What’s Next in Realignment Game?

To almost no one’s surprise, the Big 12 decided to stay put with 10 teams after possibly extracting some extra cash from its television partners.

So does that mean we have peace for our time in college football?

Hardly. As the Big 12’s dog-and-pony show concluded on Monday with a press conference, the most unbelievable statement came from Oklahoma president David Boren. He declared that the the 10 teams from the Big 12 are committed to stay together for the long haul.

If you believe that, I have a bridge on the south end of Manhattan I’d like to sell you.

In many ways, the Big 12 pretty much authored its own demise eight years hence with its decision not to expand. Texas and Oklahoma, about the only two valuable properties in the conference, will be busy flirting elsewhere over the next decade. Monday’s decision merely delays the next round of realignment until the current TV and grant-of-rights agreements run out after the 2024-25 season.

What will happen next?

It’s almost without question that Texas has its eyes set on the Big Ten – and vice versa. It’s a good fit culturally and athletically. The Longhorns will have to ditch their namesake TV network, but since it’s bleeding money annually for ESPN, that’s probably not a deal-breaker by that point.

Oklahoma most likely will end up in the SEC, with Oklahoma State in tow as a package deal. Kansas might join Texas in the Big Ten, even with its weak football program. It has a powerhouse basketball team, can deliver a decent sized market (Kansas City, Mo.) and has the best academic profile after Texas in the Big 12 as a member of the Association of American Universities.

The ACC will probably poach some combination of UConn, Cincinnati and West Virginia, taking one or two of these teams. If independence proves to be a flop in the playoff era, Notre Dame might swallow hard and finally become a full member of the ACC.

That creates three 16-team super conferences, along with the Pac-12. With a floundering network and increasing revenue gap between it and the Big Ten, SEC and ACC, it’s doubtful that the Pac-12 will be in position to create its own 16-team conference, especially considering the slim pickin’s of the leftovers. Likely it’ll stand pat as it is unless it wants to scoop up lower-profile schools such as San Diego State or UNLV.

More probable than not, the remaining Big 12 schools (Kansas State, Iowa State, Texas Tech, TCU and Baylor) as well as BYU will be picked up by either the American Athletic or Mountain West. These two won’t become power conferences, but may have slightly better access to a revamped playoff system after the current CFP deal expires following the 2025 season.

Is your head done spinning yet? It’s OK. It’ll be a few years before the next expansion/realignment show kicks in gear.

Game of the Week

Texas A&M at Alabama (-17.5), 3:30 p.m. ET, CBS

This is supposed to be the middle part of Alabama’s three-game “gauntlet” but the truth is that’s just hype. The Crimson Tide are head and shoulders above everyone else in the very mediocre SEC and they probably won’t face much resistance from the unbeaten Aggies on Saturday for more than a half. Until the playoff, it doesn’t appear anyone has a legitimate chance of knocking off the defending national champion.

Also keep an eye on

TCU at West Virginia (-5), 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN2

The Mountaineers passed their road test with flying colors in Lubbock a week ago, but this will be their sternest challenge to-date in order to keep their playoff hopes alive. WVU is 1-3 against the Frogs and has never beaten them in Morgantown since both teams joined the Big 12 in 2012. But this year the Mountaineers might finally have the defense to squeak one out against a pretty ordinary TCU team.

Upset special

Ole Miss at LSU (-5.5), 9 p.m. ET, ESPN

Is there really any reason for either team to be ranked? The SEC has eight ranked team in the latest AP poll but none of them has beaten a single ranked team in a nonconference game. But somehow these SEC teams continue to play and beat each other while staying ranked. Both of these teams’ best games of the season to-date are in fact losses, with Ole Miss losing to Alabama and LSU beaten at Wisconsin.

Player to watch

BYU at Boise State (-7), 10:15 p.m. ET Thursday, ESPN

No doubt BYU is crushed by the Big 12’s decision not to expand as it’s easily the most attractive program not currently in a Power 5 conference. The Cougars must put that disappointment aside to face the most formidable team outside of the Power 5. If they want to pull off a victory on the blue turf they will have to ride their senior running back Jamaal Williams, who’s second in FBS with 942 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns.

Hot Seat for Coaches Already Heating Up

September isn’t quite over yet and we already have the first major firing of the season. On Sunday, LSU ousted Les Miles after 11-plus seasons following his Tigers’ gut-wrenching loss at Auburn when an apparent game-winning touchdown was nullified by replay review.

Miles wasn’t even the first coach to be let go on Sunday. The news of his dismissal came after Florida International relieved Ron Turner of his coaching duties and Notre Dame cut loose beleaguered defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder.

Miles’ fate was sealed when LSU once again looked sluggish in its loss to Auburn. Though he’s won a national title in 2007 and took the Tigers to another BCS championship game in 2011, Miles had been on thin ice for a couple of seasons now. He was nearly ousted in a coup last year and opening this season with a loss to Wisconsin didn’t help.

Saturday’s defeat at Auburn was a microcosm of Miles’ recent failures – an anemic offense, perplexing playcalling and terrible time management at the end of the game. With Houston’s Tom Herman and ex-Baylor coach Art Briles potentially available after this season, LSU simply decided it wants to get ahead in the hiring game before everyone else.

A few more coaches at major and traditional powers will follow Miles into the unemployment line, if not during this season, certainly afterward. Here’s our list of hot seats from scorching to merely very warm:

Brian Kelly: VanGorder’s firing was a foregone conclusion after Notre Dame lost to Duke to drop to 1-3 this season. After being touted as a national title contender, the Irish now will play out the rest of the season with nothing more than a second-tier bowl to aspire to. Though he took Notre Dame to the 2012 BCS title game, Kelly’s teams have been mired in mediocrity since, with a penchant for blowing big games. If he can’t turn things around in a hurry in the next eight games, he won’t be around in South Bend for long.

Clay Helton: Though he’s only officially on the job for six games, there’s already considerable clamoring for his his ouster from Troy. Helton is 1-5 in those games, with his lone win over Utah State and embarrassing losses to Alabama and Stanford already this season. He was not hired by current athletic director Lynn Swann and if USC continues to struggle the new AD may be forced to eat the remainder of the five-year contract and try for a home-run hire.

James Franklin: It doesn’t help that Penn State resides in the murderous Big Ten East, sharing space with the three-headed monster of Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State – three teams he has never beaten in his three years at Happy Valley. Then Saturday’s beatdown at the Big House showed just how far he’s behind those programs. Maybe Penn State will be patient enough to put up with a third straight 7-6 season, but maybe not much longer.

Charlie Strong: While he has changed Texas’ culture for the better and brought in strong recruiting classes, the results just haven’t been there on the field for the third-year coach. The thrilling season-opening victory over Notre Dame has already dissolved given the Irish’s difficulties and a loss to Cal two weeks ago put the onus right back on Strong’s job security. The next two weeks with games against Oklahoma State and Oklahoma will be crucial for him to demonstrate just where the program is.

Game of the Week

Colorado 41, Oregon 38: Mike MacIntyre inherited a dumpster fire of a program that was the laughingstock of the newly expanded Pac-12, and in Year Four positive results are pouring in for the Buffs. A week after giving Michigan a major scare at the Big House, Colorado had its signature win in the MacIntyre era when it stunned Oregon in Eugene. Backup quarterback Steven Montez threw for 333 yards and three touchdowns while the defense stiffened to snuff out the Ducks’ potential game-winning drive with an end-zone interception.

Player of the Week

Trevor Knight, Texas A&M: The quarterback carousel continues to churn in the Southwest as Knight arrived at A&M after spending three seasons in Oklahoma but losing his job to Texas Tech transfer Baker Mayfield. Knight provided the stability the Aggies needed this season after they lost three quarterbacks within the last year. Knight passed for 225 yards and rushed for 157 while accounting for four touchdowns as A&M won an SEC showdown, 45-24 over Arkansas in Arlington, Texas, to stay in the Top 10.

The Weak

If the NFL can’t seem to figure out what a catch is, then college football has an issue with targeting. The officiating of this particular penalty – which carries with it an automatic ejection and suspension of the player for the team’s next half – has been uneven at best, even with the help of mandatory booth review. On Saturday, Penn State’s Brandon Smith was ejected for what by all accounts a legitimate play against Michigan while UCLA’s Tahaan Goodman nearly decapitated Stanford’s Francis Owusu in a textbook spearing move and yet no flag was thrown.

Our Rankings

1. Louisville, 2. Ohio State, 3. Alabama, 4. Michigan, 5. Wisconsin, 6. Houston, 7. Stanford, 8. Texas A&M, 9. Clemson, 10. Washington, 11. Nebraska, 12. Utah, 13. Baylor, 14. Florida State, 15. Ole Miss.

 

Big 12 Has a Houston Problem

It looks like Houston will be the Big 12’s best bet for a spot in the 2016 College Football Playoff.

Just three weeks into the season, it appears all but certain that the conference will be missing out on the four-team playoff for the second time in three years (since expansion candidate Houston is still technically in the American Athletic Conference). The Big 12’s last best hope died in Strawberry Canyon late Saturday night as Texas was buried under an avalanche of half-a-hundy Cal points.

There are only two unbeaten teams left in the Big 12 – untested West Virginia and tarnished Baylor. The conference so far this season is 2-10 against teams from Power 5 conferences, the American and the MAC. In the latest AP poll, only Baylor (No. 16) is in the top 20, but nowhere near sniffing the playoff.

All of this makes Houston that much more attractive as an expansion candidate. After beating Oklahoma in the season opener, the Cougars rallied to defeat Cincinnati, 40-16, the other favorite to land a spot in the Big 12 expansion game. Houston also has a Nov. 17 date with Louisville, which might be a contest pitting two top 5 teams with a playoff berth on the line.

Cincinnati missed its best chance to make a case for inclusion in the Big 12 by blowing a fourth-quarter lead against Houston. The rest of its schedule doesn’t move the needle much, except for a Nov. 5 showdown against BYU in a game pitting the two best expansion candidates after Houston. It might even be viewed as a play-in game of sorts.

BYU, meanwhile, lost another close game to a Pac-12 foe, this time 17-14 against UCLA a week after losing 20-19 to Utah. The Cougars visit Morgantown next week and the Big 12 will get a good chance to evaluate them. BYU also still has games remaining against Power 5 teams Michigan State and Mississippi State, so there are opportunities to score style points.

But for now the absurd expansion show is pretty much all Big 12 has going for it the rest of the season. After the third weekend of September it’s already played itself out of playoff contention – there are no more games against Power 5 opponents left and no conference title game to provide a “13th data point” as the selection committee likes to reference.

It’s pretty safe to say that, Houston, you don’t have a problem. Your membership invitation is in the mail and please sign and return, pronto!

Irish Famine: Notre Dame also has played itself out of playoff contention. After losses to Texas and Michigan State in their first three games, all the Irish have to look forward to is nine meaningless games and at-best an outside shot at a New Year’s Six bowl game.

This is what Notre Dame bargained for when it opted to remain independent in the age of power conferences. The school signed a 10-year extension with NBC through the 2025 season to televise its home football games at $15 million per season, but that number is already dwarfed by new deals struck by Power 5 conferences. Members of the Big Ten and SEC are expected to collect north of $40 million each annually beginning this season.

Without a conference affiliation, the Irish have little to play for the rest of the season as its remaining schedule is dotted with low-wattage ACC games and a pair against the service academies. Other than an Oct. 15 date against Stanford in which Notre Dame may play spoiler to the Cardinal’s playoff hopes, don’t expect much more ink spilled on or eyeballs tuned to the Irish the rest of the season.

Game of the Week

Alabama 48, Ole Miss 43: The Rebels had beaten the Tide in each of the last two seasons and seemed headed for a third straight victory after taking a 24-3 early lead. But just as they did against Florida State in the season opener, they fell apart soon after. Ole Miss did rally late to make a game of it, and in the process exposed some glaring weaknesses of the still top-ranked Tide.

Player of the Week

Lamar Jackson, Louisville: Orchestrating the Cardinals’ sensational destruction of Florida State, Jackson announced himself as the Heisman Trophy frontrunner by throwing for 216 yards and a touchdown and rushing for 146 and scoring four more TDs. The Louisville QB spearheaded an attack that shredded the then-No. 2 Seminoles with 530 yards on offense.

The Weak

First, it was Cal running back Vic Enwere, in what seems to be a weekly occurrence in college football now, casually dropping the football before he crossed the goal line late in Cal’s 50-43 victory over Texas. (And don’t call it a potential game-clinching TD, because the Bears would’ve been better off if he had just gotten a first down and not scored.)

But then, the Big 12 officiating crew added to the farce first by failing to notice that Enwere did not cross the goal line with the ball, and then compounding the error by claiming that there was no “immediate recovery” of the fumble, when Texas clearly possessed the ball before the whistle was blown. The Longhorns should’ve had possession at their own 20 with 1:20 to play with a chance to tie/win the game.

Our Rankings

1. Louisville, 2. Ohio State, 3. Alabama, 4. Houston, 5. Stanford, 6. Michigan, 7. Washington, 8. Michigan State, 9. Clemson, 10. Texas A&M, 11. Wisconsin, 12. Florida State, 13. LSU, 14. Nebraska, 15. Miami.

Pac-12’s Playoff Prospects in Muddled Waters

For now, UCLA saved the committee from one huge headache, but there’s another one that’s not going away anytime soon.

BYU finally ran out of comebacks at the Rose Bowl, as freshman quarterback Tanner Mangum was unable to pull off another fantastic finish. Otherwise, the Cougars would’ve had the best 3-0 resume of any team after having won at Nebraska and beaten Boise State at home.

While BYU is out of playoff contention, Notre Dame certainly is not. Despite playing with DeShone Kizer, a freshman quarterback making his first collegiate start Saturday, the Irish easily dispatched Georgia Tech to improve to 3-0.

With the possible exception of its Oct. 3 game at Clemson, Notre Dame will be favored to win its remaining games. While the Irish likely will have to run the table, there is almost no chance that the playoff committee can keep out a team that’s beaten nine Power 5 opponents, including possibly two conference champions.

If Notre Dame is included in the playoff, that means at least two Power 5 title winners will be excluded. For now the committee should just be thankful that it no longer has to deal with a possible 12-0 BYU team as well.

Senseless polls

The single best thing about the playoff era is that it’s rendered the polls meaningless. During the BCS era, two polls accounted for two-thirds of the standings and therefore always dictated the top two teams at the end of the season (after the formula was fixed for the final time in 2004). The worse of the two was the Coaches poll, which has always been short on transparency and long on conflict of interest.

Or just simply lacking in credibility.

Somehow, Auburn is still ranked in the top 25 in the latest Coaches poll (at No. 25). Missouri, coming off lackluster wins over Arkansas State and UConn, also stays ranked at No. 23. And USC is six spots ahead of Stanford even though both teams are 2-1 and the Cardinal just beat the Trojans in L.A.

Is there any reason for this poll to continue to exist?

The AP poll isn’t all that much better, with also USC ahead of Stanford and Missouri still ranked. But the good news is, in the grand scheme of things these polls mean absolutely nothing now, not even a little bit.

Pac-12 Network mess

Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott was on hand for the Stanford-USC game at the L.A. Coliseum and conceded to the media before the game that talks with AT&T to get the Pac-12 Network on DirecTV have collapsed and that there is no chance to increase the network’s paltry 12 million subscribers “in the foreseeable future.”

After hopeful signs in the preseason following AT&T’s acquisition of DirecTV, the sides could not come an agreement. AT&T, one of the conference’s major sponsors, wanted an equity stake in the currently 100 percent conference-owned network. Scott brought the proposal to the leaders of the conference’s 12 schools and said it was unanimously rejected.

Now in its fourth season of existence, the Pac-12 Network has been a disappointment if not a colossal failure in terms of being a revenue generator. While BTN (Big Ten Network) and the SEC Network are minting money for their respective conferences with more than 60 million subscriber each, the Pac-12 Network is dragging down the conference in other ways.

On select Saturdays one Pac-12 team is subjected to an 8 p.m. kickoff so its game may be televised on the Pac-12 Network. Judging by the disappointing attendance for that time slot in the first three weeks, fans were staying away from those late games in droves even if they couldn’t see it on TV anyway.

Game of the Week

Cal 45, Texas 44: In a game where the teams combined for almost 1,200 yards of offense, the Bears nearly blew a 21-point lead in the fourth quarter only to be rescued by Longhorns kicker Nick Rose’s shanked PAT that should’ve tied the score with 1:11 left in regulation. Instead of an embarrassing collapse, Cal remains the only unbeaten Pac-12 North team after winning all three of its nonconference games.

A close runnerup goes to Miami-Nebraska, a game between two erstwhile powerhouses that played each other four times for the national title (1983, 1988, 1994 and 2001). The Huskers rallied from 23 points down with less than 10 minutes left in regulation to send the game to OT, only to lose it on a Miami field goal, 36-33. Nebraska’s now 1-2, having lost both games in walkoff fashion (the other to BYU on a Hail Mary pass).

Player of the Week

Leonard Fournette, LSU: Auburn players piped up before Saturday’s game that it shouldn’t be “difficult” to defend LSU’s sophomore running back. All Fournette did was rushing for 228 yards and three TDs on just 19 carries. He played only three quarters but produced one highlight reel run after another as LSU crushed Auburn, 45-21.

Our Rankings

1. Michigan State, 2. Ole Miss, 3. TCU, 4. Ohio State, 5. LSU, 6. UCLA, 7. Notre Dame, 8. Georgia, 9. Oregon, 10. Alabama, 11. Clemson, 12. Florida State, 13. Utah, 14. Oklahoma, 15. Texas A&M.