College Football Teams That Belong in Different Conferences
Conference realignment is slowly veering to a halt, and although there are some big moves in store for 2014 and some smaller ones in store for the season that follows, there is not much on the horizon beyond that. And good riddance!
But not every team used the chaos of realignment as a ladder, instead ending up in a less favorable position because of it. Especially now that the process of the College Football Playoff is starting to sharpen into focus, some of the better teams in non-power conferences have a less realistic chance than ever of contending for a national title.
"We don’t think in terms of most deserving on the resume," said selection committee chairman Jeff Long of how the CFP teams will be chosen, per Chuck Carlton of The Dallas Morning News. "We’re focused on the best four teams and the best ranking in the [playoff] top 25. Again, our focus is the best, not deserving."
Translation: "Sorry, smaller-conference teams, but no matter what you do during the regular season, you will never be playing for a championship."
This selection credo puts many of the best non-power-conference teams in an awkward spot. They would need to play in a bigger conference to stand a realistic chance of reaching their ultimate goal.
But that's not the only reason a team might need a new league.
Others could use a change of scenery for their own sake; because they have struggled so mightily in their current league, a transfer to a less-competitive schedule might be better for everyone involved.
This list includes both of those types of teams. It also includes a team that needs to move for geographical reasons after desperately clinging to a league during the brunt of realignment season.
Remember, too, that these suggestions exist in a hypothetical world where realignment is not so political. I understand that most of these moves are unrealistic in real life. There are too many moving parts.
But that doesn't make them any less necessary.
One of the biggest "what ifs" of the past decade concerns Boise State, and whether the Broncos could have competed, realistically, for a national championship during the apex of Chris Petersen's tenure.
The advanced numbers might argue that yes, Boise State could have been a true contender had their schedule (and national perception) allowed it. During Auburn's 14-0 season with Cam Newton in 2010, the Broncos actually finished No. 1 in the country on the F/+ ratings at Football Outsiders (despite having lost a game in the regular season).
Some might argue that the window has closed now that Petersen has fled Boise for the Washington job. But Petersen himself was greeted with skepticism when he first took over the Broncos. People wondered whether he could replace Dan Hawkins at the helm.
Petersen was Hawkins' offensive coordinator the same way new head coach Bryan Harsin served under Petersen from 2006 to 2010. Hiring from "within"—Harsin has coached at Texas and Arkansas State the past two seasons—should maintain a semblance of continuity.
Boise State should not suffer too big of a drop-off in the next five years from the last five. However, it stands an even less realistic chance of winning a national title during the College Football Playoff era.
Which is precisely why the Broncos need to move.
Ideal Destination: Pac-12
BYU doesn't need a new conference—it needs any conference.
That hasn't quite been the case until this year, but the powers that be have made it harder for BYU to subsist as an FBS Independent.
Teams in the Big 12, Pac-12 and Big Ten all play nine conference games each year, which gives them less opportunity (and incentive) to play the Cougars in the regular season.
The SEC and ACC only play eight conference games but will not count BYU under their new requirement to play at least one power-conference foe each season, per Brett McMurphy of ESPN.com.
"We would love to be in the Big 12," Mendenhall said. "I would love to be a member of that conference. I think that would make a lot of sense. In fact, if that was your headline, that would be great."
But according to McMurphy, a couple of Big 12 athletic directors confirmed that the league has no plans for expansion past 10 teams.
Tough luck, Cougars. On to the next realistic strategy.
Ideal Destination: Big 12
It feels weird to say this, but Cincinnati has quietly become one of the most consistent winners in college football the past seven seasons.
There was an outlier 4-8 season under Butch Jones after Brian Kelly left in 2010, but other than that, the Bearcats have won 10, 11, 12, 10, 10 and 9 games in each of the seasons since Mark Dantonio departed.
During that 12-win season in 2009, Cincinnati came dangerously close to making the BCS National Championship Game. Texas eked out a 13-12 win over Ndamukong Suh and Nebraska at the end of that season that "relegated" the Bearcats to the Sugar Bowl against Florida.
Is it really so crazy to think Cincy might reach similar heights under Tommy Tuberville? Yes and no. It might field a similarly dominant team one season, but it will never be as close to making the College Football Playoff as it was to playing for the title in 2009-10.
At least not in the American, it won't.
Ideal Destination: Big Ten
Can college football launch a relegation system?
Because, man, the Kansas Jayhawks have been bad.
Tim Layden of Sports Illustrated reported that Charlie Weis promised a "decided schematic advantage" when he arrived at Notre Dame in 2005, and he ostensibly brought the same type of confidence to Lawrence. But that "advantage" has not translated onto the field, and dating back to the end of the Mark Mangino era, KU has dropped 40 of its last 43 conference games.
And listen, guys, I know that this is not exceptionally practical. Kansas is the lifeblood of Big 12 basketball and the league could not afford to lose it for that and a thousand other reasons. I understand.
But in the context of this article, which deals strictly with football programs that need a change of scenery, Kansas was an obvious choice. Its roster would fit in better with the Mountain West.
Ideal More-Suitable Destination: Mountain West
Marshall hasn't been consistently great in the win-loss column since Doc Holliday took over the head coaching job in 2010, winning more than seven games for the first time during last year's 10-4 campaign.
However, Holliday has the Herd moving undoubtedly in the right direction, and considering their location in West Virginia—i.e., their spot on the Atlantic coast—they would be able to compete in a more competitive league than C-USA such as the American.
If Marshall insists on staying in a smaller conference or is unable to crash a bigger conference, even a move back to the MAC would be better than C-USA. Northern Illinois proved in 2012-13 that it was possible to crash a major bowl from the MAC—a feat no one from C-USA has ever accomplished—and Marshall was one of the first schools to make MAC football credible in the first place during the Byron Leftwich years. A return would be plain nice to see.
Especially now that East Carolina and Tulsa are gone to the American, staying in C-USA will hold Marshall back in the new CFP era.
Ideal Destination: American/MAC
West Virginia did what it had to do when the Big East was on the brink of destruction, jumping ship early to join the Big 12. Savvy move.
It would obviously not be best-served leaving the conference for a non-power league, and there is no practical way for WVU to join the ACC (where it would make the most sense), Big Ten, Pac-12 or SEC—or at least there is no practical way right now.
But let's be frank for second: West Virginia does not belong in the Big 12. The on-field transition has been rocky for the football team, but that is not the main reason why. Geography is the main reason why.
WVU's basketball team has already had significant issues with its travel schedule, per Bob Hertzel of the Times West Virginian, which makes absolute sense for a team in the mid-Atlantic that is playing against teams in the South or the Southern Midwest.
Remember, again, that this list exists in a hypothetical world where realignment is less complicated (and nonsensical) than it is in real life. It is not meant to suggest that West Virginia should start actively looking for a way out of the Big 12. It shouldn't.
But, man, it would make so much more sense in the ACC.
Ideal Destination: ACC