13 October 2011
TCU officially joined the Big 12 on Monday, meaning the league will remain at 10 teams after Texas A&M departs for the SEC. The Horned Frogs are not only a good fit for the league, but the perfect replacement for the Aggies.
TCU brings a program with a rapidly rising national profile, a newly renovated stadium, and already has established rivalries with several Big 12 teams from their days in the Southwestern Conference. They also solidify the Big 12′s presence in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, the fourth largest metroplex in the United States and largest in the South.
For TCU, it means an increase in competition, which will lead to an initial decrease in losses, but the automatic BCS berth and incentives to play higher tier competition in conference play will boost recruiting and allow Gary Patterson to take their team to the next level. Playing in a conference against teams much closer to home should be an extra benefit for recruits, as away games in Iowa or Kansas are certainly more appeasing than traveling to West Virginia, Florida, or New Jersey for their family and friends. With Gary Patterson at the helm, there is no doubt that TCU would be able to excel in football in the Big East, but the Big 12 simply offers them more prestige along with more accessible rivalries and competition, making the move a no-brainer.
With 10 teams, the Big 12 will likely stand pat for the remainder of the year, but I believe it should attempt to reel in two more members to bring its membership total level with its name. Urgency should be a factor, as Missouri (which controls the St. Louis and heavily influences the Kansas City markets) is consistently rumored to be following Texas A&M to the SEC. Below I preference who the Big 12 should add, based on the following criteria- geographical sense, market size, and potential to compete:
1. Houston: The Cougars high powered aerial attack has been called gimmicky by some, but it produces points and they would be able to stay in contention and possibly win a lot of games if they joined next year. Of course, breaking in a new quarterback would be a challenge with the departure of the incredible Case Keenum, but backup QB David Piland threw for 2,641 yards with 24 TD in 8 starts last season, giving them experience right away. They are also in a potential recruiting heaven, as the Houston metro area is the sixth largest in the country, and with superior competition and exposure in the Big 12 (along with a fun offense) their recruiting could improve rapidly. They also have traditional rivalries with Texas, TCU, and others from their days in the Southwestern Conference.
2. SMU: The Mustangs were on the verge of becoming a true powerhouse in the early 80s before they were hit with “the death penalty” for recruiting violations in 1987. Besides a re-entrance into a conference with an automatic BCS bid, it would bring more Texan power to the Big 12 and another strong link to the Houston area. Furthermore, coach June Jones’ air attack would keep them in enough games to be competitive from the start.
With these two teams, the Big 12 could go back to their North/South configuration, although with a slight twist.
-Iowa State -Baylor
-Kansas State -Texas
-Oklahoma -Texas Tech
-Oklahoma State -SMU
Besides being more geographically consistent, these two divisions give the possibility of a much more evenly matched Big 12 title game than fans saw under the old North/South split, with Oklahoma and Texas in opposite divisions.
If the Big 12 were to be unable to secure Houston and SMU, some possible suggestions to fill the South from the Texas region would be Rice, North Texas (largest student body in Texas), UTEP or another air-raider: Tulsa.
If the Big 12 gains SMU and Houston and Missouri still leaves for the SEC, then the Big 12 should consider going out and getting a non-Texas team to fill the “North”. The three teams they should target who would be suitable members for a conference with an automatic BCS bid:
1. Boise State: The Broncos have been the ultimate BCS buster, making trips to two Fiesta bowls, proving themselves against top-tier teams like Oregon (in ’08 and ’09), Virginia Tech, Georgia, and Oklahoma, and have thrust themselves into the conversation not only for a BCS berth, but a berth in the BCS title game the past few seasons. Not to mention they have the hippest recruiting tool there is: the blue turf. Besides being an addition that would be praised and met with national curiosity as everyone would finally see how the powerhouse from Idaho would do against a BCS schedule, BSU would bring in huge crowds and television ratings for the conference. Long term, despite a smaller market and stadium, along with being an awkward addition geographically, Boise would be a quirky contender, standing alongside Texas and Oklahoma as the flagship teams of the conference.
2. San Diego State: A little outside the box pick perhaps, but Aztec football is a sleeping giant that could be awakened amidst the superior competition and exposure the Big 12 would provide, maybe allowing them to fill their 54,000 seat stadium. They would not be in a position to win the conference immediately, but have shown (in dramatic fashion against Missouri last season) that they are capable of competing with most Big 12 teams. Furthermore, their location in San Diego (the fifth most populous county in the country) provides a strong viewership and a foothold for the Big 12 in Pac 12 country, useful for giving teams like Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, and Texas strong exposure to high profile recruits in California. Reaching out West would provide growth for the conference and help the Aztec program take the next step; a win/win for both parties involved.
3. BYU/Tulsa: Neither of these teams would be as good of a fit as the teams above, but both would be a better alternative to an 11 team league as a championship game means relevancy longer into the season and more profit for everyone. Tulsa brings a very clean geographic fit and a high powered offense allowing it to compete right away. However, they have a small stadium, will never be able to significantly compete with Oklahoma or Oklahoma State for instate recruiting, and have the smallest student body of any university in the FBS. BYU is a geographic anomaly, like Boise or San Diego State, but doesn’t bring in a huge national spotlight or a significant market. While history does show that they can have success on a large scale (1984 national champs), and will undoubtedly have more success in the conference in a long term capacity then Tulsa would, I do not see them bringing a lot to the Big 12 compared to Boise State or San Diego State.
Bringing in a few of these teams (or all four if Mizzou goes) to beat the SEC and PAC-12 to oft-mentioned superconference status is a possibility, but the Big-12 has taken such cautious steps so far that I highly doubt it would be so bold. However, the league is in survival mode right now, and will take any possible steps (even a BIG 16) necessary to stay relevant and most importantly, profitable, as they desperately attempt to hold the conference together.