by Ralph Routon
As has been widely rumored the past few days, the University of Utah will officially accept an invitation Thursday to join the Pacific 10 Conference, turning it into the Pacific 12.
After leaving the Mountain West, Utah instantly will become the nearest conference rival for Colorado, which also is heading for the Pac-12. In fact, the two schools will become travel partners for some sports, most notably basketball.
With the addition, the Pac-12 will have North and South divisions. Colorado and Utah will compete in the South along with Southern Cal, UCLA, Arizona and Arizona State. That means CU will face those division opponents, including USC, every year.
In the North division will be California, Stanford, Oregon, Oregon State, Washington and Washington State.
If the Pac-12 follows the lead of the 12-member Southeastern Conference, football teams will play a rotating schedule including three teams from the opposite division for home-and-home, two-year periods, then switching to face the other three members of the opposite division.
So, in any given year, Colorado's conference football schedule might look like this: Southern Cal, Oregon, Washington, California, Arizona, Arizona State, Utah and UCLA. It's also possible the Pac-12 might prefer nine league games instead of eight.
The expanded conference almost certainly will have a league championship game each season, with the winner guaranteed of advancing to the Rose Bowl unless that team happens to be playing for the national championship. But specific details have not been announced.
According the a Denver Post report, Colorado pushed hard to be placed in the South division because CU has so many alumni from Southern California.
Meanwhile, losing Utah is a blow for the Mountain West, which just added Boise State as a 10th member. Now the MWC goes back to nine, unless it decides to pursue more members and perhaps make a stronger case for inclusion into the Bowl Championship Series.
The Mountain West also loses arguably its best rivalry, Utah-Brigham Young, though the fans of Colorado State and Wyoming might beg to differ.
By adding three more members from a possible list of candidates such as Fresno State, Nevada, Houston or SMU, the Mountain West also could increase to 12 teams and have a football championship game.
Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson has scheduled a news conference for Thursday afternoon to talk about the league's plans.