College Football Realignment Moves That Need to Happen
College football seems to have settled down following the recent run of realignment that featured expansion in each of the Power Five conferences and caused a cascading series of moves elsewhere.
Sure, rumors bubble under the surface as they seemingly always do, but with current television contracts in place for the major leagues into the next decade, realignment appears to have found its way to the backburner. It doesn't have to stay there forever, though.
The Big 12 raised eyebrows with its will-they-or-won't-they expansion process which ended with the league standing pat. That served as a stark reminder: Expansion can still happen and, in five particular cases, it should.
Boise State to the Pac-12
Why Change Is Needed: Over the past 20 years, Boise State has been one of the best mid-major programs in college football. With multiple Fiesta Bowl wins over Oklahoma and TCU and a pair of perfect seasons, the Broncos have proved they belong in the game's upper echelon.
It's time for them to get a new challenge—in the Pac-12. Bryan Harsin's team went 2-0 against the league last year en route to another 10-win season, defeating Oregon State and Washington State. Boise is 12-3 against current Pac-12 teams since 2006.
It'd be fun to see the likes of Southern California, UCLA, Washington and Oregon on the Broncos' blue turf on a regular basis. If Chris Petersen is good enough to lead Washington to the College Football Playoff, isn't his old team good enough to join the Pac-12?
Winners: Boise State finally gets a chance to prove itself on a regular basis against some of the best competition and receives a clear path to the College Football Playoff. The Pac-12 adds the Idaho market and an underrated, beautiful city in Boise, Idaho. The league can pair the Broncos with another addition to get to 14 teams and stabilize itself among Power Five leagues.
Losers: The Mountain West loses its biggest marquee program, which hurts the league in a big way. The MWC could easily add Idaho, which is expected to drop to the FCS after losing its conference home in the Sun Belt, but that would hardly be an equal one-for-one trade.
BYU to the Pac-12
Why Change is Needed: BYU is one of the nation's most consistent programs, touting a 12-year postseason streak and a proud history that includes a national title in 1983. But for the past six years, the Cougars have been a program without a home. They left the Mountain West Conference following the 2010 season and now compete as one of four independent programs in the FBS, playing a national schedule that regularly includes marquee programs.
Last year, they faced Arizona, Utah, UCLA, West Virginia, Michigan State and Mississippi State, going 3-3 against that group. This year, they have LSU, Wisconsin and Mississippi State on their schedule. That's fun for fans, but it creates a tough path to the College Football Playoff or New Year's Six bowls.
The Cougars have no natural tie-in to a marquee bowl aside from winning as many games as possible and hoping the cards shake out their way. That's hardly ideal. It's time for BYU to shed its independent status and join the Pac-12.
The league could pair the Cougars with another addition (such as Boise State) to get to 14 teams. BYU brings a national fanbase and plenty of tradition, and joining the Pac-12 would give it a path to achieve the goals any program wants to reach.
Winners: The Pac-12 adds a nationally known program and improves its standing among Power Five leagues. The Cougars get a permanent home and can compete for championships while in the same league as old MWC rival Utah.
Losers: No real losers here. It's a good fit for BYU and the Pac-12.
Cincinnati to the Big 12
Why Change is Needed: Cincinnati has quietly established itself as one of the better Group of Five programs over the past decade. The Bearcats are 86-43 over the past decade with five league titles and a pair of BCS bowl berths, and have been a launching pad for coaches like Brian Kelly and Butch Jones, who left the Queen City for Notre Dame and Tennessee, respectively, after strong runs at UC.
The Big 12 considered Cincinnati, among other schools, during its recent exploration of expansion, but ultimately added no programs. The Bearcats, along with another move, could help the league live up to its name again by getting 12 members and creating a two-division format like the rest of the Power Five leagues.
Winners: The Bearcats improve their standing in college football and create a solid foundation for new coach Luke Fickell, who should quickly turn around the program following Tommy Tuberville’s disappointing tenure. The Big 12 gets a solid program as well as a regional rival for West Virginia, which currently feels rather isolated from the rest of its league mates.
Losers: The American Athletic Conference loses a good program and is forced to look at the likes of independents Army and UMass or Conference USA teams like Western Kentucky, Louisiana Tech and Texas-San Antonio to fill the vacancy.
Houston to the Big 12
Why Change is Needed: Although Tom Herman has left for Texas following a highly successful two-year stint, Houston shouldn’t see a huge dropoff under new coach Major Applewhite. The Cougars went 22-5 under Herman, including a 9-4 record last season, and showed they’re ready for a higher level of competition.
Houston handed eventual Big 12 champion Oklahoma one of only two losses and dominated Louisville and Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson with a 36-10 rout in Houston in mid-November. The Big 12 considered the Cougars and a host of others, but ultimately decided to stand pat. This is a mistake. The league is at 10 members, and while it will bring back a conference title game this fall, a 12-member setup would allow divisions and perhaps keep big members with wandering eyes, like Oklahoma and Texas, satisfied.
Winners: The Cougars bring another wide-open, exciting offense to a league that is full of them, ensuring scoreboards will keep lighting up across the Big 12. The league adds a program in a vibrant, growing city which will improve its overall quality of play.
Losers: The American Athletic Conference wants to turn the Power Five into a Power Six, but this move certainly doesn’t help it reach that goal. The Cougars are one of the league’s marquee teams, and replacing them will be difficult. Along with the loss of Cincinnati, the league would have multiple holes to fill. They could grab independents like Army (a natural fit to pair with rival Navy) or UMass, or snag the likes of Western Kentucky, Louisiana Tech or Texas San-Antonio from Conference USA.
Notre Dame to the ACC
Why Change is Needed: Notre Dame is one of college football’s most iconic brands. The Fighting Irish have a history and lore that are unmatched by virtually anyone in the game: Touchdown Jesus, Win One for the Gipper, Notre Dame Stadium, etc. They have a national contract with NBC for home games through 2025, and have a national fan base.
But in relationship terms, they’re all but married to the ACC. All of the school’s sports, save football, are in the ACC, and the Fighting Irish have an arrangement with the league to play at least four games per year against ACC teams.
With the new ACC Network coming in 2019, ESPN needs to improve the league and the network’s chances of success. Adding Notre Dame would be natural; the school’s grant of rights (which prevent it from going anywhere else) are already tied up until 2036. If the Irish join a league, it’s going to be the ACC. If that happens, Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel says the ACC could be better than the SEC.
Winners: The ACC adds one of the nation’s best overall programs and helps create a 16-team league by pairing the Irish with another addition. Notre Dame gets stability for its program and an easier path to chase national championships.
Losers: NBC sees the value of its deal with the Irish take a hit while paying for more ACC games as opposed to national matchups. The Big Ten is angry that it didn’t lock up the Irish years ago.
UConn to the ACC
Why Change is Needed: OK, this one doesn’t look so attractive on the surface, but hang with us, here. We’ve established that the ACC is going to take Notre Dame in this scenario. That leaves the league at 15 teams. To even out the Atlantic and Coastal Divisions, it needs another addition. This is where UConn comes in.
The Huskies have a good-not-great program, but they have a solid all-around athletic department that will fit in nicely with the likes of old Big East teams like Boston College, Syracuse and Pitt. It’s a good 16th team for the ACC.
Winners: UConn gets to escape the AAC for the ACC and gains status as a Power Five member. Boston College, Syracuse and Pitt get another former league mate in the fold as the ACC becomes even more like the old Big East.
Losers: The American Athletic Conference loses another respected member and must backfill, as we have mentioned, from a lesser group of candidates.