- STATES: Arizona, California, Hawaii, Nevada
- CURRENT AFFILIATIONS: Pac-12 (6), Mountain West (5), WAC (1)
- TEAMS (12): Arizona, Arizona State, California, Fresno State, Hawaii, Nevada, San Diego State, San Jose State, Stanford, UCLA, UNLV, USC
- POTENTIAL DIVISIONS:
- NORTH – California, Fresno State, Nevada, San Jose State, Stanford, UNLV
- SOUTH – Arizona, Arizona State, Hawaii, San Diego State, UCLA, USC
Make no mistake here, the California schools are the foundation on which this conference is erected. Formerly spread among the Pac-12, the WAC, and the Mountain West, the state’s seven I-A schools are now all tied together in athletic union. Rounding out the league are the state’s two eastern neighbors, Nevada and Arizona, whose two state schools apiece bring the membership to eleven, and Hawaii, who based on simple latitude and longitude fits best as the twelfth member of this league.
The strength of the league lies in those Pac-12 schools. USC brings the most tradition to the table, while Stanford’s recent run of dominance offers a northern anchor. The Arizona schools at various points in recent and past history have fielded strong teams, from the Frank Kush-guided Sun Devils of their old WAC days to the Mike Stoops teams that nearly wrested Rose Bowl berths away from the conference’s more established schools. And Cal, under Jeff Tedford, has quietly remained a contender season after season.
In the mid-majors that would join the league, only UNLV and San Jose State would enter the league at a major disadvantage. Fresno State, who throughout the past decade have become battle-hardened with one of the toughest non-conference schedules in the country, will soon enough be holding their own. Nevada under Chris Ault has used its Pistol offense to challenge seemingly-stronger foes. Hawaii is one of just four non-AQ schools to bust through to the BCS, and new Warriors head coach Norm Chow is intimately familiar with the powerhouses of this Pacific Conference thanks to his time as an offensive coordinator throughout the Pac-12. And San Diego State, which in the real-life shuffling of the conference deck is headed to the Big “East” next season with Boise State, has proven itself worthy of a seat at the table.
- STATES: Colorado, Idaho, Oregon, Utah, Washington, Wyoming
- CURRENT AFFILIATIONS: Pac-12 (6), Mountain West (3), WAC (2), Independent (1)
- TEAMS (12): Boise State, BYU, Colorado, Colorado State, Idaho, Oregon, Oregon State, Utah, Utah State, Washington, Washington State, Wyoming
- POTENTIAL DIVISIONS:
- WEST- Boise State, Idaho, Oregon, Oregon State, Washington, Washington State
- EAST – BYU, Colorado, Colorado State, Utah, Utah State, Wyoming
For a while, in another period of flux during the mid-to-late 1950s, when the Pacific Coast Conference had disbanded amid scandal and the Skyline Eight and Border Conference were both dissolving due to the accelerated growth of some member schools, it almost looked as though the nascent planning for the Western Athletic Conference would include Oregon. In that spirit, these six states are now linked in camaraderie and in natural geographic alignment to one another.
At first glance the West Division of the Northwest Conference is the killer. Featuring the defending Rose Bowl and three-time league champion Oregon Ducks along with the other Oregon and Washington schools of the Pac-12, it also introduces Chris Petersen’s Boise State Broncos into the mix. If one school can give Chip Kelly’s Ducks fits, it’s the Broncos, and with the potential powerhouse in the making in Pullman now that Mike Leach is back on the sidelines at Washington State, and the dormant power in both Seattle and Corvallis, this division might soon leave the Vandals wondering whether it might have been better to get relegated back to I-AA status.
That doesn’t mean the East Division is a walk in the park, though. Utah and Colorado, who became the newest members of the Pac-12 Conference last year in its expansion to twelve teams, are the initial anchors, but BYU also provides a strong third contender in the division. Couple that with the promising recent turn of fortune in both Laramie and Logan, and Colorado State will merely need to recapture some of the magic Sonny Lubick brought to Fort Collins to round out what should be a balanced division.