Small Conference Game of the Day – February 8

60s Hippie Night obviously worked in Hawai’i last night as the Rainbow Warriors blew out Long Beach State.  Pacific also fell, however, allowing the 49ers to maintain sole possession of the top spot in the Big West.  Tonight offers a very small selection of games, none of which are battles between the top teams in any of the small or mid-level conferences.  Therefore, the SCGD has decided to stay out west for a WAC battle as San Jose State hosts Utah State (10:00 PM Eastern).

While Louisiana Tech is currently rolling through the WAC, and Denver and New Mexico State are in second and third places, Utah State is solidly in fourth position with a 7-4 conference record and 16-5 overall.  The Aggies actually began the season 14-1, with the only loss being to St. Mary’s, but then dropped four straight in conference play before finally turning things around their last two games.  Their non-conference schedule was lacking in quality wins, meaning that despite their record, their only NCAA hopes will come in the WAC tournament.  San Jose State, on the other hand, is struggling through a 9-13 season that sees them at 3-8 in conference.  They have had some ugly losses, including New Orleans, James Madison and Idaho.

While this game may not mean too much in terms of the WAC standings this season, the focus on this game tonight allows us to return our attention to the future of these teams and the WAC.  Utah State and San Jose State are both in their final season in the WAC, having received invites to join many of their former conference mates in the Mountain West starting next season.  Utah State almost missed out on this chance as they initially had declined an invite from the Mountain West believing that an oral pact between all WAC members to stick together would hold.  Fresno State and Nevada then promptly broke that agreement and the entire conference began to fall apart.  Luckily for the Aggies, the Mountain West gave them a second chance and they jumped on it.

As for the WAC itself, only three of its current members (Seattle, Idaho, and New Mexico State) will return next season.  Even worse, Idaho is only around for one more year before they head off to the Big Sky.  The WAC is set to welcome six new members, however.  Utah Valley, Texas-Pan American and Chicago State will be joining from the Great West, Cal State-Bakersfield will come from the independents, and Grand Canyon is moving up from Division II.  The final new member was just announced yesterday, as Missouri-Kansas City has chosen to move over from the Summit League.  This last decision was somewhat curious as UMKC will probably have even more traveling to do in the reformed WAC than it did in the Summit.  Also, Denver has chosen to leave the WAC for the Summit, as on paper it appears the quality of the Summit League will be higher than the WAC after this season.  However, assuming noone else defects, this addition also guarantees that the WAC will not lose its automatic bid.

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