"Who Are These Guys?": A Brief History of the Western Athletic Conference

This afternoon, I took part in a telephone interview for NBC Sports, which should be up and running on the network's site (I believe in the "Blog Buzz" section, but I'll get back to you on that) in about a week. I appeared alongside Scott of SportsHawaii.com, who is a self-confessed Warrior homer but a class act whose site you ought to visit.

I am ashamed to admit that I tanked on the trivia quiz at the end, though, as I fielded the older historical questions but blew it because I could not remember the 2003 Sugar Bowl M.V.P. Fortunately for me, the interview was not conducted in Japan, where I would have had to have committed ritual suicide in order to restore the lost honor of my ancestors. Mea culpa, Musa.

Earlier this evening, I also did a brief interview with CFB Weekly's college football blog radio show, so you'll want to be on the lookout for that, as well. Needless to say, two interviews in one day had me feeling pretty good about myself . . . until I read the news that Orson Swindle officially has succeeded Howard Stern as "The King of All Media", which pretty much did to my self-esteem what Orson's alma mater's football team has done to my alma mater's football team's self-esteem for 15 of the last 18 years.

Now, however, we are two weeks away from the Sugar Bowl and it is time to get serious about the Warriors. My regular pregame breakdown will commence shortly, but, first, we need to take a look at the league Hawaii calls home, the Western Athletic Conference. Georgia has crossed paths with the W.A.C. just twice before.

Here in S.E.C. country, we seldom pay much attention to the league that includes the Aloha State, since we rarely see their games unless we're up past our bedtime. (There has, though, been many a Saturday night that I have arrived home from Sanford Stadium too wound up to sleep after an evening kickoff between the hedges and counted myself lucky that the Warriors were playing a midnight game on ESPN2.) Other than the fact that the league's all-conference team is made up of players who are "all-W.A.C.," what do we know about the athletic organization to which the Bulldogs' Sugar Bowl opponent belongs?

According to the league's website, the W.A.C. began competition in 1962 with six members: Arizona, Arizona State, Brigham Young, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming. None of those teams remain members of the league today.

The Sun Devils and the Wildcats bolted for what then became known as the Pac-10 in 1978. (How two teams from the land-locked Copper State can be members of a Pacific Coast conference, I have no idea, but, then, I don't know how Arkansas went from being a Southwest Conference school to being a Southeastern Conference school overnight, either. I suppose it has something to do with continental drift. Conference realignment . . . it's all about plate tectonics!)

Over the years, the W.A.C. gradually added Air Force (1980), Colorado State (1968), Fresno State (1992), Hawaii (1979), San Diego State (1978), and U.T.E.P. (1968). In 1996, the Western Athletic Conference threw caution to the wind and added six new schools to a league that already contained ten teams, shoehorning Rice, San Jose State, Southern Methodist, Texas Christian, Tulsa, and U.N.L.V. into what became college football's most bloated and least geographically contiguous conference.

The Aztecs, the Cougars, the Cowboys, the Falcons, the Lobos, the Rams, the Runnin' Rebels, and the Utes departed to form the Mountain West in 1999 and the Horned Frogs made the next (though not the last) of many moves in their meandering course through various ill-fitting conference affiliations by easing on down the road in 2001. The exodus of nine of the W.A.C.'s 16 member institutions was ameliorated by the addition of Boise State (2001), Louisiana Tech (2001), and Nevada (2000). (Bizarrely, annual in-state rivals Nevada and U.N.L.V. between them have spent eleven of the last twelve seasons as members of the W.A.C. without ever once playing a conference game.)

The massive reshuffling that followed the A.C.C.'s raid on the Big East caused Rice, S.M.U., Tulsa, and U.T.E.P. to shift allegiances, leaving room for Idaho, New Mexico State, and Utah State to enter the W.A.C. in 2005. Accordingly, the league currently consists of two sets of Aggies, the Broncos, two sets of Bulldogs (neither of which is us), the Spartans, the Vandals, the Warriors, and the Wolf Pack, none of whom were yet members of the league as recently as 1978.

While the conference generally is viewed today as the Mountain West's dorkier and uglier kid brother, the W.A.C. has had its moments beyond merely producing gaudy passing stats on a regular basis. The league's undefeated champion Sun Devils finished the 1975 season ranked second behind once-beaten Oklahoma following Arizona State's Fiesta Bowl win over Nebraska. The Cougars, who enjoyed a run of conference dominance comparable to A.S.U.'s following the Sun Devils' defection to the Pac-10, went 13-0 in 1984 and captured the national championship.

In 1992, Hawaii shared the conference crown with B.Y.U. and Fresno State, securing a top 20 ranking with a Holiday Bowl victory in the Warriors' only other postseason appearance on the mainland. Boise State, of course, completed its undefeated run in last year's Fiesta Bowl.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is what we know about the league of which the Warriors are the outright champions and the longest-tenured members. With that background borne in mind, we will turn tomorrow to the first installment of an in-depth analysis of June Jones's Hawaii squad, in which I will give you not a dollop of data, nor a dash of detail, but instead Too Much Information.

Go 'Dawgs!

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