The future of the Big 12 Conference as we know it is up in the air.
At this point, one would have more luck using a magic eight ball to try to determine how uncertain things really are, but there have definitely been enough indications to suggest the league will look very different in a year or two.
That’s right, folks. We’re talking #Big12Expansion — only the hottest “non-topic topic” of this college football offseason.
Eventually, expansion talk in the Big 12 will stop being talk and become action, but until then we — the general college football universe — are left to spin our wheels and wonder what will happen.
Here’s what we do know: The Big 12 has done video interviews with at least 20 interested schools. The next likely (reported) step is a trimming of that list to a manageable number of final “contestants.” If this sounds a lot like the recruiting process you’re not wrong. There’s no word yet on whether Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby will do a hat dance.
Phil Stukenborg of The Commercial Appeal is reporting that Memphis, Cincinnati, Houston and BYU “have been considered front-runners for what could be two or four expansion spots.” South Florida, Central Florida and Connecticut are also listed as potential options.
Again, patience seems to be the highest of virtues in this process. Chuck Carlton of the Dallas Morning News is saying not to expect a decision just yet.
“Multiple industry sources indicated the next logical step will be culling the candidates down to a manageable number for final interviews,” he wrote. “The sources indicated that invitations and a public announcement are unlikely in the next two weeks, with a likely timeline of mid-September to mid-October ahead of a scheduled Big 12 board of directors meeting.”
So here we are again in #Big12ExpansionLimbo, talking about talk and waiting on a process that has dominated most of the offseason and threatens to leak into the 2016 regular season. It’s worth wondering: Is the Big 12 waiting to see some of the early results from this season as it determines which schools are in and which schools are out?
The smart money would be on yes, because why not?
For the purposes of this exercise, consider BYU, Houston, Cincinnati and UConn as the main targets for the Big 12 with Memphis as a wild card. The Big 12 is a tremendous basketball conference; Cincinnati, Memphis and especially UConn would be great additions in that regard, but football is still and likely will always be the real moneymaker in college sports.
Basketball aside, all the above programs are on the hot seat as the 2016 season kicks off. They’d be wise to have good years, if they can help it.
BYU is entering its first season with Kalani Sitake as head coach. The Cougars found plenty of success in the long reign of Bronco Mendenhall in Provo, but now it’s up to the program to prove that it can sustain long-term success no matter who’s at the helm. Sitake can make a statement in year one, and that’s undoubtedly something the Big 12 will be keeping an eye on.
Houston, on the other hand, has very few question marks entering this season. Tom Herman is thought of as one of the best young coaches in college football, and he has the #HTownTakover on the verge of literally taking over. For a “Group Of Five” team, Houston certainly has some Power Five aspirations. Perhaps the Big 12 will look for one more big year out of the Cougars to determine whether or not the hype is for real.
There’s also reason to be excited about Cincinnati, UConn and Memphis if you’re the Big 12.
The Bearcats have been an interesting program since joining the AAC and just need a bit of consistency under head coach Tommy Tuberville. UConn football seems to be trending in the right direction under head coach Bob Diaco, and Memphis has proved to be an intriguing football school. Justin Feunte was able to put the Tigers on the map in the past two seasons. Now it’s up to new head coach Mike Norvell to carry that torch.
Success is the key here, and all of the above programs need to be able to prove to the Big 12 that they can flourish at a consistent level on the football field.
College football has always been a resume game, but it’s even more important now that only four teams make it into the CFP. The Big 12 is trying to position itself to have a juggernaut in-conference schedule. Of course, the more good teams a conference possesses, the more teams it boasts that have a chance to make it to the CFP.
That’s the ultimate goal in 2016 and beyond.
The key for the Big 12 is finding the right fits to make that a reality more often than not.