Keeping up with the changing college football landscape

It seems like the landscape of college football is changing as fast as the weather here in Champaign.

On Sunday, the news broke that Syracuse and Pittsburgh were leaving the Big East and had been accepted as the 13th and 14th members of the ACC, and rumors were swirling that Connecticut would be close behind. Reports also claimed the Pac-12 was working on a deal to bring Texas, Texas Tech, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State into the conference. All of this happening a few short weeks after Texas A&M made its intention to join the SEC known. West Virginia was also rumored to plan a move to the SEC if Texas A&M was to finalize its move. It’s quite a bit to take in, and the real kicker is that most of these moves are just speculation.

Conferences depend on more than just the good word of universities to stay together. Many have some sort of “exit fee” that schools must pay to officially end ties with their former conference. There are legal issues to deal with as well. If Texas A&M is going to officially move to the SEC, all Big 12 schools must waive their right to sue A&M. Baylor, the school that appears to be getting the short end of the stick in this whole scenario, has refused to waive that right thus far. It wanted to hear from Oklahoma that it wouldn’t jump ship as well. It looks like exactly that might be happening.

Let’s say some of this realignment actually occurs. What does this mean for college football, especially as we know it in the Big Ten, er, B1G? Let’s start with the whole Big East/ACC fiasco. With Syracuse and Pittsburgh leaving, that leaves six teams in the Big East for football purposes, although the addition of TCU next year would bring that number back up to seven. If UConn was to follow, Big East would be down to six again. When it comes to other sports, like basketball, the Big East appears stable, even strong, but that might not necessarily be the case. Football tends to be one of the only ways that collegiate sports are profitable. The situation might be different in the Big East, which is one of, if not the best college basketball conference.

Just for fun, let’s say UConn moves to the ACC, too. If the Big East does not work extremely quickly to expand, it might completely dissolve. The ACC would look for a 16th member to create two eight-team divisions, so it could choose to add a school like Rutgers or Louisville. If they were to leave as well, the Big East would almost certainly dissolve. Another factor would be our own B1G, which might be looking to add the remains of the Big East.

Hold that thought for a minute.

Another huge factor is the possible further expansion of the already newly expanded Pac-12. If it was to add the aforementioned two Texas schools and two Oklahoma schools, it would end up with a 16-team conference with two eight-team divisions, as well. Again, let’s say this happens. This is where it gets really interesting. The Big 12 would be left with six members, five if Texas A&M leaves as well. Baylor, Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State and Missouri are not exactly college football juggernauts. There is a good chance they will be stuck without a home, at least for the time being.

So where does that leave us? So far we have a Pac-16, an ACC-16, a 13-team SEC and the existing 12-team B1G. In addition, there are some homeless teams from the former Big East and Big 12 conferences. The next move would probably be the SEC looking to add one or three teams to achieve a nice round number. I would imagine it would be intimidated by the two 16-team conferences that just formed and would try and add three schools to the mix. There is an outside chance it would try and poach Miami from the ACC, which could be fixed by an addition of another Big East school by the ACC. Another option would be to add Kansas and Kansas State, as well as possibly Missouri or Louisville.

While this is all going on, the B1G won’t just stand around watching. I can’t imagine a world where the B1G would be satisfied with a 12-team conference when three 16-team super-conferences are dominating the world of college football. So where does the B1G turn? There are a few possibilities. A natural choice would seem to be Missouri, due to the westward expansion the B1G started by bringing in Nebraska this year. Rutgers and Cincinnati also make sense geographically. Both Big East schools were discussed as possible additions during the Big Ten’s expansion talks last summer.

The final addition, which would create a fourth 16-team super-conference, would be Notre Dame. The prestigious university has turned down the opportunity to join the B1G multiple times but would have no choice in this scenario. Notre Dame has held on to its independent status for as long as possible to benefit from a home-field heavy schedule and a lucrative television deal with NBC. With most of the Irish’s current opponents joining a super conference in this hypothetical situation, it would be nearly impossible to schedule the same kind of marquee matchups. In addition, Notre Dame’s money and national exposure received as a result of the TV contract would pale in comparison to the revenue and interest generated by a super conference. If Notre Dame wants to stay relevant in college football, it will ultimately join the B1G.

The sad part of expansion and realignment is that some teams will inevitably be left without a conference to call home. Iowa State, Baylor, Boise State and TCU could be left on the outside looking in. Boise State and TCU are at a geographical disadvantage being out west, but I have a hard time believing that one of the four superconferences would not want to add one or two legitimate powerhouses. Eventually, an awkward collection of teams that were left out in the cold will form a conference, possibly spanning the entire country.

This is the direction college football is heading. Even if there is not much conference instability in reality, perceived danger will force action. All of this fluidity is going to continue until teams are settled in a manner that will guarantee longterm stability. With a Pac-16 and ACC-16 seemingly inevitable, a Southern and Midwestern 16-team conference will be soon to follow. It might not be next season, it might not be in five seasons, but it’s coming.

*Good and Bad Calls of the Week*

Good — Illinois’ play-calling during its final possession. When the Illini got the ball back on downs with 1:01 to play and up 17-14, Arizona State still had two timeouts. After taking a knee twice and ASU calling timeouts, there were still 55 seconds on the clock.

Knowing the Illini were out of field goal range and needed to kill more clock without losing the ball, Nathan Scheelhaase faked a handoff up the middle and peeled out toward the Illinois sideline, eluded a defender and was finally tackled after burning up some clock. There were still four more seconds on the game clock than on the play clock, so the Illini were forced to call a timeout with four seconds remaining in the game. On 4th and 12, the offense chose to do the intelligent, yet somewhat unconventional, by taking the snap and running backward, away from the Arizona State defense. The play was simple, but guaranteed ball security and a signature victory for the promising Illinois squad. Well done, Zook & Co.

Bad — Michigan State giving the ball away to Notre Dame. With just over a minute left in the third quarter, and trailing 28-10, MSU faced a 4th and 5 at its own 45-yard line. Convention says to punt and trust your defense to get the ball back for you, but convention, in this case, is wrong. Notre Dame’s defense has been mediocre at best, giving up 23 and 35 points to South Florida and Michigan, respectively. Its offense, on the other hand, has been more than capable, putting up over 500 yards of total offense in each of the first two games. With 16 minutes to go in the game, MSU needed to do everything in its power to put points on the board and not allow ND to run up the score. The Irish came out victorious 31-13.

*Panic Meter*

(1-10 scale, 1 being “I’m a diehard fan of this team and I’m feeling awesome about this season,” and 10 being “My team is incredibly disappointing and depressing to watch, I’ll wait for basketball season.”)

Georgia: After a disappointing 0-2 start to the year, I would have put the Bulldog’s panic meter at an 8.5. The 59-0 romp they put on Coastal Carolina last weekend has helped their cause and lowered their score on my panic meter to a 6. They still face a challenging SEC schedule, including three of the next four games on the road, but those games are against the weaker portion of the conference.

Georgia should still manage to win seven or eight games, but considering the high expectations heading into the year, it might still be considered a fairly poor showing by the Georgia faithful.

Notre Dame: After experiencing the same 0-2 start as Georgia, Notre Dame had a much more difficult Week Three opponent in No. 15 Michigan State. Notre Dame was looking at a 7.5 on the panic meter before this matchup, but a big 31-13 victory restored some confidence in the squad.

However, I still have its panic meter at a 7.5 due to its next two games being on the road at Pittsburgh and Purdue, and the formidable opponents in USC and Stanford still left on the schedule. If Notre Dame can falter like it did against South Florida and Michigan, it can turn in the same performance against anyone. The BCS hopes that grew in South Bend, Ind., over the summer seem to be almost completely gone. At the same time, the Irish have the talent and focus to reel off a nice string of victories. Nine wins is not out of the question, but it won’t be easy, and it won’t result in the big bowl game they envisioned.

*Games to watch next weekend*

No. 14 Arkansas at No. 3 Alabama — Both teams face their toughest test of the year thus far in this SEC matchup. Alabama has looked very solid in all three of its wins, including a road test against Penn State. Arkansas has looked slightly less impressive, giving up 28 points to a relatively weak team in Troy. I see ‘Bama pulling this one out 24-14.

No. 7 Oklahoma State at No. 8 Texas A&M — A matchup of Big 12 teams that might be spending its last days in the conference. Both teams have shown high-powered offenses capable of taking control of a game. The problem is that the defenses have yet to face a team with much firepower. Oklahoma State has given up 34 and 33 points to Louisiana-Lafayette and Tulsa, respectively, which isn’t a good sign when they are about to step foot on A&M’s stomping grounds. I see A&M knocking off the Cowboys 38-28.

No. 11 Florida State at No. 21 Clemson — After a heartbreaking loss to No. 1 Oklahoma, Florida State faces a legitimate road test in a Clemson team that just ended the nation’s longest winning streak that belonged to Auburn. Clemson has a ton of momentum and FSU is still reeling after the loss to the Sooners. Clemson wins this one by a score of 26-21.

_Ed Edens is a senior in Engineering. He can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @cubsfan2310._