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No seismic shift, but still a shake-up in conference landscape

July 31, 2011

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A college football fan recently rescued after two years on a deserted island — please play along here — was asked to make this year’s conference picks.

He liked Nebraska in the Big 12, Boise State to win the Western Athletic and Brigham Young and Utah to battle it out in the Mountain West.

Told those schools were no longer in those leagues, he quipped, “Whoa, next you’ll tell me Texas joined the Pac-10.”

No, but almost.

College football avoided (for now) the “Big Bang” cosmic conference shift, yet the Big Ten alone underwent so much realignment it could have split into the “Sciatica” and “Lower Lumbar” divisions.

Larry Scott, had thy will be done, you would have been commissioner of the soon-to-be Pac-16, the nation’s first “super conference.” Six Big 12 schools, including Texas and Oklahoma, would have been among the 16.

Scott’s grand maneuver failed but caused a chain reaction that would have made Sir Isaac Newton proud.

You can’t begin to tell this year’s college football story until you know where all the mascots landed.

The Pac-10 didn’t get Texas but added Colorado and Utah and is now the Pac-12. The league split into divisions and will play a Dec. 2 championship game in the home stadium of the highest-seeded finisher.

USC and UCLA are in the South but still will play annually against Stanford and California, now in the North.

It’s going to be different. New member Utah got a huge housewarming gift by missing Stanford and Oregon on the 2011 schedule. Cal and Colorado are now conference mates but must play a “nonleague” game this year as part of a previously arranged contract.

The Big Ten, which used to have 11 teams, now has 12. It adds Nebraska, which bolted the Big 12, which went from 12 teams to 10, having also lost Colorado.

The Big Ten named its divisions “Legends” and “Leaders” before Ohio State coach Jim Tressel, who was on the “Leaders” side, was forced to resign in disgrace.

The Pac-12, which used to play a round-robin schedule without a title game, has divided into six-team divisions. The Big 12, which used to have six-team divisions and play a title game, has switched to the round-robin format.

Brigham Young, formerly of the Mountain West, will go independent in football and ship its other sports to the West Coast Conference.

And this, believe it or not, is only the beginning.

Next year, Texas Christian will join the Big East Conference and three more WAC teams — Hawaii, Nevada and Fresno State — will move to the Mountain West.

And that might not even be the end of it. The Big 12 staved off extinction and has been nourished back to life, but it’s a very fractious coalition. Remaining members, Texas A&M in particular, see Texas’ new network deal with ESPN as nothing but a recruiting tool.

In other words, conference realignment may not be over.

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