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With Big 12 backing, Houston may eclipse schools that helped fuel its rise

More than three decades ago, the University of Miami ascended from obscurity to a national power, buoyed by a plentiful recruiting base, an innovative coach and a cutting-edge brand.

Because of the huge money involved in Power 5 leagues and the widespread exposure that helps funnel recruits outside of their home regions, such a rise -- which resulted in four national titles for the Hurricanes -- simply could not happen today for an independent or Group of 5 program.

But what if a Power 5 conference infused financial resources and mega-exposure into a hot program at just the right moment? It could create a problem for its league members.

The Big 12 is toying with such a situation as it continues the evaluation process of expansion candidates this week in north Texas.

Houston, with wins over Florida State and Oklahoma to end last season and open this one, could squeeze the Big 12 out of the College Football Playoff this year and win a national title as a member of the American.

It cannot, though, make this a yearly habit without the backing of a Power 5 league.

So do Big 12 schools really want to add the Cougars and coach Tom Herman, who might shake up the league in a way that TCU has yet to accomplish despite its 24-3 record since the start of 2014?

It's all presumptuous, of course; Houston, under Herman, hasn't won anything but a league title and a couple of big games. One win doesn't make a season. By the time Louisville visits in Week 12, one or more American opponent could expose the Cougars as a team not nearly as dangerous as it appears.

But the Big 12 membership must consider the alternative scenario.

At this point, if the league opts to expand and doesn't take Houston, it would look petty, small-minded, or worse, scared. If it takes the Cougars, well, hold your breath and hope -- if you're not Texas or Oklahoma -- that Houston doesn't slam shut your own window.

Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury recognized the potential at Houston when he worked there under Kevin Sumlin from 2008 to '11.

"We had some really good teams," Kingsbury said, "some talented players. And you can recruit a lot of those players right there in that city."

Publicly, Big 12 coaches say they're not concerned about the competitive impact of adding an upward-trending program positioned to recruit even better in one of the most talent-laden areas nationally. Kingsbury said "worrisome" isn't a word he'd use to describe their stance.

But privately, Big 12 schools must consider the ramifications of aiding the cause for a playoff-ready program.

Sure, it looks good on the league letterhead. But the Cougars, new and improved, would sign top prospects previously ticketed to land at Oklahoma State, Baylor or elsewhere. Think about Houston's ceiling if, every season, it signs two or three homegrown players on par with defensive lineman Ed Oliver.

How much could Houston dent the Sooners or Longhorns? Probably not much more than it already has -- and you saw Herman's progress in that area Saturday.

"In all honesty," Kansas State coach Bill Snyder said, "I haven't thought about it. I know that Houston's name has come up, but we're in the season, and that's not something that I think about.

"I don't know that there's any reason to be wary of anybody."

Other coaches appear almost allergic to the expansion discussion.

"I don't have a clue what direction they're going or any criteria that they're looking for," Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy said.

Gundy offered praise for Herman and mentioned that no outcome -- Houston's 33-23 Week 1 win over Oklahoma included -- surprises him today.

TCU coach Gary Patterson said he was impressed, too.

"But outside of that," Patterson said, "it's above my pay grade to decide who and why [on expansion]. I know probably, if we do expand, it will be because of financial reasons, and I think that those people have their agendas of how they're going to do things.

"But every conference that I've been in, they've never asked my opinion about it. So they're probably not going to ask my opinion on this one, either."

It's something of a dilemma for the Big 12 presidents and commissioner Bob Bowlsby, who probably never discussed in July when pondering the decision to explore expansion that one of their candidates would blast Oklahoma in Week 1.

It's best for the Big 12 to think big with expansion, and that means to make its conference as strong as possible. As long as it considers the consequences.