One glance at college football's conference landscape reveals a picture decidedly different from what it was a year ago. In all, 18 schools will compete in different conferences or become independents after a dizzying chain reaction of defections and additions that began in April 2003. That's when Big East Commissioner Mike Tranghese accused ACC Commissioner John Swofford of attempting to secretly woo Big East schools to the ACC.

By October 2003, three schools -- Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College -- had accepted invitations to join the ACC, and Tranghese responded by raiding five Conference USA schools, including two, Marquette and DePaul, that will not compete in football. The domino effect had begun.

"Two years ago, a lot of people didn't even think our conference was going to make it," Tranghese said by phone. "What occurred a year ago was that we didn't have our members with us. Boston College was playing for us; they didn't want to be there. So last year was a year in limbo."

What does the game of musical chairs mean for the fan this season? Any school in the two divisions of the ACC has a more difficult time earning the league's Bowl Championship Series berth because of the requirement to win the league title game in Jacksonville, Fla., on Dec. 3. Louisville officials can hug Tranghese for the opportunity to win a national title it did not have last season in Conference USA.

Meantime, Conference USA becomes essentially an irrelevant league in the national title picture. The Mountain West Conference, which already featured the only mid-level school to earn a BCS berth (Utah), is significantly bolstered by the addition of Texas Christian. On the other hand, the Western Athletic Conference is considerably weaker, with the only teams of consequence being Boise State and Fresno State.

-- Eric Prisbell