UCLA’s opponent brings back Big West memories

New Mexico State University quarterback Andrew McDonald, right, looks to make a pass over UTEP defender Anthony Puente on Sept. 14.
(Robin Zielinski / Associated Press / Las Cruces Sun-News)

Big West Conference football has come to town.

Well, the remnants of it.

New Mexico State dropped by the Rose Bowl on Saturday night to pick up a hefty check and, probably, another loss. Across town, Utah State gave USC everything it could handle before losing, 17-14.

These schools are alumni of the Big West. The conference dropped football after the 2000 season, sending teams off into the wild.

“I still follow the programs,” Big West Commissioner Dennis Farrell said. “It’s nice to see a program like Utah State becoming a factor.”


Utah State, now in the Mountain West Conference, had 10 consecutive losing seasons after leaving the Big West before going 7-6 in 2011. The Aggies were 11-2 last season.

The other Aggies haven’t had it so good. New Mexico State has one winning season since leaving the Big West, and still can’t keep a home. They first played first in the Sun Belt Conference before moving to the Western Athletic Conference. Now that the WAC no longer sponsors football, New Mexico State is an independent this season.

These Aggies lean more toward an ATM than Texas A&M.; UCLA paid New Mexico State $550,000 to come to town.

The Bruins have had their way with the Big West. UCLA has a 41-4-1 record teams with ties to the conference, with two of those losses coming before 1930.

Some Big West programs have made the transition to being competitive in the Football Bowl Subdivision.

Boise State, the Big West’s last champion, has a 138-21 record since 2000 and has been to two Bowl Championship Series bowl games.

“Some of our teams have done well,” Farrell said. “Boise State has been a top program. Nevada and [Coach] Chris Ault gave college football the ‘pistol’ offense.”

The Big West — once known as the Pacific Coast Athletic Assn. — also had the founding father of the spread offense, Don Coryell.

“Air Coryell” started at San Diego State, which left the PCAA after the 1975 season.

San Diego State, Fresno State and San Jose State have assimilated into the FBS. But those schools bugged out of the Big West before its last gasp in 2000. Fresno State left in 1992 and San Jose State in 1996.

New Mexico State and Utah State hung around until the bitter end. None of the programs were financially capable of sustaining the sport in the Big West.

Boise State was the only one of the conference’s six teams to have a winning record in 2000. The “West” in “Big West” had been redefined.

Cal State Fullerton, Long Beach State and Pacific — all longtime members — dropped their football programs. Louisiana Lafayette, Louisiana Tech, Northern Illinois and Arkansas State all spent time as replacements during the 1990s.

Nevada left after the 1999 season and Utah State announced it would leave after the 2000 season.

“For the first time in the conference’s history, the schools that did not play football outnumbered those that did,” Farrell said. “The only way we could keep football was to expand further east. The non-football schools were against that.”

Farrell said the reasoning was sound.

“UC Irvine, Cal State Fullerton and [UC] Santa Barbara did not want to send volleyball teams to DeKalb, Ill., or Ruston, La., or wherever we were going to be eastward,” Farrell said. “It cost too much money.”

Farrell can be proud of football now, however.

Teams that once called the conference home had a combined record of 106-61 in the FBS level last season. Nine of the 14 won nine or more games.

Twitter: @cfosterlatimes