The Ultimate Fate of the Big 12

I wrote a little yesterday on the Big 12 but felt to expand on those thoughts…no pun intended Big 12 folks. Well, maybe a little. At any rate, this season will ultimately determine the fate of the Big 12. Am I being overly dramatic? Probably, but there’s a real chance we see big changes this offseason.

First off, let’s not ignore the distinct possibility that we have 6 undefeated conference champions at the end of the season. Obviously the AAC and MAC would be out, and thus the four remaining champions go to the playoff.

Yeah, right, do you think the committee’s job is going to be that easy? The far more likely scenario is that we have one undefeated Power 5 champion and four 1-loss champions. That undefeated champion will likely be Clemson or one of the Big Ten teams.

The Pac-12 is already out, but hey, if Utah or Stanford wins the conference with one loss, that might be worth something. Both losses would have come on the road to decent programs. Both would be able to claim big wins (UCLA, each other). Stanford would also have to beat Notre Dame to get there. A 1-loss Stanford seems like a safe bet to make the playoff. Same with a 1-loss SEC champion, whoever it is.

Now throw in an undefeated Clemson and an undefeated Ohio State/Michigan State/Iowa and you have the four playoff teams. That’s just how I see it. Which means a 1-loss Big 12 champion or co-champions would get left out. Again.

So what the Big 12 needs to maintain the status quo is a Clemson loss, a Notre Dame loss, a Stanford loss and a Utah loss, plus a 1-loss champion. Or they need an undefeated conference champion.

Let’s assume that doesn’t happen for a second. Let’s assume Stanford wins the Pac-12 with a lone loss at Northwestern and with wins over Utah, USC, UCLA, Washington State, Cal, Oregon and Notre Dame. That’s a decent schedule. They get in as #4. Now assume Clemson wins out. They get the #1 seed overall. Now assume the Big Ten champion comes out undefeated, whoever it is. They get in at #3. And lastly assume the SEC champion is either 1-loss Florida or 1-loss Alabama/LSU. They are #2.

What if Oklahoma wins out? They could in theory be co-champions with either Oklahoma State, Baylor or TCU. Very possible. What happens? The lack of a championship game happens, and they get listed at #5. If the Big 12 finishes with just a single 1-loss team atop the conference, that’s better for them, but will it be enough? What if it is Baylor with their soft non-conference schedule? What if it is Oklahoma with a bad loss to Texas? What if it is Oklahoma State with a million close calls like Florida State last year?

There are a lot of scenarios that have the Big 12 out of the playoff. The Pac-12 and ACC are on pretty shaky ground too, but they don’t have a conference stability problem, so not making the playoff isn’t a big deal to them like it would be the Big 12.

So, the Big 12 is out again. What happens? The first and most likely change would be conference expansion to 12 teams and a championship game. By splitting the power teams you ensure a higher chance of two undefeateds coming together in that championship. Also you get more quality games for your top teams as each one doesn’t have to play Kansas and could instead play a better opponent.

But who do you add? I have heard Notre Dame, Boise State, BYU, Colorado State, Cincy, Memphis, Temple, UCF, USF and a whole bunch from current Power 5 conferences. Let’s get one thing clear: not a single power 5 team is leaving for the Big 12. Not one. Period. Drop all those horrible suggestions now. Second- the Big 12 will not expand into Florida. If Clemson, Miami or Florida State were on the table, different story, but see first point above. Florida ain’t happening folks. And Temple is way too far out. They bring nothing to the table anyway. Boise State is a football school and more people live in San Antonio than the whole state of Idaho. It makes no sense. Not happening.

Realistically it boils down to four schools. Notre Dame is on the top of their wish list, but until they feel compelled to join a conference, they won’t. If they did, the Big 12 makes sense because they could keep their TV deal there and not do that in any other conference. Still, no urgency, so not happening. That leaves the four realistic choices: BYU, Colorado State, Cincy and Memphis.

Turn off your fan brain now and think like a conference. What do you want in expansion? You want quality football first and foremost. Quality basketball is a plus. Next you want big schools in big areas. You want good facilities. You want fairly visible universities. You want schools who invest in their athletics.

Keeping all that in mind, the two no brainers are BYU and Memphis. That’s all there is to it. They bring everything you want and both would merrily join. How do you line up those football divisions? One division would be BYU, Kansas State, Oklahoma State, Baylor, TCU and Iowa State. The other is West Virginia, Memphis, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas and Texas Tech. Look at those teams historically and you have even divisions, even if right now they might be a bit off balance. Now, each team plays the 5 in their division plus 3 in the other division. You require each team to have one Power 5 non-conference game on the schedule. Then you know they each pick up the FCS patsy and fill the remaining 2 games with MWC, CUSA or AAC teams.

That’s a conference that makes a lot of sense and with a conference championship it’s hard to keep that champ out of the playoff.

Now, the second and less likely change. If the conference can’t get their act together and expand, it won’t stay together for very long. That’s just reality. But where would they go? The big prizes are Oklahoma and Texas. No one really cares about the rest. The Pac-12 already made a move to poach them and would again. But they would have to bring four teams, not two, so Oklahoma State and Texas Tech would get picked up as well. But don’t discount the SEC. They would make a hard play for them as well. Ultimately the Pac-12 makes more sense for those schools and that’s where they would go, forming the Pac-16.

The Pac-16 would divide into four pods: Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas and Texas Tech in one. Utah, Colorado, Arizona and Arizona State in another. USC, UCLA, Stanford and Cal in another. Oregon, Oregon State, Washington and Washington State in the final pod. You play your whole pod plus two in each of the others. 9 conference games. The conference championship would be between the top two at season’s end, whoever they be.

Kansas and Kansas State have the advantage of being very high quality universities, and I have no doubt the Big Ten would come calling. So what about Iowa State, West Virginia, TCU and Baylor? To be honest I bet the ACC would take West Virginia and add Uconn at the same time, more for basketball considerations. Iowa State, TCU and Baylor would probably all join the American Athletic Conference. This would all but ensure that the Pac-16, Big Ten, SEC and ACC champions would be the playoff four each year.

Guess we’ll have to wait and see.