Maybe, just maybe, we’ll finally have some resolution to the absurd Big 12 Expansion Show sometime Monday afternoon.
It’ll probably turn out to be much ado about nothing.
After nearly a year of wringing their hands about adding to the 10-team conference, Big 12 officials most likely will announce in a Monday press conference (6:30 p.m. ET) that their expansion plan has been tabled, for now and indefinitely.
The entire process, through various leaks and public posturing – especially by the conference’s two flagship schools, Oklahoma and Texas – may play out like an elaborate blackmail scheme. At the end, the conference’s TV partners ESPN and Fox probably decided it’s better to ante up to nip expansion in the bud than adding unattractive teams into their inventory.
The only other possibility – though a remote one – is that Houston and BYU are added as football-only members. BYU, once viewed as the frontrunner for expansion with the backing of Oklahoma, saw its prospects took a significant hit when the school’s Honor Code was derided by LGBT groups. Further, BYU’s no-Sunday play policy presents a considerable scheduling issue for all non-football sports.
Even without adding teams, the Big 12 will host a conference title game starting next season, thanks to an NCAA rule change that no longer requires divisions or 12 teams to stage the game. The title game will give the Big 12 an opportunity to be on equal footing with other Power-5 conferences, both as a “13th data point” as per the playoff selection committee and also be part of the conversation on the final Saturday of the regular season.
If the Big 12 decides to table expansion indefinitely, it’s likely that no realignment will take place until at least the middle part of the next decade. All Power-5 conference members (except the SEC) are tied through grant-of-rights agreements for at least the next 10 years and those make it unlikely for anyone to make a move.
This should come as welcome relief for two conferences in particular – the American Athletic and Mountain West, which are the prime targets for Big 12 expansion. Perhaps after Monday, college athletics will finally have some stability for the first time since the late 2000s when the expansion craze began.
All 11 undefeated teams remain unbeaten after the weekend though a couple (Ohio State and Clemson) survived close calls. For the most part the playoff picture stays unchanged from last week, with this pecking order:
1. Big Ten: Michigan, Ohio State, Nebraska
2. SEC: Alabama, Texas A&M, Florida
3. ACC: Clemson, Louisville
4. Pac-12: Washington
5. Michigan-Ohio State loser
6. Big 12: Baylor, West Virginia
For the Group of Five teams, Boise State remains the frontrunner to claim the New Year’s Six automatic bowl berth after surviving a late comeback by Colorado State. Western Michigan is next, followed by a quartet of one-loss AAC teams (Navy, Memphis, Houston and South Florida).
Game of the Week
Ohio State 30, Wisconsin 23 (OT): The top-10 matchup at Camp Randall lived up to the billing as the Buckeyes’ superior athletes finally made the plays in the second half and overtime to overcome an early deficit. But Wisconsin, having lost a pair of close games to Michigan and Ohio State, perhaps isn’t done in having a say in deciding the Big Ten title as it’s still on track to claim the Big Ten West with another shot at the Michigan-Ohio State winner in the conference title game.
Player of the Week
Alabama Defense/Special Teams: For the seventh consecutive game this season, Alabama scored a non-offensive touchdown – in fact, that streak dates back to last year when the Tide scored on defense or special teams in both of their playoff victories. Ronnie Harrison’s pick-six and Eddie Jackson’s punt return opened the floodgates in Alabama’s 49-10 rout of Tennessee. The Tide’s 11 non-offensive touchdowns are more than South Carolina has scored all season.
With a chance to upset unbeaten Clemson on the road and etch a signature victory for his program, NC State coach Dave Doeren decided to go conservative at the end of the game, running out the clock to kick a field goal when he had a chance to move closer or perhaps to score a touchdown. Wolfpack kicker Kyle Bambard, who had already missed twice earlier in the game, ended up shanking the potential game-winner from 33 yards out at the end of regulation as the Tigers survived in overtime, 24-17.
1. Alabama, 2. Michigan, 3. Ohio State, 4. Washington, 5. Clemson, 6. Texas A&M, 7. Louisville, 8. Wisconsin, 9. Nebraska, 10. Boise State, 11. West Virginia, 12. Baylor, 13. Utah, 14. Florida, 15. Western Michigan.