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May 9, 2010

Which non-Big Six league race will be best?

At the College Football Roundtable each week, we ask members of the coverage staff for their opinions about a topic in the sport. This week, we'll have two roundtables, one Saturday and one today. Here is today's question:

Part 1 of our question appeared Saturday. Part 2 of the question is which non-Big Six conference race is going to have the most intrigue?

Olin Buchanan's answer:
That has to be the Mountain West. TCU returns almost the entire offense from last season's team that was unbeaten in the regular season. But the defense is being rebuilt. That should set up a great race with Utah, which plays host to the Horned Frogs on Nov. 6. BYU can never be counted out. In addition, neither Air Force nor Wyoming will win the league, but each could be a factor in deciding who does.

Tom Dienhart's answer:
In recent years, picking the Mid-American Conference was easy. Central Michigan was the New York Yankees of the MAC. But the conference race could end up being wide open with CMU facing myriad questions. Coach Butch Jones left for Cincinnati after leading the Chippewas to two MAC titles in the past three seasons. New coach Dan Enos has a roster that is missing stars such as QB Dan LeFevour and WR Antonio Brown. With CMU appearing vulnerable, look for Temple and Northern Illinois to lead the charge for the MAC title, with Ohio and Western Michigan also in the hunt.

David Fox's answer:
Is there even a debate? The Mountain West always is the most interesting non-Big Six race, isn't it? I'm not sure if the MWC has a BCS team this season, but the conference race at least should be interesting. TCU is probably the leader here, but losing Jerry Hughes could be a problem. Behind sophomore QB Jordan Wynn, Utah could get back into the BCS picture. BYU could take a step down after losing key players on offense. If the Cougars (or Utah or TCU) slip, Air Force could be poised to make a move. No other non-Big Six conference has this many contenders when the stakes are so high.

Mike Huguenin's answer:
Barring something unbelievable -- along the lines of Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh heaping praise on President Obama -- Boise State is going to run away with the WAC title. I have a good idea as to who's going to win Conference USA (Houston), the Mountain West (TCU) and the Sun Belt (Middle Tennessee). That leaves the MAC, which is absolutely wide open. A strong case can be made that Temple -- Temple, people -- should be the preseason favorite. The Owls can run and play defense, but they can't throw. The same goes for Northern Illinois, which is another leading contender. Expect Ohio University, Central Michigan, Western Michigan, Bowling Green, Akron and even Kent State to be in the hunt as well. It should be a fun league to watch, even without Dan LeFevour, Tyler Sheehan and Freddie Barnes.

Steve Megargee's answer:
The Mountain West is the easy choice here. For one thing, the MWC is clearly the best of the non-Big Six conferences (you can make a case it's been as good as the ACC and Big East the past couple of years). And even though the MWC champion doesn't get an automatic bid into the BCS, its winner has ended up earning a BCS bid the past two seasons. I'll be surprised if the MWC gets a third consecutive BCS bid; no team in the conference looks quite as strong as the 2008 Utah team that won the Sugar Bowl or the 2009 TCU squad that reached the Fiesta Bowl. But this league still offers plenty of intrigue because its three best teams -- TCU, Utah and BYU -- are going through seasons of transition. TCU is the likely preseason favorite, but it has plenty of holes to fill on defense. Utah looks super on offense and suspect on defense. BYU could open the season with a true freshman (Jake Heaps) as its starting quarterback. I have no idea which of these teams will do the best job of reloading.

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