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MWC's biggest game feels like grand finale

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By RALPH D. RUSSO
The Associated Press
Wednesday, November 3, 2010; 12:02 PM

-- The most important game in the history of the Mountain West Conference feels more like a grand finale than the start of something big.

When No. 4 TCU plays at No. 6 Utah it will be the first time in the league's 11-year history that it will have a matchup of top-10 teams. It's a game with national title and BCS implications.

Sure, there are ranked teams squaring off against each other Saturday in the Big 12, Big Ten and Southeastern Conference, but none of those games have as much at stake as the one going on in Salt Lake City.

Imagine that.

The Horned Frogs and Utes have become the MWC's marquee programs, each with a BCS appearance the past two seasons. Their accomplishments are exhibit A in commissioner Craig Thompson's fight for an automatic BCS bid for his conference.

But come next season Utah will in the Pac-12 and its in-state rival, BYU, which is in a down year but has been the league's third-best program, is going independent. TCU is a prime candidate to be scooped up by the Big East. That's far from a done deal, but it would surprise no one if it happened.

In the past year, Thompson has tried to bulk up the MWC and create a league the BCS hierarchy could not ignore.

Boise State comes on board next season and two of its Western Athletic Conference rivals, Nevada and Fresno State, will join the MWC in 2012.

But subtract Utah, BYU and maybe even TCU, and add Boise State, Nevada and Fresno State, and the Mountain West Conference is no closer to being the seventh BCS automatic qualifying league than it is now.

In fact, when the shuffling comes to an end, the MWC might be even further away from its goals.

And by then, Saturday's monster game between the Horned Frogs and Utes might mark the end of the conference's Golden Era.

The picks:


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