Changing landscape hits non-AQ

Originally Published: February 15, 2013
By Mark Schlabach | ESPN.com

The college football landscape will look much different in 2013 after another round of conference realignment, especially among the non-BCS leagues.

When the 2013 season kicks off in late August, Conference USA will have six new members (and at least two more by 2015).

The WAC, which celebrated its 50th anniversary last season, watched its own funeral as other leagues poached most of its remaining members. For the first time in a half-century, the WAC won't sponsor football in 2013.

Idaho and New Mexico State will join Army, Navy, BYU and Notre Dame as independents.

And fledgling Georgia State, which didn't play its first football game until 2010, will become an FBS school in the Sun Belt Conference.

Lost track of which program is headed where? Here's a glance at what the five non-BCS conferences and independents will look like in 2013:

Conference USA

Number of football-playing schools in 2013: 14

Staying for 2013: East Carolina, Marshall, Rice, Southern Miss, Tulane, Tulsa, UAB, UTEP

Coming: Charlotte (2015), Florida Atlantic (2013), Florida International (2013), Louisiana Tech (2013), Middle Tennessee (2013), North Texas (2013), Old Dominion (2014), Texas-San Antonio (2013)

Going: Central Florida (2013), East Carolina (2014), Houston (2013), Memphis (2013), SMU (2013), Tulane (2014)

Where league is headed: Conference USA was just below the Big East in the realignment food chain, so it lost six of its members when the Big East reloaded its roster of schools. According to published reports, the Big East might poach at least one more C-USA school (Tulsa?) to get to 12 schools in 2015.

Conference USA added four former Sun Belt schools (FAU, FIU, MTSU and North Texas) and two ex-WAC members (Louisiana Tech and UTSA). After the massive facelift, Conference USA will have two seven-team divisions in 2013. The East Division will include FAU, FIU, East Carolina, Marshall, MTSU, Southern Miss and UAB. The West Division will include Louisiana Tech, North Texas, Rice, Tulsa, UTEP, UTSA and Tulane.

Even more changes are coming in the future. East Carolina and Tulane are leaving for the Big East in 2014. Old Dominion, an FCS program, is scheduled to join C-USA in 2014, when it will be eligible for a conference title but likely not the postseason as it transitions to FBS. Charlotte, another fledgling FCS program, will begin C-USA play in football in 2015.

Independents

Number of football-playing schools in 2013: 6

Staying for 2013: Army, BYU, Navy, Notre Dame

Coming: Idaho (2013), New Mexico State (2013)

Going: Navy (2015)

Where independents are headed: The dissolution of the WAC left Idaho and New Mexico State without conference homes, so they'll play football as independents in 2013. Those schools will join Army, BYU, Navy and Notre Dame as the only FBS independents this coming season.

Notre Dame is leaving the Big East for the ACC in all sports except football in 2014, although the Fighting Irish will play five regular-season football games against ACC foes each season. Navy is expected to join the Big East in football only in 2015.

Mid-American Conference

Number of football-playing schools in 2013: 13

Staying for 2013: Akron, Ball State, Bowling Green, Buffalo, Central Michigan, Eastern Michigan, Kent State, UMass, Miami (Ohio), Northern Illinois, Ohio, Toledo, Western Michigan

Coming: None

Going: None

Where league is headed: The MAC has largely dodged the bullets of conference realignment, although Temple left last summer to join the Big East. The Owls competed in football in the Big East during the 2012 season and all of their other sports will move to that league in 2013. The MAC replaced the Owls with UMass, which competed in football in the MAC last season but wasn't eligible for the conference championship game or a bowl game. The Minutemen have been mentioned as a possible target if the Big East decides to expand again.

Mountain West Conference

Number of football-playing schools in 2013: 12

Staying for 2013: Air Force, Boise State, Colorado State, Fresno State, Hawaii, Nevada, New Mexico, San Diego State, UNLV, Wyoming

Coming: San Jose State (2013), Utah State (2013)

Going: None

Where league is headed: Boise State's decision to remain in the Mountain West, instead of bolting for the Big East, was a major coup for the league. After the Broncos' about-face, San Diego State also declined to jump to the Big East. The MWC is adding WAC orphans San Jose State and Utah State this coming season, when the league will split into two divisions and play an inaugural conference championship game on Dec. 7. The Mountain Division includes: Air Force, Boise State, Colorado State, New Mexico, Utah State and Wyoming. The West Division includes: Fresno State, Hawaii, Nevada, San Diego State, San Jose State and UNLV. The MWC seems set for the time being, although UNLV athletics director Jim Livengood recently said he hopes BYU gives up its independence and returns to the league at some point in the future.

Sun Belt Conference

Number of football-playing schools in 2013: 8

Staying for 2013: Arkansas State, Louisiana-Lafayette, Louisiana-Monroe, South Alabama, Troy, Western Kentucky

Coming: Georgia State (2013), Texas State (2013)

Going: Florida Atlantic (2013), Florida International (2013), Middle Tennessee (2013), North Texas (2013)

Where league is headed: The Sun Belt lost four schools to Conference USA -- FAU, FIU, MTSU and North Texas -- and scrambled to put together a roster of eight football-playing members for this coming season. The Sun Belt added FCS program Georgia State and Texas State, which moved after playing only one season in the WAC. The Panthers will become an all-sports member in the Sun Belt in 2013, but won't be eligible for a conference title or the postseason until 2014.

Sun Belt commissioner Karl Benson seems to be taking a wait-and-see approach in terms of future expansion. The Sun Belt would undoubtedly like to get back to at least 10 football-playing schools, if not more, and Idaho, New Mexico State and FCS programs Appalachian State and Georgia Southern have been mentioned as possible targets. Appalachian State and Georgia Southern, which have won multiple FCS national championships, have both expressed interest in moving up to the FBS level in the near future.

The Sun Belt also has two non-football playing members: Arkansas-Little Rock and Texas-Arlington.

WAC

Number of football-playing schools in 2013: 0

Staying for 2013: None

Coming: None

Going: Idaho (2013), Louisiana Tech (2013), New Mexico State (2013), San Jose State (2013), Texas-San Antonio (2013), Texas State (2013), Utah State (2013)

Where league is headed: The WAC was the big loser in conference expansion, as the Mountain West gobbled up Boise State, Fresno State, Hawaii and Nevada in 2011, which proved to be a death knell to WAC football. After losing four of its marquee programs, the WAC never recovered.

After the league announced in August that it would no longer sponsor football, San Jose State and Utah State also left for the MWC; Louisiana Tech and UTSA left for Conference USA; Idaho and New Mexico State became independents; and Texas State joined the Sun Belt. The league that was home to such future NFL stars like Marshall Faulk, LaDainian Tomlinson, Jim McMahon, Steve Young, Colin Kaepernick and Heisman Trophy winner Ty Detmer won't sanction football in 2013 for the first time in 50 years.

Mark Schlabach | email

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