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Mid-Major Monday: The Mtn. West/C-USA merger is happening. Now, how does it work?

Graham Watson
Dr. Saturday

Weekly notes from the undercard.

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On Friday, the Mountain West and Conference USA announced an unprecedented, football-only merger that will put as many as 22 schools under a single umbrella beginning in 2013, thereby forging the single largest conference in the history of major college sports by a wide margin. Their plan is big, bold and more than a little baffling. Here's your preliminary FAQ:

Is this real life? Man, we don't even know anymore.

So Fresno State and Hawaii will be in the same conference as East Carolina and Marshall? Yeah, geography is kind of a non-factor here. Even staying on the mainland, from San Diego State to East Carolina is at least a 40-hour drive covering more than 2,600 miles over ten states.

Why is this happening? The initial impulse was apparently based on the hope that a single, continent-straddling colossus stands a better chance of earning an automatic bid to the Bowl Championship Series than two separate conferences striving alone. Even if the strongest football schools in this equation weren't bound for the Big East, though — see below — that was probably always a pipe dream. The real benefit to size, or so the thinking goes, is security and flexibility: Even if some members get poached by other leagues, there is no way this conference is ever going to find itself existentially threatened by attrition. Unlike some other conferences it can name

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"We're trying to get some stability to our system in general and to our membership specifically," Mountain West commission Craig Thompson said last week. "It's not dependent on an all-sports thing. If we lose a school, we can replace in basketball, potentially, with a better basketball school and we can add football for football-only. It's really, I think, a much more flexible and creative approach."

Is there a name? Technically, no. (As the Associated Press put it, "They'll come up with one.") But the "Manifest Destiny Conference" has a nice ring to it, don't you think?

How are they going to make this thing work? Honestly, TBD. They've been a little vague. There will be two divisions — suggested names: The Quality Division and the Quantity Division — and a championship game at the end of the season. Scheduling remains a logistical nightmare, but at this stage, still a far-away one. With ten to twelve teams in each division, though, in practice it's going to look like what it is: Two conferences with little history and even less member loyalty sharing a letterhead in the name of self-preservation, but largely continuing to operate in separate spheres.

Is this really, you know, stable? Long term? Maybe not. Four initial members — Air Force, Boise State, Central Florida and Houston — are almost certain to accept invitations to join the Big East by the end of the week, dropping prospective membership to a mere 18 before the alliance even comes into existence. By 2013, the current round of musical chairs in the major conferences may have settled down enough — and the increasingly untenable structure of the BCS revised enough — to render the merger redundant. If they do go through with it, again, I suspect there will be a clear divide between the Eastern and Western halves, and also that everyone will waiting from day one for the thing to begin splintering apart like the WAC's 16-team experiment before it.

THE CRIB SHEET. Elsewhere in mid-majordom…{YSP:MORE}

Western Kentucky's 20-0 win over Florida Atlantic gave the Hilltoppers their first back-to-back wins in their brief history as an FBS program. It was also the program's first road shutout since 2000. The Hilltoppers have now matched their two-win seasons from 2010 and 2008.

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SMU avenged last year's Conference USA title game loss by beating Central Florida, 38-17. The Mustangs also showed 6-0 C-USA frontrunner Houston that the West Division won't be had without a fight. There are still a lot of games to be played before these two teams meet on Nov. 19.

Louisiana-Lafayette continues to roll in the Sun Belt Conference with a 30-10 win over North Texas, its sixth in a row. The homecoming win pushed the Ragin' Cajuns to 6-1 on the season, their best start since 1970. ULL also became the first Sun Belt team to become bowl eligible.

RUSH THE FIELD: Wins worthy of a bleacher-clearing celebration.
San Jose State beat Hawaii Friday night in one of the ugliest games in recent memory: The Spartans and Warriors combined for 12 turnovers, most of any game this season. Finally, SJSU receiver Chandler Jones pulled in the game-winning touchdown pass from Matt Faulkner with 36 seconds remaining to secure the Spartan win — their third of the year, and only their second against Hawaii since 2000.

GAME OF THE WEEK: Eastern Michigan 35, Central Michigan 28
Eastern Michigan quarterback Alex Gillett scored on a 30-yard run with 37 seconds left to give the Eagles a win over their in-state rival, incredibly pushing the Eagles to 4-3 on the season — twice as many games as they won in coach Ron English's first two seasons combined. Eastern Michigan hasn't won more than four games since 1995 and haven't been to a bowl game since 1987.

This week's YouTube dedication goes out to San Jose State and Hawaii, who engaged in the fiercest, most competitive game of hot potato ever put on national television.

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PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Chandler Jones, WR, San Jose State.
Jones was San Jose State's all-everything player during the win against Hawaii. Not only did he catch the game-winning score, he had a 20-yard reverse for a score and a 23-yard fumble return off a kickoff for a touchdown. Jones only had one career touchdown coming into the game and his longest play from scrimmage this year was a 16-yard reception against Nevada.

Honorable mention: Northern Illinois quarterback Chandler Harnish became just the 10th player in FBS history to rush for 200 yards and pass for 200 yards in a single game, rolling up 432 total yards in the Huskies' 51-22 win over Western Michigan - yet somehow failing to run or throw for a touchdown. … Boise State's offense racked up a school-record 742 total yards in a 63-13 massacre of Colorado State. … BYU receiver Cody Hoffman had nine catches for 162 yards and a touchdown in a 38-28 win over Oregon State. … And Temple running back Bernard Pierce broke a few school records after his 152-yard, two-touchdown performance against Buffalo: He now owns the single-season record for touchdowns with 18, the single-season record for points scored with 102 and the record for career touchdowns, passing Paul Palmer with forty-four.

1. Boise State (6-0) Broncos seem to be getting stronger as the season progresses and appear headed for another undefeated campaign.
2. Houston (6-0) Cougars had a bye this week, but will play a tough Marshall team this weekend.
3. SMU (5-1) Mustangs avenged last year's C-USA title game loss and now look to get back into this year's title hunt.
4. Southern Miss (5-1) Golden Eagles are also coming off a bye, but could become bowl eligible this week with a win over SMU.
5. Louisiana-Lafayette (6-1) Ragin' Cajuns continue to be the nation's surprise team as they earn bowl eligibility.
6. Temple (5-2) Owls are starting to run away with the MAC East.
7. TCU (4-2) Horned Frogs had a much-needed bye week after a disappointing first half of the season.
8. BYU (4-2) Quarterback Riley Nelson has led the Cougars to three straight victories since taking over for Jake Heaps against Utah State on Sept. 30.
9. San Diego State (4-2) Aztecs dispatched Air Force on Thursday night to continue to keep pace in the Mountain West.
10.Toledo (4-3) Rockets are atop the MAC West after a big win against Bowling Green.
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Honorable Mention: Florida International (4-2), Western Michigan (4-3), Arkansas State (4-2), Northern Illinois (4-3).

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Graham Watson is on Facebook and Twitter: Follow her @Yahoo_Graham.
Matt Hinton also contributed to this post.

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