I was wrong. I was so very, very wrong.
Earlier this year, I thought TCU would ruin the Big 12. My reasons for being wrong have little to do with TCU's on-field performance. Their run to the playoff contention has helped the conference but it was more that I didn't understand the Big 12.
I wrote that piece under the mistaken assumption the Big 12 operated like the other power conferences in the extended game of Risk that is college football realignment. I lumped the Big 12 in with the Big Ten and ACC in their attempts to gain a foothold in New York City or the SEC adding Missouri for the St. Louis and Kansas City markets.
The Big 12 has the only Risk piece it will ever need – the state of Texas. When they added TCU, they were merely ensuring the Lone Star State would be closed to outsiders. Sure, Texas A&M can pop up and take some recruits, but it ultimately doesn't matter. Texas is the richest state in terms of football recruits and money. Texas A&M can't take all of it with them to the SEC.
I also foolishly believed that the Big 12 needed to add more quality, big-name programs to bolster its ranks and that was misguided too. The Big 12 has Texas and Oklahoma and that's all it needs.
On Thanksgiving night, TCU will play on the road at a 6-5 team. Yet this past weekend, analysts across ESPN were describing it as a “showcase” or “statement” game for the Horned Frogs. Why? Because that 6-5 team is Texas.
However, the Big 12 does face a looming problem that is not going away without expansion – the lack of a conference championship game.
In the preseason, this did not appear to be a problem. The Big 12 doubled down on their “One True Champion” motto. The league argued that it's the only league where everyone plays everyone else. In theory, it made sense.
In practice, TCU may be playing Iowa State on the same day Alabama is playing Georgia and a day after UCLA plays Oregon. In the case of the latter, that's a rematch and, yet, it means so much more for the Pac-12 than Oregon playing everyone else.
Whether it's a rematch or not, the conference championship game adds another quality opponent on any team's resume. The lack of one is going to severely hurt TCU and Baylor – and more importantly, will hurt Big 12 teams as long as a four-team playoff exists.
Look at the bump Ohio State could get from beating Wisconsin. Imagine if TCU and Baylor, for argument's sake, were preparing to play a rematch. The winner of that game would have an infinitely stronger case for inclusion in the playoff.
Unfortunately for the Big 12, they have other issues that make expansion targets tough to consider. The league should have added Louisville and Cincinnati to go along with West Virginia and that would've solved everything. But now Louisville is in the ACC and Cincinnati by itself doesn't solve the Big 12's problem. They need two teams.
I also argued in the past for Boise State, which would have served the same purpose that West Virginia does now – the geographic outlier that is there to bump up the football side of things. The league can’t sustain two of those. We've seen with West Virginia that the travel is a serious concern, which eliminate Cincinnati and Boise from being added together. There are few other enticing options.
Two schools that have been bandied about are USF and UCF as a package deal. It makes sense, again, in theory as the schools offer top TV markets and fertile recruiting grounds. But those two schools will always play second-fiddle in the state to Florida and Florida State in the perception battle – you think Oklahoma and Texas want to deal with that?
So that's how I've landed on Houston and SMU. And you probably ended up on this post scratching your head and wondering what I was smoking upon writing this.
The Big 12 has only one significant problem with the makeup of its league – it doesn't have 12 members. That's it. The other possible additions bring their own headaches. How do you do divisions? How will it impact travel? Are those schools guaranteed to be good in football?
Houston and SMU – I swear this is a compliment – are two warm bodies that the league needs to fill out it roster. Their addition would allow the league to create divisions that are shockingly equal in terms of competitiveness:
South: Texas, TCU, Baylor, Texas Tech, Houston and SMU
North: Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Kansas State, Kansas, Iowa State, West Virginia
That alignment also solves what was possible the league's biggest problem in a past life – the fall of Nebraska in the 2000's meant the league's South division was far too strong. With this alignment, Texas and Oklahoma are split up, with West Virginia and Kansas State giving the North three teams – four if you count Oklahoma State – that are Top 20 contenders in a given year.
Let's not forget that the Big 12 has a willing host in Jerry Jones for a title game at any time. They just have to ask. With this alignment, not only can they give Jerry Jones the title game, the league can dream about a Texas/Oklahoma title game. And unlike the Big Ten or ACC, they don't have to gerrymander the divisions to make it happen. The ACC divisions are still messed up because the league wanted a Florida State/Miami title game that hasn't happened in 10 years.
The answer of should they add Houston and SMU is an easy yes. Houston has proven to be a decent to very good football program. SMU is currently a dumpster fire but was knocking on the door of relevance a few years ago. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to realize both schools would be bolstered significantly by a jump to a Power Five conference.
The real question is. “Will this happen?” The obvious answer, as I write this, is no. SMU is the worst team in the FBS right now. The Big 12 has remained steadfastly opposed to expansion.
When will that change? It could change as soon as this December 7, when a 1-loss TCU or Baylor is left out in favor of Ohio State. It could take until next year, when Oklahoma is left out. Or maybe this gets played out for several years.
Make no mistake – at some point in time, the Big 12 will comprehend they need a conference title game. When that moment arrives, they will start looking over options. They will see few good ones.
Houston and SMU bring the least to the table themselves, yet their inclusion opens up a world of possibility for the league.
Pitch a Texas/Oklahoma title game on the first weekend in December with playoff implications to Fox or ESPN, and see what they say.
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