A bright future for the Pac-12 is very much hanging on by a thread after Colorado approved a move back to the Big 12 on Thursday. As things stand, the Pac-12 will have just nine teams entering the 2024 season, making it the smallest Power Five conference by far as it prepares to lose two of its most iconic brands, USC and UCLA, in July 2024 as well. 

So where does the conference go from here? Expansion is a hot-button issue, and there is no doubt that the Pac-12 is looking outside its own borders for help. The top priority, however, still remains making sure no further attrition occurs. 

The Pac-12's failure to secure a solid media rights deal beyond 2024 opened the door for interest from other conferences. The Big 12 began courting Colorado as early as May did not stop there; the Big 12 also reached out to the other Four Corners schools: Arizona, Arizona State and Utah. 

The Pac-12 will fight tooth and nail to ensure that those three do not follow Colorado's lead. Arizona seems most likely to leave, and the Pac-12 could potentially withstand the loss of the Wildcats, but any more than that may spell disaster. 

Once the conference can become more secure, specifically by locking down that new media rights deal, it can turn its attention towards replenishing its ranks. Here are the schools the Pac-12 may have interest in adding, sorted by the more realistic possibilities. 

Pac-12 expansion candidates 


San Diego State: There was a time it seemed like an issue of when, not if, San Diego State would join the Pac-12 -- and that was before Colorado announced its departure. The conference has a huge void in Southern California with USC and UCLA leaving for the greener pastures of the Big Ten, and San Diego State would go a way towards filling it. SDSU may have some complications leaving the Mountain West, however. It sent a letter to the conference on June 13 announcing its intentions to do so, but withdrew those intentions on June 30. Earlier this month, after clearing some financial hurdles, the Mountain West announced San Diego State would remain a member of the conference for the 2023-24 athletic season. 

SMU: SMU would have to pay a substantial exit fee if it wants to leave the AAC in time for the 2024 season, but the university would likely have donor support to do so if it meant joining a Power Five conference. SMU could be an attractive option given its Texas ties, providing the Pac-12 with a footprint in one of the country's football hotbeds. The Mustangs were a member of the Western Athletic Conference from 1996-2004.  

Other candidates

Boise State: Boise State is not a great media market, which might kill any hopes the Broncos have of making a significant jump, but the program does have a rich football history. Boise State is a mainstay on the bowl scene, and has not had a losing season since 1997. It dominates the Mountain West having won four conference titles with six championship game appearances over the last seven years. Boise has the credentials, but it may not have the appeal of schools approximate to larger markets. 

Fresno State: Fresno State brings a mix of football success with an attractive market. It's nearly the geographic center of California, and it's only a few hours from the Los Angeles areas. The university is campaigning for $250 million to modernize its athletic facilities, adding to Fresno State's appeal as an expansion candidate. The Bulldogs have three Mountain West titles over the last three years and have won each of their last four bowl games, including triumphs against the likes of Washington State and Arizona State. 

UNLVLocated within the entertainment hotbed that is Las Vegas, UNLV has all the market appeal for which you could ask. Vegas is one of the few major cities that Power Five conferences still have yet to tap, though the Pac-12 did just hold its annual media day in the city. Several professional teams have already moved, or are planning on moving, to Sin City. Will the Pac-12 really take a chance on UNLV for its market alone? The Rebels have just two bowl appearances since the turn of the century. UNLV would say yes in a heartbeat, but it might be hard for the Pac-12 to take on a team that does nothing to increase its competitive profile.