College Football Schools That Belong in Different Conferences

Amy DaughtersFeatured ColumnistJune 16, 2015

College Football Schools That Belong in Different Conferences

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    Michael Shroyer/Getty Images

    Did you know that West Virginia is located a convenient 860 miles away from its nearest Big 12 opponent?

    It’s a 12-hour drive that ends with the opportunity to watch the Mountaineers square off with Iowa State.

    Running alongside the growing list of geographic blunders, other FBS programs aren’t in the appropriate league from a competitive standpoint. And then there are those schools that are situated in a conference that doesn’t provide the heated rivalries necessary to keep the flame of passion burning.

    The 10 moves offered here will try to fix a variety of questionable conference affiliations. What it won’t attempt to do is reverse the most recent wave of realignment—returning Maryland to the ACC or Texas A&M to the Big 12.

    The net effect to the Power Five leagues is the SEC stays even and the Big 12 picks up the two schools it needs to host a championship game. The ACC loses two members to return to 12, while the Big Ten and Pac-12 both gain two new schools.

Boise State

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    Otto Kitsinger/Associated Press

    Current Conference: Mountain West

    New Conference: Pac-12

    For Boise State, it’s time to take it to the next level.

    The Broncos have posted double-digit wins eight of the last 10 seasons and finished ranked in the final AP Top 10 four times. They’ve also won a conference title six of the last 10 years—four in the WAC and two since joining the Mountain West in 2011.

    It all adds up to consistent domination, meaning there is a chance they can flourish in a Power Five conference. More importantly, moving up would mean a clear shot at a national championship, an opportunity they’ve earned but not yet been rewarded for.

    The only reasonable home for Boise State is the Pac-12, the only Power Five based in the West. Geographically, it is a natural fit for annual games with Washington, Washington State, Oregon and Oregon State.

    The Broncos won six straight games over teams that were Power Five members from 2008-11, but they have won only two of six since 2012.

    The time to move is now.

Miami (Fla.)

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    Jeffrey Boan/Associated Press

    Current Conference: ACC

    New Conference: Big 12

    Did you know that since Miami bolted for the ACC in 2004, it hasn’t won a title of any kind?

    The Hurricanes' most recent championship came when they won the Big East in 2003—their fourth straight conference crown. The four-year stretch also included consecutive AP Top Five finishes and the 2001 national championship.

    All the glory ended with the move to the ACC.

    In the 11 seasons since then, Miami’s best performances have been the four years it finished with nine wins: 2004, 2005, 2009 and 2013.

    Other than that, it’s been a 2-6 mark in bowl play and only three AP Top 25 finishes.

    What’s further isolated Miami from the national landscape is the lack of a place within the ACC. With Florida State dominating from a different division in the same league, the Hurricanes are the “other” Florida team in the conference.

    Membership in the ACC Coastal further hampers a compelling schedule. The Hurricanes squaring off with Georgia Tech, Duke, North Carolina, Pitt, Virginia Tech and Virginia do little to stir the soul.

    Though moving Miami to the Big 12 makes little sense geographically, it’s a great fit in every other way.

    It’s a big-time football program in a major media market moving to a big-time football conference. Think Miami-Oklahoma, Miami-Texas, Miami-Baylor and Miami-TCU.

    The cherry on top is the Big 12 getting a footprint in Florida recruiting, a hot bed that both the SEC and ACC already have a stranglehold over.


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    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    Current Conference: ACC

    New Conference: SEC

    If you look at a map of ACC and SEC members, Louisville is aligned better with the SEC. This is especially true when you consider Missouri’s location, an entire huge step to the west.

    The mistake the ACC made when adding Louisville was its placement in the Atlantic Division. Not only does it not make sense geographically (the nearest ACC schools are in Virginia, both in the Coastal), it puts them alongside the league’s heavy hitters: Clemson and Florida State.

    It means that the Cardinals have to beat both of the ACC’s top teams before they can even think about getting to the College Football Playoff. It’s something Virginia Tech doesn’t have to worry about.

    Moving to the SEC wouldn’t be easier, but it would mean generating more income and emerging as a basketball sensation in an SEC fully dominated by Kentucky. At some point, the ACC will be oversaturated in basketball, working against its own good clubs rather than for them.

    The SEC also gains a tremendous academic partner and shores up its presence in an area that is literally just miles from Big Ten territory.

    It’s a clean swap: The SEC drops Missouri (whose destination we’ll cover next) and picks up Louisville.

    Everybody wins.


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    Thomas B. Shea/Getty Images

    Current Conference: SEC

    New Conference: Big Ten

    Missouri is a great school, and based on recent results, it has a great football program. 

    Who would have guessed the Tigers would have morphed from a team that won eight games in their final season in the Big 12 (2011) to a team that went 23-5 in its second and third seasons in the SEC (2013-14)?

    But, and even though it’s captured SEC East titles each of the last two seasons, it still doesn’t belong in the SEC.

    Not only is Columbia, Missouri, 300 miles from its nearest SEC neighbor (Arkansas), it’s not a southern school. That’s different than saying Missouri isn’t a southern state, an argument that’s been going on since the Civil War.

    It’s not to say that the Tigers don’t have great football fans; they’re just not on the same wavelength with completely berserk SEC fans. Whether that’s a good thing or not is subject to interpretation.

    The bottom line: Missouri is more geographically and ideologically aligned with the Big Ten. That’s where it can meet more like-minded, regionally sensible opponents like Iowa (230 miles), Illinois (270 miles) and Nebraska (320 miles).

    And if the Tigers can win the SEC East twice in a row, how will they fare in the Big Ten West?

West Virginia

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    Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

    Current Conference: Big 12

    New Conference: ACC

    Even though West Virginia was wise to jump off the Big East’s sinking ship in 2012, it transferred its cargo to the wrong vessel in the USS Big 12.

    What it amounted to was a desperation move on both parties’ part—a conference that immediately needed a football partner, and a program that needed a home with a clear shot to a national title.

    Other than that, the liaison makes little sense. West Virginia is on an island, serving as the Hawaii of the Big 12. It's 860 miles away from Iowa State, 900 miles from Kansas, 1,100 miles from Stillwater and 1,235 miles from TCU.

    WVU belongs in the ACC, where it would serve as the obvious geographic link between the Virginia schools and Pitt, Syracuse and Boston College to the north. 

    It presents a 100 percent better chance of forming lasting, regional rivalries. Pitt is only 75 miles away, and Virginia Tech is only 250 miles down the road.

    As a bonus, the Mountaineers played the Hokies as fellow Big East members from 1991-2003 and the Panthers from 1991-2011. Even better, it would mark the return of the Backyard Brawl, the rivalry game with Pitt that dates back to 1895.

Notre Dame

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    Current Conference: Independent/ACC

    New Conference: Big Ten

    The only football partnership that will ever make sense for Notre Dame is the Big Ten.

    Not only are the Irish a non-Atlantic Coast team, they’ve also played current Big Ten members 386 times versus the 195 times they’ve met current ACC members.

    It's history, geography and mathematics—adding up to more money for every entity that has a finger in the pot.

    Not only would affiliation with the Big Ten retain rivalry games with USC (86 meetings), Stanford (29 meetings) and Navy (88 meetings), it would protect those with Michigan (42 meetings), Michigan State (77 meetings) and Purdue (86 meetings).

    Which would you rather watch: Notre Dame-Virginia Tech and Notre Dame-N.C. State, or Notre Dame-Ohio State and Notre Dame-Nebraska?


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    Scott Halleran/Getty Images

    Current Conference: American Athletic

    New Conference: Big 12

    While the Big 12 needs to ink a couple of new members (pronto), Houston needs a new conference home.

    The Cougars’ current address in the American Athletic Conference means their nearest opponent is SMU, only four hours away but also a team they’ve beaten eight of the last nine tries. It also means they have no clear shot at the College Football Playoff.

    Houston shouldn’t be discounted as a small school; its enrollment is 40,000, and its new stadium capacity is also 40,000. Compare that to TCU's 10,000 students and 45,000 seats.

    While the Cougars haven’t been in a Power Five conference since 1995, they did win the Southwest Conference four times between 1976 and 1984. Since then, Houston earned Conference USA crowns in 1996 and 2006. Compare that to Iowa State, which hasn’t won a championship of any kind since owning a piece of the Missouri Valley in 1912.

    It’s also a program that Art Briles and Kevin Sumlin both left for bigger jobs. It makes you wonder: What if Houston was a bigger job?

    The cherry on top is the city of Houston itself, the fourth-largest in the nation in population and the 10th-largest television market. It would be silly to say that the legions of Longhorn and Aggie fans living in the area would switch their allegiances, but they would watch the games on television. That’s especially true if Oklahoma, TCU and Baylor were the opponents as opposed to Tulsa, Tulane and UConn.


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    George Frey/Associated Press

    Current Conference: Independent

    New Conference: Pac-12

    BYU has a good enough football program to compete for a national championship, something it can’t do as long as it’s an independent that is not Notre Dame.

    The Cougars have finished at .500 or better each of the last 10 seasons. The run includes five double-digit campaigns, four AP Top 25 finishes and a 6-4 record in bowl play.

    What we don’t know is how all this would translate in a Power Five conference. 

    The only reasonable fit for BYU is the Pac-12, the league it shares a western identity with, critical for television purposes. It’s also located a quick 48 miles south of Pac-12 member Utah, shoring up the league’s western flank and tying in well with Colorado.

    If Boise State were to join at the same time, BYU would also serve as an important link joining the Washington and Oregon teams with those farther west and south.

    As is the case with Notre Dame and the Big Ten, the Cougars’ history points it directly to the Pac-12. BYU has played current Pac-12 members 198 times versus the 36 all-time games against the Big 12, 11 versus the Big Ten and nine with the SEC.


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    Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

    Current Conference: Sun Belt

    New Conference: Mountain West

    Though it’s less of a national concern, Idaho does not fit into the Sun Belt from a geographical standpoint.

    Georgia State, Arkansas State, Louisiana-Monroe, Troy, Georgia Southern and Louisiana-Lafayette are all firmly in the southeast, the heart of the conference. That leaves New Mexico State, Texas State and Appalachian State in North Carolina as the farthest outposts. 

    Idaho’s campus is 1,500 miles from New Mexico State, 2,000 miles from Texas State and 2,300 miles from Louisiana-Monroe. 

    Not only does this mean the Vandals will spend loads of money to ship the team to the far reaches of the nation, it also means that the rest of the Sun Belt members will fork out a load of cash to get their teams to Idaho.

    In 2015, the financial burden falls on Georgia Southern, Louisiana-Monroe, Appalachian State and Texas State.

    The good news is, the damage is limited to football only, as it’s the only sport the Vandals will participate in as Sun Belt members.

    Idaho is obviously more appropriately aligned with the Mountain West, where it’s a quick 300 miles to Boise State and a reasonable 590 miles to Utah State.

Georgia Tech

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    Grant Halverson/Getty Images

    Current Conference: ACC

    New Conference: Big 12

    Georgia Tech has been a member of the ACC since 1978. Since then, it’s won the conference three times (1990, 1998 and 2009) and its division, the Coastal, four times (2006, 2009, 2012 and 2014).

    It also captured the 1990 national championship.

    So saying that Georgia Tech and the ACC are a bad match would be lying. The school is located in the heart of ACC/SEC territory and actually held an SEC membership card from 1933-63.

    The reason the Yellow Jackets need to move to the Big 12 is all about the Big 12 needing them, not the other way around.

    It’s a shrinking league that, in reality, is still trying to replace the likes of Nebraska and Texas A&M. If the Big 12 is a viable, long-term entity, options like Cincinnati and Central Florida just won’t cut it.

    What makes Georgia Tech attractive is its location in Atlanta, the ninth-largest television market in the country. On top of that, it would open up the Georgia recruiting pipeline for the Big 12, which as of now only reaches as far as the Texas/Louisiana state line.

    Though the Yellow Jackets have a rich football history and continue to play well, it’s not like asking Florida State to join up and beat the tar out of everyone. Whether it results in a win or a loss, playing Georgia Tech is highly respectable. Even better than that, the outcome is not a sure thing.

    The move makes little sense geographically, but so does the Yellow Jackets’ place in the ACC Coastal. Think about it: Georgia Tech is located between Florida State and Clemson, the heart of the league, but has annual games with the Virginia teams and Pittsburgh.

    Historical data courtesy of