HOUSTON - DECEMBER 03: Quarterback Austin Davis #12 (L) and Tim Green #43 and teammates of the Southern Miss Golden Eagles celebrate with the Conference USA trophy after defeating the Houston Cougars 49-28 at Robertson Stadium on December 3, 2011 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
The conference tentatively known as Mount USA has a whole lot of building to do, so let's get to it. Also: Building a 24-team, four-division conference schedule using progressive scheduling.
If the MWC/C-USA/ETC wants to expand to as many as 24 teams and include a semifinals round before its championship game, it's going to need to bring on some more talent. Having a semifinal could require a schedule hack, which you can investigate here.
Fielding 24 teams would mean either raiding the Sun Belt or MAC, further clearing out the WAC, or bringing in new schools from the FCS level. To fill out four divisions of six teams, we're gonna do a little bit of each.
Let's build ourselves a Mount USA.
With New Mexico State already being discussed as an early candidate (no matter how slim NMSU's odds are of actually making it in), one division pretty much fills itself out. UTEP's an odd fit here, but the Texas-centric division is crowded.
- The Mountain West Conference Division: Air Force, Colorado State, New Mexico, New Mexico State, UTEP, Wyoming (Also considered: Eastern Washington, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota State)
We also have a mostly tidy West Coast division, which would require adding two more teams. Since we've cut off the WAC from its 2012 reinforcements anyway, might as well add San Jose State (very sorry, Idaho). It's a big media market, which is the sort of thing important haircuts care about. And Utah State would be a fine fit in the Mountain West Conference Division, but gets to hang with several former WAC opponents in the new Western Athletic Conference Division.
- The Western Athletic Conference Division: Fresno State, Hawai'i, Nevada, San Jose State, UNLV, Utah State (Also considered: Eastern Washington, Idaho, Sacramento State)
Florida International has also been mentioned as a possibility, and Temple seems to be actively looking for a new home, which could give a mostly easternish division only one spot to fill. There are a number of southeastern FCS programs we could throw here, but since Appalachian State's already voted to make the FBS move, we'll go with the 'Neers. ECU vs. ASU is an immediate rivalry that lots of people in a certain region care about.
- The Imagine Philadelphians In Boone Division: Appalachian State, East Carolina, FIU, Marshall, Southern Miss, Temple, UAB (Also considered: Arkansas State, Delaware, Florida Atlantic, Georgia Southern, Georgia State, James Madison, Middle Tennessee State, South Alabama, Troy, the entire MAC*)
Finally, division Texas And Thereabout. Three are already in, while North Texas and FBS newcomer UT-San Antonio each "delivers" a major media market (just humor them, please). With our crowning maneuver, we pry Louisiana Tech from the WAC, where the Bulldogs have long been made to scour the hemisphere for worthy competition. Imagine what La Tech could do if its most distant annual foe was in Oklahoma -- currently, its nearest familiar face is out in Las Cruces. The Bulldogs finally get a state rival in Tulane, plus short trips to Houston and Denton.
- The Take A Load Off, Sonny Dykes Division: Louisiana Tech, North Texas, Rice, Tulsa, Tulane, UTSA (Also considered: Arkansas State, Sam Houston State, Texas State, UL-Lafayette)
But wait there's more! Using Football Study Hall's five-year rankings, we can project general program strength throughout the conference to a certain degree. (National ranking over the past five years in parentheses.)
- Southern Miss (No. 48)
- Tulsa (No. 50)
- Air Force (No. 54)
- Nevada (No. 60)
- East Carolina (No. 64)
- Temple (No. 70)
- Fresno State (No. 71)
- Hawaii (No. 72)
- Louisiana Tech (No. 80)
- Marshall (No. 89)
- UTEP (No. 93)
- FIU (No. 95)
- Utah State (No. 100)
- Colorado State (No. 101)
- Rice (No. 103)
- Wyoming (No. 104)
- UAB (No. 105)
- North Texas (No. 111)
- UNLV (No. 112)
- New Mexico (No. 118)
- Tulane (No. 119)
- New Mexico State (No. 120)
- Appalachian State (N/A)
- UT-San Antonio (N/A)