The college sports landscape was shaken up when reports surfaced that Oklahoma and Texas were leaving the Big 12 for the SEC. There are still many possible outcomes for the teams remaining. The other Big 12 universities could leave to join other conferences. In a less likely scenario at this point, other universities could join the Big 12. Here are potential replacements for Oklahoma and Texas in the Big 12.
6. Boise State Broncos
Boise State has been rumored to join bigger conferences over the years because of their success on the football field. Since the turn of the century, the Broncos have one of the best winning percentages in college football. They have gone up against and beaten the likes of Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl. What started as a Cinderella team turned into a national brand. To go with their football success, their basketball team has also had some success, as they’ve made three tournaments since 2000. That is something that isn’t easy because of the conference they play in.
The Broncos would be the northern-most team in the Big 12, but at this point, the Big 12 has to throw geography out the window if they want to continue. Boise State may be willing to join a better conference, that doesn’t have too much travel (comparatively to other big conferences they might join) but they can also be competitive with the remaining teams in the Big 12. The team that plays on the “smurf turf” may not get the final nod to join the Big 12, but they will likely be considered.
5. BYU Cougars
BYU is one of the biggest brands in the country. Since 2011, when they went independent, the Cougars have gone 81-48. Their most successful season was in 2020, when they went 11-1 and won the Boca Raton Bowl. To go with their storied football program, the Cougars have also had success on the basketball court. They have made 12 NCAA Tournaments since 2000, which have come with them playing in the Mountain West and with them as a member of the WCC.
The biggest hurdle into getting BYU into the conference is the fact that they are an independent. They get to control their own television contract and don’t have to profit-share with anyone. If the Big 12 could convince BYU to join, which is a big if, it would make sense geographically (at least a little bit) and would give them a school with a solid sized brand.
4. SMU Mustangs
SMU once was a good program in the Southwest Conference. Then they were hit with the Death Penalty by the NCAA for recruiting violations and have struggled to return to their former glory. Their best season came in 2020, when they finished 10-3. They made no bowl games from 1985-2008. Since 2009, they have made seven bowl games. It is a sign of improvement from a program decimated by the NCAA. The Mustangs have had a few solid seasons on the basketball court, making two NCAA Tournaments since 2015.
Since their time in the Southwest Conference, SMU has had to join the WAC, C-USA and AAC. A move back to a bigger conference could really help them. They are in the right location to be considered and already have a rivalry with TCU to entice them to be invited. Whether the Big 12 would ultimately go back to SMU is up for debate, but considering going back to some old Southwest Conference teams is not a bad idea (especially if they add more than just two teams).
3. Houston Cougars
Houston had a great college football program when they were part of the Southwest Conference. Since that conference broke up in 1996, the Cougars have been resigned to playing in smaller conferences. They still have had success, which includes their 13-1 season in 2015. That season ended with the team beating Florida State in the Peach Bowl. Their basketball team’s resurgence should really help their case as well. Since the 2014-2015 season Kelvin Sampson has helped Houston make the NCAA Tournament three times. The Cougars were able to make the Final Four in the 2021 NCAA Tournament.
Not only would Houston be a good selection because they have had some success on the gridiron and on the hardwood, but it makes sense from a location perspective. Not only is it decently close to most teams in the conference, but to go with that, Houston is a major market. Houston will likely be making a pitch to join the Big 12.
2. UCF Knights
One of the best stories in college football over the last several seasons might be the UCF Knights. Despite just joining the FBS in 1996, the Knights have made a bowl game in all but three seasons at that level. The headliner of their success came in 2017, when UCF went 13-0 and won the Peach Bowl over Auburn. Their basketball success is limited, as they’ve made just three NCAA Tournaments since 2000, but they are a young program.
UCF has the most undergraduate students in the country and has a solid media market in Orlando. While it won’t be easy to convince teams to admit UCF because of geography, they meet just about everything else a conference would want. The Knights would be competitive in football and could be a program that continues to improve as time goes on.
1. Cincinnati Bearcats
The Bearcats have had success on both the football field and the basketball court in recent years. For football Cincinnati has only not made a bowl game in three different seasons since 2006. They have gone to three BCS/New Year’s Six Bowls during that timespan, showing the growth of the program. Cincinnati does have two national championships in basketball, although they came way back in the 1960s. From 2011-2019 the Bearcats made every single NCAA Tournament, but have struggled since that point.
For years now, the Big 12 has not added a team close to West Virginia to their conference. The Mountaineers have to travel far for every road game they play in the conference, but with Cincinnati added, they would have a rival from the old Big East days that would be close to home. So while the geography doesn’t make sense for other teams, West Virginia may have some relief. On top of that, the Bearcats have solid programs most years in both football and basketball. To go with their relative success, the Cincinnati market would be a solid-sized one to add to the Big 12 family.
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