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Logan • One way or another, expansion will likely have an impact on the not-too-distant future of Utah State and the Mountain West Conference.
Two Mountain West schools, Colorado State and Air Force, are on the list of 11 finalists for Big 12 expansion. The Falcons would join for only football.
If the Big 12 poaches Colorado State or Air Force, the Mountain West would presumably start looking for replacements. Even if CSU and Air Force remain in the Mountain West, the conference is expected to consider expanding, with a possible eye on the state of Texas.
"Nobody knows what the Big 12 will do, ultimately," Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson said Thursday night, when he attended Utah State's 45-6 win over Weber State at Maverik Stadium.
"There are still a couple of Mountain West institutions engaged, so we'll see what happens. But I can say this and I said it at our [football] media days. We have a lot of people saying, 'If there's an opportunity to be in your league, we're interested.' So there are numbers there."
Thompson noted there are 26 Football Bowl Subdivision teams located west of Denver. Twelve play in the Pac 12, and 12 more play in the Mountain West. The other two are BYU and New Mexico State.
"If we're expanding," Thompson said, "we're going east."
"I've challenged our membership to think about expansion with or without losing [current] members," Thompson said. "Do we look east? Do we look at the state of Texas, for example? So that's probably going to be something we have to confront this year."
Which schools would be considered if the Mountain West wanted to add new members is the multi-million dollar question.
The American Athletic Conference faces the possibility of being gutted by Big 12 expansion. Cincinnati, Houston, UConn, SMU and Tulane are under consideration. If two or three of those schools leave, does the Mountain West pursue SMU or Tulane or Tulsa? Perhaps.
Conference USA, of course, has also lost key members during the realignment era. Perhaps the Mountain West now offers more to schools like Rice, UTEP, Texas-San Antonio and North Texas than it did previously. From the league's standpoint, the market-size and recruiting impact of any move into Texas are obvious.
Beyond the AAC and Conference USA, Arkansas State of the Sun Belt acknowledged its interest in the Big 12. It is no longer in the running if it ever was but perhaps the school wants to find a niche higher on college football's food chain. If so, the Mountain West could be an attractive option. Arkansas State visits Utah State on Sept. 16.
If the Mountain West considers dipping into the FCS for new members, Montana and North Dakota State would almost certainly get a look.
In the end, Thompson said, the Mountain West's goal is to be the best Group of 5 conference in the country. As such, its teams would consistently be in the running for a New Year's bowl game, with an outside shot at an FBS playoff berth.
• Colorado State and Air Force of the Mountain West Conference remain on the Big 12's list for possible expansion.
• The Mountain West currently has 11 full-fledged members, including Utah State. Hawaii is a football-only affiliate.
• MWC commissioner Craig Thompson says his league could expand whether Colorado State and/or Air Force leave or not.