So here we are, less than 100 days from the start of the 2017 college football season. And if there is one topic that is always going to grab headlines in the off-season, it is conference realignment.
Teams are always looking to come and go for various reasons, whether it be to improve their resumes or receive more national exposure (in the form of TV revenue), or some combination of both. We’ve seen how realignment has benefited schools, whether it be in football or basketball — the two true money-grab sports of college athletics — and also instances where it has not worked out.
There appears to be nothing in the works as far as major moves, but that doesn’t mean we can’t predict or think what should happen, right? Well here are five moves that make too much sense.
1. BRONCOS, AZTECS MOVE TO PAC-12
When the then Pac-10 added the likes of Colorado and Utah prior to 2010, fans scratched their heads a bit at the selections.
Prior to a 10-win campaign a season ago — their highest win total in 15 years — Colorado had posted just a 14-48 record overall in its first five years as a member of the Pac-12. Utah meanwhile has adapted rather well, posting a winning record in four of the six years since jumping the Mountain West Conference ship, and has bowl victories in three consecutive years.
The Pac-12 has seemingly gotten a little deeper with the emergence (and resurgence) of some programs from last season; Washington and Washington State, and Southern Cal to name a few. The question will be whether or not any of these schools have staying power. But one thing is for certain, a ‘Group of 5’ school like Utah can transition to the big kids table.
That’s where the addition of Boise State and San Diego State come in.
Boise has been a juggernaut ‘Group of 5’ program over the last two decades, winning 10+ games in 14 of the last 20 years and earning bowl bids in 17 years during that span. That’s all while being a member of three different leagues, two of which have since then folded.
The Aztecs have been very steady as well. Not as much longevity as the Broncos, but it’s now back-to-back 11-win seasons for SDSU and bowl games in seven straight seasons.
Geographically, it makes all the sense in the world too for both schools. San Diego State would be slotted in that South Division of the league, whereas Boise would be put in the North Division.
2. COUGARS AND TIGERS AND… IRISH? OH MY
This is just a short reminder that the likelihood of any of these teams being on the move, particularly that last team pictured above, is slim to none and these are merely a fantasy.
The Big 12 Conference has endured the most change in the wave of FBS realignment this decade. They saw four schools — Colorado, Nebraska (Big Ten), Missouri (SEC) and Texas A&M (also SEC) — all bolt in a span of years. Twelve was trimmed to eight, but they made an adequate rebound in poaching away Texas Christian and West Virginia
Despite having plenty of firepower, the Big 12 appears to be the ‘Power 5’ league most at risk of blowing up, not only because they have the fewest number of teams, but they are also the only major conference without their own TV network. That’s a big no-no in this day and age. So while they work on that, we’ll help them add some depth to their league.
So we’re going to add not one… not two… not three… but FOUR teams to the Big 12, which currently has 10, and this will give them 14. Ugh.
There’s good reasoning for all of these, trust me:
- BRIGHAM YOUNG: Another very steady, successful program on a ‘small scale’ of football. They’ve been labeled as independent since the 2010 season. They need a home.
- HOUSTON: Umm… hello? Smack dab in Big 12 country already. Four seasons in the American, four very quality campaigns. Plus they fit the mold of what Big 12 teams do: sling it around the yard.
- MEMPHIS: The Tigers have posted a 27-12 record over the last three seasons in the American. There maybe some growing pains early on with Memphis, but they should have no problem scoring with the rest (15th out of 128 FBS teams in PPG in 2016).
- NOTRE DAME: Here’s the one that stretches the most. Notre Dame is adamant about staying independent, yet they want an ACC-heavy slate of games due to their affiliation with the league in other sports. Problem is, the two don’t really “need” each other per say; the ACC is already crowded and has good talent, and the Irish are already in a class of their own. Joining the Big 12 would fit the West Virginia mantra of “we don’t care about geography,” and it’d be good for the other major sports programs.
3. THE BISON GO BOWLING
Here is a move that I personally would be in favor of more than any other move so far.
The well-oiled machine in FCS that is the North Dakota State Bison is on an incredible run in the division just a step below the bowl subdivision. Just how good have they been? For those who do not follow the FCS level closely, the Bison fell just short of their sixth consecutive national title last season, when they lost to eventual champion James Madison in the national semifinals.
Over the last six seasons (since 2011), North Dakota State has completely laid waste to the FCS opposition, going an incredible 81-6. And we have the perfect place for them: The Mountain West.
They’d immediately become one of the fill-ins for when Boise State and San Diego State bolt for the Pac-12. No question that they would add a nice, refreshing feel to what is a rather top-heavy league. Losing BSU and SDSU opens up the door for other programs to make that next step and one could see NDSU competing for bowl eligibility right away in year one.
Playing FBS schools is not an issue for the Bison either. Since 2006, they’ve played 12 games against bowl subdivision programs, winning nine of those. Their most recent was a colossal upset on the road against a top-15 Iowa Hawkeyes team last season. They currently have future games scheduled against Oregon (2020), Arizona (2022) and Colorado (2024). Perhaps an added measuring stick of sorts?
And if we’re looking for teams to replace the Bison in the Missouri Valley Conference at the FCS level, how about the Mitten’s very own Grand Valley State in Division II? They’ve been a powerhouse in the GLIAC for a number of years, and would make sense in terms of geography. They’ve earned the right to explore moving up.
4. REPLACING HOUSTON AND MEMPHIS IN THE AAC
First off, if all of this were to happen exactly how we laid out so far, I would be hitting up the casino the very next day all of these moves are finalized.
Anyway, we’ve already removed two of the best teams from the American conference this past season in Houston and Memphis. The AAC has some real potential, and can even without the likes of the Cougars and Tigers. Hell, those two weren’t even the best in the American in terms of overall record.
Teams like South Florida, Temple and Tulsa all compiled 10+ wins a year ago. Not to mention the Naval Academy is about as steady of a program as they come in college football. So who comes in to replace Houston and Memphis?
Since geography is thrown out the window, especially with the AAC, how about Army and Marshall?
Hats off to those at West Point, who put together their most wins in a single season in 20 years. Traditionally an independent program, they are no stranger to conference affiliation. The Knights were a member of Conference-USA from 1998-2004. Obviously the big question with Army whether or not they can continue trending up.
Speaking of Conference-USA, stealing away Marshall from that league would make for a solid addition and make things more competitive. The Herd went just 3-9 last season but went on an impressive 33-8 stretch in the three years prior. Plus they’d get to see some of their old conference buddies again; Central Florida, Cincinnati and East Carolina to name a few.
5. IDAHO GOES WEST WHERE THEY BELONG
Here is the most validating fact that geography, when determining what teams belong in what conferences, has been severely knocked down in the pecking order.
The Idaho Vandals are an affiliate member of the Sun Belt conference. Let me repeat that. The IDAHO Vandals are an affiliate member of the SUN BELT conference – a league that is basically a poor man’s SEC. The equally as confusing part? This is their second stint being a part of that conference in football.
How did this happen? Well, they left the Sun Belt to be a member of the WAC prior to the 2005 season. After the 2012 campaign, most of the WAC teams began to either turn towards the Mountain West or Conference-USA, except for two schools: the aforementioned Vandals, and New Mexico State. Neither conference offered invitations to them so after serving as independent programs in 2013, they both re-joined the Sun Belt.
New Mexico State is not terribly far away from the other full-time members of the Sun Belt, but Idaho is absurd. In a perfect world, they’d go to the Mountain West, but those two parties do not see eye-to-eye.
However, the Vandals have shown steady improvement each of the last three seasons since re-joining the Sun Belt (1-10 in 2014; 4-8 in 2015; 9-4 in 2016). Maybe if this trend continues, MWC commissioner Craig Thompson will get on the phone with Idaho athletic director Rob Spear and re-negotiate. Plus, it’ll be that second plug-in, along with North Dakota State, to replace departing Boise State and San Diego State.