College football has had a long spate of realignment fever over the past decade. The Big East and the WAC conferences have entirely disappeared. Other conferences have grown bigger and stronger than ever before, like the SEC, the ACC, the PAC 12 and the Big 10. Perhaps the most fascinating stories are the conferences that fall somewhere inbetween these two extremes, the ones that just barely managed to hold together but look like they still need to expand if they wish to stay healthy in the future.
The Big 12 is one obvious case. How can the Big 12 consist of 10 teams while the Big 10 consists of 14? At least change your names, guys. . . If the Big 12 wants to be taken seriously it needs to recruit 2 more teams from somewhere. But it doesn't look like they're interested in anybody, which is pretty unsettling given that at just ten teams their conference is continuously on the brink of extinction.
The American Athletic Conference is actually looking pretty good now. Louisville is gone, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing. It will bring parity to the conference and give everyone a chance to shine. Remember, it wasn't Louisville who won the American conference last year, it was UCF (Central Florida), which went on to decisively win their BCS bowl against Baylor. That says a lot about the caliber of the American conference even without Louisville. These guys are no pushovers. Navy joins the conference in 2015 and gives the American conference a nice even number and the chance for a conference championship game to highlight their best teams on big time TV. Look for the American conference to make big waves next year once everything is settled and in place.
Conference USA has a lot of potential. Charlotte will join the conference in 2015, giving them a nice even number of 14 teams, just as big as the powerhouse conferences (ACC, Big 10 and SEC). Even though the teams are relatively young, the new entries are by no means weak. There are so many talented high school football players that come out of Florida and Texas that any conference with 4 Texas teams and 2 Florida teams is going to make waves. Western Kentucky has been a good team for years, as has Louisiana Tech. Marshall has a decent record across history as well.
The MAC is in an interesting position where it's actually set to shrink a team next year. UMASS will be leaving, which is actually a good thing, because it turns the oddly numbered conference of 13 teams down to an even and fairly split number of 12 teams. 12 is just the right amount for a conference championship game, so if they stay at 12 there should be no complaints.
The Mountain West at 12 teams is looking really good. Boise State, Nevada, Fresno State, San Diego State, Air Force and Hawaii have always been competitive teams. These guys can win BCS bowls no problem and have. The parity in the conference will mean there's no perennial bully who always wins it all in a boring and predictable fashion. Their underdog status will mean every win they get against the power conferences will be boisterously exciting. I predict Mountain West football will be some of the funnest football around in the college scene.
The Sun Belt conference right now is stuck at a terrible number of 11 teams. However, it has no interest in UMASS as its 12th member, because they're weak, geographically distant, and only want to join in terms of football. Currently there are no plans for the Sun Belt conference to get a 12th member and have a conference tournament. This seems pretty stubborn considering the advantages they'd get from having a marquee game on national television to show that the Sun Belt also belongs in the FBS division. They join the Big 12 in being one of the two most dysfunctional conferences in the country. I guess it's unrealistic for there to be good news at all times for everyone.
2014 is a good year in college football as the first year of the new playoff system. It also has Louisville in a properly strong conference where it can realistically play for a national championship. But 2015 will improve this picture for four conferences, add to the number of bowl games, and give Penn State their eligibility to play in bowls again. For a storied program like Penn State, it would be good to see them back on the field where they belong. Meanwhile, Notre Dame has an agreement to play 6 games with the ACC every season, which firms up their schedule to always include a decent strength of competition. Notre Dame is going to remain relevant in the national championship hunt long into the future. As perhaps the most famous football team in the nation, it's good to see them on the field too.