R.I.P. WAC football, 1962-2012: The conference that went down swinging

Bob Stanton-US PRESSWIRE

Of the seven teams that stuck around for the final year of the WAC, three were really good, two won bowl games, and the third had the craziest offense in the nation. Let's pay homage to a conference we should've watched more when we had the chance.

The WAC died, and we didn't even salute it.

By all accounts, 2012 was the year of the MAC. Last year, we caught on to their high-flying mid-week trapeze acts, with 116 points being scored with fever-dreamy offenses. This year, we were going to take them seriously: Ohio and Kent State spent long periods of time in the rankings, and when Northern Illinois eventually won a fittingly thrilling, 44-37, double overtime MAC Championship game, it was going to the Orange Bowl.

Meanwhile, relegated to the shadows, was the old, dying WAC, the Wario-esque evil twin to everybody's favorite dashing underdog conference, replete with mustaches and equally high-scoring, if more nefarious, offenses. They played on Saturdays, like boring regular teams, and as devoid as the MAC was of brand names, the WAC was even devoid-er.

Once upon a time, this conference was strong: when Boise State first stole our hearts, they came from the WAC. They busted into the BCS on the strength of strong season after strong season, eventually getting the chance to take down Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl. Boise State probably would have appeared in a BCS bowl the next year as well, but they fell to Colt Brennan and Hawaii, who would go on to face Georgia in the Sugar Bowl. Once upon a time, LaDanian Tomlinson played college ball in the WAC, and more recently, we enjoyed the craziness of Chris Ault's pistol, run by Colin Kaepernick.

Then conference realignment happened: Boise State started it, ditching for the Mountain West, then the Big East, now who knows what. Everybody else followed suit, and as the first tier of non-BCS teams moved up to take big league money, the second tier - those in the WAC - moved to other conferences to replace them.

That left seven teams in the 2012 version of the WAC, none of which had won a WAC championship before 2011. (Correction: Louisiana Tech won in 2001 and I missed it. My bad!) And all of them had committed to leave the conference by the end of 2012. The conference regrouped by adding some non-football schools to survive, but this would be the last year of WAC football.

But the WAC went down nobly: with three really strong teams, two bowl wins, and one word: take your MACtion, I'll settle for the WACkness, named after my favorite movie I never saw co-starring Method Man and Mary-Kate Olsen.

Utah State, San Jose State and Louisiana Tech combined to go 31-7 this year. Of those seven losses, three were because they each had to play each other. The four remaining losses were to Stanford, Wisconsin, Texas A&M, and BYU - two conference champions, the only team to beat the eventual national champions, and, uh, BYU. And those four losses were by a combined 10 points. Maybe the WAC's best weren't good enough to beat the best other conferences had to offer - but damn, were they close.

Utah State had a quarterback brilliantly named Chuckie, who was quite good at chucking, and Kerwynn Williams, who ran for 1,500 yards - and they held opponents to 15.4 points per game. Utah State had a 37-yard field goal to win against Wisconsin, but it got pushed just right, and the Aggies' 6-3 loss to BYU is really the only blemish the WAC's three best teams had. They swept their conference slate, earning their first and only WAC title. They went up against a Toledo team that was everyone's darling at 8-1 in a bowl game for all the most famous Idaho potatoes, and romped, 41-15, ending the year deservedly ranked No. 16. Pooooor Aggies.

When San Jose State played Stanford close Week 1, losing 20-17 on a fourth-quarter field goal, the Cardinal actually dropped in the rankings the next week. Foolish: David Fales would throw for over 4,000 yards, and the Spartans would only lose once more on the year, while Stanford would win the Rose Bowl. SJSU beat another MAC sweetheart, Bowling Green, 29-20 in the Military Bowl. They're ranked No. 21 in the year-end polls - unlike various other Spartans.

And Louisiana Tech, the WACkiest the WAC had to offer: Sonny Dykes' air raid was legitimately nuts, flinging points at opponents with little to no discretion. They averaged - AVERAGED - 51.5 points. Half a hundo, guys! HALF A HUNDO. Their most beautiful moments in a season filled with merciless offense were their failures: after going down 27-0 to Texas A&M, they'd rally back to 59-57 against the Aggies, but fail to pick up a two-point conversion. Never mind - still transitive property national champs. And then, instead of going to a bowl game, the 9-3 Bulldogs sat at home when their AD turned down an opportunity to play in the Independence Bowl in Shreveport. Their AD didn't want to play an ex-rival in ULM, and thought they had another bowl lined up, but they didn't. Instead, Ohio, a team from - guess what conference - the MAC played in that game, while the top scoring offense in the country sat at home.

Yeah, the rest of the WAC sucked - sry, 8-4 UTSA Roadrunners - but the fact that there were only seven teams in the conference meant those three top teams each had to play six non-conference games, and, as noted, only lost to good teams.

Three strong teams certainly capable of knocking off a fair amount of BCS squads, some psycho offense, and yet barely any attention. And just like that, it's gone: Utah State and San Jose State are off to the MWC, while Louisiana Tech is headed to the C-USA. Even their three coaches bailed: Gary Andersen is headed to Wisconsin after nearly knocking off the Badgers in Madison, and Mike MacIntyre and Sonny Dykes will square off in the Pac-12 , head coaches at Colorado and Cal respectively. WACkness died before I could even come up with a term for it.

WACkness was brief and beautiful, but it died as it lived: crazy, good, crazy good, and yet almost completely unnoticed. You'll be missed - if only we'd paid attention while we still had you.

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