Bleacher Report's Complete Guide to July 1 Conference Realignment

Ben KerchevalCollege Football Lead WriterJune 30, 2014

Bleacher Report's Complete Guide to July 1 Conference Realignment

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    Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

    Tuesday, July 1 marks another round of conference-realignment musical chairs. Maryland and Rutgers will head to the Big Ten, Louisville will go to the ACC and a swarm of other "Group of Five" schools will shuffle among conferences.

    It's enough to make your head hurt. 

    So, we here at Bleacher Report have decided to clear it all up. Not only will we tell you which schools are going where, but we have a brief rundown of what each move means. Furthermore, we predict how each new conference member will do in its new home.

    And whether it was a good move at all.

Appalachian State

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    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    Move: Southern (FCS) to Sun Belt 

     

    Analysis 

    One of the best Football Championship Subdivision programs of the last decade, Appalachian State is ready to prove it can make the transition to the highest level of college football. The Mountaineers announced they were joining the Sun Belt after North Texas, Florida Atlantic, Middle Tennessee and later Western Kentucky made it known they would be joining Conference USA. 

    Appalachian State had a lot of success in the FCS, but depth issues, thanks to scholarship numbers, could make life a little difficult at first. 

     

    2014 Record Prediction: 5-7, plus one win from 2013

East Carolina

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    Chris Graythen/Getty Images

    Move: Conference USA to AAC

     

    Analysis 

    ECU announced it was joining what was then still known as the Big East in late 2012 amid a major shakeup in conference affiliation. Maryland was leaving the ACC for the Big Ten, and the Big East was bracing for the likely departure of Louisville.  

    On paper, this is basically a lateral move since the American Athletic Conference is now the resting place (for now) of several former C-USA members. That said, it's as good a place as any for the Pirates, who are consistently one of the stronger mid-major programs. There's no reason to think ECU won't be able to compete in its new home right away. 

     

    2014 Record Prediction: 8-4, minus two wins from 2013

Georgia Southern

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Move: Southern (FCS) to Sun Belt

     

    Analysis

    Like Appalachian State, Georgia Southern comes to "major" college football, so to speak, after a successful run at the FCS level. 

    The Eagles gained a lot of notoriety last year when they knocked off an injury-plagued Florida team in The Swamp, so there's no doubt this program can compete. It will be interesting to see if they can do it on a week-to-week basis with the likes of Louisiana-Monroe and Troy on the schedule. Overall, though, this looks like a sound addition. 

     

    2014 Record Prediction: 6-6, minus one win from 2013.

Idaho

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Move: Independent to Sun Belt 

     

    Analysis

    After being stranded in football independence for a year, thanks to the demise of the WAC, Idaho has found a conference home. Of course, the Vandals would have accepted any conference invitation they received. As luck would have it, the Sun Belt was feeling particularly charitable. Idaho in the Sun Belt makes no geographical sense, but neither does West Virginia in the Big 12.

    The Vandals have a long way to go as a program to be successful at any level of Division I football, so 2014 could be a rough year. Last year's 1-11 effort didn't inspire a lot of confidence for the future, either. 

     

    2014 Record Prediction: 1-11, same win total as 2013

Louisville

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    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    Move: AAC to ACC

     

    Analysis

    Louisville was given the cold shoulder by the Big 12, which took West Virginia instead. The ACC was warmer—much warmer—to the Cardinals. In the College Football Playoff era, Louisville has to feel great about getting a seat at the big table. 

    From an athletics standpoint, the ACC looks like it will benefit from the departure of Maryland and the addition of Louisville. The Cardinals have a Sugar Bowl win and an NCAA championship in men's basketball to their credit since the start of 2013. 

    "When you look at Louisville, you see a university and an athletic program that has all the arrows pointed up -- a tremendous uptick there, tremendous energy," ACC commissioner John Swofford said in 2012 (via ESPN's Brett McMurphy). "It's always an overall fit in every respect and I think that's what we found."

    However, the Cards are in a tough division with Florida State and Clemson, so even divisional titles could be hard to come by. Overall, this is a nice move. Louisville sports are in the midst of a golden age, and athletic director Tom Jurich is considered one of the best at his job in the country. 

     

    2014 Record Prediction: 9-3, minus three wins from 2013

Maryland

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    Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

    Move: ACC to Big Ten

     

    Analysis 

    In addition to being about football, realignment is also strictly financial. And the marriage between Maryland and the Big Ten was as much about dollar signs as anything—if not more so. 

    The Big Ten moves into the Washington, D.C. media market as part of a bigger push to the East and South. Maryland will be getting a bigger payout that will alleviate the financial problems hindering the athletic department (Alex Prewitt of the Washington Post reported in 2013 that Maryland had a deficit of more than $21 million). 

    And who knowsthe Terps may do a thing or two on the football field in 2014, too. 

    Though the thought of Maryland in any conference besides the ACC is surreal, this looks like a good decision for both sides from a bottom-line standpoint. That's the only one that matters, after all. 

     

    2014 Record Prediction: 8-4, plus one win from 2013

New Mexico State

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Move: Independent to Sun Belt

     

    Analysis 

    Like Idaho, New Mexico State is just happy to have a conference to call home. The Aggies were part of the WAC until conference realignment blew it up two years ago. The program then spent a year as a football independent before joining the Sun Belt. 

    The Aggies haven't had a winning season since 2002, nor have they won more than four games in a year since 2004. Don't expect much to change in New Mexico State's first season in the Sun Belt. So, is it a good move for the conference? Not really, but the two sides do have a brief history together when the Aggies were members in the early 2000s. 

     

    2014 Record Prediction: 3-9, plus one win from 2013

Old Dominion

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    Gerry Broome/Associated Press

    Move: Independent to C-USA

     

    Analysis

    Old Dominion actually moved up to the FBS last season and initially played as a football independent. However, the Monarchs will finally make their transition to C-USA this year to give the league 13 members. 

    The Monarchs made a successful jump to the FBS with an 8-4 record in 2013 and have the offensive firepower to do damage again this season. If ODU can survive a few key games on the front half of the schedule, it should have a much easier time with the second half. And the addition to C-USA will look like a good one. 

     

    2014 Record Prediction: 7-5, minus one win from 2013

Rutgers

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    Elsa/Getty Images

    Move: AAC to Big Ten

     

    Analysis 

    Nothing about Rutgers to the Big Ten moves the interest needle; the Scarlet Knights aren't expected to be a major competitor in football. But it's a big acquisition for Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany as he expands the league's footprint outside the Midwest. 

    "There will be more coverage of their programs than Rutgers has ever imagined," Big Ten Network president Mark Silverman told Dan Duggan of NJ.com in May. 

    Coupled with the Pinstripe Bowl partnership, the Big Ten is making it clear it wants to be New York's conference—not to appeal to Rutgers' alumni base necessarily, but to all other Big Ten alumni in the area. 

     

    2014 Record Prediction: 4-8, minus two wins from 2013

Tulane

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    Bill Haber/Associated Press

    Move: C-USA to AAC

     

    Analysis 

    The Green Wave announced in 2012 that they were joining what is now the former Big East. At the time, the Big East was in a period of flux, having lost West Virginia, Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Rutgers and the like to realignment. The Big East needed members, and Tulane was there to offer its services. 

    In that sense, it matters little if this move is considered positive or negative. 

    However, the Green Wave appear to be on the upswing after finishing with a 7-6 record a year ago, so the addition could look good in hindsight if the program continues to build—especially with a new, on-campus stadium. 

     

    2014 Record Prediction: 6-6, minus one win from 2013

Tulsa

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    Karl B DeBlaker/Associated Press

    Move: C-USA to AAC 

     

    Analysis 

    Conference realignment is said to be about many thingsacademics, geography, tradition, etc. But what realignment really boils down to is football, and Tulsa has been one of the better mid-major football programs over the past decade. 

    The Golden Hurricane were granted Big East/AAC membership in 2013 at the tail end of the latest realignment overhaul. 

    After a disappointing 3-9 effort in 2013, Tulsa is looking to bounce back in a big way. Otherwise, head coach Bill Blankenship could be in some trouble. But the AAC shouldn't be worried about short-term results; Tulsa has been one of the most entertaining teams in college football recently and adds a fun element to the league. 

     

    2014 Record Prediction: 6-6, plus three wins from 2013

Western Kentucky

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    HANS PENNINK/Associated Press

    Move: Sun Belt to C-USA 

     

    Analysis

    Just as the AAC is becoming the new Conference USA, Conference USA is looking more and more like old Sun Belt. Western Kentucky announced it was joining C-USA last year, becoming the fifth team to leave the Sun Belt for the league in a year's time. (The previous moves included Middle Tennessee, Florida Atlantic, Florida International and North Texas.) 

    C-USA was being raided by what was then known as the Big East (now AAC), so the league dipped into the Sun Belt for a logical pool of replacements.

    Though the Hilltoppers are replacing head coach Bobby Petrino, they do encounter one of the easier schedules in the country. Will that be enough to help a reloading team get to the postseason? It should be.

     

    2014 Record Prediction: 7-5, minus one win from 2013