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Reviving college football's dead conferences with 2015 rosters

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Let's turn back the clock.

Brian Bahr/Getty Images

A few weeks back, we looked at how college football would look if it were still aligned the way it was in 2003. It showed just how much the sport has changed over the past decade, and was a reminder that in a sport that prizes tradition over almost all else, traditional conference relationships are something afforded to only the blue bloods.

But why stop at 2003? College football's history is such that if you go back 20, 30 or 40 years, things quickly move from "Wow, I remember that!" nostalgia to "Good lord, I've never even heard of that." The history books are littered with defunct conferences, so let's see how it would look if 2015's teams were still playing in their (sometimes very) old homes. In most cases, the years selected for this experiment are the respective final years the conferences were in operation, but others have been selected to maximize the hilarity of the membership roster.

We'll start with some of the better-known ex-conferences and proceed from there into history's bizarre dustbin. Once again, S&P+ will be used to rank the teams. We'll use 2015 data to establish what these leagues would've been like.

Southwest Conference, 1995

Schools 2015 S&P+ 2015 Conference
Baylor 15.6 Big 12
TCU 11.4 Big 12
Texas A&M 7.7 SEC
Houston 7.6 American
Texas Tech 3.5 Big 12
Texas -0.3 Big 12
SMU -12.0 American
Rice -17.9 Conference USA

Holy smokes, this would've been fun. This doesn't even include Arkansas, which left to join the SEC in 1991. Stories about the wild and freewheeling SWC are well known at this point, most notably the scandal at SMU that earned the program the death penalty and spawned easily a top-five 30 for 30. If you think hard enough about the SWC, a bolo tie and cowboy hat will materialize on your body, and all you'll wonder is what took so dang long.

Big Eight, 1995

Schools 2015 S&P+ 2015 Conference
Oklahoma 22.6 Big 12
Oklahoma State 9.9 Big 12
Nebraska 7.1 Big Ten
Iowa State 0.5 Big 12
Kansas State -2.4 Big 12
Missouri -2.9 SEC
Colorado -8.5 Pac-12
Kansas -22.5 Big 12

When the SWC fell apart, the Big Eight was there to absorb its useful parts and morph into the Big 12. It was a fairly natural transition in terms of geography, but the axis of power quickly shifted south into Texas. Texas and Oklahoma used to be Nebraska and Oklahoma, and the loss of that rivalry to realignment five years ago remains one of college football's greatest losses.

The Huskers and Sooners won at least a share of 74 Big Eight titles, absolutely dwarfing the rest of the conference combined. Missouri is third with 12 titles, and then after that? Colorado and Kansas each won at least a share of five titles. Colorado and Kansas. Colorado and Kansas!

Western Athletic Conference, 1998

Schools 2015 S&P+ 2015 Conferences
Utah 11.4 Pac-12
TCU 11.4 Big 12
BYU 8.9 Independent
San Diego State 7.3 Mountain West
Air Force 5.9 Mountain West
Colorado State -2.1 Mountain West
San Jose State -4.4 Mountain West
Tulsa -6.8 American
Fresno State -9.8 Mountain West
New Mexico -10.6 Mountain West
SMU -12.0 American
UNLV -12.9 Mountain West
Wyoming -14.6 Mountain West
Hawaii -16.1 Mountain West
Rice -17.9 Conference USA
UTEP -22.4 Conference USA

The WAC's disappearance from college football a few years ago was a truly sad event. The conference slinked into oblivion over its last decade, but make no mistake: This place was an integral part of the college football landscape. Before #MACtion and Pac-12 After Dark, there was the white-knuckle WAC, where teams just tried to bury each other in an avalanche of points.

The conference played its final football season in 2012, but for our purposes, we've gone back to 1998, the final year before the Mountain West broke away. And people say 16-team conferences are a new invention.

Since 16 teams is too large for a conference to operate as a single table, the WAC split into Pacific and Mountain divisions from 1996-1998. How they did so, however, was one of the stranger alignment approaches in college football history. The conference was divided into four pods, like so:

Pod One Pod Two Pod Three Pod Four
Fresno State Air Force BYU Rice
Hawaii Colorado State New Mexico SMU
San Diego State UNLV Utah TCU
San Jose State Wyoming UTEP Tulsa

Pod One teams were permanently aligned in the Pacific, and Pod Four teams were always in the Mountain. Pods Two and Three would then switch places every two years to keep the divisional alignment moving. It's a novel concept, but one that ultimately made enough members mad that they left to start the Mountain West.

Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association, 1921

Schools 2015 S&P+ 2015 Conference
Alabama 30.0 SEC
Clemson 27.4 ACC
Ole Miss 21.2 SEC
LSU 18.6 SEC
Mississippi A&M (now State) 15.0 SEC
Florida 14.3 SEC
Tennessee 12.5 SEC
Louisville 10.9 ACC
Georgia 10.0 SEC
Auburn 9.7 SEC
Georgia Tech 1.0 ACC
Vanderbilt -2.3 SEC
South Carolina -4.1 SEC
Kentucky -6.9 SEC
Tulane -18.2 American
Centre College -- Division III
Chattanooga -- SoCon
Furman -- SoCon
Georgetown (Ken.) -- NAIA
Howard College (now Samford) -- SoCon
Mercer -- SoCon
Millsaps -- Division III
Oglethorpe -- --
Sewanee -- Division III
The Citadel -- SoCon
Transylvania -- --
Wofford -- SoCon

It's hard to know where to start with the SIAA. As you can see, this conference housed nearly every current Power 5 team in the South at some point. At other points during the SIAA's history, Texas, North Carolina, Texas A&M, Virginia Tech, Western Kentucky, Louisiana Tech, Southern Miss, Miami and Memphis were also members. In fact, the only current members of the SEC that were never SIAA members are Missouri and Arkansas.

In addition to being the forebear to the SEC, most of the FCS Southern Conference also came from the SIAA. But the real fun here is some of the small colleges that once belonged. Transylvania! Oglethorpe! Erskine! The membership timeline on the conference's Wikipedia page is so packed that I have no idea how anyone thought administering this conference was remotely feasible, especially when all this was happening before World War II.

So, with 27 members in 1921, trying to organize this conference would be a complete mess. The odd number of members makes any type of alignment inherently uneven, and the sheer number of teams make a two-division setup totally impractical. I attempted at breaking it down into four geographically oriented pods.

It's not perfect, but there's no way to break 27 teams into four groups without making someone upset. I tried to preserve intra-city and intra-state rivalries, but math dictated that not all of them could stay together. So alas, Alabama and Auburn and Tennessee and Vanderbilt will just have to figure something out. But hey, now the Tide can finally concentrate their efforts on grinding Samford into dust.

All things considered, these four divisions are about as evenly weighted as you could ask for. The exception to this appears to be the northernmost division, which includes Louisville, Kentucky, Vanderbilt and three small schools. They should continue to be pretty good at basketball though.

Pacific Coast Conference, 1958

Schools 2015 S&P+ 2015 Conference
Stanford 18.4 Pac-12
Washington 17.1 Pac-12
USC 14.9 Pac-12
UCLA 12.4 Pac-12
Oregon 11.6 Pac-12
California 9.9 Pac-12
Washington State 2.9 Pac-12
Oregon State -11.4 Pac-12
Idaho -13.5 Sun Belt

The PCC isn't terribly interesting on first glance. It's basically the Pac-10 without the Arizona schools, and while the current Pac-12 conference claims it, the conference had a different charter and was its own entity. But none of that is really all that interesting.

What is interesting here? Idaho. It seems unthinkable that the Vandals, who were last seen pitching one of the sadder Power Point presentations we've ever seen just to remain a member of the Sun Belt, were once members of the preeminent college athletics conference on the West Coast. But that they were. A number of factors conspired against Idaho ever developing into a true college athletics power, but things could look very different if they had made some more shrewd hires. Additionally, I feel like the world missed out on a Fireball-soaked power conference rivalry between Idaho and Washington State. It might not be USC-UCLA, but it sounds like a big angry hornets' nest of fun.

The Vandals have been wandering the proverbial desert since the PCC fell apart, but who knows how things would look today had they been able to finagle their way into the PCC's successor, the Athletic Association of Western Universities, which would grow into the Big Five, Big Six, and eventually the Pac-8 within a decade. Hey, it worked for Baylor in the Big 12.

Mountain States Conference, 1961

Schools 2015 S&P+ 2015 Conference
Utah 11.4 Pac-12
BYU 8.9 Independent
Utah State 7.3 Mountain West
Colorado State -2.1 Mountain West
New Mexico -10.6 Mountain West
Wyoming -14.6 Mountain West
Montana -- Big Sky
Denver -- --

Between the Mountain States Conference and the WAC, you see a lot of the same names popping up more than once. Life outside the sport's upper crust can be a cruel existence, and these teams found themselves moving to new homes more often than they probably would have cared to.

Border Conference, 1961

Schools 2015 S&P+ 2015 Conference
Arizona State 5.1 Pac-12
Texas Technical College (now Texas Tech) 3.5 Big 12
Arizona -0.8 Pac-12
New Mexico A&M (now State) -15.7 Sun Belt
Texas Mines (now UTEP) -22.4 Conference USA
Hardin-Simmons -- Division III
West Texas Teachers' (now West Texas A&M) -- Division II

West Texas Teachers' College! Texas Mines! College football used to have so much better names than it does now. Maybe that's the real takeaway here. The Arizona schools and Texas Tech escaped the hardscrabble life on college football's frontier, and could've been reunited in the would-be Pac-16 if the Big 12 South had been absorbed by the Pac-12 back at realignment's feverish peak at the beginning of this decade. Maybe it's their shared propensity for both scoring and allowing bushels of points at a time, but these schools feel like they belong together.