Utah likely the Cougars' main competitors for the league crown on the road. In fact, you could make a convincing argument that those two conference showdowns will prove tougher than any of BYU's non-conference games (a trip to Washington and home games with Northern Iowa, UCLA and Utah State).

The Mountain West lately has been the best of the non-"Big Six" conferences, but the realistic possibility that BYU could go undefeated and earn a BCS bid makes the conference race even more intriguing this season, particularly if it comes down to the BYU-Utah game on Nov. 22. This heated rivalry has produced incredible games each of the past two years. BYU beat Utah 33-31 two years ago when John Beck threw an 11-yard touchdown pass to Jonny Harline as time expired. The Cougars rallied from a late 10-9 deficit to win 17-10 last year only after Hall found Austin Collie for a 49-yard completion on a fourth-and-18 play. Imagine the drama that could take place this season if even more than league and state bragging rights are at stake.

David Fox
Fresno State hopes to give the WAC three BCS games in a row. If BYU and Utah beat their non-conference competition, their regular-season game will be one of the biggest in Mountain West history. But the MAC will have the most week-to-week intrigue outside of the major conferences.

The league is coming off a down season, punctuated by an embarrassing 0-3 performance in the bowls - but that should change in 2008. After a league-wide youth movement, the average MAC team returns more than 16 starters. Central Michigan's Dan LeFevour and Ball State's Nate Davis are big-play, dual-threat quarterbacks that Big Ten coaches wouldn't mind having on their teams. Miami University and Bowling Green aren't returning to their respective Ben Roethlisberger/ Urban Meyer eras, but they could make things interesting for the top of the league.

In the bottom half of the league, Temple's Al Golden and Buffalo's Turner Gill will be names to watch for big-time coaching vacancies. After last season, Golden was mentioned for the UCLA job and Gill for the position at Nebraska, his alma mater. They have brought respectability to moribund programs, and both schools have outside shots at reaching a bowl this season.

The MAC isn't likely to field a BCS-bound team, but there's plenty of drama ahead for the league, capped by the Nov. 19 game between Ball State and Central Michigan.



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