It has been another busy year in college football realignment. The SEC and Big 12 made significant moves, while the Big East was one of the biggest losers in the latest round of realignment.
Which teams and conferences were the big winner or loser from the last year of realignment?
College Football 2012 Realignment Winners and Losers
Big 12 – At one point last year, it seemed appropriate to write an obituary for the Big 12. Oklahoma and Oklahoma State appeared to be on the verge of joining the Pac-12, while Texas A&M and Missouri decided to jump to the SEC. Fast forward to 2012 and the Big 12 has emerged from its deathbed to rank as college football’s No. 2 conference. The members have granted their television rights to the Big 12, which should ensure for some stability for the next 10 years. Although the conference lost two solid programs in Missouri and Texas A&M, West Virginia and TCU offer plenty in terms of football value. The Big 12 cashed in on a rich television contract and has positioned itself with the new “Champions Bowl” with the SEC. New commissioner Bob Bowlsby was a solid hire to keep the conference on stable footing, while deciding if it needs to expand to 12 teams, or stick with 10 for the immediate future.
Boise State – The Big East is not what it once was, but it’s still an upgrade for Boise State and its football program. The Broncos should see an increase in television revenue, and the Big East will help bring more exposure, especially with games against Louisville, South Florida and Rutgers. Automatic BCS bids are gone, but if Boise State can continue to reel off double-digit win seasons and claim the Big East title, this program will continue to find itself ranked among the top 10 teams in college football. And who knows, in 10-15 years, maybe the Pac-12 will come calling. The Big East is not a huge improvement, but this is another step up the ladder for the Broncos.
Conference USA defectors – SMU, UCF, Houston, SMU, Memphis – Sure, it’s not a huge leap in terms of conference realignment, but the Big East is an upgrade for these five teams. Each school brings a solid television market, while Memphis is a boost for the basketball side with Pittsburgh and Syracuse leaving. Although the BCS access is changing with the new championship format, SMU, UCF, Houston, SMU and Memphis will have a better shot at qualifying for the playoffs in the Big East than Conference USA. Although the Big East is losing West Virginia, Pittsburgh and Syracuse, playing Louisville, Rutgers, Cincinnati and Connecticut is an upgrade over UTEP, Tulane, Rice and UAB.
Missouri – It will be a challenge to win the SEC title, but the positives outweigh the negatives in this move for Missouri. The Tigers left behind a league with stability question marks for one that is the most prestigious college football conference. While the concerns about Missouri winning the SEC title are legitimate, the last time the school won an outright conference crown was in 1960s, so it's not like the Tigers were winning championships in its former home (Big 12).
New Conference USA Members - Louisiana Tech, FIU, North Texas, Charlotte, Old Dominion – Louisiana Tech has been a geographic misfit in the WAC for years and will be a much better fit with the teams in Conference USA. North Texas and FIU are making the jump from the Sun Belt Conference and are located near two key television markets – Dallas and Miami. Charlotte is starting its football program in 2013, while Old Dominion recently restarted its program in 2009.
Notre Dame – Another round of realignment and once again Notre Dame remains Independent. The Irish have no desire to join a conference, although rumors have persisted for months they may explore moving their non-football programs to another league. Notre Dame’s access to the best bowls and playoffs will remain the same, but challenging schedules could prevent the Irish from getting into the top four or five.
Pittsburgh and Syracuse – The decision to bolt from the Big East to the ACC was an easy one for both schools. With the uncertainty surrounding the Big East, joining a conference with more stability and a solid long-term television deal was a no-brainer. Syracuse has only 43 wins over the last 10 years, while the Panthers have won at least eight games in three out of the last four seasons. Neither team provides much of a boost for the football product, but landing in a stable conference and reigniting Big East rivalries with Virginia Tech, Miami and Boston College is a victory for both Syracuse and Pittsburgh.
San Diego State – The Aztecs have played in back-to-back bowl games, and the program is poised to move from the Mountain West to the Big East. While San Diego State is a geographic misfit in the conference, they will see an increase in television revenue and exposure by leaving the Mountain West. Contending in the Big East will be more difficult, but this should end up being a good move for the Aztecs.
TCU – It’s been a long road for TCU since being left out of the initial Big 12 setup in 1995. The Horned Frogs played in the WAC, Conference USA and Mountain West but still emerged as an annual top-25 team under Gary Patterson. TCU has recorded at least 11 wins in six out of the last seven seasons. The competition is going to be tougher in the Big 12, so double-digit win totals won’t be easy to come by. However, TCU is a clear winner in realignment, as it has upgraded to one of the premier conferences in college football and can go head-to-head against former Southwest Conference rivals Baylor, Texas and Texas Tech.
Temple – After getting kicked out of the Big East in 2004, no one could have predicted the turnaround the Owls have experienced. After winning seven games from 2002-05, Temple has won at least eight contests in each of the last three years. Moving to the MAC and playing weaker competition certainly helped, but the Owls have emerged from college football’s deathbed to a spot in a BCS conference. It will be tough for Temple to compete for a bowl game in the Big East in 2012, but this program won’t slip back into the abyss that it fell in the 1990s.
Texas A&M – Moving to the SEC is a huge plus for Texas A&M. Although the Aggies will never be the top program in the state, playing in college football’s most prestigious conference should help Texas A&M move slightly out of Texas’ shadow. The Big 12 doesn’t appear to be in danger of breaking up as some anticipated last summer, but the SEC has more long-term stability. Competing for the SEC title won’t be easy, but the Aggies have only won outright conference championship since 1994, so just like Missouri, it's not like Texas A&M was dominating conference titles in the Big 12.
Texas State – Just like current WAC foe (and rival) UTSA, the Bobcats will experience a quick rise through the FBS ranks. Texas State is making its FBS debut this year and is ineligible to play in a bowl game. The Bobcats will be on the move again next season, as they will play in the Sun Belt Conference. Texas State will have an upgraded stadium, and with a prime location in Texas (near San Antonio and Austin), this program should emerge in a few seasons as a conference title contender in the Sun Belt.
UTSA – The Roadrunners have been on a meteoric rise over the last few seasons. UTSA just finished its first season of football and is moving to the WAC in 2012. The Roadrunners are making a short stop in the WAC, as they will join Conference USA in time for the 2013 season. UTSA needs some time to build the overall roster depth, but with the tremendous recruiting base, this is one of college football’s top rising programs in a non-BCS conference.
Utah State, San Jose State – With the defections of Boise State, Hawaii, Nevada and Fresno State in recent years, the WAC is a sinking ship, and the remaining teams are all shopping for new homes. Utah State and San Jose State landed in a perfect conference in terms of geography, and with both teams on the rise, they can be a factor for the 2013 Mountain West title. Although the Mountain West’s television deal is a concern, finding a stable home is a huge plus for the Aggies and Spartans.
West Virginia – The Mountaineers had a messy departure from the Big East, but landing in the Big 12 is a win for the school. With the uncertainty surrounding the Big East, the Big 12 will provide more stability and more exposure. West Virginia should also see an increase in television revenue with the new Big 12 television contract. The Mountaineers are an odd geographic fit, but will bring a solid brand to the conference and will be a factor for a conference title race in 2012.
Related: The History of SEC Realignment
Related: The History of Big East Realignment
Related: The History of Big 12 Realignment
ACC - At least for now, commissioner John Swofford has managed to keep his conference intact. However, the rumors will continue to persist about Florida State and Clemson’s long-term future with the ACC, especially if the Big 12 looks to expand in the future. Also, the additions of Pittsburgh and Syracuse were good for basketball, but doesn’t move the needle on the gridiron. The ACC expected super-conferences to emerge when it added Pittsburgh and Syracuse, but instead of firing the first shot in realignment, the conference was left with two extra teams that aren’t doing much for its football product.
Big East – The departures of Pittsburgh, Syracuse and West Virginia dealt the Big East a heavy blow to remain one of the power conferences in college football. The conference was reluctant to expand in previous years, but was forced to add six new members for 2013, while asking Temple to rejoin the league for 2012. The Big East picked up four members from Conference USA (Houston, SMU, UCF and Memphis), while adding San Diego State and Boise State from the Mountain West. Navy is scheduled to join the conference in 2015. While the Broncos are a national power, the conference as a whole is not as strong and could be in danger of losing more members as realignment continues across college football.
Conference USA – Realignment had been relatively quiet in Conference USA, as the league managed to keep the same 12-team alignment since 2005. However, Houston, UCF, SMU and Memphis will depart for the Big East in 2013, with the conference replacing those four teams with Louisiana Tech, North Texas, UTSA, Charlotte and Old Dominion. While UTSA and North Texas are solid additions to add more value in Texas, Old Dominion (recently started its football program), and Charlotte (will start playing in 2015), don't add much to the league. Louisiana Tech is a program on the rise, but the depth of the league took a hit with the recent departures.
East Carolina – The Pirates desperately wanted to be a part of the Big East, but were passed over by Conference USA foes Houston, SMU, UCF and Memphis. East Carolina averaged over 50,000 fans per game last season, but does not have a major television market like Houston, Orlando or Dallas to bring to the conference. Although the Pirates bring solid fan support and a program that has five bowl games in the last six years, East Carolina is on the outside looking in – at least for now.
Idaho – Unless the WAC can find a handful of new members to make the jump (and fast) from the FCS ranks, Idaho and New Mexico State will likely spend 2013 in the Independent ranks. The Vandals made overtures to the Mountain West, but the conference is not interested in adding anyone other than Boise State or San Diego State into the mix. The Vandals have struggled lately and won’t bring much to the table in terms of television value. Idaho is hoping for a revamped WAC, but it could be forced to drop to the FCS ranks or hold out for an invitation to the Mountain West or Sun Belt.
Louisville – West Virginia was selected over Louisville as the Big 12’s No. 10 team, and the Cardinals were left with no other conference options. In a revamped Big East, Louisville should be one of the premier football programs, but expect the Cardinals to keep looking for a new home. The Big 12 has been rumored as a possible destination, especially as the conference looks to bridge the geographic gap to West Virginia. With Charlie Strong at the helm, Louisville is a program on the rise. However, the Cardinals are struggling to find an escape route from the Big East.
Mountain West – TCU, Utah, BYU and now Boise State. The Mountain West has lost some heavy hitters and while some of the replacements (Nevada, Fresno State, Hawaii Utah State and San Jose State) aren’t bad, the conference won’t have an annual BCS contender. The Mountain West is clearly the best of the conference outside of the BCS, but not having Boise State or TCU in the mix is a huge loss.
New Mexico State – Just like Idaho, the Aggies have been left out of the conference shuffle and now face an uncertain future. New Mexico State has expressed interest in the Mountain West and had in-state rival New Mexico pushing for its inclusion in the conference. However, the Mountain West is content to stick with 10 teams – at least until Boise State or San Diego State express interest in returning. Unless the WAC can quickly find new members, the Aggies will likely spend 2013 as an Independent.
Rivalry Games/Fans – Rivalry games are a huge part of college football, but conference realignment has ended some series for the immediate future. Texas-Texas A&M was among the top 15 rivalries in the nation, but the Longhorns have indicated to the Aggies their non-conference slate is full until 2018. Kansas is not interested in scheduling Missouri with the Tigers moving to the SEC. The Backyard Brawl between West Virginia-Pittsburgh is on hold, but both sides seem interested in continuing the series at a later date. Although new rivalries will pop up, it’s unfortunate to see long rivalries such as these disappear off the schedule.
WAC Conference – It’s fourth-and-long and the WAC needs a Hail Mary to survive. The defections of Boise State, Fresno State, Hawaii and Nevada in recent years, combined with the upcoming departures of Louisiana Tech, Texas State, UTSA, San Jose State and Utah State, has left the WAC with just two football members (Idaho and New Mexico State) for 2013. The conference is exploring potential expansion candidates, but has yet to announce any additions for next season. However, the conference appears to be on the verge of extinction, unless a handful of FCS teams want to make the move to the FBS ranks.
BYU – It’s still too early to know whether or not BYU’s move to Independence was a good or bad decision. The Cougars have a solid television deal with ESPN and sit in the driver’s seat for the next round of conference realignment. However, scheduling could get more difficult as more teams switch to a nine-game conference slate. Going Independent was a good move for the immediate future, but the long-term success will rest with how well BYU can schedule and if its access to bowls will improve.
SEC – There’s nothing wrong with adding Missouri and Texas A&M. Both are solid programs and add two new markets to the conference. However, neither addition is expected to provide much of a boost for the football product. Although the SEC will likely be able to reel in a few more dollars on a television contract, did the conference really get a lot better after the additions of Missouri and Texas A&M?
-By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)
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