Given what happened to his conference last weekend, Pac-10 commissioner Tom Hansen picked a good time for a European vacation.
Rome wasn’t built in a day, but that’s how long it took for the Mountain West to put a four-game beatdown on the Pac-10.
We can only picture the beleaguered commish sitting in a cafe somewhere, clutching a grappa in one hand and his Blackberry in the other, as the scores rolled in from across the sea:
Texas Christian 31, Stanford 14.
New Mexico 36, Arizona 28.
Brigham Young 59, UCLA 0.
UNLV 23, Arizona State 20, OT — IN TEMPE.
"It is maybe the biggest week since the inception of the Mountain
West, going 4-0 against Pac-10 teams," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said at his weekly campus news conference.
Throw in BYU’s controversial 28-27 victory at Washington on Sept. 6 and the 10-year-old Mountain West is 5-0 against its regional big brother this season.
The Mountain West is a real-life "Rocky" story — as in Rocky Long, whose New Mexico Lobos have beaten Arizona two years running.
All of which raises a question: How come the Pac-10 has an automatic Bowl Championship Series berth and the Mountain West doesn’t?
"I think it’s all about money," TCU coach Gary Patterson said Tuesday on the weekly Mountain West coaches teleconference. "I don’t think it’s about the best football that can be played."
Patterson said other non-BCS conferences — the Western Athletic Conference, perhaps — are also worthy of automatic admission to college football’s most lavish postseason parties.
Mountain West coaches are too busy game-planning — and recruiting the Pac-10’s leftovers — to spend a lot of time whining about getting no respect from the Pac-10.
But they don’t get much respect. The Pac-10’s arrogance was obvious in this postgame assessment of UNLV by Arizona State safety Troy Nolan, as reported by Scout.com: "No disrespect to them, they’re not on our level."
Respect them or not, the Rebels are the pride of the Strip this week.
If you’re looking for a lead-pipe-lock, as they say in Vegas sports books, take a Mountain West squad against a Pac-10 team. And yet the Pac-10 will send its champion, and maybe it’s runner-up, to the BCS while the Mountain West will practically have to beg for a bid to the big-money bowls.
"I really believe that our conference is deserving of an automatic bid to the BCS," UNLV coach Mike Sanford said. "It shouldn’t be a deal where we should have to go undefeated to be in the BCS."
Think about it. The king of the Mountain West will probably have to be perfect to draw a BCS berth.
But a Pac-10 team with blots on its record could end up in the Rose Bowl.
If top-ranked Southern California plays for the national title, that would leave a Rose Bowl slot open. Now, the folks in Pasadena might consider inviting BYU or Utah or TCU to administer the ritual New Year’s Day whipping of a Big Ten plowhorse.
Or they might decide to protect their precious Big Ten-Pac-10 rivalry in what is fast becoming the Groan-daddy of Them All.
Let’s say Arizona State, Oregon or California — all of whom have issues right now — finishes second in the Pac-10 and has multiple losses. Why would they be more deserving than a once-beaten BYU, Utah or TCU?
"A lot of people would say out there, nobody wants to watch somebody from the Mountain West play in a BCS game," Patterson said. "I think everybody likes the underdog."
Mountain West teams might be perceived as underdogs, but they have proved quite capable of competing on a bigger stage.
In the Fiesta Bowl four years ago, Utah whipsawed Pitt, 35-7. Since 2004, the Mountain West is 6-2 in bowl games against schools from BCS conferences.
One win at a time, the Mountain West is building a case for automatic admission into the BCS boys club.
Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson wants that to happen. But he knows the BCS rarely makes changes without being forced.
"What we need to do is continue to play like we have been playing, in both bowl games and the regular season," Thompson said in a telephone interview from Minneapolis. "You will not talk your way into an automatic berth in the BCS. You will not bluff your way in. You have to play your way in.
"What we need to do is keep chipping away at public opinion," he said.
Patterson’s Horned Frogs are 11-2 in their last 13 games against teams from BCS conferences, but he still hears criticism about his schedule.
OK, let’s look at their schedule.
Who did the Horned Frogs take apart last week? Stanford.
And who helped knock USC out of the national title chase last year? Stanford.
Asked to compare the Mountain West and the Pac-10, New Mexico’s Long said the Pac-10’s main advantage is depth; there’s less of a talent gap between the starter and the first backup.
"My take is the top 22 (players) in our league can play against the top 22 in their league," Long said.