Conference Realignment What-If: A Bigger, Better MWC

Sarah Glenn

Had the conference expansion dominoes fallen differently, perhaps we'd be looking at a larger, more powerful Mountain West Conference today.

As part of its coverage of Syracuse University's impending move to the ACC next Monday, Syracuse.com put together an article around an alternative conference realignment timeline. For those unaware, Syracuse was originally supposed to be invited to join the ACC along with Boston College and Miami back in 2003, but some political wrangling at the eleventh hour brought Virginia Tech into the fold instead. So in this hypothetical they've created, that switch never happens.

The article's a fun read, and it enlists some experts from the business (most notably, ESPN's Brett McMurphy) to help flesh out the timeline. Not everything about it is perfect (I can point to two separate critiques both here and here on how some of these decisions are a bit questionable), but for our purposes at Mountain West Connection, there are a few moves that stand out:

First:

At this point, Texas and Oklahoma are off to the Pac-10.

Also:

Revisionist history: With the addition of the four Big 12 schools, the Big East has no need for TCU's football program. The Horned Frogs remain the Mountain West.

Avoiding the critiques of the logic here, this means that both TCU and Utah are still in the fold for the MWC. It also means that the following schools are "free agents," as the Big 12 is officially dead: Baylor, Colorado, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech. You can probably guess where we're headed now...

That puts the Mountain West at 13 schools, followed by a very obvious grab of Boise State from the WAC to make 14. I'd bet BYU stays in this scenario, since the league's television reach is now off-the-charts and actually in competition with the Pac-12's (theoretically, anyway). Assuming this all goes down around the summer of 2010 (we can do that, based on the timeline they provide at Syracuse.com), we've now got a chance for the following divisional alignment:

North: Air Force, Boise State, BYU, Colorado, Colorado State, Utah, Wyoming

South: Baylor, New Mexico, Oklahoma State, San Diego State, TCU, Texas Tech, UNLV

HOW FUN IS THIS SETUP?

Think of it: Championship Game in Las Vegas; Lucrative markets in the western part of the U.S. (Dallas-Fort Worth, Denver, San Diego, Salt Lake City), several primetime games per week...

***

So looking at that divisional alignment, how would we set up a season schedule? Going with an eight-game conference schedule (likely what you want here, along with a possible Pac-12 partnership), this allows perfectly for a 6-0-2 setup (six intra-divisional games, plus two rotating inter-divisional matchups with no permanent crossovers). There's no need for permanent crossovers here because most rivals are in the same division. Take a look at the annual games you'll get out of this:

Boise State v. BYU

Boise State v. Utah

Utah v. BYU

Oklahoma State v. TCU

TCU v. Baylor

Colorado (when they're good again) v. Boise State

Three-Team Colorado Trophy: Air Force, Colorado, Colorado State

Plus, you can arrange the schedule to lay out so that BYU, Utah and Boise aren't grouped together as rotating crossovers -- meaning no team from the South Division would have to face two of those three in one season. Same could go for TCU, Oklahoma State and Baylor (or SD State).

***

Curious how things would've turned out in each of the last couple seasons (since this alignment would've been in place starting in 2011)? Using Football Outsiders' F/+ Combined Ratings, here's what we've got:

2011

North

1. Boise State Broncos (5th)

2. BYU Cougars (40th)

3. Utah Utes (55th)

4. Air Force Falcons (68th)

5. Wyoming Cowboys (104th)

6. Colorado State Rams (106th)

7. Colorado Buffaloes (110th)

South

1. Oklahoma State Cowboys (3rd)

2. TCU Horned Frogs (18th)

3. Baylor Bears (26th)

4. San Diego State Aztecs (70th)

5. Texas Tech Red Raiders (78th)

6. UNLV Rebels (117th)

7. New Mexico Lobos (120th)

*That's two of the top five teams in the country! Also worth pointing out that OK State's rating would have changed a bit if not for the Iowa State loss that season (which wouldn't have happened if they were in the MWC). Perhaps the league would've had the Cowboys up against LSU in the National Championship Game in this case.

2012

North

1. Boise State Broncos (21st)

2. BYU Cougars (23rd)

3. Utah Utes (66th)

4. Wyoming Cowboys (100th)

5. Air Force Falcons (101st)

6. Colorado State Rams (119th)

7. Colorado Buffaloes (124th)

South

1. Oklahoma State Cowboys (12th)

2. Baylor Bears (30th)

3. TCU Horned Frogs (31st)

4. San Diego State Aztecs (44th)

5. Texas Tech Red Raiders (45th)

6. UNLV Rebels (103rd)

7. New Mexico Lobos (114th)

*No true title contender here, but you can see from year-to-year how much these things fluctuate. The MWC would have a very strong base of seven or eight teams that were bowl eligible and among the country's top 50 or so every year. Most years they'd contend for the big money bowls (even as the country's 12th-best team, OK State would've been in the conversation in 2012), which would mean much more exposure and revenue both in the short- and long-term.

***

So? What do you think? Like this hypothetical Mountain West? Wish it had actually come to fruition? Share your thoughts below.

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