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A Timeline of College Football Conference Realignment over the BCS Era

Amy DaughtersFeatured ColumnistJuly 2, 2014

A Timeline of College Football Conference Realignment over the BCS Era

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    West Virginia fans capture the spirit of the era of realignment in 2011.
    West Virginia fans capture the spirit of the era of realignment in 2011.Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

    How many programs do you think changed conferences in the BCS era?

    Think about it: The BCS lasted from 1998 to 2013—that’s 16 seasons in an FBS that began the era with 112 members.

    Would you guess 25, 30 or even 50?  Well, how about 78? 

    That’s right, 78 programs moved conferences in the BCS era—some more than once—a tribute to the skyrocketing popularity of college football and the ever-increasing pot of money at the center of the sport.

    Not only did almost 80 teams change leagues, 14 programs moved up from the FCS to the FBS level, three new conferences were formed and three leagues bit the dust.

    Though additional realignment is on tap for the 2014 season—the first in the College Football Playoff era— take a look at the astonishing volume of change that occurred in the 16 years the BCS ruled the world.

1997

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    Notre Dame was one of nine Independent teams in 1997.
    Notre Dame was one of nine Independent teams in 1997.Brian Bahr/Getty Images

    FBS Programs: 112

    Number of Conferences: 10

    Number of Independents: 

    Here’s a quick look at how the FBS conferences looked the year before the BCS kicked off in 1998:

    ACC (nine members): Clemson, Duke, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Maryland, North Carolina, NC State, Virginia and Wake Forest.

    Big Ten (11 members): Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Northwestern, Ohio State, Penn State, Purdue and Wisconsin.

    Big 12 (12 members): North Division: Colorado, Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State, Missouri and Nebraska. South Division: Baylor, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas, Texas A&M and Texas Tech.

    Big East (eight members): Boston College, Miami (Fla.), Pittsburgh, Rutgers, Syracuse, Temple, Virginia Tech and West Virginia.

    Big West (six members): Boise State, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico State, North Texas, Utah State.

    Conference USA (seven members): Cincinnati, East Carolina, Houston, Louisville, Memphis, Southern Miss, Tulane.

    Independent (nine teams):  Alabama-Birmingham, Arkansas State, Army, Central Florida, Louisiana-Lafayette, Louisiana-Monroe, Louisiana Tech, Navy and Notre Dame.

    MAC (12 teams): East Division: Akron, Bowling Green, Kent State, Marshall, Miami (Ohio) and Ohio.  West Division: Ball State, Central Michigan, Eastern Michigan, Northern Illinois, Toledo and Western Michigan.

    Pac-10 (10 teams): Arizona, Arizona State, California, Oregon, Oregon State, Stanford, UCLA, USC, Washington and Washington State.

    SEC (12 teams): East Division: Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, South Carolina, Tennessee and Vanderbilt.  West Division: Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, LSU, Mississippi and Mississippi State.

    WAC (16 teams): Mountain Division: Air Force, Colorado State, Rice, SMU, TCU, Tulsa, UNLV and Wyoming. Pacific Division: BYU, Fresno State, Hawaii, New Mexico, San Diego State, San Jose State, Utah and UTEP.

1998

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    Army joined C-USA in 1998.
    Army joined C-USA in 1998.M. David Leeds/Getty Images

    FBS Programs: 112

    Number of Conferences: 10 

    Number of Independents: 8

    FBS Programs Joining a New Conference: 1

    FCS Programs Moving into FBS: 0

    The year the BCS got underway—1998—only one program made a conference move. Army ended 107 years of independence to join Conference USA. This brought the number of Independent teams down to eight and drove C-USA membership up to eight.

     

    5-Year Records, Before and After Realignment

    Army: 29-26 (Independent) vs. 11-45 (C-USA)

1999

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    BYU moved from the WAC to the new Mountain West Conference in 1999.
    BYU moved from the WAC to the new Mountain West Conference in 1999.Tom Hauck/Getty Images

    FBS Programs: 114

    Number of Conferences: 11 

    Number of Independents: 7

    FBS Programs Joining a New Conference: 10

    FCS Programs Moving into FBS: 2

    The second year of the BCS was a banner year for realignment, driven by the eight programs that broke away from the WAC to form the new Mountain West Conference.

    Air Force, BYU, Colorado State, New Mexico, San Diego State, UNLV, Utah and Wyoming all left the WAC for the newly christened Mountain West. This slashed the WAC’s membership from 16 to eight and did away with the league’s two-division format.

    The other FBS shift for 1999 was Arkansas State and Alabama-Birmingham (UAB) relinquishing Independent status to join conferences. Arkansas State—which had been Independent since 1996—rejoined the Big West (the same league it left in 1996), while UAB—Independent since 1996 when it joined the FBS ranks—hooked up with Conference USA.

    Moving up to the FBS from the FCS in 1999 were Middle Tennessee, a new Independent program, and Buffalo, which signed on with the MAC. 

     

    5-Year Records, Before and After Realignment

    Air Force: 44-18 (WAC) vs. 36-24 (MWC)

    BYU: 46-18 (WAC) vs. 32-29 (MWC)

    Colorado State: 44-17 (WAC) vs. 42-21 (MWC)

    New Mexico: 27-32 (WAC) vs. 30-31 (MWC)

    San Diego State: 31-27 (WAC) vs. 21-37 (MWC)

    UNLV: 13-44 (WAC/Big West) vs. 26-33 (MWC)

    Utah: 38-19 (WAC) vs. 36-22 (MWC)

    Wyoming: 37-22 (WAC) vs. 16-41 (MWC)

    Arkansas State: 17-39 (Independent/Big West) vs. 18-40 (Big West/Sun Belt) 

    UAB: 26-29 (FBS Independent/FCS Independent) vs. 28-29 (C-USA)

    Middle Tennessee: 26-29 (FCS Ohio Valley) vs. 25-32 (FBS Independent/Sun Belt)

    Buffalo: 20-35 (FCS Independent) vs. 7-50 (MAC)

2000

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    UConn joined the FBS as an Independent in 2000.
    UConn joined the FBS as an Independent in 2000.BOB CHILD/Associated Press

    FBS Programs: 116

    Number of Conferences: 11 

    Number of Independents: 9

    FBS Programs Joining a New Conference: 1

    FCS Programs Moving into FBS: 2

    The only program to change conferences for the 2000 season was Nevada, leaving the Big West for the WAC. This dropped Big West membership down to six and brought the WAC roll call back up to nine.

    Joining the FBS ranks in 2000—both as Independents—were Connecticut, coming from the FCS Atlantic 10, and South Florida, which had been an FCS Independent since starting its football program in 1997.

     

    5-Year Records, Before and After Realignment

    Nevada: 32-25 (Big West) vs. 21-38 (WAC)

    UConn: 33-23 (FCS Atlantic 10) vs. 28-30 (Independent/Big East)

    USF: 20-13 (three years FCS Independent) vs. 24-9 (three years FBS Independent)

2001

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    TCU moved from the WAC to C-USA in 2001.
    TCU moved from the WAC to C-USA in 2001.Tom Hauck/Getty Images

    FBS Programs: 117

    Number of Conferences: 11 

    Number of Independents: 7

    FBS Programs Joining a New Conference: 11

    FCS Programs Moving into FBS: 1

    In 2001, the Big West disbanded, making room for the new Sun Belt Conference. Big West members Arkansas State, Idaho, New Mexico State and North Texas joined the Sun Belt along with former Independents Louisiana-Lafayette, Louisiana-Monroe and Middle Tennessee State.

    The balance of the old Big West—Boise State and Utah State—moved to the WAC and Independent status, respectively.

    The remainder of the action for 2001 was TCU’s move from the WAC to Conference USA and Louisiana Tech’s shift from being an Independent to joining the WAC.

    Moving up from the FCS ranks was Troy, becoming an FBS Independent after spending nearly a decade transitioning between D-II and the FCS. 

     

    5-Year Records, Before and After Realignment

    Arkansas State: 15-41 (Big West/Independent) vs. 19-39 (Sun Belt)

    Idaho: 32-24 (Big West) vs. 11-47 (Sun Belt/WAC)

    New Mexico State: 15-40 (Big West) vs. 20-39 (Sun Belt/WAC)

    North Texas: 17-38 (Big West) vs. 31-30 (Sun Belt)

    Louisiana-Lafayette: 11-44 (Independent) vs. 20-37 (Sun Belt)

    Louisiana-Monroe: 21-35 (Independent) vs. 16-41 (Sun Belt)

    Middle Tennessee State: 9-13 (two seasons Independent) vs. 12-11 (two seasons Sun Belt).

    Boise State: 32-27 (Big West) vs. 53-11 (WAC) 

    Utah State: 24-32 (Big West) vs. 17-39 (Independent/Sun Belt/WAC)

    TCU: 30-28 (WAC) vs. 43-17(C-USA/Mountain West) 

    Louisiana Tech: 32-25 (Independent) vs. 29-30 (WAC)

    Troy: 46-16 (FCS Independent/Southland) vs. 28-30 (FBS Independent/Sun Belt)

2002

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    UCF joined the MAC in 2002.
    UCF joined the MAC in 2002.KEVIN KOLCZYSNKI/Associated Press

    FBS Programs: 117

    Number of Conferences: 11 

    Number of Independents: 6

    FBS Programs Joining a New Conference: 1

    FCS Programs Moving into FBS: 0

    The 2002 offseason was quiet, the only movement coming when Central Florida dropped its Independent status to sign on with the MAC, an unlikely partner at best.

    The only other change was Bowling Green’s move from the MAC East to the MAC West, accommodating the league’s expansion to 14 teams.

     

    5-Year Records, Before and After Realignment

    UCF: 31-24 (Independent) vs. 22-38 (MAC)

2003

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    USF joined C-USA in 2003.
    USF joined C-USA in 2003.Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

    FBS Programs: 117

    Number of Conferences: 11 

    Number of Independents: 4

    FBS Programs Joining a New Conference: 2

    FCS Programs Moving into FBS: 0

    Only two programs were on the move in 2002, both moving away from Independent status. South Florida dropped three years of independence to join Conference USA, and Utah State left behind two years of unaffiliated status to sign on with the Sun Belt.

     

    5-Year Records, Before and After Realignment

    USF: 24-9 (three years Independent) vs. 17-17 (three years C-USA/Big East) 

    Utah State: 20-35 (Independent/Big West) vs. 12-46 (Sun Belt/WAC)

2004

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    Miami (Fla.) and Virginia Tech both moved to the ACC in 2004.
    Miami (Fla.) and Virginia Tech both moved to the ACC in 2004.Eliot J. Schechter/Getty Images

    FBS Programs: 120

    Number of Conferences: 11 

    Number of Independents: 3

    FBS Programs Joining a New Conference: 4

    FCS Programs Moving into FBS: 3

    What’s significant about 2004 is that it was the first year that conferences designated as BCS leagues experienced realignment.

    The big move involved Miami (Florida) and Virginia Tech’s historic shift from the Big East—where both had been members since 1991—to the ACC.

    The other two moves consisted of Troy and UConn dropping Independent status to join the Sun Belt and Big East, respectively. 

    Moving up from the FCS to the FBS ranks in 2004 were Florida Atlantic (started playing football in 2001) and Florida International (started playing football in 2002), both to the Sun Belt. Florida A&M also moved up, joining the FBS Independent ranks, a shift that only lasted a single season.

     

    5-Year Records, Before and After Realignment

    Miami (Florida): 55-8 (Big East) vs. 37-25 (ACC) 

    Virginia Tech: 48-15 (Big East) vs. 52-15 (ACC)

    Troy: 17-18 (three years Independent) vs. 19-17 (three years Sun Belt) 

    UConn: 20-26 (four years Independent) vs. 26-22 (four years Big East)

    Florida Atlantic: 17-18 (three years FCS-Independent) vs. 16-19 (three years Sun Belt)  

    Florida International: 7-16 (two years FCS Independent) vs. 8-13 (two years Sun Belt)

    Florida A&M: 6-6 (2003, FCS Mid-Eastern) vs. 3-8 (2004, FBS Independent)

2005

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    Louisville left C-USA for the Big East in 2005.
    Louisville left C-USA for the Big East in 2005.Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    FBS Programs: 119

    Number of Conferences: 11 

    Number of Independents: 4

    FBS Programs Joining a New Conference: 16

    FCS Programs Moving into FBS: 0

    In the second-biggest year for realignment in the BCS era, the wave of movement in 2005 was driven by a complete retooling of Conference USA’s membership roll and further expansion of the ACC.

    Army, Cincinnati, Louisville, TCU and South Florida all left C-USA in 2005. Army returned to Independent status while Cincinnati, Louisville and South Florida joined the Big East. TCU moved over to the Mountain West.

    Replacing the open slots in C-USA—expanding membership to 12 and splitting the league into two divisions—were Marshall and Central Florida from the MAC, and Tulsa, UTEP, Rice and SMU, all moving away from the WAC.

    The other league to expand and split into divisions in 2005 was the ACC, which added Boston College from the Big East. 

    Also leaving the Big East was Temple, which after 14 years of membership opted for Independent status.

    The final components of change in 2005 were Idaho, New Mexico State and Utah State leaving the Sun Belt for the WAC. 

    The reduction in one FBS team in 2005 was due to Florida A&M returning to the FCS after one 3-9 season as an Independent.

     

    5-Year Records, Before and After Realignment

    Army: 7-51 (C-USA) vs. 18-41 (Independent)

    Cincinnati: 33-29 (C-USA) vs. 45-19 (Big East)

    Louisville: 47-16 (C-USA) vs. 36-25 (Big East)

    USF: 35-20 (C-USA/Independent) vs. 40-24 (Big East)

    TCU: 42-18 (C-USA/WAC) vs. 53-11 (Mountain West)

    Marshall: 44-19 (MAC) vs. 23-37 (C-USA)

    UCF: 23-34 (MAC/Independent) vs. 34-30 (C-USA)

    Tulsa: 19-41 (WAC) vs. 43-23 (C-USA)

    UTEP: 22-38 (WAC) vs. 26-34 (C-USA)

    Rice: 23-34 (WAC) vs. 23-38 (C-USA)

    SMU: 13-45 (WAC) vs. 21-39 (C-USA)

    Boston College: 41-21 (Big East) vs. 47-19 (ACC)

    Temple: 15-42 (Big East) vs. 19-41 (Independent/MAC)

    Idaho: 14-44 (Sun Belt/Big West) vs. 17-43 (WAC)

    New Mexico State: 23-35 (Sun Belt/Big West) vs. 14-48 (WAC)

    Utah State: 19-37 (Sun Belt/Independent/Big West) vs. 13-46 (WAC)

2006

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    Florida won the BCS title in 2006, the first year in the era without any conference realignment.
    Florida won the BCS title in 2006, the first year in the era without any conference realignment.Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    FBS Programs: 119

    Number of Conferences: 11 

    Number of Independents: 4

    FBS Programs Joining a New Conference: 0

    FCS Programs Moving into FBS: 0

    As crazy as 2005 was, 2006 was calm—one of only three seasons in the BCS era without a trace of conference realignment. It also marked the beginning of a five-year lull in movement.

2007

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    Western Kentucky kicked off its FBS era with a 49-3 loss to Florida.
    Western Kentucky kicked off its FBS era with a 49-3 loss to Florida.Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

    FBS Programs: 120

    Number of Conferences: 11 

    Number of Independents: 4

    FBS Programs Joining a New Conference: 1

    FCS Programs Moving into FBS: 1

    The only shift in the FBS in 2007 came when Temple ended its two-year run as an Independent to join the MAC. 

    The total number of FBS teams increased with Western Kentucky moving from the FCS to FBS Independent status.

     

    5-Year Records, Before and After Realignment

    Temple: 8-50 (Independent/Big East) vs. 35-27 (MAC)

    Western Kentucky: 42-20 (FCS Missouri Valley) vs. 18-42 (FBS-Independent/Sun Belt)

2008

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    Western Kentucky joined the Sun Belt in 2008, the same year it lost to Kentucky 41-3.
    Western Kentucky joined the Sun Belt in 2008, the same year it lost to Kentucky 41-3.Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    FBS Programs: 120

    Number of Conferences: 11 

    Number of Independents: 3

    FBS Programs Joining a New Conference: 1

    FCS Programs Moving into FBS: 0

    The only movement in 2008 was Western Kentucky moving on from a single season as an FBS Independent to membership in the Sun Belt.

     

    5-Year Record, Before and After Realignment

    Western Kentucky: 7-5 (single-season FBS Independent) vs. 2-10 (first season Sun Belt)

2009

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    Though there was no realignment in 2009, Alabama did manage its first-ever Heisman and a BCS title.
    Though there was no realignment in 2009, Alabama did manage its first-ever Heisman and a BCS title.Chris Trotman/Getty Images

    FBS Programs: 120

    Number of Conferences: 11 

    Number of Independents: 3

    FBS Programs Joining a New Conference: 0

    FCS Programs Moving into FBS: 0

    The second of only three BCS-era seasons without any conference realignment, 2009 was another respite in an otherwise choppy sea.

2010

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    The final BCS year without realignment, 2010 was the year Auburn won both a Heisman and a BCS title.
    The final BCS year without realignment, 2010 was the year Auburn won both a Heisman and a BCS title.Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

    FBS Programs: 120

    Number of Conferences: 11 

    Number of Independents: 3

    FBS Programs Joining a New Conference: 0

    FCS Programs Moving into FBS: 0

    Though the quiet of 2009 carried over into 2010, this was the year that buzzed with talk of realignment.

    The Big Ten was expanding, the Big 12 was shrinking and the other major players were faced with a decision to either keep up or blaze their own path to survival.

    The domino effect was about to explode.

2011

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    Nebraska left the Big 12 for the Big Ten in 2011.
    Nebraska left the Big 12 for the Big Ten in 2011.Eric Francis/Getty Images

    FBS Programs: 120

    Number of Conferences: 11 

    Number of Independents: 4

    FBS Programs Joining a New Conference: 5

    FCS Programs Moving into FBS: 0

    Though only five teams realigned in 2011, the impact was huge because of the caliber of programs moving and the conferences impacted by the moves.

    The Big 12 took the first of a string of serious hits by losing Colorado to the Pac-10 and Nebraska to the Big Ten. The Pac-10 also grabbed Utah from the Mountain West, expanding and driving a name change to the Pac-12.

    The loss forced the Big 12 to abandon its two-division format while allowing the Pac-12 and Big Ten to split into divisions and host first-ever championship games.

    Along with Utah, the Mountain West also lost BYU in 2011, which opted to go Independent. 

    The other move was Boise State’s exit from the WAC. The school signed on with the Mountain West.

     

    3-Year Records, Before and After Realignment

    Colorado: 13-23 (Big 12) vs. 8-29 (Pac-12)

    Nebraska: 29-12 (Big 12) vs. 28-12 (Big Ten)

    Utah: 33-6 (MWC) vs. 18-19 (Pac-12)

    BYU: 28-11 (MWC) vs. 26-13 (Independent)

    Boise State: 38-2 (WAC) vs. 31-8 (MWC)

2012

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    TCU erects a very portable Big 12 sign, announcing its move from the Mountain West.
    TCU erects a very portable Big 12 sign, announcing its move from the Mountain West.Brandon Wade/Getty Images

    FBS Programs: 124

    Number of Conferences: 11 

    Number of Independents: 4

    FBS Programs Joining a New Conference: 8

    FCS Programs Moving into FBS: 4

    In 2012 the Big 12 took further hits, losing Texas A&M and Missouri to the now 14-member SEC. Joining up with the new, smaller Big 12 were West Virginia from the Big East and TCU from the Mountain West.

    Joining the Big East was Temple from the MAC, which in turn welcomed Massachusetts into its fold from the FCS ranks to keep its membership at 13.

    Another series of exchanges took place when Fresno State, Hawaii and Nevada all left the WAC for the Mountain West. Signing up with a dwindling WAC in 2011 were FCS programs Texas State and Texas-San Antonio.

    The final change came for the Sun Belt, which welcomed FCS South Alabama.

     

    2-Year Records, Before and After Realignment

    Texas A&M: 16-10 (Big 12) vs. 20-6 (SEC)

    Missouri: 18-8 (Big 12) vs. 17-9 (SEC)

    West Virginia: 19-7 (Big East) vs. 11-14 (Big 12)

    TCU: 24-2 (MWC) vs. 11-14 (Big 12)

    Temple: 17-8 (MAC) vs. 6-17 (Big East/American)

    UMass: 11-11 (FCS Mid-American) vs. 2-22 (MAC)

    Fresno State: 12-14 (WAC) vs. 20-6 (MWC)

    Hawaii: 16-11 (WAC) vs. 4-20 (MWC)

    Nevada: 20-7 (WAC) vs. 11-14 (MWC)

    Texas State: 10-13 (FCS Southland) vs. 10-14 (WAC/Sun Belt)

    Texas-San Antonio: 4-6 (FCS Independent, 2011) vs. 8-4 (WAC, 2011)

    South Alabama: 16-5 (FCS Independent) vs. 8-17 (Sun Belt)

2013

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    Pitt kicked off its ACC membership with a 28-21 win over Notre Dame.
    Pitt kicked off its ACC membership with a 28-21 win over Notre Dame.Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

    FBS Programs: 125

    Number of Conferences: 10 

    Number of Independents: 6

    FBS Programs Joining a New Conference: 17

    FCS Programs Moving into FBS: 1

    The final year of the BCS went out with a bang with a record 17 programs moving leagues.

    The ACC bumped its membership level up to 14 by taking Syracuse and Pitt from the Big East.

    The Big East morphed into the American Athletic and welcomed UCF, Houston, Memphis and SMU, all jumping from a Conference USA which managed to retool, once again, to survive another wave of poaching.

    Joining C-USA, and bringing membership up to 14, were Middle Tennessee, Florida Atlantic, Florida International and North Texas—all from the Sun Belt—along with Texas San-Antonio and Louisiana Tech from the WAC.

    Speaking of the WAC, it shut down its football operations before the 2013 season, sending Utah State and San Jose State to the Mountain West, Texas State to the Sun Belt and forcing Idaho and New Mexico State to declare Independent status.

    The final program to join the FBS from the FCS in the BCS era was Georgia State, which signed up with the Sun Belt in 2013 and bumped FBS membership up to 125.

     

    1-Year Records, Before and After Realignment

    Syracuse: 8-5 (Big East) vs. 7-6 (ACC)

    Pitt: 6-7 (Big East) vs. 7-6 (ACC)

    UCF: 10-4 (C-USA) vs. 12-1 (American)

    Houston: 5-7 (C-USA) vs. 8-5 (American)

    Memphis: 4-8 (C-USA) vs. 3-9 (American)

    SMU: 7-6 (C-USA) vs. 5-7 (American)

    Middle Tennessee: 8-4 (Sun Belt) vs. 8-5 (C-USA)

    FAU: 3-9 (Sun Belt) vs. 6-6 (C-USA)

    FIU: 3-9 (Sun Belt) vs. 1-11 (C-USA)

    North Texas: 4-8 (Sun Belt) vs. 9-4 (C-USA)

    Texas-San Antonio: 8-4 (WAC) vs. 7-5 (C-USA)

    Louisiana Tech: 9-3 (WAC) vs. 4-8 (C-USA)

    Utah State: 11-2 (WAC) vs. 9-5 (MWC)

    San Jose State: 11-2 (WAC) vs. 6-6 (MWC)

    Texas State: 4-8 (WAC) vs. 6-6 (Sun Belt)

    Idaho: 1-11 (WAC) vs 1-11 (Independent)

    New Mexico State: 1-11 (WAC) vs. 2-10 (Independent)

    Georgia State: 1-10 (FCS Colonial) vs. 0-12 (Sun Belt)

     

    Statistics courtesy of Sports Reference-College Football and College Football Data Warehouse.

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