Ever since its inception in 1999, the Mountain West Conference has been on the outside looking in when it comes to the Bowl Championship Series (BCS).
Only six conferences, the Big Ten, Big East, SEC, Big 12, ACC and Pac-10, are part of the elite group of conferences that determine the major bowl games as well as the national championship game every year.
The MWC made some big strides in 2004 when Utah went undefeated and became the first team to crack the BCS system and garner an invitation to a BCS bowl game, where it defeated Pittsburgh in the Fiesta Bowl.
Since then the league hasn't made a splash nationally mostly because it hasn't had those outstanding, nationally ranked teams.
"There's a lot of parity," said MWC commissioner Craig Thompson. "It is a very balanced league with nobody head and shoulders above anybody else."
However, if you look at the league overall, it might be as strong as it's ever been from top to bottom.
One way to determine the strength of a league is how it does against other conferences. So far this year, the MWC has a 17-15 record against non-conference opponents, including seven wins against schools from BCS conferences. That ranks third among all conferences, ahead of the SEC, Pac-10 and Big 12.
Two of the biggest wins came from Utah, the 44-6 victory over UCLA and a 44-35 win over Louisville.
When informed of the league's standing so far this year, Utah coach Kyle Whittingham replied, "That is excellent. That speaks to the level of quality of our conference. We're always rooting for our conference teams to do well outside of the conference."
Wyoming's 23-3 victory over Virginia may be the biggest of all for the league. It may not have seemed like a big deal back in early September, but it looks awfully big now that the Cavaliers are 7-1 and ranked 18th in the coaches poll. Without the loss to the Cowboys, Virginia would likely be in the top 10 of the BCS standings with hopes of playing in the BCS Championship game.
The Utes' 38-point win over UCLA in mid-September is still one of the most astonishing results of the college football season. It would look even bigger if the Bruins hadn't lost to lowly Notre Dame, the Irish's only victory. The Bruins are unbeaten and at the top of the Pac-10 with its only two losses to Utah and Notre Dame.
TCU has two wins over BCS conferences, with a 27-0 whitewashing of Baylor and a 38-36 win over Stanford. The other two MWC wins over BCS schools came against Arizona of the Pac-10 — a 20-7 win by BYU and a 29-27 victory by New Mexico.
Then there are the near-wins that could have padded the MWC's record even further. Colorado State lost in the final minutes to Colorado 31-28, then lost to Cal the following week by six. UNLV was leading Wisconsin for much of the game before losing 20-13 in the final minutes. BYU was within three of UCLA late in the game before losing by 10.
With its seven wins against non-conference BCS opponents, the MWC is not only better than four fellow non-BCS conferences, the MAC, Sun Belt, C-USA and WAC, but nearly has as many wins those four have combined (eight).
How about the WAC, which has claimed to be on the same level as the MWC, if not better, especially after Boise State's BCS bowl win over Oklahoma last season?
This year, the WAC is an abysmal 0-12 against BCS conference teams.
"We're gaining some respect nationally, but the only way to gain respect is by winning against these other conferences," said Whittingham. "You've got to win these type of football games."
MWC non-conference overall record
2007 17-15 *
* 3 games left, plus bowls
Non-conference BCS wins
ACC 9 Big 10 9
Mountain West 7
Big East 7
Big 12 5
Sun Belt 2