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Pac-12 Actively Exploring Expansion: What Teams are Candidates to Join the Conference?

Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff

The Pac-12 is reeling from the loss of USC and UCLA to the Big Ten, and it's no secret conference commissioner George Kliavkoff has to look at expansion to bolster the future membership. At Pac-12 Media Days, Kliavkoff reinforced that during his kickoff speech, indicating "we are actively exploring expansion opportunities. As we consider these opportunities, we will look at media value, athletic strength, academic and cultural fit, and geography from a recruiting and student-athlete experience standpoint."

So which teams might fit as expansion candidates for the Pac-12? Of course, this assumes Oregon, Washington, Stanford and California won't leave for the Big Ten anytime soon and the conference continues as a 12 (or 14) team league. Athlon Sports examines potential fits for the new Pac-12 in this round of college football conference realignment and expansion:

Pac-12 Expansion Candidates 

San Diego State (The obvious No. 1 fit)
Assuming the Pac-12 sticks together and expands, the Aztecs are the obvious fit. San Diego State has a new stadium, checks off the competitiveness box in the Pac-12 and adds another team in California to replace some of the presence lost by USC and UCLA. 

The Next Options

The Big 12 Teams (a longshot but worth trying)
At Big 12 Media Days, new commissioner Brett Yormark indicated the conference was "open for business." Kliavkoff obviously didn't appreciate that remark, especially as the Big 12 has reportedly pursued teams from the Pac-12. When asked about potential expansion from the Big 12, Kliavkoff fired back at Yormark by saying "we haven't decided if we're going shopping there or not yet."

Although it's a longshot for Big 12 teams to leave for the Pac-12 (10 now), television dollars and stability will play a huge role in this. If the money and stability are better in the Pac-12, teams from the Big 12 will at least have something to think about. This could be any of the top teams in lucrative markets or with competitive products for television purposes (potentially Oklahoma State, Baylor, Kansas, Texas Tech, Houston and TCU).

Considering the stability the Big 12 will possess once Oklahoma and Texas depart, along with the fact these programs were passed over by the Pac-12 last fall, there doesn't seem to be a huge rush to exit the conference to go West. However, Kliavkoff has to at least inquire about their interest.

Boise State
The Broncos make the best sense from a football standpoint, as they are the top Group of 5 program not in a Power 5 conference once Houston, Cincinnati and UCF make the jump to the Big 12 next fall. 

Fresno State
The Pac-12 can't replace the brands or potential of USC and UCLA, but if it wanted to restock its presence in California, adding San Diego State and Fresno State would help. The Bulldogs need improvements on the facility front, but as this program has proved under a couple of different coaches, it can win at a high level.

SMU
If the Pac-12 wants to expand, getting into Texas with SMU would be a smart approach. The Mustangs are investing in facilities and provide the conference with opportunities for recruiting in the Lone Star State. 

UNLV
Potential and location (Las Vegas) is the best way to sum up UNLV. However, the Rebels have struggled to win consistently on the gridiron. A new stadium and improving facilities could help UNLV bolster its product over the long haul.

Podcast: The latest in college football realignment and expansion and why counter-programming is a key word to remember in the Big 12/Pac-12 situation.