BYU is an excellent school and in the past Levell Edwards built a great championship program. They have been a victim of time and location. When they were at the top there was not any conference expansion going on except for the activity with the MWC & WAC, and the B-12 whose primary expansion was purely to unite the B-8 with 4 of the SWC teams. As for the location aspect, the TV market has given them more exposure east of the Miss. R. with ESPN and Thurs. and Sat. football games since their championship year. BYU and Utah with their present success are in position and primed for further success if the Pac-10 expands or there is further
movement with teams in the B-12.
You raise some very good points about timing with regard to BYU. I'm kind of surprised the Big 8 didn't try to expand with BYU in the early 90's. BYU wasn't mature enough athletically in 1978 when the PAC-10 made its move to add Arizona and Arizona State. After BYU expanded their stadium from 30k to 60k in the early 80's and winning that national championship, they would have been a nice pick up for Big 8.
Don't know if the PAC10 will ever do to the MWC what the ACC did to the Big East. The PAC-10 already controls the entire West Coast in football and as a BCS conference the OSU, WSU schools of that league can tap into California while MWC schools really can't. A big difference between the MWC and the Big East is the Big East had two different schools which had recently played in national championships, and two more (Pitt, Syracuse) capable of landing the players to contend for one. Utah had a dream year in 2004 making it to a BCS game, but they can't get the players for a national championship to Utah. BYU wouldn't be able to win a NC in today's post season structure. TCU is a Louisville; they may be able to make a NC on a big year, but their ability to be a serious threat is still in question.
Really the comparison between the the new MWC and Big East amounts to:
Big East (Pitt, Syracuse, WVU. Louisville)
MWC (TCU, BYU, Air Force, Utah)
This is where the MWC is out matched.