Ranking the top 10 programs on the expansion wishlist
We are in hover mode with the expansion of college football. The fog of impending change.
Before we go too far, understand this: some colleges (or colleges) have to win a very tough lawsuit to usher in a sea change defining amateur sport.
Not that it can’t – or won’t happen – it’s just that the ACC’s media rights deal with its 14 members has locked down half the game board until June 2036. It You will have to take legal action to break the contract.
“A lot of money, a lot of billable (lawyer) hours,” an ACC athletic director told Down South on Saturday. “Without real assurance of success.”
The other half of the expansion card is wide open – Pac-12 media rights end in 2024; Big 12 in 2025 – but not as attractive. On Tuesday, it was reported that the Big 12 was considering adding 6 Pac-12 programs: Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado, Oregon, Utah and Washington. The Pac-12 released a statement on Tuesday that it can immediately begin negotiations for its next media rights deal. Stay tuned on that.
Understand that it is in the interests of the Pac-12 and Big 12 teams not to sign any media rights agreements until the SEC and Big Ten clarify their future plans.
In the meantime, here’s a look at the 10 most poachable Power 5 programs, not including Notre Dame, who can leave for the Big Ten or the SEC after the 2025 season when his television contract with NBC expires – if he pays a undetermined release to the ACC for his Olympic sports:
The gem of the expansion, with one caveat: Would the Tigers be the same dominant program of the Playoff era while facing off in a significantly tougher conference?
Say what you will about the ACC, but since making its first playoff appearance in 2015, Clemson has won matches against Power 5 heavyweights Notre Dame (3 times), Alabama (twice), Ohio State (twice) and Oklahoma, and is 12-4 against the SEC.
Would those numbers change with a full SEC timeline? Maybe — but given how Clemson coach Dabo Swinney and his staff have recruited over the past decade, chances are Clemson is also an SEC heavyweight.
Last 4 recruiting class ranks, by 247Sports composite: 10, 3, 5, 10.
Regardless of the two decades of irrelevance, it’s hard to ignore Miami’s agenda and what might be. There’s too much talent in Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties — Miami State — for the Canes to fade away. They just need the right coach to lock down the Fertile Zone, and alum Mario Cristobal could be the perfect fit.
Miami’s re-emergence not only impacts the strength of the SEC (its likely conference move), it weakens Alabama, Georgia and Ohio State — three elite programs that have controlled recruiting of South Florida in the absence of Miami.
Last 4 recruitment classes: 27,17, 11, 16.
The best program of all sports in college sports sits at No. 3 and could easily be No. 1.
There is no better combination of athletics and academics in all of college sports. But not all an athletic department resume expands, football does (see: USC and UCLA as the Big Ten’s top 2 expansion picks).
David Shaw has done a stellar job (93-45 record) on The Farm since taking over from Jim Harbaugh in 2011. But in the past 2 non-COVID seasons, Stanford is just 7-17. Is this an anomaly – or a trend?
Last 4 recruitment classes: 19, 21, 43, 19.
The program is in transition and has been since a playoff appearance in 2014.
Mario Cristobal’s 2 Pac-12 championships and an upsurge in recruiting have brought some stability, but what now with new coach (and first head coach) Dan Lanning?
The branding is strong and there are deep pockets behind it (see: Nike’s Phil Knight). Most appealing to the Big Ten (this will be a common theme): the university’s Association of American Universities status.
Last 4 recruitment classes: 7, 12, 6, 13.
5. State of Florida
Don’t let the last 5 years fool you. It’s still a mega program in the hands of the right trainer.
Specifically, FSU is still a huge brand for TV. Miami and FSU were never able to get a foot in the SEC tent for decades because of Florida’s powerhouse.
But now Florida must do its best for the SEC, just like Texas A&M did with Texas admission.
Last 4 recruitment classes: 18, 22, 23, 20.
6. North Carolina
There’s no doubt that football fuels expansion, but it’s unclear what will happen to the NCAA Tournament if super conference status (20 or more teams) reaches the SEC and Big Ten.
The NCAA Tournament is just as vulnerable as the ACC, Big 12 and Pac-12. North Carolina’s basketball brand is huge, and the football program has had pockets of success.
Outside of Notre Dame, this is probably the only other head-to-head fight for schools between the SEC and Big Ten.
Last 4 recruitment classes: 30, 14, 14, 11.
The Huskies are above the rest of the Pac-12 prospects because of their football history — and Seattle’s TV market.
All but one of the serious Pac-12 options for the Big Ten are AAU schools (currently 13 of the 14 Big Ten schools are AAU members, and so are USC and UCLA) .
Washington is one of 2 Pac-12 teams with a playoff appearance, but that was with elite coach Chris Petersen. There has been a lot of uncertainty since (on the pitch, and with recruiting).
Last 4 recruitment classes: 16, 16, 30, 96.
There’s a lot to love about Utah, including its AAU status. The university has spent significant sums over the past two decades to improve its facilities and take its growth in the right direction seriously.
Salt Lake City is a valuable television market, and the program has a strong and passionate following. The perfect resume for the Big Ten. The only real question: how much longer will Kyle Whittingham coach?
Last 4 recruitment classes: 42, 30, 34, 34.
A long shot, for sure. But it’s hard to ignore the money spent by the small private school – and the results.
In the past 2 years, the football team has won the Big 12 and the Sugar Bowl, and the men’s basketball team has won the national title. The women’s basketball team is a national power.
Success in these 3 major sports – and deep-pocketed boosters – is a big draw, and might even be enough for the SEC to take a longer look at.
Last 4 recruitment classes: 36, 49, 41, 37.
10. State of Arizona
The classic underachievers. It’s all there for ASU to become a monster – but year after year, coach after coach, it just doesn’t materialize.
Does the Big Ten take a non-AUA school to grab the top 10 in the TV market and hope for the best? Arizona is an AAU school, but Tucson isn’t considered the market for Phoenix despite being less than 125 miles away (think Tampa-Orlando).
Last 4 recruitment classes: 28, 24, 52, 103.
The following five: Virginia, Kansas, Oklahoma State, San Diego State, Texas Tech.