Pac-12 has half of the top 10 expansion targets
We’re in hover mode with college football expansion. The fog of looming change.
Before we get too overboard, understand this: Some university (or universities) must win a very difficult court case to usher in radical, amateur sports-defining change.
Not that it can’t—or won’t—happen, it’s just that the ACC grant of media rights contract with its 14 members has locked up half of the playing board until June of 2036. It will take legal action to break the contract.
“A lot of money, a lot of billable (attorney) hours,” an ACC athletic director told Saturday Down South. “With no real assurance of success.”
The other half of the expansion board is wide open—Pac-12 media rights end in 2024; Big 12 in 2025—though not nearly as enticing. Tuesday, there were reports that the Big 12 is looking to add six Pac-12 programs: Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado, Oregon, Utah, and Washington. The Pac-12 released a statement Tuesday that it can immediately begin negotiations for its next media rights deal. Stay tuned on that.
It’s in the best interest of Pac-12 and Big 12 teams to not sign any media rights deal until the SEC and Big Ten make clear their future plans.
In the meantime, here’s a look at the 10 most poachable Power 5 programs not including Notre Dame, which can leave for either the Big Ten or SEC after the 2025 season when its television contract with NBC expires—if it pays an undetermined exit fee to the ACC for its Olympic sports:
The jewel of expansion, with one caveat: Would the Tigers be the same dominant program of the Playoff era while competing in a significantly more difficult conference?
Say what you want about the ACC, but since its first Playoff appearance in 2015, Clemson has won games against Power Five heavyweights Notre Dame (three times), Alabama (twice), Ohio State (twice) and Oklahoma, and is 12-4 vs. the SEC.
Would those numbers change with a full SEC schedule? Possibly—but considering how Clemson coach Dabo Swinney and his staff have recruited over the past decade, odds are Clemson would be an SEC heavyweight, too.
Past four recruiting class ranks, per 247Sports composite: 10th, third, fifth, 10th.
No matter the two decades of irrelevance, it’s difficult to ignore the Miami program and what could be. There’s too much talent in Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach counties—the State of Miami—for the Canes to disappear. They just need the right coach to lock down the fertile area, and alum Mario Cristobal might be the perfect fit.
The reemergence of Miami not only impacts the strength of the SEC (its likely conference move), it weakens Alabama, Georgia and Ohio State—three elite programs that have controlled South Florida recruiting in Miami’s absence.
Past four recruiting classes: 27th,17th, 11th, 16th.
The best all-sports program in collegiate sports sits at No. 3 and could easily be No. 1.
There’s no better combination of athletics and academics in all of college sports. But an entire athletic department résumé doesn’t run expansion, football does (see: USC and UCLA as the Big Ten’s first 2 expansion picks).
David Shaw has done remarkable work (93-45 record) on The Farm since taking over for Jim Harbaugh in 2011. But in the past two non-COVID seasons, Stanford is just 7-17. Is that an anomaly—or a trend?
Past four recruiting classes: 19th, 21st, 43rd, 19th.
The program is in transition and has been since a Playoff appearance in 2014.
Mario Cristobal’s two Pac-12 championships and a resurgence in recruiting brought some stability, but what happens now with new coach (and first-time head coach) Dan Lanning?
The brand is strong and there are deep pockets behind it (see: Nike’s Phil Knight). Most appealing to the Big Ten (this will be a common theme): The university’s Association of American Universities status.
Past four recruiting classes: seventh, 12th, sixth, 13th.
5. Florida State
Don’t let the past five years fool you. This is still a mega program in the hands of the right coach.
More to the point, FSU is still a huge brand for television. Miami and FSU could never get a foot inside the SEC tent for decades because of the power of Florida.
But now Florida must do what is best for the SEC, much like Texas A&M did with the admittance of Texas.
Past four recruiting classes: 18th, 22nd, 23rd, 20th.
6. North Carolina
There’s little doubt football fuels expansion, but there’s no telling what happens to the NCAA Tournament if super conference status (20 or more teams) hits the SEC and Big Ten.
The NCAA Tournament is just as vulnerable as the ACC, Big 12 and Pac-12. The North Carolina basketball brand is huge, and the football program has had pockets of success.
Outside of Notre Dame, this is likely the only other head-to-head fight for schools between the SEC and Big Ten.
Past four recruiting classes: 30th, 14th, 14th, 11th.
Huskies are above the remainder of the Pac-12 hopefuls because of their football history—and the Seattle television market.
All but one of the serious Pac-12 options for the Big Ten are AAU schools (currently, 13 of the 14 Big Ten schools are AAU members, and USC and UCLA are, too).
Washington is one of two Pac-12 teams with a Playoff appearance, but that was with elite coach Chris Petersen. There has been plenty of uncertainty since (on the field, and with recruiting).
Past four recruiting classes: 16th, 16th, 30th, 96th.
There’s a lot to like about Utah, including its AAU status. The university has spent significant dollars over the past two decades improving facilities and getting serious about growing the right way.
Salt Lake City is a valuable television market, and the program has a strong, passionate following. The perfect Big Ten résumé. The only real question: How much longer does Kyle Whittingham coach?
Past four recruiting classes: 42nd, 30th, 34th, 34th.
A long shot, for sure. But it’s hard to ignore the money spent by the small private school—and the results.
In the past two years, the football team won the Big 12 and the Sugar Bowl, and the men’s basketball team won the national title. The women’s basketball team is a national power.
Success in those 3 major sports—and deep-pocket boosters—is a significant draw, and might even be enough for the SEC to take a longer look.
Past four recruiting classes: 36th, 49th, 41st, 37th.
10. Arizona State
The classic underachiever. Everything is there for ASU to develop into a monster—yet year after year, coach after coach, it doesn’t materialize.
Does the Big Ten take a non-AAU school to grab the top-10 television market and hope for the best? Arizona is an AAU school, but Tucson isn’t considered the Phoenix market despite being less than 125 miles away (think Tampa-Orlando).
Past four recruiting classes: 28th, 24th, 52nd, 103rd.
The next 5: Virginia, Kansas, Oklahoma State, San Diego State (Mountain West), Texas Tech.