10 candidates an expansion-minded Big 12 should consider

Memphis is making a play to be considered for potential Big 12 expansion, according to a report. Marvin Gentry/USA TODAY Sports

PHOENIX -- The Big 12 has been talking for some time. Finally, action appears to be on the horizon.

This week in Phoenix, the conference's athletic directors and football coaches gathered to receive a power point presentation from Navigate Research, a firm that crunched the numbers on which format would give the Big 12 the best path to reach the College Football Playoff.

"We wanted to show the football coaches what we thought was germane to [them] -- how you get to the playoff," said commissioner Bob Bowlsby, who also noted that Navigate's algorithm "has successfully predicted all eight teams in the last two playoffs."

Navigate explained that the Big 12's old model -- 12 teams, eight league games, a conference championship -- is best for maximizing the chance of reaching the CFP. Revenue is another factor driving potential change.

To get to 12, obviously, the Big 12 would have to expand. And if there were a perfect candidate out there that would clearly help close the financial gap, it would already have received an invitation from the conference.

Here are 10 candidates that the league could consider, each bringing unique advantages and risks.


The case for: Without question, the Cougars boast the strongest football tradition of any of these programs. Since 1980, in fact, only Nebraska, Florida State, Ohio State, Miami, Florida and Oklahoma have won more games than BYU, which also captured the national championship in 1984. In recent years, the Cougars have also proven they can compete in the Big 12, having destroyed Texas in 2013 and 2014, and upsetting Oklahoma in 2009. Strong play on the field isn't the only argument for BYU. The Cougars averaged more than 58,000 fans per home game two years ago, which would've ranked fourth in the Big 12. BYU also has cultivated a national following through its affiliation to the Mormon Church, which has 15 million members worldwide.

The case against: Adding BYU would push the Big 12 into a third time zone, which could create obvious logistical issues. The distance from Morgantown, West Virginia, to Provo, Utah, is roughly 1,935 miles, while no Big 12 campus is less than 850 miles away. That distance gap could be overcome in football but would place a huge expense on the league's Olympic sports. On top of that, BYU doesn't compete on Sundays, which would especially affect the scheduling for baseball, softball and women's soccer. BYUtv currently would fit into the Big 12's current tier 3 programming model. Though if the league pursued a conference network, it would be an obstacle.

Boise State

The case for: Boise State has been the top non-Power 5 since 1999, having won 10 or more games 13 times over that span. Nobody, in fact, has won more games in college football than Boise State since 1999. If the Big 12 decided it wanted BYU, Boise State could conceivably be an option, and give the Big 12 a pair of football programs that might enhance the credibility of the league in the eyes of the CFP selection committee.

The case against: Other than improving the strength of the conference from a football perspective, Boise State adds little. The Broncos are even farther away than BYU, and don't offer a top-100 TV market.


The case for: The ultimate upside candidate. UCF has the biggest undergraduate enrollment in the country and sits in Orlando, Florida, which, according to Nielsen, is the 19th-largest TV market in the U.S. UCF is in fertile recruiting ground, and with the SEC encroaching into the state of Texas, this would give the Big 12 powers an opportunity to return the favor to some degree. On the field, the Knights have been Division I since only 1996, but thumped Baylor in the 2013 Fiesta Bowl.

The case against: Two years after thumping Baylor, the Knights went 0-12 last season, which prompted UCF to make a coaching change. And despite the huge undergrad population, UCF's average attendance was only 30,000 last season and just 37,000 the year before in Bright House Networks Stadium, which seats 45,300.


The case for: Cincinnati's geography could work heavily in its favor. The Bearcats would give West Virginia a travel partner and rival, and could be paired with a number of other schools on this list without creating logistical nightmares. Even though the Buckeyes are king in Ohio, UC has a decent stranglehold on Cincinnati, which is a top-40 market. UC recently renovated Nippert Stadium, and has played solid football over the last decade, making two BCS bowl appearances. Big business also appears to be behind UC's candidacy, including Kroger and Macy's, which are both headquartered in Cincinnati.

The case against: Unlike UCF and USF, the upside is limited, as UC is boxed in by Ohio State to the north and the University of Kentucky to the south.

Colorado State

The case for: If the Big 12 turns west and focuses on BYU, Colorado State could be the beneficiary. Colorado State shares the Denver market, and its proximity to the Big 12 footprint makes sense. The Rams have had their moments on the field, too, winning 10 or more games five times since 1994. Colorado State is also building a $200 million stadium on its campus, which will be ready for 2017.

The case against: Among other things, like BYU, Colorado State would draw the Big 12 into a third time zone.


The case for: UConn's candidacy has been gaining steam over the last year, despite its distant proximity to the rest of the league and middling football. UConn's identity as a state school is attractive to some around the league, and its location in the populous Northeast could enhance the viability of a potential Big 12 network. A solid academic profile and winning basketball doesn't hurt.

The case against: UConn brings little in football tradition, and would add almost nothing in improving the perception of the Big 12 in the CFP era. UConn is also way outside the Big 12 footprint, which in theory would significantly limit what other school the Big 12 could pair with it.


The case for: Houston is a winning football program and has exploded again under coach Tom Herman. The Cougars went 13-1 last year and hammered Florida State in the Peach Bowl. If Houston joined the Big 12, it could mirror what TCU has accomplished since joining the league. Houston is also tucked neatly within the Big 12 footprint, and from a proximity perspective, makes sense. The Cougars also have an undergrad enrollment of almost 35,000.

The case against: Though Houston is one of the top media markets in the country, the Big 12 already has a strong influence there. Texas probably would be against bringing in another school from within its own state it would have to recruit against, especially given the SEC's recent encroachment into the state. Houston's potential in the Big 12 would be significant, which in this case might work against it.


The case for: The Tigers have placed an emphasis on football in recent years, attempting to better position themselves in the event of Big 12 expansion. As a city-based university, Memphis has similarities to Cincinnati, and also could have big business behind it in the form of FedEx. The location would expand the Big 12 footprint into a sizable city and into Tennessee without creating travel problems for the rest of the league or West Virginia.

The case against: Memphis still doesn't have the facilities to stack up with other Big 12 programs. And with Justin Fuente now at Virginia Tech, it's unclear if the Tigers can keep the recent momentum going on the field.


The case for: If the Big 12 gave serious consideration to UCF, it would have to give the same to USF. Choosing either individually wouldn't make much sense. The two, packaged together, might. The combination of Orlando and Tampa would put two of the top-20 markets in play for the Big 12, which already has No. 5 Dallas/Fort Worth and No. 10 Houston. Bringing in both would mean that each current Big 12 school would have a chance to play a game in Florida, theoretically giving the Big 12 a stronger chance of mining talent from the state.

The case against: Like UCF, USF doesn't bring much in terms of football tradition or local interest. The Bulls have never reached double-digit wins since starting up football in 1997. USF's average attendance last season was less than 26,000, which ranked ninth in the American and would've ranked last in the Big 12. Again, USF and UCF offer potential. But risk, as well.


The case for: Tulane brings two clear strengths: a terrific academic profile and the New Orleans market, which has also become a recruiting pipeline for a number of Big 12 schools.

The case against: Football is the driver behind expansion, which severely damages Tulane's candidacy. The Green Wave have only two winning seasons since the turn of the millennium.