Big 12 expansion talk heated up this morning as it was announced that the conference had cut its list of possible expansions schools. Among those still left are believed to be Cincinnati, Houston, Memphis, UConn, South Florida, Central Florida and two “mystery teams” from the AAC (Temple and SMU are my guesses). Schools that were cut included UNLV and East Carolina who made statements following their schools being dropped from consideration. Obviously East Carolina was going to get dropped, outside of a win over Virginia Tech in Week 1 like 7 years ago what have they done athletically to warrant this type of move? The remaining teams are very intriguing though, especially Houston, Cincinnati, UConn and Central Florida.
I’ll start with Houston, long gone are the days of Phi Slamma Jamma, but both the basketball and football programs have made a positive turn in the last few years. This year, Houston opens its season with a huge game against #3 Oklahoma, a potential Big 12 match-up in the future. Houston brings in a big market and another Texas school to the conference, a move to the Big 12 would almost assure football relevancy for the next decade as Tom Herman would be less likely to jump ship, unless the SEC came knocking, and they have that historic success. Plus, who doesn’t like a good team of Cougars?
Cincinnati is next, they’d be a much easier sell overall if they still had Brian Kelly coaching football but he obviously made the move to Notre Dame years ago. What they do have is a fantastic basketball program with a great coach in Mick Cronin. And yes, believe it or not, some people/conferences do care about bringing in solid basketball schools. What Cincinnati has that is a big advantage over the other two schools I have yet to talk about (UConn and UCF) is a better football program. UConn is nothing short of terrible and UCF has produced some great players (Blake Bortles, Brandon Marshall, Dante Culpepper) but recently hasn’t performed. At the end of the day, Football is the deciding factor and Cincy has that edge over UCF and UConn, at this moment.
The University of Connecticut, a school that many (myself included) love to hate. The Huskies boast an undeniable national brand in both Men’s and Women’s basketball, but their football program is horrendous. All-time they have a losing record and last season went 6-7 in a weak conference. While yes, the Big 12 does have Kansas, a perennial cellar-dweller, do they really need UConn basketball that badly? My answer is no, but there is a strong case to be made on both the Men’s and the Women’s side. A move to the Big 12 could create scenarios where UConn and Baylor play twice (Women’s) and UConn and Kansas play twice (Men’s), which would be absolutely dynamic and electric for each sport.
Last but not least we have Central Florida. UCF is such a unique opportunity because of its size and location. It is in Orlando, so not too far away from the Big 12 schools and they have 63,000 students making UCF the largest school in America. What an opportunity for the Big 12 and Central Florida, the potential is absolutely there for both parties to reap the benefits of a Power Conference move. Throwing the Big 12 brand on Central Florida would absolutely increase its ability to recruit major athletes in all sports from Florida and the Southeast. UCF has quietly had a solid football program all along, but this move could create an absolute monster.
Gun to my head I would say that Houston and Central Florida are the two schools that will be added to the Big 12, however, my sleeper picks are SMU and Memphis. Both schools have had success in football and basketball respectively and boast fantastic locations. I do not expect the Big 12 to add 4 teams, but you never know, the Big 10 has 14 teams and the Big 12 currently has 10…