In a nutshell, the secret to national attention in college football is simple to attain.
Two words describe it: Be good.
On second thought, make it three: Be very good.
Check that: Be very, very, very good.
For teams residing in conferences without automatic bids to the Bowl Championship Series, winning — and lots of it — is the one and only path to making an impact on the national scene.
In 2004, Utah crashed the BCS by winning 11 straight games. A year ago, TCU went 11-1 and cracked the top 10 in the coaches poll. BYU climbed as high as seventh in 2001 with an 11-0 start.
Victories will be at a premium this season, when eased BCS requirements (see story below) make it easier for outsiders to earn a slot in one of the games with payouts of $14 million or more.
Had the current requirements been in place in 2005, TCU would have made it when unheralded Florida State upset Virginia Tech in the ACC title game.
The MWC's path, however, may be crowded. The qualified winner must also rank ahead of champs from all of the other non-BCS leagues — Conference USA, the Mid-American Conference, Sun Belt Conference and WAC.
Otherwise, the only way in is via an at-large selection — a long shot, at best, considering the politics of college football.
For teams like projected MWC front-runners TCU, BYU and Utah, perfection, obviously, represents the best chance to finish ahead of the pack. The Horned Frogs learned that lesson a year ago when they followed an upset win at Oklahoma with a shocking loss at SMU.
In 2006, TCU's nonconference schedule is much less imposing with Baylor, UC Davis, Texas Tech and Army on the slate. A good opportunity, or so it seems, to help the Horned Frogs avoid a blemish outside of league play and move up the polls.
For BYU, the road begins at Arizona and is followed by games against Tulsa and Utah State and a trip to Boston College. A 4-0 start would likely get the Cougars ranked heading into a pivotal MWC opener at TCU.
Utah, meanwhile, opens at UCLA. Meetings with Northern Arizona and Utah State follow before the Utes start league play at San Diego State. A 4-0 start, coupled with wins in a difficult five-day stretch against TCU and Boise State, would almost certainly lead to national prominence.
Early losses are difficult to overcome. Especially for teams outside the BCS like BYU and Utah that begin the season unranked.
Over the past two seasons, TCU (2005) and Utah (2004) are the only teams in the league to even crack the top 25 rankings, a k a national attention.