Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Big 12: From Powerhouse to Power Outage?

The college football landscape is changing right before our eyes, as one of the nation's top conferences if not its best is on the verge of dissolving. Colorado made the decision today to leave the Big 12 for the Pac-10 and if Nebraska follows suit to the Big 10 on Friday as expected, the Big 12 will be down to 10 teams.

Losing Colorado, who went 3-9 last season and 2-6 in Big 12 play, is far from a death blow but Nebraska is a different story. Losing a program with the storied history of the Cornhuskers that is coming off of a 10-4 season and blowout bowl victory would do nothing to save the Big 12.

But the real team that will decide the conference's fate is the Texas Longhorns. Without last season's national championship game runner-up, everybody in the Big 12 might as well move to the Pac-10. The conference can survive with 10 teams if it includes the likes of Texas, Oklahoma, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State. Take the Longhorns out of that mix and a conference with nine teams doesn't seem to work, especially with no obvious top 10 or even top 20 team.

I could care less about the Big 12, especially if its destruction leads to what everybody has been clamoring for in college football for years: A playoff system.

Without the Big 12 there would be just five "power conferences:" Pac-10 (or Pac-16, whatever it's going to become), Big 10 (or the new Big 12), SEC, ACC and Big East. And to be honest, the ACC isn't even that powerful.

With five BCS bowl games and just five conferences to fill these games (discounting potential at-large teams like Boise State and TCU), it would be increasingly difficult for the committee to stick to the rule that a maximum of two teams from a single conference can play in a BCS bowl and just as difficult for bowls to maintain their allegiances, like the Rose Bowl pitting Pac-10 champion versus Big 10 champion.

Eventually I wouldn't be surprised if the ACC and Big East join forces into a super-conference like the Pac-10 is doing, not like there hasn't already been movement between the two conferences in recent years. This would leave the lower-level teams comparable to Kansas, Kansas State and Baylor from the Big 12 to join smaller conferences, making it even more difficult for those coaches to recruit without the attraction of playing larger big conference schools.

That would leave four major conferences in college football and set up a dire need for a playoff system, not like there already isn't one. If college football realignment leads to the institution of a playoff system, I think everybody will look back on this as a step in the right direction for college football. Too bad only time will tell if that's the case.

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