BushWACked by departures, whither the remaining schools?

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Let’s face it: the Western Athletic Conference, as it’s currently constituted, is dead.  It has ceased to exist as a conference, both technically and in the realm of any reasonable thought.

The six teams left standing are a veritable Who’s Not collection of fringe mid-major football schools — at best — with little cachet left following the departures of Boise State, Fresno State and Nevada for the Mountain West, presumably after the 2010-2011 school year.

Idaho, Louisiana Tech, New Mexico State, Hawaii, San Jose State and Utah State?  There’s little doubt that these schools are fine, fine institutions of higher learning, but, when it comes to football, the Sun Belt now scoffs in their general direction.  And chuckles, with a giggle thrown in for good measure.

So, just where does the conference go from here?  Commissioner Karl Benson is expected to hold a press conference at some point Thursday, at which time it’s expected he’ll address the future of his league and any type of salvaging plan they’ve cobbled together in the past 24 hours.

Aside from the obvious of just outright abandoning the conference and allowing the remaining schools to fend for themselves — especially if BYU decides to remain in the Mountain West and not take their non-football sports to the WAC — the WAC will have to look at plucking schools that are currently members of other leagues.  The most obvious candidate for plundering would be Conference USA in general and their Western division specifically.

Houston would be the obvious prize out of that group, with SMU and their cash-flush rebuilding efforts not far behind.  The former would seem an unlikely candidate for departure right now, if for nothing more than there’s a possibility that either the Mountain West (most likely) or the Big 12 (kinda, maybe) could have their eyes on the Cougars in the not-too-distant future; the latter school would appear to be a good candidate, although they may not want to abandon their natural in-state conference rivals.

Beggars can’t be choosers — and right now the WAC is a panhandling fool — so they could be forced to focus their attention on two of the following four schools to get to the NCAA-mandated level of eight schools: Rice, Tulane, Tulsa and UTEP.  Would either of those four schools leave the relative stability of C-USA for the uncertainty that is the WAC?  Not to mention the additional travel expenditures that would come along with it?

If C-USA is out of the question, the attention may turn to the Sun Belt.  With Louisiana Tech already in the WAC fold, perhaps Louisiana-Lafayette and/or Louisiana-Monroe would be an option.  With the exception of getting to the minimum of eight schools to technically form a conference, do those to Louisiana programs add anything — besides travel expenses — of value to the conference?

Of course, there’s always the option of cannon-balling into the Div. 1-AA pool and see what comes ashore, which brings us full circle back to the original premise: the WAC is on life support and, barring what seems right now would be a more-than-minor miracle, will have the plug pulled.

Thus, if the WAC ceases to exist, what happens to the individual schools?  There are two seemingly no-brainers when it comes to the dissolving of the WAC and what happens to the current members.

One, Hawaii would be odds-on favorites to go the independent route.  It’s been discussed in the past and, if they suddenly found themselves conference-less, would be the likely path for the foreseeable future.  The other no-brainer would be Louisiana Tech to either Conference USA or the Sun Belt.  The former already has 12 schools, so the numbers would have to be worked around, while the latter would likely welcome LaTech with open arms and a couple/few cases of beers.

As suggested to me by one of the fine editors at NBC Sports.com/MSNBC.com, two of the remaining four schools could potentially drop down to Div. 1-AA.  Idaho and Utah State, at least geographically, would be a perfect fit for the Big Sky conference.  Dropping down a level would not be optimum, but they could be left with no other choice.

That leaves San Jose State and New Mexico State.  Godspeed, higher-learning institutions.  Godspeed. 

Of course, if the reports come to fruition and BYU does indeed strike out as a football independent and drops their non-football sports into the WAC, the conference may suddenly become attractive again and they could very well, with the BYU draw, pull in an additional two schools, thus staving off extinction.

So, BYU, the ball’s in your court.  You have the power to save or kill an entire conference.  No pressure at all.

Vandy assistant Osia Lewis battling liver cancer

NASHVILLE, TN - OCTOBER 24: Head coach Derek Mason of the Vanderbilt Commodores speaks to an official regarding a play that was called a non-fumble on the opening kickoff against the Missouri Tigers during the first half at Vanderbilt Stadium on October 24, 2015 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)
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A serious medical event has caused a shakeup on Derek Mason‘s Vanderbilt coaching staff.

The football program revealed in an article posted to its official website Tuesday night that outside linebackers coach Osia Lewis is battling cholangiocarcinoma, a form of liver cancer.  The 54-year-old coach was diagnosed in mid-January after undergoing a battery of tests the last couple of months.

Lewis, who is married with two children, has already started chemotherapy, although the school writes that, “[f]or now, the tumor is inoperable due to its location, but doctors are hopeful treatment will make an impact.”

As Lewis continues to battle, he will move from his on-field role to what the program describes as the chief consultant to the head coach and senior defensive assistant. “But as soon as I’m ready to go, I’ll be back,” the coach said.

“Osia is family,” Mason said. “Some people run from these things, but we’ve chosen to run to it. I believe Osia and Darlene, with what they’ve poured into this program, their journey is a testament to what it means to be family. They’ve given everything they have to this program, moving from San Diego to Nashville because I asked them to. I truly believe it’s important for us to take the journey with them.

“That’s exactly what we’re going to do.”

WRs coach Zach Azzanni leaving Vols for job with Chicago Bears

KNOXVILLE, TN - OCTOBER 15:  A general view of the play during the game between the Alabama Crimson Tide and the Tennessee Volunteers at Neyland Stadium on October 15, 2016 in Knoxville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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An NFL team has once again cost a Power Five program an assistant coach.

Tennessee announced in a press release Wednesday that Zach Azzanni has stepped down from his job with the Volunteers in order to take the job as wide receivers coach with the Chicago Bears.  Azzanni had spent the past four seasons as UT’s receivers coach.

He also carried the title of passing-game coordinator the last two years.

“We are really excited for Zach and his family,” said head coach Butch Jones in a statement. “I have known Zach for a long time and this is a path he has wanted to pursue for some time. We can’t thank him enough for his loyalty, dedication and hard work over the past four years to our football program.

“We will begin the process of filling this position immediately. It’s a position we want to fill as quickly as we can, but we also want to go through the detailed process, which we will.”

This will mark Azzanni’s first job in the NFL as his previous 18 years in the profession have come at the collegiate level.

Clemson transfer Scott Pagano sets his five official visits

CLEMSON, SC - OCTOBER 01: Lamar Jackson #8 of the Louisville Cardinals looks to pass under pressure from Scott Pagano #56 of the Clemson Tigers during the second quarter at Memorial Stadium on October 1, 2016 in Clemson, South Carolina.  (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
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Not long after Scott Pagano decided to transfer from Clemson, three dozen or so teams expressed interest in the defensive tackle.  A short time later, that list had been whittled down to seven by the lineman.

Just a couple of days later, Pagano has a list of teams he will officially visit.  From Ryan Bartow of 247Sports.com:

Pagano… said he will officially visit Notre Dame March 24, Oklahoma March 31 and Arkansas April 7.

Pagano has completed his official visit plan by lining up a trip to Texas for April 14 and Oregon April 21.

The graduate transfer also listed Cal and Nebraska as two of his seven finalists.  He could still “unofficially” visit those programs, or any others for that matter, even as they are not part of his current official visits schedule.

Pagano is expected to make a final decision that would allow him to enroll in his new school in May.

Coming out of high school in Hawaii as a four-star 2013 recruit, Pagano was rated as the No. 24 tackle in the country and the No. 2 player at any position in the state. Pagano started 13 games the past two seasons, four of which came in 2016.

Jim Harbaugh confirms TE Devin Asiasi will transfer from Michigan

EAST LANSING, MI - OCTOBER 29: Devin Asiasi #2 of the Michigan Wolverines tries to outrun the tackles of Riley Bullough #30 and Ed Davis #43 of the Michigan State Spartans during a first quarter run at Spartan Stadium on October 29, 2016 in East Lansing, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
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The reports of a couple of weeks ago have indeed come to fruition.

Earlier this month, speculation had Devin Asiasi considering a transfer from Michigan back closer to his home on the West Coast. Tuesday night, the tight end’s head coach confirmed the transfer part of the equation.

“Yeah, he’s moving on, transferring,” Jim Harbaugh said according to mlive.com. “He leaves in great status. He was doing great in school, doing great in football, really popular and well-liked by his teammates.

“We wish him well.”

USC and UCLA are currently rumored to be among Asiasi’s potential landing spots. One of Asiasi’s former high school teammates, Boss Tagaloa, plays defensive tackle for the Bruins and the two players had talked of going to the same school when they were recruits. The Trojans were a finalist before Asiasi opted for the Wolverines as well.

As a 6-3, 287-pound true freshman last season, Asiasi played in all 13 games. He caught two passes for 18 yards and a touchdown.

A four-star recruit in last year’s class coming out of high school at Concord De La Salle High School, Asiasi was rated as the No. 3 tight end in the country and the No. 12 player at any position in the state of California. In addition to UM, USC and UCLA, Asiasi held offers from, among others, Alabama, Arizona, Arizona State, Auburn, Miami, Notre Dame, Oregon, Tennessee and Washington.