Mid-majors look for respect from fans & bettors

It's David vs. Goliath year after year as teams from the mid-major conferences fight for recognition from fans and bettors, and most notably the mainstream media. And the BCS system really does little to help. Among those hoping to get their foot in the gridiron door are the Boise State Broncos and Brigham Young University Cougars who are the cream of the mid-major crop entering the '08 season.

The mid-major college football conferences get no respect. Brigham Young went 13-0 in 1984 and was reluctantly voted the national champions. Then the BCS came along to make sure no mid-major would ever get another shot at it.

The 2004 Utah Utes were 11-0, but had to settle for No. 6 on the BCS computers and a trip to the Fiesta Bowl. And last year, the 12-0 Hawaii Warriors didn’t come close to consideration for the title game, playing the Sugar Bowl instead as the No. 6 “seed.”

The problem with the best teams coming out of the lower conferences is that we don’t usually get to see how good they can be until bowl season. The 2004 Utes were outstanding, as it turned out, destroying Pitt 35-7. The Warriors were not so hot, as the Georgia Bulldogs proved in a 41-10 whitewash.

It’s all about strength of schedule. Most of the teams in the mid-majors are pretty weak, so without a very strong non-conference schedule, a club isn’t going to get a lot of consideration from the BCS computers – or from handicappers. Then again, it’s a lot easier for a team to pad its win-loss record against cupcake opponents.

Here are this year’s notable programs from Conference USA, the Mountain West Conference, and the Western Athletic Conference. Over/under numbers for wins are included.

Boise State Broncos (9½)
The Broncos couldn’t get by Hawaii last year and finished at 10-3 (6-6 ATS), a relative disappointment after going undefeated twice in the previous three seasons. Losing left offensive tackle Ryan Clady to the NFL should be enough to limit BSU to nine wins this year.

Brigham Young University Cougars (9)
BYU has serious designs on an undefeated season after going 11-2 (6-6 ATS) last year and 8-0 in the Mountain West. The Cougars finish the season at Utah, so it’ll be tough to run the slate. However, winning 10 games and the MWC title is within BYU’s capability.

Utah Utes (8½)
Utah is undervalued this year. The toughest dates on the schedule are road trips to Wyoming and New Mexico. The Utes get to play Oregon State and BYU at home; they might be better candidates than the Cougars to go undefeated. They’re definitely a value “over” pick compared to BYU.

Fresno State Bulldogs (8½)
Fresno State is to Boise State as Utah is to BYU. The Bulldogs might be the best team in the WAC; we’ll find out soon enough, as Fresno State loads up on Rutgers, Wisconsin and UCLA as part of their usual killer non-con schedule. They’re good for at least nine wins under QB Tom Brandstater.

Air Force Falcons (7)
Air Force was one of the pleasant surprises of 2007 at 9-4 (9-3 ATS). Some fallback is expected, as the Falcons have to reload in the second year of Troy Calhoun’s program. Having to play six road games will also hurt the Falcons in the win column. How much remains to be seen.

Hawaii Warriors (7)
Hawaii’s got an even tougher rebuild in the wake of the June Jones exodus. There’s only so much incoming coach Greg McMackin can do for this program in one year on a limited budget. The under looks very good here.

Nevada Wolf Pack (7)
Nevada could be headed for a New Mexico Bowl rematch with the next team on this list. The Wolf Pack were 6-7 (5-7 ATS) last year; the 2008 model should have an improved defense replete with JUCO transfers. It could be enough to push the team over the posted total.

New Mexico Lobos (6)
Change is in the air following a successful 9-4 (5-7 ATS) campaign. New Mexico also has some JUCO talent plugged in for the new season, this time on offense, and Lobos QB Donovan Porterie figures to have an excellent junior year. A stronger “over” call on the betting odds than Nevada.

Central Florida Knights (NL)
The Knights have a leg up on the C-USA competition. They’ll challenge for the East title again after going 10-4 (8-6 ATS) in 2007, but turnover on offense will make it very difficult. Having a winning season is a more reasonable goal at this point.

Tulsa Golden Hurricane (NL)
Tulsa had the best offense in Division I last year under co-ordinator Gus Malzahn. The rebuilding defense could be a problem, but a fairly soft schedule should put the Hurricane out front in the West.