Conference swapping will lead to realignment in standings

by | College Football Insider

Close your eyes -- wait, not yet. Wait until at least you've read the next few paragraphs. Then imagine three years from now, when the BCS' current contract expires.

The year will be 2014.

The landscape of college football will be different -- not the drastic change that appeared to be on the horizon just days ago, but still different. So let's not worry about the past. No one remembers ancient or even recent history any more. Quick: Who was the last Big 12 commissioner before Dan Beebe? See what I mean?

History is yesterday's news. So let's look far into the future. A future where Pittsburgh and Syracuse can finally leave the Big East behind; a future where Texas and Texas A&M will only play against each other if it's in a bowl game; a future where Dippin' Dots somehow is still the ice cream of the future.

More importantly, let's look at the future concerning college football conferences. And, believe it or not, we even project the teams within each conference in 2014 from first to worst.

Conference rankings compiled by the Eye on College Football staff.


The result of the last major change in conference membership was the emergence of Virginia Tech as the new ACC power. With the Hokies gone and Jimbo Fisher just getting his era started in Tallahassee, the new alignment brings familiar faces back to the top of the conference. Whether Dabo Swinney is still the head coach by the time the dust settles will depend on if his team performs with an undeniable amount of incoming talent from 2010, 2011, and likely 2012. The new members from the Big East will do little to shake up the football side of the conference, though new head coach Todd Graham's no-huddle system could be unique enough to give defenses fits the way Paul Johnson's option does when the Yellow Jackets aren't turning the ball over.

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2014 projected conference power rankings
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1. Florida State: With the Hokies gone, the War Chant will vibrate through the conference as the Seminoles take everyone's best shot and likely return to the position of perennial conference favorites.

2. Clemson: A ton of young talent being brought to Death Valley gives the program promise for the future.

3. Georgia Tech: Georgia Tech has made itself a player since Paul Johnson's arrival. Al Groh's 3-4 scheme already looks improved in Year 2 and should only get better as long as Groh (67) wants to keep coaching.

4. Pittsburgh: Todd Graham got his start as a high school coach, and he has run a high-tempo, no-huddle offense at every level. It has worked well enough to promote him all the way to BCS-level head coach, and his leadership will keep Pittsburgh as a conference contender after the move.

5. Maryland: Athletic director Kevin Anderson is looking to focus on youth and inspiring a sense of pride in the state's flagship school. We may hate the uniforms and Under Armour overload, but we aren't the target audience. The Terps under Randy Edsall are on their way up.

6. North Carolina: Great facilities and academics, the Tar Heels should expect to hang around .500 most seasons regardless of leadership. NCAA sanctions will set them back in the immediate future, but they will still be in that second tier after expansion is complete.

7. Miami (Fla.): The Hurricanes are a Tier 1 team in the new ACC, but they await what will likely be crippling suspensions due to allegations surrounding impermissible benefits from former booster Nevin Shapiro. But even under sanction, the Hurricanes can hang around the middle of the conference.

8. North Carolina State: 2010 was the most successful Wolfpack season in nearly a decade, and Tom O'Brien -- known for developing talent -- finally has his own recruits in the two-deep. But he'll need more than one winning season every four years to boost program status in the new ACC.

9. Virginia: Mike London has turned a focus to securing in-state recruits and bringing back state pride to the Cavaliers. It will take a few more strong recruiting classes, but UVA is on the way back up.

10. Boston College: The Eagles, on the other hand, are headed in the opposite direction after hanging around the top of the Atlantic Division for the latter half of the past decade. Frank Spaziani's seat is heating up and the future is cloudy for BC.

11. Syracuse: Doug Marrone's Syracuse revival was much easier to pull off in the Big East. It will take some time to get acclimated to the new opponents. Overtime wins over Wake Forest do not boost ACC stock.

12. Wake Forest: Every 3-5 years under Jim Grobe, the Demon Deacons field a team of upperclassmen with the ability to knock at the door in the ACC. But those in-between years in Winston-Salem aren't pretty.

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13. Connecticut: Randy Edsall will enjoy every second of beating Connecticut on a yearly basis in the ACC North -- or however they split it, I'm assuming Maryland and UConn will be in the same division. Paul Pasqualoni's presence in Storrs doesn't scream "progress," and their basketball-centric move to the ACC will hurt the football program.

14. Duke: Marketing idea: Students who attend Connecticut-Duke football games receive a voucher for the regular-season basketball matchup. Stands will be packed, I promise. You can thank me later.

--Chip Patterson

Big 12

As recently as Tuesday the Big 12 seemed doomed. Not only was Texas A&M leaving for the SEC, but Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas and Texas Tech were bound to head west to the Pac-12 and form the first superconference. Well, cooler heads have prevailed for now, and it looks like the Big 12 is going to survive to be upset with Texas' preferential treatment for another day.

Still, even though the conference has life, it's going to look a little different. Texas A&M is leaving, after all. So let's take a look at how the power sits in the Big 12 as a football conference without Texas A&M while assuming that BYU will be the school that replaces the Aggies.

1. Texas: The Longhorns haven't been as excellent on the field over the past 14 months, at least not at the level of Oklahoma, but they're still the big dog in the Big 12. Texas is still the school with more money than everybody else, a virtual stranglehold on Texas recruiting and it also has its own television network. As long as that's the case, Texas is the most powerful program in the Big 12, no matter the results on the field.

2. Oklahoma: Oklahoma may not have its own network, but it's not hurting for money or success either. With Bob Stoops' newest contract extension, there's no reason to think that the excellence we've seen from the Sooners program over the past 12 years is going to change any time soon.

3. Oklahoma State: Oklahoma State doesn't have the Big 12 championships or the BCS appearances that Oklahoma and Texas have, but it does have the financial backing of T. Boone Pickens. That alone will make sure this program remains dangerous.

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4. Missouri: Gary Pinkel's program has been consistently solid during his tenure, enough that the SEC seemed to take enough of an interest in adding the Tigers before the Big 12 was saved.

5. Brigham Young: The new kids in town have a history of success in college football, and now that the program will get an infusion of money from the Big 12's television deal and BCS connections, the Cougars may rise again.

6. Texas Tech: The program may never get back to the level it was at under Mike Leach, but with A&M gone it can now call itself the second-best Texas school in the Big 12.

7. Baylor: Art Briles has made Baylor matter, but will he keep that success going after Robert Griffin is gone?

8. Kansas State: Bill Snyder has shown that he can build a program that can compete for Big 12 titles before, but Kansas State doesn't really have the resources for continued excellence.

9. Iowa State: Paul Rhoads is turning the program around, but does anyone really think Iowa State isn't just a platform for Rhoads to find success elsewhere?

10. Kansas: A basketball school that enjoys getting football money.

--Tom Fornelli

Big East

With Syracuse and Pittsburgh announcing their departure and others reportedly making efforts to do the same, it looked like the Big East was not going to survive this wave of realignment. After a three-hour meeting in downtown New York, John Marinatto emerged with "aggressive" plans to expand and replace the dearly departed. The landscape for football looks much different, but the openings in our expansion plans give AQ opportunities to some of the up-and-coming programs in the nation. Here's how the power rankings shape up for our new-look Big East.

1. TCU: Rose Bowl rings, a brand new renovation to their stadium, and now an annual shot at an AQ BCS berth. The Horned Frogs have been building this program over the past decade and they should jump right to the front of their new conference upon arrival.

2. West Virginia: The Mountaineers' lack of a solid television market and some other non-football concerns may/may not have kept them from making a move in the recent expansion wave. But the football program can be a contender in any conference, the new Big East especially.

3. South Florida: Skip Holtz gained a certain amount of respect in Tampa due to his football lineage. But if 2011 ends up being the kind of season many expect, the son of Dr. Lou will have a name for himself and a HUGE school ready to provide him with the tools necessary to be a contender.

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4. Central Florida: Many pundits have referred to the Knights' football program as a "sleeping giant." I think the advances they've made in recruiting along with a passionate fan base will result in UCF living up to its reputation.

5. Louisville: Charlie Strong was overdue for his first head coaching job. He'll get the Cardinals back to being Big East contenders with a few years of his own recruiting classes. He's a great coach who I believe gets the most out of what he has. Unfortunately what he has right now is a little too green for Big East competition.

6. Navy: After being promoted to head coach in 2007, Ken Niumatalolo has delivered three straight seasons of eight-plus wins for the Midshipmen. His teams are bruising and physical and a nightmare to face. No reason to think any of that changes after Navy sheds its independent status.

7. Houston: When Kevin Sumlin took control of the program, he continued the progress and rebuilding that started in the mid-2000s. The Cougars have been known for high-powered offenses thanks to good coaching and the quarterbacking of Kevin Kolb and Case Keenum. But they will need more than offensive fireworks for perennial success at the AQ level.

8. Cincinnati: Jury's out on whether Butch Jones is the right man for the job, but the Bearcats have enough young talent around the program to keep them mildly competitive in the newly aligned Big East.

9. Rutgers: This may seem shortsighted, but I'm struggling to see Rutgers emerge from this expansion on top of the new arrivals. 2010's performance was supposedly a fluke, but if the course for 2011 doesn't change it might be the start of a trend.

10. Air Force: As long as the Falcons have Troy Calhoun for a while, they can find their way in the new conference. But something tells me it will be much more difficult to keep him in Colorado Springs after the new spotlight gives him more national exposure.

--Chip Patterson

Big Ten

The one source of stability in this BCS conference realignment fiasco is the Big Ten. Not only isn't Jim Delany in any danger of losing any members, he also isn't courting anybody else. A 16-team superconferences? Pah. The Big Ten likes it at 12.

1. Ohio State: NCAA punishment or no, Ohio State is still positioned to be the class of the Big Ten going forward. Fifty million Buckeyes fans (give or take) can't be wrong.

2. Penn State: Joe Paterno won't be there much longer, but there's be a long line of high-level coaches who can't wait to take his place -- and Beaver Stadium's not going anywhere.

3. Nebraska: Reports of Nebraska's demise in the past decade were exaggerated, as the Huskers are a natural fit in the smash-mouth Big Ten. Nebraska's national reputation and fan support are rock solid.

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4. Wisconsin: A young coach with a winning formula and one of the best game-day atmospheres in all of college football?

5. Michigan: Yep, Michigan at fifth. Changing coaches twice in four years is hell on a program's continuity, and being that Brady Hoke's already in his 50s, another change isn't far behind.

6. Iowa: If a conference's sixth-healthiest program is Iowa, that conference is in very good shape. Iowa's facilities are state-of-the art, but high-level success is just not being sustained there -- and who replaces Kirk Ferentz?

7. Michigan State: If Michigan State wants to cement its status as the best football program in Michigan, now would be the time to do it.

8. Northwestern: Perhaps no program is trending higher than its tradition more than Northwestern, which is getting to bowl games on a near-annual basis and just locked down Pat Fitzgerald to a de facto lifetime contract.

9. Purdue: Ignore the stretch of recent rotten luck: Purdue still has a history with stretches of success. Whether it can translate that capability into a run or two at the Leaders Division crown remains to be seen.

10. Illinois: The Illini are averaging about five wins a year over the past decade, but the stadium and fan support are both pitiful.

11. Minnesota: Beautiful new stadium, but where are the wins ever going to come from in an ultra-tough Legends Division?

12. Indiana: No tradition to build on, a continually empty stadium and a coach who looks to be on the Gene Chizik career path: success only after slumming it at a basement-dweller.

--Adam Jacobi


The conference of champions hasn't had one on the football field for a few years (who has besides the SEC, though?). But make no mistake, this is one of the strongest leagues in the country on and off the field. There's stability and, thanks to Larry Scott, more money and exposure than ever before. No longer is this just a conference on the West Coast, it's the Pac-12. They're even challenging the SEC for NCAA violations.

1. Southern California: USC is still USC; they've been able to pull in top-five recruiting classes despite NCAA sanctions and will be back.

2. Oregon: "Nike U" will be a force as long as Phil Knight keeps writing checks and the Ducks offense keeps blowing by opponents.

3. Washington: A traditional power, the Huskies have turned things around under Steve Sarkisian and will have a renovated stadium to play in soon.

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4. Utah: A stable program from top to bottom that will be using new Pac-12 revenue streams to compete with the big boys.

5. UCLA: It's in Los Angeles and there are few campuses in the country as nice as the one in Westwood.

6. Stanford: They'll always be able to sell academics but with a new stadium and a commitment to football, the Cardinal are a strong program.

7. Arizona State: One of the largest schools in the country hasn't had the football success to match.

8. California: Great academics but mediocre in football since Aaron Rodgers left Berkeley.

9. Colorado: It will take awhile to get over the Dan Hawkins era but increased access to California recruits should help.

10. Oregon State: As long as Mike Riley is head coach, the Beavers will continue to do more with less.

11. Arizona: Never been to a Rose Bowl and despite fleeting success recently, could be in for a coaching change.

12. Washington State: Isolated up in Pullman, the Cougars have proven they can go to the Rose Bowl but that seems like it was so long ago.

--Bryan Fischer


If any conference came out firmly ahead in the great realignment of 2011 (well, maybe "good" realignment, what with the Big 12 miraculously holding together), the argument here is that it's the SEC. While the ACC added a pair of solid-but-hardly-spectacular gridiron schools and the Pac-12 and Big Ten stood pat, Mike Slive poached away one of the most valuable members of the Big 12 -- a Texas A&M program with fervent support, plenty of traditional success, preexisting rivalries with Arkansas and LSU and strong ties to the colossal Houston television market.

The danger in Slive saying "yes" to the Aggies was Texas and Oklahoma in turn saying "yes" to a Pac-16 rather than staying put in a destabilized Big 12 (advantage Larry Scott, in that case). But with Scott's league passing on the 'Horns and Sooners, the SEC gets all of the benefits of expanding into Texas -- and potentially getting a big boost to its under-market TV contract -- without that giant looming negative.

But that doesn't answer the question of what's next for the SEC. Sitting at an unbalanced 13 teams, surely Slive will look for a 14th sooner rather than later. But where? The league seemingly has little interest in West Virginia, Missouri seems to be off the table, the "gentleman's agreement" not to expand within the current SEC footprint rules out most of the ACC, and Oklahoma requiring Oklahoma State to join as well likely makes the Sooners a no-go.

For argument's sake, we're going to look past the Hokies' vehement pledges of allegiance to the ACC and include Virginia Tech in the SEC of the future. Thanks to their legacy of both on-field success and SEC-caliber off-field support (from both institution and fan base), no team makes more immediate sense for Slive and Co. -- and if the SEC's renegotiated TV contract provides the expected financial boost, the Hokies may simply not be able to afford to turn Slive down.

1. Florida: If the house that Spurrier built can withstand three years of Ron Zook and come out the other side with two crystal footballs in the following four years, they've got nothing to worry about going forward under Will Muschamp.

2. Alabama: With arguably the nation's most devoted fan base, oodles of cash, Nick Saban and the kind of national recruiting base that comes with being college football's most decorated program, the Tide aren't going anywhere ... as long as they don't hire another coach named "Mike."

3. LSU: As the only BCS-conference team in the ultra-fertile recruiting grounds of Louisiana, no one finds professional-grade talent more easily than the Bayou Bengals.

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4. Auburn: The 2011 season won't be pretty, but Gene Chizik has recruited himself a well-stocked cupboard and this remains the only SEC program with two undefeated seasons over the past decade.

5. Georgia: The Bulldogs could rank even higher given tradition, history, talent base, etc. But questions surrounding Mark Richt have the program on far less stable footing than it usually enjoys.

6. Arkansas: The Razorbacks don't have nearly the geographic or financial advantages of the higher teams on this list. But until Bobby Petrino leaves -- and the indications are that he'll be in Fayetteville for a while -- this is where they belong.

7. Virginia Tech: The Hokies have struggled against top-10 competition in recent years, but it's naive to think a program this consistent wouldn't make an immediate mark on the SEC.

8. South Carolina: Steve Spurrier appears to have woken up his second sleeping giant. But even he didn't make that much headway until Marcus Lattimore's arrival; what happens after his three years are up?

9. Tennessee: The Volunteers? Ninth? It's a harsh verdict for one of the SEC's proudest programs, but whether Derek Dooley can pull his team out of a 20-losses-in-three-seasons tailspin remains to be seen.

10. Texas A&M: Combine their expected big 2011 season with SEC-enhanced Texas recruiting, and this ranking may be selling the Aggies well short. But a program with just three seasons of eight wins or more in past 11 years -- and no 10-win seasons in that span at all -- has to prove itself first.

11. Mississippi State: How long will Dan Mullen stay in Starkville? If the answer is "awhile," the Bulldogs should continue to make strides, though the iffy 2011 recruiting class gives us pause.

12. Mississippi: Maybe Houston Nutt survives what's shaping up as a dreadful 2011 campaign, and maybe he doesn't. The Rebels' future is cloudy either way.

13. Kentucky: The Rich Brooks salad days appear to be officially behind the Wildcats now. The only reason they're not already behind ...

14. Vanderbilt: Because we'll need to see James Franklin coach for more than three games before assuming the Commodores have left their all-but-permanent slot in the SEC cellar.

--Jerry Hinnen


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