Washington State Cougars mascot , Butch, encourages the fans during a game against the Oregon State Beavers Credit: James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

While every departure has felt like the nail in the coffin, the impending departure of Stanford and Cal to the ACC truly and definitively puts the nail in the coffin of the Pac-12 conference.

A little over a year ago, the conference had 12 teams.

6 weeks ago, the conference had 11 teams.

A month ago, the conference had 4 teams.

And now, it’s down to two. The Oregon State Beavers and Washington State Cougars are the last members standing and their options for how they move forward have dwindled significantly.

Even though their preference had been to figure out how to rebuild the “Pac-4,” they knew well enough to kick the tires on other conferences as well. Unfortunately for them, the American Athletic Conference announced Friday that they would not be expanding to include any West Coast schools.

That essentially leaves the Pac-12 leftovers with two options. One, try to recruit other schools to form a new Pac-12, which doesn’t seem likely or profitable. Two, suck it up and find another conference that will take them.

“Obviously, (Group of 5) options are out there. But that’s not our priority,” said Oregon State AD  Scott Barnes last week, back when the semblance of choice still existed.

The odds-on favorite is the Mountain West, which makes logistical sense, though logistics has hardly been a deciding factor for everyone else in this most recent round of conference realignment.

Conference commissioner Gloria Nevarez reportedly visited both OSU and WSU campuses recently, pitching them the idea of joining. Now, it’s likely the pitch doesn’t have to be that hard. If they do join the Mountain West, they’ll be the conference’s 12th and 13th members. Nevarez has already said it would be a “missed opportunity” if the MWC did not add at least one Pac-12 school.

While an epic step down for both athletics programs financially, it could be worse. Joining the MWC at least helps both schools keep things regional, which in turn keeps travel costs down. They’ll lose huge Pac-12 rivalries and the access that came with them, but there’s a path to football success that’s been laid out by Boise State and San Diego State (much as the Aztecs would love to not be there).

The Mountain West is currently in the midst of a six-year media rights deal with CBS and Fox Sports that runs through the 2025-26 season, with each member school receiving $4 million per year. That’s a far cry from what they would have made with the Pac-12’s proposed Apple deal but, again, it’s better than the alternative.

And hey, there’s always the inevitable next round of conference realignment to try again.

There’s also the possibility that both schools could somehow convince MWC and AAC members to join them and reform the Pac-12. The Athletic’s Stewart Mandel says that their preference and they think they could leverage existing media deals to make it happen, but it sure sounds far-fetched.

We talk a lot about the “winners” in conference realignment. The schools that forgo geography, rivalry, and tradition to bank gobs of money by joining a conference with members 2,000 miles away. But there are always “losers” in this dance as well and unfortunately, the Beavers and Cougars are the ones who got hung out to dry by their Pac-12 brethren. Now it’s up to them to make the most of a bad situation.

About Sean Keeley

Along with writing for Awful Announcing and The Comeback, Sean is the Editorial Strategy Director for Comeback Media. Previously, he created the Syracuse blog Troy Nunes Is An Absolute Magician and wrote 'How To Grow An Orange: The Right Way to Brainwash Your Child Into Rooting for Syracuse.' He has also written non-Syracuse-related things for SB Nation, Curbed, and other outlets. He currently lives in Seattle where he is complaining about bagels. Send tips/comments/complaints to sean@thecomeback.com.