The biggest football game in Mountain West Conference history will be played Saturday between teams that might not be part of the league for much longer.
Sixth-ranked Utah certainly won’t be around long, having accepted an invitation to next year join what will be called the Pac-12 Conference.
The future isn’t as certain for fourth-ranked Texas Christian after the Big East announced Tuesday it will add two schools to its current eight-team football conference. TCU reportedly is a strong candidate to be invited.
That unstable reality for the Mountain West has to be disconcerting to a conference that would love the showdown in Salt Lake City to be a showcase for MWC football. The conference instead has to deal with the reality of a league that quickly is changing — and not necessarily for the better.
With Utah and Brigham Young (off to football independence land next year) heading toward the door and TCU possibly reaching for its coat, there is no way for the Mountain West to positively spin a scenario in which all three depart.
Boise State, which enters the league next year, only partially makes up for such a loss. UNR and Fresno State, schools that enter in 2012, help but don’t completely close the gap.
The Mountain West needs to hope the Big East has a brain freeze and doesn’t invite TCU, which is unlikely. And if an invitation comes the Horned Frogs’ way, the MWC must hope they turn it down.
TCU could be interested in the Big East because joining would mean membership in a Bowl Championship Series conference and the riches that come with it. But the Big East is on shaky ground and might not survive if either the Big Ten or Big 12 (or both) come sniffing around. So TCU, if given the chance, would think long and hard before accepting.
This is supposed to be the Mountain West’s big week. ESPN’s "College GameDay" will be at Utah, and the winner grabs the inside track to the conference championship and greatly improves its chances for a BCS game.
But the Big East’s announcement is a reminder the BCS conferences — even fragile ones — still own the power to make the biggest news.
n AND ABOUT THE GAME — There’s a reason the matchup between TCU (9-0, 5-0 MWC) and Utah (8-0, 5-0) is the nation’s top game to watch this weekend.
The winner could emerge as the leader for an at-large BCS bid from a non-BCS conference. It also will be the odds-on favorite to win the Mountain West title.
One of the teams could wind up at the MAACO Bowl Las Vegas. The winner could play here if it’s left out of the BCS picture. The loser might be in the local bowl should the winner make a BCS game. The scenarios are many.
Las Vegas bowl executive director Tina Kunzer-Murphy will be at the game.
TCU and Utah, having played in a combined three BCS games, have been in this kind of atmosphere, so neither team figures to be rattled by the heightened stakes.
"I think our guys do a good job of staying focused," Utes coach Kyle Whittingham said. "They have all year. Most of the guys were in the 2008 Sugar Bowl, so they’ve been there before."
The Utes beat Alabama in that Sugar Bowl, defeating TCU in Salt Lake City on their way there.
n TROPHY GAME — Air Force used to dominate the Commander-in-Chief series, winning 12 of 14 years through 2002. Then Navy took over and won seven in a row.
Now the Falcons have the chance to claim what was once theirs. If they win at Army on Saturday, they will break Navy’s streak and perhaps start a new one of their own.
Contact reporter Mark Anderson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2914.MOUNTAIN WEST CONFERENCE FOOTBALL
PLAYER OF THE WEEK
SAN DIEGO STATE WIDE RECEIVER DeMARCO SAMPSON
He caught seven passes for 175 yards and two touchdowns in the Aztecs’ 48-38 victory over Wyoming.
FROM THE LOCKER ROOM
"Everything on my mind is purple right now." — Utah offensive lineman Tony Bergstrom, on the upcoming showdown with Texas Christian
THE WRITTEN WORD
"The Horned Frogs have established themselves as a bona fide Top 10 team the last few years and would give instant credibility to the Big East. Forget the geography; it’s not like TCU is enjoying a border war with Wyoming or San Diego State, and the Mountain West is going to be much weaker with the loss of Utah and BYU." — ESPN.com’s Brian Bennett, writing the Big East Conference should invite TCU
"This is one of the few games I’ve coached in that I felt our team got outmanned. We got beaten physically at the point of attack." — New Mexico’s Mike Locksley, on a 38-14 loss at Colorado State
THIS WEEK’S TOP GAME
No. 4 TCU at No. 6 Utah. The winner takes a major step toward the conference championship and a Bowl Championship Series game. The loser takes a step toward a December appearance in Las Vegas.
MARK ANDERSON / LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL